Sheikh Zayed Road (SZR) is Dubai’s botoxed forehead and only toll payers are allowed. I head north towards Dubai, sticking to one of the four middle lanes while the tollgate deducts four dirham from my card as I pass through. Heavy and/or commercial traffic has been relegated to Al Khail Road and Emirates Road further inland. Seven years ago, there was no tollgate, and only one middle lane.
The extreme right is at a standstill as cars head towards Mall of the Emirates with its ski slope gleaming in the sun, or aiming to cross the bridge for Medinat Jumeirah, a traditional souq built yesterday, with underground parking, manmade canals and super deluxe hotels. The express left lane is reserved for those who can’t wait to get to their destination, be it the office or the airport. I’m flowing with those who have time to spare.
Alongside the SZR, a Metro rail is being laid on tall, thick concrete pillars. Next year, Japanese railway carriages will carry three classes of passengers — rich, poor and women with families. The poor ride buses today, with twelve seats in the front allocated to women. Once those are taken, no more women can board.
I exit the SZR towards the newly developed Downtown, where Burj Dubai looms, shadows, occupies and steals all light, air and attention. Monstrous on the ground, spiraling obscenely towards the sky, its twinkling spire is a middle finger shot out to the world; sand piling thickly on hundreds of its glass panes and windows.
Downtown, I head towards Manzil (Home) Hotel. The buildings are low and sand-colored, balconies flirt with each other, and quarters and streets are named for herbs and spices. I leave Musk and Rihan and turn towards Saffron. The radio calls for blood donors for a newborn child but goes static in the underground parking before I hear which blood group is required.
After a quick visit with Sabriya, belly-dancer and friend, I start off again. The construction bewilders me as I exit; roads and landmarks are obscured by all that is new. I misread a sign and find myself on Al Khail Road, in the right direction, with the wrong crowd — two lanes of trucks, bumper to bumper, and the lane of the brave and the free, who can afford an indefinite number of fines.
To get off Al Khail Road, I must squeeze the car between the trucks in both lanes. My body snakes while metal yields, crunching softly as a truck shoves me from behind.
The truck driver’s broken headlight adds to the glass from those who came before us on the Al Khail Road. I lean against my car, looking towards Burj Al Arab and the sea, enjoying the soft October sun.
The truck driver is young and dark, dressed in ill-fitting beige trousers and a red, worn tee shirt. The policeman’s thumbnail is long and thick. He saunters over to a driver that has stopped in the middle of the road to ask directions. They talk things over while the other policeman checks our papers. I get the green slip: not guilty.
On my way home, I pass through Media City, Internet City and Knowledge Village, addresses that didn’t exist when we moved here — as familiar to me as my hands by now. As I enter the gate to our neglected and aging compound, I wave to the Indian watchman/gardener on duty. He holds a university degree and shares a corner hut with five other compound employees.
Voices reach me from the playground area, where the grass was once brilliantly, irresistibly green; it has long since turned to sand.
About the author
Helena Axelson Fisk, editor-in-chief of the online literary magazine, Frostwriting, catapulted herself from Sweden twenty years ago and hasn’t found her way back yet.…Read the full bio