If you’ve heard of NaNoWriMo, then you know that 20,000 words isn’t that impressive. In actuality, someone writing 1,666 words a day should have 25,000 words in 15 days. But, as my students are fond of saying, I have a million things to do, so 20,000 is a goal post I’m willing to celebrate.
This is the as yet unnamed novel-in-progress, my first crime thriller, set in the Arabian Gulf, featuring an ensemble cast. This snippet takes us into Manu point of view. He is a young man from Nepal, who arrives in-country, hoping to earn enough to help halt his ailing mother’s decline.
Tell me your likes/dislikes about the genre – so much to learn and write.
“You! Where you go?” The man in the robe was back, making a straight line for Manu.
“Toilet,” Manu said. He didn’t stop walking, lest he embarrass himself in front of all the eyes, now watching.
The man in the robe grumbled but matched Manu’s pace. He entered the bathroom, amazed at how clean it was, compared to the latrines he used in Nepal.
When he re-emerged, the man in the robe was waiting for him. He looked up from his phone and indicated with the radio antennae he was to rejoin his group. Manu walked, as slowly as he could, taking in the glittery countertops on the other side of the visa line. There were perfumes, chocolates, and toys.
“Okay, now,” the FBJ representative was shooing them all like schoolboys towards a roped column in front of the visa desk. “One by one,” he said. “One by one.”
They stepped forward. Manu looked at the young man who was stamping their documents. He took each passport from the ledge above his desk, flicking through the pages, his eyes passing over the face in front of him in an instant, before the heavy stamp descended.
The FBJ rep scuttled them through the baggage area, where the men wandered through a heap of rice paper bags and taped boxes, trying to identify their own.
Manu turned not understanding.
“Your bag?” The rep asked, eyeing Manu with suspicion.
“I lost it,” he said.
The rep shook his head but handed Manu a piece of paper. “Sign,” he said.
Manu looked at it, wishing he had stayed in school longer, as Amita had insisted. He couldn’t make out much anyway, the contract was in Arabic. But there, above the signature, he could make out numbers, since they often used the same ones in Nepal for license plates.
“This says 1,000,” Manu said. “What’s this? The salary? They promised me 1500.”
The rep clicked his tongue, peering at Manu as if seeing him for the first time. “You don’t want this job? You can go back.”
The other men were signing their contracts, passing the one pen among them.
“I want to work,” Manu protested. “But for the amount they said.”
The rep began walking, the column of men following him as they left the brightly lit airport into the warm night. They walked the length of the parking lot, to a dark corner, where a bus waited for them, lumbering in the dark.
Manu climbed the steps, promising himself he would speak to the rep later.
“Sign,” the man said, putting an arm across Manu’s chest. The contact and the pen were pressed at him.
Manu signed. His legs quivered after so much time standing. He collapsed into a seat, his shirt sticking to him. Unlike the airplane or the airport, the bus had no air conditioning. Humidity rolled through the open window and up and down the aisle like a beast with moist breath. They creaked their way through the city, mostly at sleep, and largely in the dark. The bus followed roads that snaked away from the bright lights of the perimeter, until they entered a neighborhood with dusty streets, and grey bricks made of concrete. There was laundry hanging on drooping lines and smashed vehicles waiting outside of garages. Men were walking around in collared shirts, and lungis, the cotton loincloths of the Indian subcontinent.
When they shuddered to a stop outside a chain link fence, running around a group of squat, brown buildings, spotlights illuminating the guard station at the front gate, the pit of dread in Manu’s stomach grew.