Parts of Desire Ch. 03

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Thanks to Ravenna933 for her copyediting and plot development suggestions.


I woke to the call of prayer blasting through the hotel window. I groaned and rolled over, checking the clock on the nightstand. It was just after 6 AM, and I remembered this least favourite aspect of sharing a bed with Rania, the necessity of all Muslims to rise with the sun for morning prayer. Hearing the call to prayer through the window while alone was a shock, though, and just reiterated where I was, thousands of miles from home, in a hotel room in Muscat, there to see my ultra-long-distance now-girlfriend.

After the call to prayer stopped I must have fallen asleep again, because soon after my alarm was going off. I got up, got dressed and headed downstairs to meet the girls for breakfast.

We found each other in the breakfast bar of the hotel, with a free spread easily surpassing anything I’d seen at comparable hotels in the west – fresh fruit, dates, coffee and tea, pita bread with hummus, fresh cheese, a ground meat dish called keema. I greeted Rania and her friend Khadija, loaded a plate, and sat down with my quarry.

“So, what’s the plan for today?” I asked, knowing they were deliberately keeping me in the dark as much as possible.

“We are going to take you first to Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque”, Rania answered. “It’s only open for non-Muslim visitors for a few hours in the mornings, and you will have to make sure you are dressed conservatively. It’s the largest and most beautiful mosque in the country, apparently, and it is also the only one open to non-Muslim visitors.

“We’re trying to finish with the city of Muscat today, because much of the beauty of the real Arabia is out in the wilderness. But we also have some shopping we would like to do, and we’re going to make sure you’ve experienced the real modern Arabia, not just the part that’s reserved for tourists. We’re going to go to the mall, and then go wander around in the suburbs, out past the airport, where the ordinary people live, so you can see the way we live at home. If the weather looks good, we might also be able to find a place to swim.

“Then, after dinner we are going to drive to a new hotel just east of town, so that we can avoid rush hour traffic tomorrow leaving the city. We’ll check in there, and…” Rania lowered her voice. “We have some plans for you at the hotel.”

“I wish we could do that first”, Khadija interjected, “but the mosque is only open until 11, so we have to get there soon. Whatever was bothering me last night seems to be gone.”

We quickly finished breakfast, checked out of the hotel, and as I pulled out of the parking lot, Khadija, sitting in the front seat this time, turned to me.

“Ryan, I think we got off to a bad start yesterday. I am just so unused to speaking frankly to a strange man, and to letting my guard down around men. This cultural conditioning really doesn’t wear off overnight, in spite of the fact that I’ve tried so hard for so long not to let it hold me back. I’d like to start over with you.”

“Sounds good”, I answered. “I’m Marion Kershaw, but my friends call me Ryan.”

Khadija offered her hand. “Khadija Al-Shehri.”

“For what it’s worth”, I continued, “I never thought less of you. Rania was just as nervous as you were at first. You saw her at the end of her trip to Canada, but not during. It took her time for her to grow comfortable with me.”

“I know”, Khadija said. “You didn’t really know her before. But she was a different person when she came back. She didn’t want to tell me about you at first, but I could tell something major had happened over there. I finally got it out of her that she had had a Canadian boyfriend, a male roommate, all things I wouldn’t have believed possible. But the more she told me about you, the angrier I got. Not at her, I was happy for her. But at my society convincing me there was something strange about it. I mean, you are just another person. Men and women are just people.

“I had, what I guess you could call a crisis of faith. I felt like I had always suspected my society was lying to me, and I finally had my proof that my suspicions were true. I wanted to abandon my Masters degree, my entire life, and make a run for a border somewhere and escape to the west. It was Rania that convinced me to stick with my thesis, that my work on feminism in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was important, and that we needed to make progress at home. But I needed to experience that world, and I still don’t know that I’m ever going to get to do that. Saudi women can’t travel without a male relative’s permission, and my father, bless him, is a wonderful man and a liberal man, but he is still a Saudi father and I am still his daughter. And the odds of me meeting such a liberated man in Saudi seems unlikely.”

Khadija’s words cut deeply through me. I knew what Rania had gone through, but I hadn’t considered what it must be like for the people like Khadija in such a conservative society; bursa escort for women without a way out. “So…” I was at a loss for words. “So what will you do?”

