Chapter 4, Guilt

Everyone envied Nadia for living in a luxurious modern villa that overlooked the sea. They envied her for her beauty, elegance, and marrying a rich man who was lucky enough to be employed as an Investment Placement Officer in a time when the market was booming. She, herself, was feeling blessed to have all that although she came from a well off and known family. It’s the attention, the admiration, and being under the spotlight that kept her going.

After spending two hours at the gym, she walked into her house to find her husband Manaf sitting on a white leather sofa holding his iPad. “You’re back early this week”, she said, surprised to see him.

“Yup. My evening flight was canceled so I took an earlier one” he said coldly with his eyes fixed on the iPad.

Nadia walked to the sofa and sat beside him, “It’s good that they informed you earlier at least”.

“Yeah” he nodded, still with all his attention on the iPad.

“Wanna go out for dinner tonight?”

“Sure”

“Where do you feel like going?”

“Anywhere”

“Shall we go to Meat Co?”

“Let’s keep it casual. Blaze Burgers will do. And call your friends if you like” he finally raised his head and looked her in the eyes.

Instead of screaming and accusing him of being ignorant recently and obviously avoiding spending quality time with her, she swallowed it all and calmly reached for her mobile and messaged the girls: “Manaf is inviting you for dinner tonight. See you in Blaze at 8”.

 

**

Yara was laying on her bed watching Grey’s Anatomy when Tamara walked in carrying a box of Krispy Kreme donuts.

“Want some?” said Tamara opening the box.

“Please, that’s a perfect mood lifter” said Yara picking up an Original Glazed.

“You seriously watch this?” asked Tamara as she turned her head to the TV.

“I’m 28, what do you expect me to watch? Hannah Montana?”

“No. Glee!” said Tamara and let her tongue out.

“Get lost” said Yara as she watched Tamara making her way out of the room. She admired her for finding her joy in watching Glee and in a box full of donuts. She wished for two things at that moment, for her to be at Tamara’s age, and for her father to be alive. Things would have been different if he was still alive. She’d travel around the world just like she always did, buy designer bags and stay in five star hotels. She missed feeling safe and secured. She missed all the love and support that he used to provide her with. It’s been months since he left, but she still can’t get over the fact that he’s gone and how his death changed her life tremendously.

Her mind then shifted to the last time she saw Fahad. She thought of her harsh reaction and how that made her live with guilt the past few days. She realized by then that the way she handled it was wrong, and that she let out everything that she was going through on him.

Meredith Grey ended the episode with her life quotes, but Yara’s mind was far from it.  The only thing that brought her back to her senses was the clock that pointed at 7. Time to get ready for dinner.

 

**

“I will never get over how good this burger is!” said Yara as she took a bite of Old School Burger.

“This place should expand around GCC. I can easily find investors in Doha” said Manaf confident.

“By the way Manaf, I’ll spend the weekend in Durrat AlBahrain with the girls” said Nadia and took a sip of diet coke.

“Sure” nodded Manaf and went on bragging about the need to market Bahraini businesses in the Gulf. She was hoping that he’d object, that he’d ask her to spend the weekend with him since they only get to see each other on weekends. But she wasn’t surprised that he didn’t.

The three ladies turned their heads around curiously to see the person that Manaf was waving at warmly through the big window. That window offered an excellent view of everyone who passed by to access Adliya where all the hip and fine dining restaurants were located. And what a view it was to find Osama waving and smiling back!

Dalal’s eyes popped out of place: “He knows him too!” she whispered to Yara who was sitting next to her.

“Ssshhhh. He’s coming” said Yara and looked back to check if Fahad was with him, but he wasn’t.

The backdoor was opened, Osama walked in and made his way directly to Manaf who stood up to greet him. The ladies exchanged confused looks.

“This is Nadia my wife” said Manaf introducing them. “And those are Yara and Dalal, her friends”.

“You girls look familiar” said Osama after greeting them.

“Accounting class” said Dalal excitingly and Yara hit her leg immediately.

“Oh yes that’s right. It’s been a while. So what do you do now?” he asked sweetly.

“I work in BBK” Said Dalal, still excited.

Osama nodded and turned his gaze to Yara. “I have my own business” she said calmly.

“That’s great. What kind of business?”

“Art Gallery. I sell photos and paintings”.

“Awesome. What about you Nadia?”

“She’s a housewife” answered Manaf.

“I used to work in a law firm but I quit when I got married.” Explained Nadia offended.

“Oh, you studied law?”

“Yeah, accounting class did me no good so I transferred”

Osama laughed, “It’s good to see you girls after all those years.”

“Who are you with?” asked Manaf.

“With the guys. They are upstairs. Can you pass by our table when you’re done? I want you to meet someone” said Osama.

“I can come now.” said Manaf and followed Osama upstairs.

“Can you believe what just happened?” asked Dalal in over excitement.

Nadia started giving Dalal a long lecture about how she should act more mature with men: “You have to be calm. Don’t be such a blah”.

“What did I say? He asked and I answered!”

“She will never get it. Leave her!” said Yara with a distracted mind. She was hoping that Fahad was not upstairs, and that he doesn’t turn out to know Manaf as well.

“But what are the odds? We don’t see the guy for years and suddenly he’s everywhere!” said Dalal, still not getting over it.

“Hey, what are you thinking of?” said Nadia as she noticed Yara absent minded.

“You think that I was rude to Fahad?”

“Yes. You had a point, but he seems to be a gentleman and I’m sure that he didn’t mean to offend you” said Nadia.

“I really don’t understand how you had the ability to insult him!” said Dalal.

“I was angry and I shouldn’t have judged him” she looked around nervously with a feeling that he’d suddenly show up and join the guys upstairs. Scenarios were playing in her head with different reactions and conversations. He didn’t come.

