When I was a kid, I loved the place I stayed at. A tiny town tucked into the outskirts of Qatar, a 15 minute drive from the beach and the sand dunes. I loved it because everyone knew everyone and a walk down the street would guarantee a lot of excited waves, polite hellos or at the very least an exchange of smiles.
Anna and me were backdoor neighbours. Not the typical Paper towns scenario where signalled each other using torch lights or climbing into my bedroom window. More of, calling each other and going hey do you wanna chill out and then spending time there. The space outside our backdoors was literally a jungle with sticks, stones, fallen leaves and bugs of every shape and size. We still hung out there poking and prodding things, talking. We would always use the”magic portal” to go into each other’s homes and would exchange notes for school. Sometimes, we would even just hear each other’s voices in our own backyards so we would open the backdoors and scream-talk.
There was also this clubhouse kind of thing that was situated right next to our houses which was almost like a Kids next door secret headquarters (90s cartoon reference). Three tennis courts, a swimming pool, a outdoor cafe as well as a restaurant were the places of attraction. It was where I first met Anna and made a lot of friends. I also went there twice a week to learn Karate. Another friend of mine, Mel used to come over a lot and we used to go to this secret playground behind the club that seemed to be abandoned even though it had fairy lights, a set of swings and a merry go round. There was also a huge ship that was placed as an exhibit keeping in mind the name of the club- The Boat (translated from Arabic). That didn’t stop any kid from sitting on it and eating sandwiches. Me and Mel, however, took it to a whole new level pretending we were on the sinking Titanic. We pretended to drown at times and sometimes one of us would perch atop the boat and dramatically extend a hand to help the other who would pretend to be sliding down the boat and into frozen, icy waters.
I remember wearing cute dresses and dancing at New Years with my sister. I remember going to watch the FIFA matches and cheering for any team that scored. I jotted down all the movie screenings that were showcased every week (both Bollywood and Hollywood) in my diary and tried to do my homework at an inhumane speed to get there in time for popcorn. I remember jumping in the bouncy castles that were put there on special occassions and standing impatiently in line for face painting lady. All of that is still fresh in my memory as I write it down.
And then, I grew up.
I love hanging out at malls. I want to hang out with friends at the park, by the Corniche. I want to try out new restaurants, I want to shop. The clubhouse got a facelift and now it resembles a mini 5-star restaurant.
It looks grand and has a bowling alley and a squash court in addition to all the other facilities but it doesn’t really feel like a second home anymore. It is overrun with toddlers and infants because all of my friends have gone abroad to study, including Anna. I shifted houses so I can’t really open my backdoor now and look out into hers. I made friends who are outside the boundaries of the town that seems shrunken now.
My friend told me the place I was living in resembled Rosewood. (pretty Little Liars reference) Everyone knew each other, everything was close by and it made the perfect setting for a creepy story. I completely agree.
All of this could be solved if you drove Sania. You could drive yourself or anyone out of this place. I bet that is what you’re thinking. Trust me, I never had time to learn. I was always interning at one place or the other, relatives came to visit or I had to study for my exams. Things have always got in the way and I didn’t want to go to driving classes half heartedly, pay an astronomical account and not pass. I know it needs time and energy one of which was always lacking.
So sometimes I do feel stuck. Mom and dad are great of course and drive me and a couple of my friends over to the main city whenever possible. But accomplishing that requires military strategy- coordinating schedules and arranging a parent who can pick us up isn’t easy. I hate having to depend on someone but the taxis here charge exhorbitant amounts. It is annoying to have to go to the same place day after day and eat or do the same things we’ve done a dozen times before.
I think internships are a win-win. I get to travel to the city everyday, I meet people and the malls are walkable from where I work. It gives me something to look forward to and I can coordinate meeting up with people after work or I can go out to lunch with my colleagues.
I’ve seen my town developing through the years. It made me appreciate simple things. I was delighted when a KFC opened up and we finally had junk food. I was excited to go bowling with my sister at the newly opened bowling alley.
I like to think I make the best of every situation. Now that Anna is back, hanging out at the clubhouse is sometimes fun and coordinating is tough but in the end, we manage to get it right. The clubhouse as Mel always reminds me, is actually a pretyy cool hangout spot. It could get boring but it will always remain our own Central Perk (F.R.I.E.N.D reference). Walking to each other’s houses feels nice and being able to stay at each other’s houses for ages knowing we could go back any time is definitely a sweet situation.