Khadija smiled. “I rebel in my own ways. I wear makeup. I speak up for myself at school and I don’t defer to men. I sometimes let my hair show through my headscarf. I speak up politically in defense of feminism and women’s issues. And I’m going to live the life of a wanton western girl, this week, with you, because I know I can trust that you’ll never breathe a word to anyone that could hurt me with that knowledge.”

“Your secrets are safe with me”, I promised.

“We know”, Rania called out from the back seat. “We really do appreciate your discretion.”

The Grand Mosque was out in the city’s western suburbs, lying adjacent to the highway on manicured grounds, an opulent marble building with massive minarets and a high dome. The grounds were mostly empty apart from a few Indian labourers in coveralls tending to the gardens, and I signed the guestbook upon entering, the security guard nodding sleepily at my conservative long sleeves and dress pants.

We wandered the grounds in relative silence, first checking out the small, understated women’s prayer hall, and then the opulent men’s, one of the most impressive spaces I’d ever been in, featuring a seven-storey chandelier, Islamic tilework on the ceilings, and an enormous Persian carpet so ornate that it had a second, protective carpet covering it in spite of the fact we were all forced to leave our shoes at the door.

“Does it bother you that the men’s space is so much more ornate than the women’s?” I asked. Rania shot me a dirty look. “Ryan, we will discuss this in the car”, she said brusquely, under her breath.

We finished the tour and climbed back in the car, Rania ordering me to continue heading west on the highway.

“To answer your question, yes, it does, a little”, Rania began. “Men and women have always been separated in worship, that is fine, but it does bother me to know the men have it better even before God, just as in the rest of our existence. But you can’t ask such questions in public.”

“I’m… sorry.” I wasn’t sure what else to say.

“I know you mean no harm, and from an ordinary tourist, your question would be considered mildly insensitive but not offensive. But you are with us, and we will be judged for associating with you. I hate that this is the society we live in, but it is as it is.”

“Rania and I have had many conversations on this topic”, Khadija added, “and we believe that most of what we dislike about our society is the tribal traditions, not Islam. Islam is a religion of peace, and it is a beautiful religion, we both believe in Allah, we want to behave as good Muslims. But all matters of faith are and should be open to interpretation, whereas the tribal traditions are treated as orders by God.”

“For example”, Rania continued, “do you see what the men and women are wearing here?” I noticed a few groups of locals wandering around on the sidewalk on the other side of the highway, the men in flowing white robes with sandals and colourful pillbox hats, the women in black abeya robes and headscarves. A question occurred to me.

“How is it fair that men get to wear cool white and women have to wear black in the heat?” I asked.

“Exactly!” Rania exclaimed. “It’s not fair, but it’s tradition for a reason. Back before the discovery of oil, we all were about as poor as you can possibly imagine. My great-grandfather used to tell me stories of the old days before he died, and it’s impossible for us now to conceive of being on the brink of starvation, working either as a nomadic camel herder in the desert or a fisherman or pearl diver on the coast. We all come from extreme poverty, unless you are descended from the royal family. Anyway, back in those days and earlier, we were so poor that we could only afford bolts of cloth in either white or black, because those were the cheapest colours. We then had to make our own clothes. Anything else was beyond the means of most people.

“The men had to go out and find food and work in the desert heat, while the women stayed back at the desert camps and looked after the children, in the shade of the tents, cooking, cleaning, and so on. It made sense back then that men would wear the cooler colour, since they were the ones who had to be out in the elements. It made sense back then. It does not make sense in the context of a modern technological society. It is the same with the veil, which is banned for women in Muscat, but which you still see a lot in Saudi Arabia. A veil would make a lot of sense to protect your face from sandstorms, which is why women started wearing them. None of it had anything to do with religion. But now it is expected by the religious police back home.

“It was difficult for me in Canada, hearing people’s reactions and beliefs about Islam, or treating me differently because I was dressed the way I was. bursa merkez escort Because the things that people in the west find offensive or distasteful tend to be the same things we wish we could change about our society. But people judge you on the way you look, rather than getting to know you.”