The ladies were walking towards Lilo Cafe to have dessert after dinner when Dalal’s phone rang: “Hey mama…I’m fine…dinner was delicious…I had the Tabooga….”.
“They have the cheesiest mother-daughter relationship I’ve ever seen” said Yara as Dalal kept on giving her mother details about their evening.

 

“Girls, my mother is inviting you over to watch a movie now” said Dalal loudly.

“I can’t, Manaf just got back today.” Said Nadia.

“I can!!” said Yara.

“Great…Mama, Yara is coming..Who’s at home?”

 

“I need to spend some time with that hyper family. I need it for some reason” whispered Yara.

Nadia smiled: “I understand”.

**

“Yaraaaaa, finally, shloanech? How is your mother? Why don’t you ever come visit?” said Dalal’s mother as she grabbed Yara and showered her with kisses without giving her any chance to answer. “I always ask Dalal about you. Why don’t you come have lunch with us? This is your house my dear you shouldn’t be shy. And get your mother too I’d love to see her, you know I love being around people always…….” She went on and on while Yara struggled to breath between all the rough hugs and smooches.

“So which movie are we going to watch?” wondered Dalal taking a seat.

“Your brother got this one. Hangover? and I have an Egyptian one with Ahmed Helmi. Which one do you like Yara?” asked the mother holding the DVDs.

“Let’s watch the Egyptian one” said Yara, in desperate need for this family’s crazy comments.

“AHMEDDDDDDDDDDD, WE ARE GOING TO WATCH THE MOVIE! COME HERE RIGHT NOW!” screamed the mother.

“Oh Yara’s here!” said Dalal’s brother as he walked out of his room wiping the lenses of his eyeglasses with his t-shirt.

“Hey Ahmedo, sup?” said Yara.

“Still single” he joked and put the glasses on.

“Only because you’re blind my son. Look how gorgeous this girl is. You better marry her before someone else steals her just like they did with Nadia.” Said the mother.

Ahmed blushed and got embarrassed when Nadia’s name was mentioned. He was one of the many guys who had a crush on her before she got married.

“Come on auntie, he’s like a brother to us. We grew up together” said Yara in an attempt to make the conversation less awkward.

“Don’t start this brother issue. There is no such thing. Yalla play the movie, I want to laugh. And you two will realize someday that you’re wrong. What a generation!”  Complained Dalal’s mother and took a pile of sunflower seeds from a bowl that was placed on the table beside her.

Yara was laughing so hard that her eyes were tearing because of all the hilarious commentaries around her. All kind of junk were being passed around; cheese curls, popcorn, seeds, soft drinks, tea…etc.  For a couple of hours this family managed to get Yara’s attention away from all her problems. She blocked all the thoughts and enjoyed the night.

**

The next morning, Yara was reversing the car out of her garage when she noticed Tamara by the house door waving and asking her to come back. She parked the car outside and went back in: “What is it?”

“You’ve got to see this!” said Tamara pointing her head to the hallway. Yara turned around and froze in shock: “Mama!! What happened to you!”

Her mother was standing in her full glory and elegance. She was wearing a short navy blue dress with a black belt around her waist, her thick black hair was blow-dried, her face was finally looking alive with pink blusher on her cheeks and eyeliner and mascara perfectly applied. Her black high heels added few centimeters to her tall posture and her Gucci handbag was dangling on her arm.

“I thought that you’d be happy to see me like this!” said the mother with her hand on her waist.

The girls stared at each other and burst out laughing. “Seriously, what are you up to?” Asked Yara.

“Well, I decided that it’s time for me to move on” said Sajida.

“By doing what exactly?” asked Yara trying to hold a laugh.

“By living! As simple as that!” said the mother.

“Oops” said Tamara.

“It’s time to fix my relations with all people around me. Or maybe find new people and new relations. You see, if I had any good friends or if I was in good terms with my family we could’ve got help when we needed it!” said the mother moving a streak of hair away from her face.

“Now we’re talking” said Yara realizing her mother’s intentions.

“Please tell me that you didn’t expect me to say that I’m getting a job!” said the mother.

“Coming from you, it won’t make sense!” said Yara.

“Good. And now excuse me, I have a lot of work to do” said the mother and made her way out with the sound of her heels echoing all around the house.

**

Yara was re-arranging some photos in the studio when she suddenly saw Fahad crossing the road towards his café. She rushed outside,“FAHAD”, she called after him.

“I owe you an apology”, said Yara nervously after they said their hellos. “I wish that I could take it back. I was angry and I didn’t know what I was saying”.

“I just wish that you gave me a chance to explain. It was a misunderstanding. I tried calling you to tell you about it before you found out”

“I know, I realized that later on” she lowered her head.

“Anyhow, you have to be sure that I wasn’t prying and that I wasn’t trying to insult you or anything of that sort”

Yara smiled “You know..I was thinking.. a man who appreciates art cannot be insensitive.”.

Fahad laughed “I don’t blame you. I’m a stranger who paid your bill. It is freaky in a way”.

“I’m sorry. It’s just that a lot is going on and I let it out on you”

“I’m sorry too. I should’ve talked to you before taking any action”

“I can forgive you under one condition”

“Women! And what’s that condition?”

“You don’t pay me for the photo that you ordered from me”

“Come on. It’s worth much more than the bill I paid”

“It’s the only thing that will make me feel better about all this!” she insisted.

“Alright fine. It’s a deal. Friends?” said Fahad as he offered his hand for her to shake.

She slowly moved her hand away from her waist and placed it in his warm masculine hand: “Friends” she said..

