A week ago my novel, Love Comes Later, the first novel in English set in Qatar was banned from distribution inside the emirate. The reasons the officials gave were murky and you can catch up on why here. Or here. And here.
I wrote the first one with an eye to seeing it on the shelves in the stores in Doha. Now that I know that’s unlikely for the rest of the Qatar books, I’m wondering what shape the sequel will take.
The sequel, as yet unnamed, shifts the focus away from the three main characters of the first book, Abdulla, Sangita and Hind.
We narrow in on Luluwa, the younger cousin. She’s a twentysomething, university age student, someone at the nexus of change, the “hinge” generation, and as a woman, even more pressured to satisfy social obligations.
And her adventures are many. Including a tall, dark gentleman who keeps lurking around her uncle’s house.
Here’s an excerpt. Title suggestions welcome!
“I saw guys dangling from threads,” Luluwa said, grateful for the change of subject. “On at least the fortieth floor or higher in West Bay. The ropes were tied to the roof.”
“That’s the least of their problems,” Sangita snorted. “Those guys may not want to work but at least they have jobs. Those poor bastards who have no IDs and no way home are much worse.”
“Sangita,” Abdulla said sharply.
“What? Like she’s so innocent,” Sangita said, sitting up straight. “Open your eyes,” she said. “Can’t you see she’s a woman? When she hallucinates, she dreams of strange men.”
The silence was absolute. Luluwa didn’t bother breathing for a full minute. Abdulla’s gaze turned to her.
“I’m not seeing anyone,” she said.
“I can tell you’re lying,” he snapped.
“Like it’s okay for you to judge me,” Luluwa said. She jumped up from her seat. “Look at you. You were making eyes at someone while engaged to our cousin.”
Abdulla’s palm hit the top of the table, sending all the utensils rattling. “That’s not the point and you know it,” he said. “There are consequences. Things are different because —“
“Because I’m a girl!” Luluwa spat. Tears filled her eyes. “I can’t drive because I’m a girl. I can’t study abroad I’m a girl. God knows why he made me this way if he wanted to make my life a misery.”
“Luluwa,” Sangita hoisted herself up. “It’s not that bad. Look at all the freedom you have. You’re at uni and you come and go as you please. You live with us not your parents.”
Luluwa laughed, a sound that reverberated through the kitchen. “My cheating father or my vengeful mother didn’t set a very high standard, did they?”
Sangita began to speak.
“Don’t flatter yourself,” Luluwa said. “Look what they’ve done to you in less than a year. You’re as bad as any of us.”
“Enough,” Abdulla thundered at the shocked expression on Sangita’s face. “To your room,” he said.
Luluwa blinked, a tear coursing down her cheek. The room spun slightly; she couldn’t think what brought her to say such awful things.
“Out,” Abdulla repeated, leaning across her line of vision. “Now.”
Sally came in, picking up plates as quietly as possible.
Luluwa spun around and left the kitchen. She stormed through the living room and then into her room. Unable to stop herself, in the grip of emotions she hadn’t know she had, she flung the door closed behind her. The wood gave a satisfying smack and shudder into the frame. She threw herself on the bed, as she had a hundred times before, waiting for Noor to launch into a story about her latest gossip. This time it was only Luluwa on the lavender bedspread. The thought of her best friend brought on the tears in earnest. Ever since Abdulla’s wedding, Noor had grown even more distant, even though they lived only a few meters from each other, the roofs of their houses in the family compound almost touching.
Luluwa sobbed, her eyes alighting on the photo of her sister. She had never felt alone with Fatima was alive; she always had someone to listen and give her counsel, someone patient, kind, loving, maternal, everything their mother was not. Her shoulders shook with the force of her fatigue. “Come back, Fatoom,” she said, her voice breaking. “Come back.”
“She can’t,” a man’s deep voice answered. “She can’t.”
Luluwa raised her face, meeting the eyes of the man she had seen in the courtyard. He was sitting on the bed beside her. She sat up in a rush, scrambling away from him, in her haste falling off the edge of the bed. This is a dream, a dream, a dream, she thought, clutching the edge of the bedspread. Wake up!
A head of curly black hair peered over the edge after her. The eyes, the irises not red but amber, peered over at her.
“How did you get in here?” She whispered.
“Same way you did,” he said. He smiled and the whiteness of his teeth blinded her. “Well, I walked through the door.”
She followed his gaze to the closed door. “If anyone finds out you’re here,” she said.
“Like that man in the kitchen who was yelling at you?” The stranger’s eyes turned dark, smoldering.
She could smell something burning, like chicken left in the oven too long. “Abdulla will be furious,” she said. She sat up, hoping this was the moment in the dream that he would dissipate. Luluwa willed herself to wake up in a pile of sweaty sheets.
“I’ll go if you want me to,” he said.
“Yes, yes, go.” She stood pulling him up with her from the edge of her bed. The instant she touched his skin she gasped. The heat emanating from his arm scorched the inside of her palm as though she had grabbed a pan too quickly from the oven. She fell back against the wall, cradling her right hand.
“Sorry,” he said. He hovered over her.
The feeling of heat drew closer and she averted her face, the warmth causing a flush to spread across her cheeks.
“I’m doing it again,” he muttered. “Sorry. You can’t come that close to me yet. I have to learn to control it.”
“How?” She asked. “How are you doing that?”
He gave her a small smile. “I’m not like you,” he said.
“If Abdulla calls the police, they’ll find out an Indian was in my room,” she said. “All hell will break loose. They’ll deport you.”
He laughed. The sound wasn’t musical but she couldn’t say she had ever heard anything like it.
“If they try to remove me before I want to go,” the skin around his eyes crinkled. She realized he was older than she had thought at first glance. “ Yes, as you have said, hell will break loose.”
Another rush of heat, warmth trailing up her arms, causing all the fine hair to stand at attention, the back of her neck growing sweaty. She felt drowsy, which didn’t make any sense, because wasn’t she already dreaming? He hovered over her again, lips close to her neck.
“Are you a vampire?” She breathed.
He laughed, again a sound warm yet eerie, drawing her further outside herself so she felt as though she were hearing her own voice from a spot on the ceiling.
“Nothing so modern or western as all that,” he said. Or did she hear him think it? Luluwa was having a hard time figuring out where his arm ended and hers began.
“I’m a jinn,” he said.
“What’s your name?” She asked, entranced by the rings of fire that had appeared in his pupils.
“You can not speak it in any of your human tongues,” he said or more like sighed, a whisper into her mind. “But it sounds like Javed.”
She shuddered, her body overwhelmed by the heat of him, sweat beading across her forehead.
“You came to punish me?”
His laugh echoed in her head, reverberating in her ears.
“No, my darling,” Javed said, his breath caressing her skin like a touch. “I came to save your grandfather. And I fell in love with you by mistake.”
She fell into him, her knees soft, her palms stinging at the direct contact with the skin of his chest. She couldn’t draw away, though the heat was increasing, the feeling now like a thousand stinging nettles.
“Careful,” he said, pulling away her hands, the touch of each of his fingertips singeing her wrists. “Don’t get to close to me.”
“Or you’ll burn me?” She lay back on the bed, like a doll, her limbs devoid of her will.
“No,” he said, hovering over her, his eyes now glowing flames. “If we’re not careful I will possess you. And then we’ll have real problems.”