I pondered this for a bit. “It sounds like what you’re suggesting is kind of like a Reformation, like what happened with Martin Luther in Christianity. The entire Christian faith was reset in the sixteenth century, and people started developing new ideas of what it meant to be a Christian, and that led to the Enlightenment and the gradual push away from religious dogma to a more secular society. People were able to start believing what they wanted, rather than what the Catholic Church ordered them to believe.”

“That would be nice”, Khadija said wistfully, “though I don’t expect we will see it in my lifetime. I’d settle for Saudi Arabia becoming tolerant in the way Oman or Dubai are.”

At Rania’s direction, we moved off the freeway and into a neighbourhood for lunch, stopping at a café where we ordered wraps, paratha bread rolled up with shredded chicken, hot sauce, and Arabic cream cheese, accompanied by rice pilaf and milky chai.

We spent the first half of the afternoon at the mall. It was larger than any mall I’d been to at home, and full of shops I’d never heard of, but a shopping mall in Arabia was still more familiar territory to me than what I’d experienced yesterday. The girls needed to shop for clothing, apparently, and as a man I couldn’t accompany them in a women’s clothing store, so I mostly people-watched and wandered. I met up with the girls again in the middle of the afternoon, and Rania directed me north. A few miles later, we pulled up to a beach, sparsely populated with people and with a spread of fine sand reaching off to the horizon, with Arabic-style hotel blocks overlooking the sand and the glorious blue of the Indian Ocean stretching as far as the eye could see. I parked the 4X4 on the beach, and we piled out. It was a beautiful warm day, sunny with a light breeze, temperature in the high 20’s C.

“Can you swim at a beach?” I asked the girls.

“In Oman, yes”, Khadija responded from back in the car, where her and Rania were struggling with their clothing. Momentarily both girls emerged, wearing wetsuit-style bathing suits that covered them head-to-ankle, with the only exposed skin being their hands, feet and faces. Rania’s was sky blue, Khadija’s was magenta. I stared, open-mouthed.

“I guess that makes sense”, I said to myself, still processing the surprises the Arabian Peninsula was throwing at me.

“We had to buy these at the mall”, Khadija said matter-of-factly. “This would be highly scandalous to wear in public in Saudi Arabia. I used to swim at Half Moon Beach in Dammam all the time when I was a girl. I loved to swim, and I was good at it. Then as soon as I hit puberty, I wasn’t allowed to go anymore. The tiny bumps of my thirteen-year-old tits apparently were too much for men to handle.” The bitterness was apparent in her voice. “I still go to women’s swims at the pool when I can, and I try to swim in the ocean any time I’m outside Saudi Arabia.”

“There are no beaches in Riyadh”, Rania said. “I can swim, sort of. But I haven’t done it much.”

As the girls exited the 4X4, I hopped in and quickly grabbed my trunks from my suitcase, changing quickly in the backseat. We spent the afternoon sunning ourselves and frolicking in the ocean, something I had precious little experience with from my Ontario upbringing. It was approaching supper time when we finally started packing up, with the sun setting to the west. Even though the weather was warm and beautiful, the early-setting sun was a sobering reminder that even in the Middle East, it was still winter.

We went for dinner at a fish barbecue stand on the beach, with a local guy grilling fresh-caught local fish with garlic and lime. Afterwards, with the sun set, the wind had picked up off the ocean, and for the first time since landing in the Middle East, I was cold. The girls and I changed back into our clothes and headed into the local neighbourhood, in a Muscat suburb called Seeb, to wander around.

The local shopping street was packed with cars, bumper-to-bumper, with the sidewalks jammed with shoppers wandering and browsing through the local businesses. All the businesses were locally-owned, and all signs were bilingual in Arabic and English. Unlike the tourist shops downtown, the stores out here sold things like home goods, groceries, etc., as well as a few things catering to the local lifestyle like Arabic perfumes and colognes and bolts of fabric for making clothing. I was the only white-skinned person I saw – evidently the tourists didn’t make it out this far west of downtown. Cafes had tables and chairs set up on the sidewalks, and nearly all were filled with pillbox-hatted men arguing over tiny cups of tea bursa sınırsız escort or watching soccer on a big screen at a nearby Turkish restaurant.

After walking for a while, taking in the sights, we found an open-air coffee and shisha bar and sat out on the terrace, ordering a pot of Arabic coffee, which was served in an ornate silver coffeepot with tiny silver cups.