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Chapter 3, Debts

After parking his black X5 on the pavement, Fahad was walking towards the café when he noticed that the lights in Yara’s studio were still off. It’s been a week since he first met her and every time he passed by he found the place dark or closed. This time he saw a shadow moving inside so he walked in.

“Hello?” said Fahad trying to get the Indian guy’s attention.

“Hello sir, sorry we are closed” said Santosh.

“Are you still having a problem with electricity?”

“Yes sir”

“What is the matter? Maybe I can help”

“Thank you, sir. We are working on it”

“But it’s been a week. Let me get one of my staff to check it” said Fahad as he walked out.

“No, sir. You can’t do anything. We already talked to the EWA and we’ll get it back soon” said Santosh trying to cover up.

“It doesn’t take that long to fix whatever could be wrong! I will talk to them” insisted Fahad and left the studio.

**

Yara, Dalal and Nadia were having their usual coffee gathering at the café:

“I was really excited about Paris and now I’m just running out of things to look forward to!” said Dalal in a whiny tone.
“No one needed it as much as I did, trust me. But we have to think of another plan” Said Yara.
“You wanna go to Durrat AlBahrain for the weekend?” asked Nadia.
“Please, no. I hate that place.” Said Dalal.
“Why not. We’ll get to be away and relax by the pool” Yara nodded.
“How boring! This is not what I had in mind. I was hoping for a fun and loud break!” Said Dalal disappointed.
“But that’s our only option right now. So you either come or not!” warned Nadia.
“You know that I’ll end up coming anyway!” said Dalal annoyed. “Oh wait, who’s that hottie?” she wondered as she saw Fahad walking in the café.

Yara turned her head to see Fahad approaching their table: “Hi Yara”

“Hi!” she said smiling.

“Good to see you here!” he said while Dalal was looking at both of them with question marks all over her face.

“Those are my friends Dalal and Nadia”

“Nice to meet you” he shook their hands and turned back to Yara: “How have you been? Is my picture ready yet?”.

“Not yet, I’m really sorry didn’t get a chance to work on it. Been very busy the past week”

“It’s ok, no rush. Just give me a call once it’s ready” he said and handed her his business card.

“By the way girls, Fahad owns this café”

 “Oh really?” said Dalal with one eyebrow crossed.

 “Any complaints, you know who to go to” said Fahad as he excused himself and walked away.

“He’s something!!” said Nadia amazed as soon as he left “and you had nothing to say about him except for the photo he liked?”

“How do you know this guy?” wondered Dalal.

“He passed by the studio last week and introduced himself.” she said casually and took of sip of coffee.

Nehna wel amar jeeran” Nadia started singing.

“He’s not wearing a ring!!” said Dalal excited.

“Stop it girls. Seriously! You can’t do this every time I meet someone” said Yara irritated.

“He is not someone, he is SOMETHING!!” said Nadia hitting Yara’s arm.

“Look at that gray hair. I thought that he was bald at the beginning but…” said Dalal while checking him out.

“Stop staring at the guy both of you!!” yelled Yara.

“And look who just joined him” said Dalal with her jaw dropped down.

“Osama from accounting?!.” Said Nadia in shock.

“I can tell that they are good friends” said Dalal while observing them.

“And how did you figure that out Miss?” Yara said sarcastically.

“He didn’t shake his hand and the way they are talking to each other is very casual” said Dalal, still observing.

Yara’s phone rang interrupting “It’s my mum. Something must be wrong!! Hello?”

“Come home immediately!”.

**

“Hey ladies, did Yara leave?” asked Fahad approaching their table.

“Yeah, she had to leave. Need anything?” asked Nadia.

“Yeah, I need to talk to her about something quite urgent. Never mind I’ll speak to the Indian guy in the studio” he said and was about to leave.

“Do you want her phone number?” asked Dalal as if she was waiting for such chances to present themselves.

“That would be great. Thanks”

**

Yara walking into the house to find her mother sitting in the living room with a man that she had never seen before. He looked like a typical Bahraini man in his 50s, wearing a white Thoab and white Ghetra with a distinguishable white moustache.

Yara looked at him and back at her mother, waiting for an explanation. “Sit down.” Ordered her mother. Yara sat slowly next to her mum facing the man and waiting for him to speak.

“You look a lot like your father”, he said smiling.

“You knew my father?” She wondered sweetly.

“Your father was a friend of mine. Allah yerhima, he was a great man”.

Yara was still confused. Her father was a very social man and he knew a lot of people, but his family was well aware of his close friends and this man was not one of them.

“Anything we can help you with?” she asked politely.

“I’m sorry that I’ll have to tell you this. I tried to delay it as much as possible, but unfortunately it can’t be delayed anymore”

“He owes you money?” she guessed

“Yes. It was a part of a business deal that we never got to start. I assure you that I wouldn’t have asked for it if it weren’t really needed. I understand your situation. But as you know, with the current market conditions we are all facing some problems”

“You don’t have to apologize. It’s your money and you have every right to ask for it.”

Her mother stared at her with anger “Ask him if he can prove it!”

“Wait” whispered Yara back.

“Here are copies of some documents stating the amount I lent him with dates and signatures. Read it and contact me whenever you’re ready. I’m very sorry again for the inconvenience” he said as he got up.

“Thank you. I’ll surely get back to you” she said as she walked him out.

 

“This is ridiculous”, screamed the mother as soon as Yara returned.

“Please don’t start! The man was very polite and understanding.” said Yara as she went through the documents.

“How much does he want? Wait, let me have Xanax first. Where are my pills!” she fetched under the cautions.

Yara’s face went pale, she lowered the papers on her lap and stared at her mother: “10,000 Dinars!”

 

Meanwhile, Yara’s phone was ringing on silent in her handbag. She was too agitated to notice. The world was spinning around her and she couldn’t even hear her mother’s continuous cries and complaints. She couldn’t manage to pay an electricity bill, how about BD10,000?

