Ah. This is a tale I don’t even know WHY I remembered today. But, lest I forget it again, I am typing it out.
Back in 1992, I was all of 8 years old. We were living in Sharjah, having moved there the previous year from Dubai. I was a tiny slip of a thing, with stick-like limbs, huge eyes, and long ratty hair. Oh and buck teeth. Let’s not forget the buck teeth. I didn’t care what I looked like, since I was 8. My mother told me often enough that I was beautiful, but it never registered.
The previous year, my folks and I had gone to Kenya for a holiday. My father was working with Dubai Hilton, and therefore we stayed in Nairobi Hilton. There is not much I remember from the trip, except the safaris and the heady rush of the markets in Nairobi. We have a stack of albums somewhere filled with pictures of lions, gazelles, and gnu.
We didn’t know anyone in Nairobi, except for one family. Again, I don’t know how we knew them. Perhaps they lived in Dubai first, and then shifted to Kenya after. They were a small family like us: parents and one kid, a son. We visited when we were in town. The son and I clicked instantly, and we had a grand time playing together.
Ok, so, remember how we had a camera? Every dad was a camera fiend back then [much like we are right now tbh]. Tim [the dad] also had a camera, and since it was the 90s, it was the done thing to click pictures of events as mundane as having guests from overseas over. To be honest, I don’t remember any of this. At all. I remember what I wore, because I had that outfit well into my teens. [A bit of a tangent, and not really worth exploring.]
Cut back to our home in Sharjah, and Tim had come to visit us. He sat in the living room with my parents, and I skipped in to say hi.
And then he told us a little story. [There will be excessive use of the word ‘apparently’ in the following paragraphs. This is by design to showcase my incredulity.]
Tim developed the photographs he had taken, and they had turned out really well. There were a few shots of me, apparently, that were exceptionally nice. Apparently. He put them neatly into an album, and away into a drawer. Then, he was slated to come to Dubai, and he thought about bringing some of these photos along, in case we would like mementos of our trip.
He went to the drawer and pulled out the album. And was apparently quite taken aback to find a few gaps. After pondering this for a while, he realised they were all pictures of me. He asked his wife about it, but she didn’t know anything about it. The matter was closed as a mystery.
A few weeks later, his wife had occasion to open their son’s cupboard to put away some clothes or something. She opened the doors and, to her surprise, saw the pictures of me taped to the inside of the cupboard doors. She called her husband, and he looked too.
I don’t remember exactly what transpired in their home after that, because I flushed deeply to the roots of my hair and pelted up the stairs to my room, chased by indulgent parental laughter.
I was only 8 years old, and Struan [Tim’s son] wasn’t much older. Boys were the furthest thing from my mind at the time. There were a bunch of critters I used to roughhouse with in school, but that was the extent of my interest in them. Romance wasn’t a word that had invaded my vocabulary quite yet.
But. I was plenty old enough to understand that this was not normal behaviour. A boy doesn’t tape up pictures of a girl in his cupboard, unless she is more than just a friend.
At 34 years of age, this story is darling. I get why the parents were laughing softly at the darling-ness of it all. It is sweet. I totally get it. At the time I was so embarrassed that it never occurred to me what poor Struan would have felt, had he known that other people had heard this story. And not just any other people, the girl herself.
Poor, poor guy.
PS: I don’t remember ever meeting this family again. Probably best for dude’s future therapy.