“This has been another perfect day”, I began. “Thank you both. But I can’t say that I’m not excited about what’s coming next.”

Khadija grinned. “Whatever happens tonight is going to be my first time experiencing it. I’m almost giddy with anticipation.”

Rania smiled at me. “We had yesterday for us. Tonight is going to be for Khadija, if that’s okay with you, Ryan.”

“You’re really okay with this?” I asked.

Rania’s face suddenly fell. “Shouldn’t I be?”

“I mean… tonight is going to be new for all of us. A threesome isn’t something I’ve done before. A lot of people would judge such things, even in Canada.”

“Any extramarital sex would be heavily judged here”, Rania responded. “The state doesn’t differentiate between consensual one-on-one hetero sex and an orgy. Fornication is fornication.”

We’ve talked about it a lot”, Khadija continued, “and we have both been with each other before, obviously, so that’s not strange for us. Rania has been with you, so that isn’t strange. The only strange pairing is you and I, and my curiosity about men and my desire to experience what should be a normal pleasure of life has outweighed any misgivings I might have had. Besides, you’re a cute boy.” She grinned.

“Ryan, is the reason you keep asking if this is okay with us because you’re not okay with it?” Rania suddenly exclaimed. “We kind of just assumed you’d be okay with it. Perhaps we shouldn’t have.”

I paused, thinking. “I came here to be with you. I knew from your email that you’d have a friend here, and I figured that was because you wouldn’t have been allowed to travel solo.”

“I wouldn’t have been.”

“But I never expected for a second that you’d both be wanting me sexually. I’m 35 years old, and even based on last year, I never would have thought that I’d be coming to the Middle East to meet up with two twentysomething women. It was unlikely enough meeting one Rania. Meeting two seems like it would be impossible.”

I turned to face Khadija. “If I met you at home, I’d be interested. I know it’s only been two days, but you strike me as an intelligent, well-spoken, pretty woman. I’d like to keep getting to know you, and I think we can become friends. It’s just that your plans are so completely different from my expectations, and I think I’m still kind of in shock. Things like this don’t happen to guys like me, or in the Middle East, or with two Arab women. The odds must be astronomical.”

“The odds we would have become roommates were astronomical”, Rania said with a smile. “The odds I would learn to trust you the way I do was even more so. Everything about us is unlikely. But it feels right to me, and to Khadija, and if it feels right to you, let’s enjoy this week for what it is. Let’s stop overthinking it and just enjoy it, however unbelievable.”

“It’s a deal”, I said.

Silence descended over the table, and I suddenly became conscious of a rising sexual tension as we stared back and forth at each other. The air was clear now, there was nothing holding us back. I could feel my cock stiffening in my pants, and I recognized the far-off look in Rania’s eyes. Khadija licked her lips unconsciously, her face flushed.

“Should we go to the hotel right this very second?” Khadija suddenly shot out.

I reached for my wallet and threw a few brightly-coloured bills on the table as the three of us rose in unison and speedwalked to the 4X4. We’d booked a hotel that night on the southeastern outskirts of town to avoid the next morning’s rush hour and make a clean getaway to points east, but it was easily forty minutes by car according to Rania’s phone, and as I pulled out on the highway I cursed the planning that had led us into this mess. I drove in silence, slightly faster than I probably should have been driving, as the girls both vibrated with nervous energy.

I knew nothing about the hotel we had booked, but as I pulled into parking lot forty minutes later, my heart sank. The hotel was similar in layout to the kinds I’d seen in Florida on family trips growing up, with outdoor corridors facing the parking lot and street. We’d been lucky last night, but I didn’t see any way to stealthily get to their hotel room without potentially being seen, or worse, managing to get there and then being stuck in their room.

I looked over at Rania, clearly thinking similar thoughts judging by the disappointed look on her face.

“This isn’t going to work”, she said.

Khadija said something quietly in Arabic.

“What was that?” I asked.

“A dirty word”, she answered.

With further discussion unnecessary, we checked separately into the hotel, and I made my way alone to my room, hung my wet bathing suit and towel up in the bathroom, and climbed into bed. The strong coffee and unresolved sexual tension made sleep difficult, but somehow I managed to get there eventually without jerking off.

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