**

The room was dark and quiet. Yara opened her eyes wondering what time it was. She reached for her mobile that was still unchecked to find 3 missed calls. One was from Santosh but the rest of the numbers were unfamiliar. It was 8 in the morning. What could he possibly want this early? She called him immediately.

“Good morning Madame”
“Good morning Santosh. What’s going on?”
“The electricity is back!”
“What? How did that happen? We didn’t pay the bill!”
“I don’t know but it was back this morning”
“I’m coming now”

She headed to the studio right away. It felt good to see it back to life, but she was sure that it was some kind of a mistake. “Santosh, do you know anything about this? I didn’t pay the bill!” she asked him as soon as she walked in.

“I don’t know Madame. But a man came yesterday and said that he will do something about it”
“A man? Who’s he?”
“He said that he’s the owner of that cafe” said Santosh pointing.
“Oh no!! Did you tell him anything about the bill?” she panicked.
“No. I told him many times that it will be back soon but he insisted to check”
“And why didn’t you tell me about this?” she screamed.

Santosh looked down and remained quiet while her panic grew to anger. She called EWA to investigate and found out that the bill was paid. She left the studio in frustration and headed to the café next door. The place was nearly empty. She looked around for Fahad but she couldn’t find him. She took a deep breath in a failed trial to calm down and sat on the nearest seat she found. One of the waitresses asked her if she’d like to have her usual coffee. “Yes please. What time does Mr. Fahad usually comes?” asked Yara. “He doesn’t have a usual time” answered the waitress.

She remembered the business card that he had handed her the previous day, and just then she realized that she had left her handbag at home. Placing her head on her palm, she thought that she heard his voice somewhere in the background of her awful morning. She turned around to see him walking towards her smiling. She stood up and looked him straight in the eyes: “I appreciate how you’re trying to help. But what you did is totally unacceptable!”

“Please let me explain”
“You are interfering in my business. It was a personal issue!”
“You are angry now. Give yourself few minutes to calm down, have a cup of coffee and we will talk about it”
“We barely know each other. Thank you for your help but I don’t need your money!”
“I apologize if you look at it this way. I thought it was a technical issue and I tried to help. The money can be considered a part of what I owe you for the photo I’m buying from you” he said gently.
“You will be getting your money back! I appreciate your concern as a neighbor but in the future please know your limits!” She said as she turned around and stormed out of the cafe, leaving him standing next to the puzzled waitress who was about to serve her coffee.

Chapter 2, Neighbors

Yara jumped out of her bed, frightened by the sound of hard knocks on her door. She rushed to the door and opened it to find Nadia standing in front of her with two Starbucks Coffee takeout cups in her hand.

“Good morning” said Nadia with a huge smile and handed Yara a cup.

“What are you doing here?” Yara stared at her with her eyes half closed.

“I came to see you!”

“It’s only 10 in the morning!” Yara took a sip and walked back to bed.

“How come you’re still asleep? I thought you’d be at the studio but I didn’t see your car there” said Nadia while walking to Yara’s bed and sitting on the edge.

“I stayed up late! Mum and her never ending drama!”

“Anything new? I didn’t see her when I came in”

“Tamara disappeared for two days and she had no idea!”

“No way!! Did you find her?”

“After going insane? Yes! She was in her friend’s house in Amwaj and she didn’t bother telling us. Of course my mother wouldn’t have noticed if I haven’t and she blamed me for being careless!”

“Wow. This is bad.”

“Try telling her that!” said Yara sarcastically.

“Does she know you’re traveling?”

“Yeah but I don’t think that it’s going to happen. I can’t leave them right now.”

“What are you going to do then? You really needed that photo shoot”

“I don’t know. I need to come up with another plan. I’m really running out of photos to sell.”

“Get dressed and let’s go somewhere nice, have breakfast & talk about this.” Said Nadia excitedly.

“I can’t! I have to be at the studio and I’m already late.”

“What am I going to do then? I have a personal trainer at 2:00 and plenty of free time till then!”

“Find yourself a job” said Yara as she got up and headed to the bathroom.

**

The front door was locked and the lights were off. Yara took a closer peak through the glass front door to see if Santosh, the Indian guy who helped her in the studio, was there. But the only thing she saw was her reflection. She knocked but there was no answer. And just when she was about to call him, he opened the door.

“There you are! Why are the lights off?” asked Yara as she walked in.

“There is no electricity Madame”

“Is it the whole block or just us?”

“Madame, they cut it off because we didn’t pay the bill yet”.

Yara bit on her lips. “Oh, I see. You can go then, Santosh. There is nothing that you can do. I will take care of that” she said while trying hard to hide her embarrassment.

Yara took a deep breath, put her hands on her waist and walked to the few photos and paintings that were left on the wall. That wall was always full of framed pictures that she shot around the world and simple art pieces that she bought from different countries. She took slow steps and sat on top of her vintage wooden desk. She took off her trademark black-framed glasses, picked up an elastic band and tied her short brown hair in a ponytail while taking an overall look at the studio. It was dark, and the only source of light was the sunrays that were coming through the glass door. That reminded her of the very first day when her father gave her this place to establish her own gallery. It was a grocery store that her grandfather used to own. Once he passed away, her father didn’t have the time nor the will to run it and he ended up closing the business down. Yara’s mother insisted that the place must be sold or rented. But Yara’s father, who believed in his daughter’s talent in photography and appreciated her eyes for art, didn’t listen to his wife and gave Yara the place and all the support she needed to start it up. Since then, she had put all her energy and power to make this place a dream come true. She traveled around the world, took random pictures and portraits in Florence, Cairo, Cappadocia, South of France, Japan and several beaches in the Far East. She bought paintings from Camden Market in London and Van Gogh’s postcard collection from MOMA and the Guggenheim in New York. Her passion had no geographical borders and no cultural boundary limits.

