The other day, over coffee, blueberry muffins and conversations — mostly on how weird we’ve all become after Covid-19 — my friend’s voice suddenly dipped. “I have an odd confession to make,” she said.
“Oh, I love confessions — especially odd ones — so please spill…”
As it turned out, she’s started hating sentences that begin with “I am in town”. She claims she loves her friends, but doesn’t like the fact when they visit town — without notice — and grandly announce: “I’m in town, let’s meet.”
“Now here’s the thing,” she explained. “I know Dubai is a transit hub, everyone passes through it… and then people in any case come here all the time. All that’s fine, but I’m worried about my reaction: I have this sinking feeling each time. It’s like I had my weekend sorted out — I was going to binge on a new series, order in good food, have naps whenever I felt like it… and now I can’t because someone is in town and I have to meet that person, and that meeting can go on for hours... And unlike meeting people in town — who you can meet on your own terms, or maybe keep pushing back meeting them — when it comes to friends who are ‘in town’ for a limited period, you have to rework your day so it suits them…”
“Okay stop!” I interjected. “Why can’t you say you can’t meet him or her?”
“That’s bad form,” she sighed. “I mean, everyone knows I’m not exactly working on a NASA project, they know I have time on hand… they’ll think I’m an uncaring anti-social.”
And then came the verdict: “Covid-19 has made me-time enjoyable — so much so that I have a problem when something disrupts my personal routine.”
Flip it, I offered. Imagine what the other person is going through. Maybe he or she isn’t very keen to catch up either — they’d rather be shopping at MoE or visiting the Museum of the Future. But they have to drop a mandatory message. “In case you find out later from some third party that so-and-so was in town and didn’t even bother getting in touch,” I tried to draw inspiration from etiquette shows. “So, maybe they don’t actually want to meet, they’re only being polite.”
Something else came up and we changed the topic.
A couple of days later, I was planning my day gleefully. I’d be back home by 7pm (thanks to Ramadan timings). “So today I will go for an evening walk, grab a sandwich from one of those ‘to-go’ places, and then maybe finish a writing assignment, play a few rounds of Quordle and be in bed by 10pm,” I told myself. Just that very instant, my phone pinged. It was a friend who lives in Abu Dhabi, who I’ve not seen in a while. “Hey, I’m in Dubai today, let’s meet this evening?”
It suddenly sank in, that sinking feeling.
My house in the wintry fantasy republic, made of potato MDF and covered in perfumed mash potato veneer, would be home to a canvas print of Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters
...that spooked an American family who moved to the suburbs from the city — into their ‘dream home’