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The Great Camel Heist

Sumaira Khalid

One night, about an eon ago, my husband and I decided to take a walk to the Ajman beach. We were new in Ajman. 

We both have more or less a sedentary lifestyle, thanks to the nature of our jobs. Walking to the beach seemed like a really good idea. Especially because it had been raining quite frequently in the previous ten days, and the temperature was several degrees cooler than it normally was at this time of year. The weather was generally pleasant, and the beach was just a 15-minute walk from where we lived.

Of course, things don’t always turn out the way they should, or the way we wish they would. We had barely walked a few yards when it became windy. My doppata and kameez were flapping like a parachute. And the wind almost swept me off my feet. Seriously!

Anyway, we arrived at the beach quite safe and sound. At first appearance, it looked a lot like Seaview, the most popular beach in Karachi. But that was of course only a momentary impression. A closer look revealed that this beach was clean! Plus, you didn’t see the aggressive flower sellers: mostly Afghan/Pashtoon kids who harass you until you either give up out of sheer frustration and buy the wilted flowers or have a fit and pointlessly lecture them. Pointless because it has no effect on them and they continue to dog your steps.

I even saw a camel at the beach. That brought back so many memories from the Seaview days. Back in Karachi, there are so many camels and horses on the beach, which you can ride for what their keeper likes to tell you is a paltry sum. Of course, once you are up on a horse and a camel, it’s a different story. We remember all too well the camel ride at Seaview, Karachi.

It was my early days in Karachi, a short time after we got married. I absolutely hated Karachi, loathed Seaview, scowled at the flower sellers, and lamented the littered beach. My husband in his efforts to try to impress upon me that it wasn’t such a bad place after all would come up with one device or another. Seaview was right in front of our apartment building, just across a busy road. We might have pretended that it was our front yard, except that no one would care to call such a dirty and littered place their own. The Cineplex was quite close by too. And every time there was a debate on what to do for recreation, the Cineplex won hands down.

However, one evening we decided to go camel riding, instead of watching a new movie at the cinema. There were many reasons for this decision:

a) The Cineplex was mostly showing the stupidest movies available.

b) In the early days of their marriage, my parents had lived in Karachi for a while, and they too had gone for a camel ride.

c) The camel owners made it seem like so much fun.

Once that had been decided, all we had to do was go to Seaview. We examined a few camels and their owners from a distance. Then a benign-looking old man with a camel approached us. We asked him how much a camel ride cost. “Just 50 rupees,” he coolly replied.

“Wow! Just 50 rupees! That’s pretty cheap.”

Climbing the camel was a bit tricky, but we eventually managed it. The ride was okay. We were busy commenting on how different the sea and everything else looked from the top of a camel. The ride went smoothly for a while. We even bestowed a smile or two on the flower sellers who were running after the camel.

Then reality sank in. We enquired of the camel owner about how long the ride was going to last. Being jolted on a camel wasn't exactly the most comfortable ride in the world. So we anxiously expressed the desire to get down. “Okay Saeen. But the second phera has just started. And if you get down now, I am still going to charge for the second round.”

Oh well, thought we, since he is going to charge us anyway let’s continue with the ride. After a couple of yards of further torture, we asked him if the second round was over.

“Of course! It was over when we were at that spot. Now it is the third one.”

We were very surprised and protested that less than a minute ago he had told us that it was second round. “Yes, that was then. Now it is not.” He didn’t look half as sweet and benign now.

“All right then, please let us down once the third round is over.”

“I would have. But this is the fourth one.”

When he began to insist after barely covering a few inches of ground that it was the fifth phera. We decided there was no point in going any further. And there ended our first and last camel ride.

At this time, we looked at the old camel owner with not-so-cordial feelings. Indifferent to the low level to which he had sunk in our eyes, he demanded to be paid 600 Rupees. “What! You said it was for 50 rupees only and we got down at the fifth round,” we protested.

“Sixth! And it was 50 rupees for each passenger.” He calmly informed us. We tried to remind him that he hadn’t mentioned the ‘each passenger’ part in the beginning. He said that it wasn’t his fault, we should have asked him. At that point, we had positively begun to regard him as a villain.

Since that day, no matter how sweet or benign a camel owner looked, we just scowled at him.

On the way back home, we decided to take a taxi because the wind had become strong and chilly. But the taxi we hailed didn’t stop. And we thought, what the heck, it is so pleasant, let’s walk home.

We turned into the wrong street and lost our way. (Hey, we were new in Ajman!) Then it started to drizzle. Soon it was raining steadily and we were all but soaked. My husband kept insisting that our apartment building was just around the corner and that we would be there in a minute. However, when it began to pour, we had to take shelter under the awning of a nearby shop.

Eventually, we found a taxi to take us home. And therein lies the answer to my friend’s query, “Tum bahir nahin nikalteen” (“Don’t you ever go out?”). Yes, I do. But then I can seldom find my way back! 

Sumaira Khalid is a Pakistani writer and translator from Lahore, Pakistan, currently living in Dubai. She is a graduate of the University of Punjab, where she obtained an M.A. in English Language and Literature with distinction. Sumaira writes personal narrative, fiction, children’s literature, and poetry, in both English and Urdu languages. Her work was recently featured in the Akewi Magazine

Twitter: @sumairakm