The death of her father changed everything. Her strong and controlling mother suddenly turned to a depressed and helpless person. That left Yara with no choice but to be the caretaker of the family. She had to spend her own money to pay for bills and groceries. What made it even worse are the debts that her father left. They had to spend a major amount of the will to pay off those debts and that was the main reason behind her mother’s depression.

Yara’s Tod’s shoes were swinging front and back across each other as her legs were dangling off the desk. She thought of her mother’s usual words: “This business of yours will not feed us. Go find yourself a real job”.  But she simply couldn’t let this place die or replace her passion with a job that will lock her up in a cubicle all day. She had to think of another way to save her business and her family.

She rested her hands on the desk and threw her head back. Paris will not happen not only because she had to be around her family, but also because she had to spend the amount that she saved up for a trip to cover other expenses, starting from the electricity bill. She yawned and stretched both arms up in the air when she suddenly heard the door of the studio open. She turned her head right in a quick move to find a manly figure by the door. She jumped on her feet and stood still.

“Hello” said the man.

“Hi” said Yara in embarrassment.

“I’m sorry, bad timing?”

“No, not at all! Excuse the darkness, we have a problem with electricity”

“If you like I can call one of my staff to fix it. Oh I’m Fahad by the way” he said as he approached her and shook her hand.

His broad shoulders were the first thing she noticed the moment he walked in. When he approached closer, she noticed his almost bald head, hooked nose and goatee.

“Yara.” She said while shaking his hand.

“I’m the owner of the café next door”

“Oh really? I’ve been a loyal customer since I started this studio”

“That’s great to hear. So you own this place!”

“Yup, but how come I’ve never seen you around? I’m between here and the cafe almost every day!”

“I’ve been out of town. I started the business two years ago and got an opportunity to do my MBA in Boston at the same time so I rented it. The rent agreement ended a couple of days ago and I’m back to business.”

“Wow. That’s great!”

“Thanks. I was curious to see this place so I thought of passing by”

“It’s usually livelier with lights, music, and more photos and pieces of course” she said shyly.

Fahad walked closer to the main wall were all the pictures were hung. He then posed in front of a big photo in the center of the wall. She noticed how this photo stole his attention as he folded his arms and observed it.

“Wow” he finally said.

“You like her?” asked Yara smiling.

“I love her! She’s my favorite singer. You took this picture yourself?” he turned to Yara.

“Yeah, that was during her concert here in Bahrain a couple of years ago. I had to beg for a photography permit”

“Impressive! You’re talented.”

“I think it’s more about her charisma and character and not my talent”

“Well, all those facts are making this photo a piece of art. Is it for sale? I’m trying to bring life back to the café and this could be a great start!”

“Actually it’s more of an exhibited piece. It’s been on this wall for two years. But if you like it this much I can make you an exact copy” she offered.

“That would be great! Thank you very much” he said excited.

“You’re most welcome”

“Alright Yara it was a pleasure meeting you but I should get going now. Please pass by for a cup of coffee anytime. We’re neighbors!” said Fahad while walking out.

“I’ll see you around” she said with a warm smile.

**

Nadia was jogging on the treadmill at the gym when her personal trainer walked up to her: “You’re gaining weight girl!”

“I KNOW” said Nadia while taking her breath.

“Run faster. You’re being lazy!”

“Been spending a lot of time on my sofa eating junk and watching TV”

“You’re young and beautiful. Go out and have fun!” she snapped!

“My friends work all day and my husband is out of town all week and he’s only here on weekends”

“Oh that must be tough. But it’s not an excuse to gain weight. Run faster!” she said again in a motivational tone and walked away.

Nadia’s phone rang at the same time. “Yes Yara” she said gasping for breath.

“You know that Majida Al-Roumi framed photo that’s been hanging in the studio for a while?”

“The one I always make fun of? What’s with it?”

“Someone is actually very interested in it!” said Yara in excitement.

“Oh no, who’s that cheesy person?”

“It’s the owner of the café next door. He passed by today”

“Is he cute? How old is he?” asked Nadia curiously.

“I’m talking about the photo and not the guy! You know me, I didn’t pay attention.”

“I know that tone Yara. You checked him out and you’re trying to hide it. TELL ME MORE”

Chapter 1. Coffee

This story was written (and also takes place) in 2010. It’s a total of 22 chapters and it’s been without a title for 8 years! I hope it adds joy to your Thursdays.. Enjoy..

                                                                       Chapter 1                                                                         Coffee

The low sound of chatter was echoing around the place, adding a rhythm to the jazz music that was softly playing. Ring tones and chat notifications were heard from one corner to the other.  The guy behind the counter was screaming numbers and calling for customers to pick up their orders. His navy blue uniform was stained with tiny drops of coffee. This place was known for its rich coffee aroma that had the ability to pull anyone who’s passing by, with no intention to have coffee, to come in. And the atmosphere was never complete without the girl with the black-framed eyeglasses who sat in the corner almost every evening with a book.

Her head was buried in her book when she heard the noise of high heels knocking on the wooden floor. Without looking up, she knew who it was.

“Yara! Enough reading” said the girl and pulled the book! “Jane Austin? Who’s that? Anyway..”. she placed the book on the table “look at me! Notice something different?”

“Oh let me guess..you dyed your hair..AGAIN” said Yara sarcastically. “Next time you think of closing a book, remember to use this thing!” she held up a book mark.

“Hello ladies” said a feminine third voice.

“Nadiaaaaaa, here you are! Save me from your boring friend.” Said Dalal fixing her freshly dyed hair.

