Omar flew around the corner on his way up to the roof playground at lunch break that first day of the autumn semester, stopping millimetres short of colliding with me. I hadn’t seen him either, so we both froze, laughed, and escorted each other to where we were both going, he to play and me to supervise.
“Did you have a good summer, Omar?” I asked.
“Oh, very good, Miss,” he grinned.
“Did you go away?”
“Of course!” Nobody stayed for the blistering heat of a Gulf summer if they could avoid it. “We go to London to stop with my Auntie. It was very fun.”
“Hey, I flew to London, too!” My two older children were studying in the UK, and it seemed prudent to check their situations.
“What day you fly?”
It had been the first Saturday of the holidays.
“Me too!” He beamed with the innocent delight only an eight-year-old standing toe-to-toe with an adult can muster. “What time?”
I told him. “The Air France flight, 11.30.”
So had he. He skipped away up the stair and then suddenly turned with a slight frown. “I not see you there, Miss.”
“Well, no. There are always lots of people boarding a flight. I’m sorry I didn’t notice you.”
We stopped, I facing the door and the light, he facing me. Omar was a bright child, in his father’s eyes already a man, and his face stilled with thought. Then his eyes widened with a horrified realisation. “Oh Miss – were you at the back of the plane with the poor people?”
How easily those who have never known anything else take their wealth for granted. I remembered, then, another encounter at a corner, this one the corner of two of Abu Dhabi’s busiest streets. We had only just arrived, still getting our bearings, and were waiting to cross the street close to our new apartment. The traffic was heavy, and seemed to be ignoring the lights, so we hesitated. An elderly Emirati man grinned sideways at us and stepped into the flow of traffic, raising an imperious hand. The traffic stopped, and he stepped beside us to escort us across.
“These people!” He indicated the sleek new vehicles around us. “They think they own the world.”
“Whatever they own,” my husband said politely, “I hope they appreciate it.”
He smiled sadly. “Me, I am an old man. My father, he rode a camel. I drive a car. My grandchildren, they own aeroplanes. That is good, yes?”
Progress, certainly, we agreed.
He all but spat. “It is nothing. What Allah gives, he can take. My grandchildren’s children, they will ride camel again. You wait. You are young still. You will see.”
For Omar’s sake I hope not.
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