Desert state

This Recording, 2014. Original article.

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Desert state

Every morning at 7am I climb over my sleeping husband, pulling the curtains open to let in a stream of dusty light. It’s pitch black until then, inside this hotel bubble without sound nor light, but I’m relieved to get up after yet another night of jetlag-ragged sleep. I tiptoe to the bathroom but nothing in this hotel makes any noise: carpet covers every surface, doors close slowly as so not to slam, furniture is heavy so it won’t topple over. The kettle takes so long to boil I have time not only to prepare the cafetiere, but also to brush my teeth for the full two minutes recommended by the dentist. I listen to the buzzing inside my head while outside, the sky is preparing for another day of pale sun in a violet sky. It’s the same as yesterday, and it will be the same tomorrow. We are in a desert state, in a brand new metropolis built on a sudden fortune, in a place where everything is shiny yet dull. It’s a city but it feels like a suburb, created from a drawing board. Every surface is kept clean yet it’s always dusty; the air is so dry that it only takes a moment.

I sit by the window drinking my coffee, inside a skyscraper hotel that’s part of a skyline that looks impressive from a distance. The bay is a few blocks away but I can see the the shore, because the buildings are just a little too far apart. I’ve never thought about that before: the distance between city buildings. But now, in this brand new environment that’s being built in front of our very eyes, it’s impossible not to look at it. In an old city, like the one I call home, the buildings push into each other, like the people on the street, and everywhere are cafes, shops, and even pavements. Here, each trip to the supermarket means manoeuvring a ledge next to a six-lane road, before scaling a sloped brick shoulder that takes you to the shopping mall parking lot. You’re not supposed to walk, is the thing, not when petrol is this cheap. Half the year it’s too hot to move around on foot anyway, with the searing sunshine leaving the outdoors just as inaccessible as if we were in a snowstorm.

In the bed, my husband has pulled the covers over his eyes, fighting against the light pouring in. He got here before me, so he’s adjusted to the local time. As much as the early mornings is a novelty for me, I envy his ability to stay up past 10pm. The sun is up and I’m awake, but my body is fighting me. I gain a little more ground every day, but I’m alarmed at how my heart pounds against my ribs, like a warning. It’s morning in the desert but my body thinks I’ve been up all night again, hankering back to in a place that’s much bolder and louder than this. I sip my coffee as I listen to the sounds trickling in, muffled through the double-glazing; the construction work has already started. For every building in this city there’s another one going up, and another road blocked to build a new lane. Inside their air-conditioned white cars, people are blasting the horns in frustration over the delays. Outside, the workers wears cloths around their heads to protect from the heat and dust.

Each day the hotel maid brings more bottled water, and provide all fresh towels even though the little card says the towels will only be changed if you put them on the floor. We may be in the desert, but there’s little concern for saving water. I wonder if they recycle all these empty water bottles. If I leave the cafetiere unwashed the maid will clean it; at first I felt I shouldn’t leave it as it’s not their job, but then I forgot a few times and now I think it’s really nice not to have to do it myself. I watch how people in restaurants ignore wait staff who bring them things, wondering how long I’d have to live here before I stopped saying thanks.

I stretch my body on the impossibly white sheets, thinking about what I’m going to do today. I have work but my head is full of cotton. I’m only here for the week anyway, having come to see my husband while he’s working. I’d never have come otherwise, as it’s not the sort of place you to visit. I was at the airport once for a stopover, just long enough to learn the name of the capital city and figure I’d probably never actually see it. But circumstances happen and now I’m here, in a padded hotel bubble, inside a not-quite-there skyline. Time feels like it’s standing still yet it’s slipping away, as before I know it it’s morning again and I’m opening the curtains, listening to the slow hiss of the kettle as the water heats up. In the desert, and in this city, there are no pavements, but people are creating sandy paths, through the construction sites. Every evening the sun sets, creating a bright spectacle in the sky, and for a moment it’s amazing before it’s gone and the sky is a dark, blank slate. Something is happening, but life is elsewhere.

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