“What’s it about this time?” Asked Nadia as she sat down, trying to hold a laugh.

“Jane Austin” Said Yara shaking her head.

“Honestly Nadia do you know who Jane Austin is?” asked Dalal with a disgusted look on her face.

“Yes, and I like your hair” Said Nadia sweetly.

“Thank you very much” said Dalal and stared at Yara, “See?? Now this is someone who appreciates beauty. And she’s getting a free coffee for that” she got up and headed to the counter.

“What’s going on? You only read Jane Austin when you’re down”.

“Nothing.” Said Yara with an absent mind.

“You know that you can’t hide anything from your life time best friend. Tell me.”

“Nothing new. It’s my mum”

“Adventures of Auntie Sajida. What did she do?” asked Nadia intrigued.

 “She’s been too depressed lately”

“But this was the case since your father passed away”

“Yes. But it’s getting worse with time. She’s not getting any better.”

“What makes you think that?” asked Nadia worried.

“She’s glued in front of the TV all the time. All she cares about are Samar and Muhanned from the dubbed Turkish Series she’s obsessed about. She yells when her tea is cold and threatens to leave the house when we run out of slice bread! That’s not normal!”

“Al-Ashq Al- Mamnoo’a? That is something that would attract her!” giggled Nadia. “But don’t be so worried. She’s the strongest woman I’ve ever met and she will find her way just like she always did”

“I hope so. Change the subject. Dalal is coming!”

“You won’t believe who just walked in!! Remember Osama?? The hunk in Accounting class?” said Dalal excitedly as she placed a tray on the table.

“You still get excited over those people? It’s been six years since we graduated from University!” said Yara.

“You stick to your Jane Austin! Nadia, OSAMA IS HERE!”

“Aaah, Osama. He was the only reason we attended Accounting” said Nadia in a dreamy tone.

“And the married woman speaks of her old crush” teased Yara, finally breaking her serious mood.

“He was every girl’s crush!!” said Nadia justifying herself.

“I can barely remember his face” said Yara squinting her eyes and discreetly looking around.

“He’s single by the way” said Dalal taking a sip of coffee.

“Single? He got married a long time ago! Remember?” said Nadia approaching her cup.

“It didn’t last for long” winked Dalal.

“Really? I didn’t know he was divorced!” said Nadia shocked.

“Well, he is divorced and you have lost your chance.” teased Yara.

“I’m going to search for his Twitter account tonight” said Dalal excited while Yara and Nadia laughed loudly.

“Please don’t stalk the guy” begged Nadia.

“Anyway. I’m planning a trip to Paris next month and I need a companion” said Yara.

“I’m so in” screamed Dalal excited.

“What about work? I thought that you ran out of leave days!” said Yara.

“I did. But unpaid leave is always an option” said Dalal with a huge smile.

“Nadia? Will you come?” asked Yara.

“Why Paris?” wondered Nadia.

“Photo shoot. What else!” said Yara.

“I’d love to. But I’ll have to check with Manaf first” said Nadia.

“Oh come on. Hubby can survive without you for few days. And he’ll be out of town anyway” said Dalal.

“Yeah, please talk to him. If I go alone with Dalool one of us will end up killing the other”

“Definitely!” confirmed Dalal.

“And you really need a getaway. Maybe you’ll get inspired and figure out what to do with your useless life” said Yara.

“Just because I quit my job doesn’t mean I’m useless” said Nadia offended.

“She’s married give her some credit” said Dalal.

“It’s not enough. You really need to do something before you end up as a Desperate Housewife.” Said Yara.

“Ok ok. I’ll talk to him tonight” said Nadia.

 

***

Yara reached her house to find her mother sitting in her usual spot, cross-legged on the sofa right in front of  TV. A tray with a floral cup and a pink thermos was placed on a small table next to her.

“Did you have dinner?” asked Yara as she passed by the living room. Her mother ignored the question. Nothing existed for her except for the Turkish episode that was loudly playing on TV. “I’m going to Paris” said Yara in a louder tone.
The mother let out a sarcastic laugh but didn’t comment.

“Mama, I’m talking.” Said Yara starting to lose her temper.

“And how will you pay for it? With the fortune that your dad had left for us?”

“I don’t need a fortune. I have to keep the studio running. I need good photos to sell!”

“This useless business of yours will shut down sooner or later. And the three of us will end up living on the streets!”

“Where is Tamara? I haven’t seen her since yesterday” asked Yara with rising concern as she noticed her sister’s absence. Her mother looked confused for a while, “I haven’t seen her either” she said.

Yara and Sajida started searching around the house looking for Tamara in panic. Her bed was made and nothing in her room showed any sign that she spent the night in the house. They kept on calling her on her mobile but it was off!

“Don’t you have any of her friends’ phone numbers?” asked Yara.

“No! Why would I!”

“What kind of a mother are you? You can be careless with me, I’m a grown up. But she’s still in middle school and she needs someone to look after her!” said Yara in frustration.

“And you are her big sister! You are responsible too!”

 

“Have you seen Tamara today?” asked Yara as she stormed into the kitchen looking for the maid.

“No. She didn’t come home since yesterday” answered the maid.

“And you didn’t bother to inform us?” screamed Sajida.

Yara’s mobile started ringing in the living room. The three of them rushed to it hoping that it was Tamara calling. “IT’S HER” screamed Yara and took the call “WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU??”

