“Do you do this often?” He asked.
“You mean talk to strangers or – ? I am sorry,” Dalia felt a tightening in her throat.
“It’s alright, you don’t have to apologize. In fact,” he didn’t finish his sentence. A woman in a long black sleeveless dress and totally made up face and hair, something Dalia admired in other women, approached him and, leaning over the stranger’s shoulder, whispered in his ears.
“Sorry I have to leave,” he said and turned and followed the woman.
Dalia stood staring at his back walking away with the woman. There was something in the way he had held himself, something in the way he had looked deep into her eyes, his voice confident, reaching deep inside her. Oh dear God, she felt so embarrassed. Why hadn’t she looked at him before? Where were her friends? Salwa had said she would be here with Raja. She looked around. She could not see any of them in the crowd.
The exhibition hall was packed with more people now. She looked again at the painting on the wall and this time a shiver ran through her body. The crowd, the painting, and then Shadi. For a moment she had forgotten about him. He would be back any minute now. She was in no mood to talk to him, she did not want to face him again, not tonight anyway. She would not wait for her friends, she would call Salwa later, she decided, and walked out of the hall.
The weather was still hot and humid, despite it being late in November. Dalia, breathing heavily, walked towards her car. Who was he, the stranger who had stood beside her, listening to her talk about the painting? There was something about his eyes. She had this feeling that she had met those eyes somewhere, sometime before. Whose painting was ‘Confusion’? She wondered. In her haste to get out she’d forgotten to check the artist’s name even. Was it the painting or the stranger that upset her most? She couldn’t let that happen to her, not now, not again. She felt the air thinning around her. She reached her white Mazda, started the engine, turned on the radio and air-condition, and drove home.
She lived on Sheikh Zayed Road, in one of those high-rise buildings, towers as they were called, along the highway connecting Dubai to the capital Abu-Dhabi from the South and to Sharjah and the rest of the emirates from the North. From Majlis Gallery in Bur Dubai, where the exhibition was held, her home was not too far away. But Dalia had to cross Fahidi Street, the busiest street for shopping at this time of the evening. The shops on both sides of the street were open till after ten in the evening. You could find anything and everything in those shops. From jewelry to watches, to electronics, stationary, leather goods, computers, electric appliances, gift items, textiles, tailors, banks and restaurants. Even the Dubai museum was along the corner of that street opposite the Majlis Gallery. Dalia loved to shop here. Under different circumstances, she would have been happy to spend some time here and do some window shopping, but not tonight. Tonight she was in a hurry to reach home.