-Yallah, Yallah! It was Abu Saif himself who had come to open the door of their villa by the sea, on the cliff of Biarritz, a superb house that opened directly onto the ocean. Dressed in the traditional long white robe worn by the Emirati men, his head covered with an immaculate white keffiyeh in honor of his guest, he was tall and thin, the warm smile in his brown face. He squeezed Max in his arms, repeating in Arabic, with great sympathy, “Welcome, my son!”
Then, with a last admiring look at the Atlantic Ocean, which unrolled its waves for as far as his eyes can see as if to please him, he closed the front door while Max took his shoes off, and it was as if these two gestures were necessary for entry not only into the inside of the villa, but also into a very particular space-time. “Yallah, yallah,” he repeated in a loud voice, leading Max into the living room. It was the ritual way of warning other members of the family, especially women, about the presence of a guest in the house. Max recognized it as something very familiar, like a childhood memory suddenly raised to the surface after a long absence.
He recognized under his feet the softness of the thick carpets which always covered the ground of the apartments or villas in the Emirates to allow them to walk barefoot. He also recognized the perfume of incense, the bkhor, which burned in the traditional censer placed on the marble mantelpiece and gave to the whole villa that air of cleanliness and spirituality that Max had known in houses and mosques Of Dubai.
As the entrance, the living room was light and airy, the floor covered with a rich carpet with colorful arabesques. Along the walls, cushions and thick mattresses covered with a shimmering yellow golden fabric replaced the western sofas. The whole room was a mixture of simplicity and richness, the simplicity of the furniture, reduced to cushions and a coffee table, as for the richness, it was the marble fireplace and the Persian rug.
Abu Saif and his guest sat down on the yellow mattresses and began to speak. Max watched the expressive face of his host, so different from the french locals, with his big black eyes, his delicate, moving features, his well-groomed hands with long fingers and short nails. The conversation flowed effortlessly and without embarrassment, even though Max was maybe ten when he last visited this Emirati family with his father.
They were talking to each other and Abu Saif said how much he felt for Max’s father, whom he called “my brother,” whom he respected for his culture and honesty. He told Max a few edifying stories about his father, how he had often settled difficult conflicts during his work in the ministry. Funny stories also, because in the Emirates, the mix of nationalities was such that misunderstandings often arise between people at the office, due to the glaring and recurring cultural differences between the Italian architect, the English consultant, the Palestinian engineer, the Indian programmer … It was often up to Max’s father, the interpreter, that the delicate role of the moderator returned.
After a while, a young woman entered, Filipino probably, carrying a tray of fruit that she placed before them on the coffee table, and Abu Saif asked her to inform his son Saif of the arrival of Max.
“Did you bring everything from the Emirates with you?” Max asked, staring at the cushions, the censer, the silver tray, and the wall decorations where Koranic verses were cleverly embroidered. “Yes, even the maid servants! We must feel at home in our house. It is difficult enough to dress in a suit to go to work appointments or in jeans to go out for a walk, laughed Abu Saif. But I really like to come here, really! I come two or three times a year, I have contacts for work, and then I have horses, a fairly large stable, with several thoroughbreds who are there and whom I come to see also compete when an important race takes place… Ah, Saif, here you are!
Max stood up to greet the young man a little older than him who entered, barefoot too, but dressed like Max of a jeans and a sweater. Curiously, his western clothes, however trivial, seemed not to fall on him properly, as if his body refused to let it be in that disguise: something was wrong, which Max had often observed among the Arabs of the Gulf when they tried to dress in the “European way”. They kissed, then the conversation turned to what Max was doing.
-Why do you have a degree in economics? You should be a businessman… Max laughed at him. All the Emirati men are businessmen, and all Emirati women are businesswomen… Money flowing in their hands … It’s not the case for Max!
But like his father, Saif knew how to be amiable and welcoming. He took Max’s jokes with a smile, and even added that when he had had enough of playing the school teacher he could send his CV to Saif’s father to come and work in one of the family businesses in Dubai. Max tried in vain to practice his usual irony, but felt himself obliged to respect those people who knew so well how to be welcoming, and who responded to Max’s mocking pikes with a smiling friendliness.
In Max’s honor, a little later, an enormous tray was brought by the servant, loaded with spiced basmati rice and large pieces of sheep. They ate on the floor, all three on the same plate, Max using a spoon while the other two were eating with great dexterity using their fingers, both amused by Max’s astonishment at their skill.
-Alhamdulillah … I thank God for this meal, said Abu Saif, leaning back against the cushions for a moment. And those words from his mouth seemed very natural, as part of their daily life, and not said to make any impression on the visitor. Then they decided to move under the veranda to drink a tea, and taste the Basque cake that Max had brought. They sat this time on white leather sofas, facing a small garden enclosed by high stone walls. Saif went to his room to look for his computer. He wanted to show Max pictures of their activity in Dubai, while the father apologized as he stepped away to answer a phone call. Left alone for a moment, Max began to dream of going to work with them in the Emirates.
He already imagined himself well-seated and comfortable in the Emirates airlines plane, between movies of his choice and small meal trays, and then dragging his suitcase through the luxury shops and the flashy cafes of the airport of Dubai. A young woman made the journey with him, yes, and for the first time in her awakened dreams, probably because the Russian princess was not in her place in these ultra-modern sets, it was Marion, the althletic girl, the medical student who had accompanied him…
They went out together from the airport, and received in the face the damp heat that made the air of the Gulf heavy. Removing his sunglasses as soon as they were misty, Max blinked, blinded by the desert sun, spontaneously rediscovering the original purpose of his long lashes.