Mauritius, The Indian Ocean From an African Point of View

It wasn’t a tough decision to pick Mauritius as our beach destination for the year 2014. We’ve had enough of Asia and Europe was never an option in October. And so Africa it was! IMG_3620 Hearing and reading about the rich and mixed cultures in Mauritius got me to paint colorful images of blue beaches, green roads and multicolored gowns in my head. My expectations revolved around colors and bright mornings. I wasn’t disappointed and the beauty that we met the moment we stepped outside the airport was greener and bluer that expected. We made the right decision by choosing to stay in Dubai (for connection flight) for 8 hours just to arrive to Mauritius during the day and not after sunset. It was an unforgettable one hour ride to our hotel where we didn’t spot any sign of modern living. Fluffy clouds, endless green fields and some traditional colorful houses. That was all we’ve seen. IMG_3621 IMG_3622 IMG_3623 We were welcomed warmly to our hotel with some refreshing Mango ice cream that was a perfect thing to have after our long journey.  Le Touessrok was recommended by the travel agent and reviewed and rated as one of the best resorts in Mauritius in many travel websites. It was our second option (after the Oberoi which was fully booked) and we were sure, after all what we’ve heard, that it would be the right place to be. We had a great time and a memorable holiday, but the hotel was far from being perfect. IMG_3624 IMG_3625 IMG_3626 IMG_3629 IMG_3630 IMG_3634 We booked two Junior Suits and the rooms were spacious with all the essential facilities available. I appreciate big bathrooms and i thought that this was one of the most practical hotel/resort bathrooms i’ve ever seen. My favourite part was the balcony with its beautiful tropical view. Getting to the room from the reception area was a long yet enjoyable walk. Walking to breakfast every morning while viewing green trees and plants on my right and some narrow exits to the beach on my left was a very fresh start to my mornings. IMG_3635 IMG_3636 IMG_3637 IMG_3638 IMG_3640 IMG_3950 IMG_3951 IMG_3952 IMG_3953 The beach where our rooms were located was busy with people kayaking and fighting the tiny waves on paddle boats. It wasn’t an ideal spot for reading or relaxing. There was a quieter beach on the other side of the resort where i enjoyed my book while tanning. The pool next to it was my favourite hangout in the resort. It was refreshing and the temperature of the water was just perfect. I couldn’t have enough of it. IMG_3649 IMG_3667 IMG_3672 IMG_3675 IMG_3645IMG_3678  IMG_3696 IMG_3701 IMG_3719  IMG_3836 IMG_3845IMG_3683 IMG_3800 To my surprise, the food was extremely delicious. The breakfast buffet was huge and all kinds of food were served. I was impressed with how the bread and cold dishes were covered with net to keep the bugs away. There was a dinner buffet every night at the same restaurant. It was very busy with the same faces that we saw every morning over breakfast.  IMG_3668 Barlen’s was an elegant seafood restaurant and a good option for a quiet dinner. Each dish we ordered tasted heavenly and looked gorgeous. I loved how my fish was stamped with a Mauritian touch: Tamarind sauce. IMG_3729 The best dinner experience was at the modern Indian restaurant Safran. It was truly one of the finest Indian restaurants i’ve ever been to and the contemporary dishes were very unique and tasteful.  We all agreed that the Tandoori Salmon was the highlight of the meal. IMG_3853 IMG_3858 IMG_3860 Sega Bar was a fun place to hang out at after dinner for tea. Theme nights were organized there such as Jazz night, 80’s night and Mauritian night around the main pool. We planned our tours with the hotel upon arrival as follows: 1) Horse riding & zip lining: The plan was to spend two hours horse riding and two hours zip lining with a lunch break in between. Both activities were done at one resort but we didn’t have the flexibility to change or shorten the time since zip lining was done with a group. After one hour of horse riding around the resort, we felt that the scenery was getting repeated and that we better save our energy for the next adventure. And after three hours of waiting to start zip lining, my friend was not able to fit in the gear (they never informed us that this might be a problem) and i changed my mind after seeing the height and length of the zip line to avoid a vertigo that could easily be triggered by this and ruin the rest of my trip. Horse riding was a beautiful experience but other than that it was a waste of time. We reached the hotel shortly before sunset. IMG_3762 IMG_3763 IMG_3764 IMG_3766 IMG_3765 IMG_3770 IMG_3781 IMG_3782 2) Botanical Garden, Sugar Factory, Local Market and Bagatelle Mall: This was a fun tour that introduced us to Mauritius on a different level. The sweet driver was telling us facts and stories while driving from a place to the other. It was very interesting to smell the spices and plants as we walked around the very green Botanical Garden. The Sugar Factory visit was very informative and shopping for different kinds of sugar was very enjoyable. The handmade colorful baskets that were sold in the local market were all over the place. They were the most suitable Mauritian gifts to take back home to family and friends. Of course, bargaining is an essential part of the experience. The market was small and other than the baskets and souvenirs there wasn’t much to buy. I enjoyed shopping at Bagatelle Mall, particularly in a big shop that was selling local products: clothes, soaps, etc. The mall was located at Port Louis, the capital city of Mauritius. We were hoping to have a local Mauritian lunch, but we ended up in a French-looking restaurant that didn’t serve French food! IMG_3872 IMG_3868 IMG_3887 IMG_3895 IMG_3896 IMG_3898   IMG_3900 IMG_3901 IMG_3912 IMG_3913 IMG_3914 We enjoyed our time in Mauritius despite the disappointments that were mainly caused by miscommunication. The hotel failed to deliver some information to us as i mentioned on Tripadvisor. maur Mauritius is a great option for a beach holiday or a family vacation. Emirates Air is the only airline that flies there in the region and the price of the ticket is high. To avoid wasting your time, plan your days ahead and investigate about every single detail that comes to mind. Most importantly, go without expectations..

Maldives.. It’s a Blue World..

Date of visit: 4 – 9 October 2013

Getting there: Qatar Airways (around 4 hours & 45 minutes from Doha to Male).

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Other transportation: Seaplane from Male to Niyama Resort (around 1 hour)IMG_3843 img_3845

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Hotel: Niyama Resort

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It was my first time to experience flying on a seaplane and it was a perfect start for our trip. Viewing the mini islands and the many shades of blue from the top was a scene that will never disappear from my mind. It is a known fact that the further you go the bluer the sea becomes. And that explains the price difference between the hotels close to Male (reachable by boat) and the ones that you have to get to by seaplane.

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Booking a seaplane ticket should be done ahead of time and not upon arrival. There is a seaplane ticket booth right outside Male airport where you get to pick up your tickets and take a bus to your hotel lounge where you’ll find your seaplane parked! Seaplanes are shared and they don’t fly at night. Sometimes you pick/drop passengers from/to other islands on your way to your hotel.

This is the lounge of Niyama Resort:

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While the seaplane was landing we spotted a bunch of people waiting for our arrival. They turned out to be the management of the resort (including the GM). It’s a part of their job to welcome the guests who arrive by seaplane on certain hours of the day. They welcomed us warmly and served us delicious, delicious, delicious watermelon juice!

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This is the spot where the seaplane lands and takes off:

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Room types:

It was very hard to decide whether to go for an ocean villa or a beach villa. Ocean villas are more expensive and more Maldivian but Beach Villas are more private (which is more suitable for ladies who wear Hijab) and include spacious outdoor sitting area. Since we were a group of 5 girls, we went for both options and it was the right thing to do. I personally preferred the Beach Villa and I would definitely choose that option if i go again.

The Ocean Villas were located on a different side of the island and included a private infinity pool. Using the steps on the side of the pool you can go down to the sea for a dip. The water was very shallow but clean, crystal blue and a bit cold.

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The Beach Villas were totally different. The mini cottages were lined up on the beach side between all the tropical trees and getting to them was an experience of its own. I really enjoyed the jungle walk and avoided using buggies during the day. My favourite part was the outdoor bathroom. It was absolutely beautiful and showering in the open air was very refreshing. The only problem was the lizards visits at night (bathroom and not room) which was very annoying. The double bed was placed in the center of the room, which was different and nice, and a a sofa was turned into an extra bed. I fell in love with the outside area. There was a private pool, a swinging sofa, a dining table, tanning chairs, and a beautiful beach. The resort provided some free snacks (ice creams, popcorn, etc) on daily basis and there was a great selection of movies to watch also for free.

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This is the bathroom:

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Inside:

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Outside the room:

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Restaurants:

There were several restaurants in the resort and each was special and different. We enjoyed the atmosphere and the food was delicious in all restaurants.

1) Edge: A seafood restaurant which was 10 minutes far by boat. The outdoor area by the sea was quiet and serene. It was windy and a bit cold, but we enjoyed our very unique seafood dishes. It started raining and we moved to the indoor area where a singer was singing her own version of some popular songs with a guitarist.

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Tribal:

The name of the restaurant says it all. You feel like you’re  a guest on an island and some tribe is inviting you for dinner. In an outdoor dining setting, you hear drums in the background and enjoy the taste of the delicious grills. It was a different dining experience.

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Epicure:

Beautiful pool/beach view to start  the day with. The breakfast buffet had a large selection of dishes and once again, the juices were my favoutire. Theme nights were also held in this restaurant.

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Fahrenheit:

A very chilled rooftop lounge. We played Scrabble under the stars while sipping tea and singing along with the same singer and guitarist from Echo.

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The Deli:

I actually loved the concept of this cafe. A perfect place for a quick snack and a nice reminder of our ordinary life away from this island. You can choose your sandwich from a menu written on a choke board or you can create your own sandwich. They serve ice-creams, crisps and other treats.

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Other activities & facilities:

Public Beach: It was as quiet as our villa beach but it was nice to hang out there for a change and to order juice while viewing the blue water and the blue sky. The temperature of the water was perfect for swimming but the ground was uneven and so it was difficult to stand and walk to the shore. The sea was perfect for chilling, but i enjoyed swimming in Thailand and Greece more.

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Public Pool: A long infinity pool which was perfect for dipping, chilling  and also swimming. There was a step by the end of the deep side of the pool which i loved to sit on and read.

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Snorkeling & other water activities:  In an attempt to explore the Indian Ocean, we chose snorkeling out of all the water activities that were offered at the resort. After a 20 minutes boat ride, we jumped into the ocean wearing our snorkeling gear. It was a bit windy and so the water was not very clear. We swam around an island following our guide to view the corals but we barely saw anything. It was disappointing and it didn’t beat the beautiful view of the corals of the Red Sea in Sharm El Shaikh.

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Theme nights: We were lucky enough to attend a Maldivian theme night which was organized by the pool. The area was crowded with hotel residents, which was a good change. A large buffet was set by the beach and we got to try the Maldivian cuisine which contained a lot of tuna. There was a raw fish stand where you get to choose your fish and they grill it for you the way you like it.

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Gym and classes: I used to alternate my morning workout (before breakfast) between a walk by the beach and using the gym. I loved the view at the gym and it was a lovely experience to use the treadmill or the free runner while viewing tropical trees and blue water. The gym also offered some classes for free on daily basis but we went for a private yoga class by the beach which was one of the main highlights of the trip.

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Games room: The perfect thing to do when it rains. There were a billiard table, darts, chess, cards and board games.

Spa: What could be more relaxing than listening to the sound of the waves hitting the shore while having a massage? This experience redefined the word serenity for me. It was extremely relaxing that i fell asleep while having my massage. Before starting, the masseuse gave me a music menu to select from. I chose classical music which complimented the sound of the sea that was right under the massage room!

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The details around the place added an extra taste of perfection on our holiday. Examples are the beautiful trash baskets, a creative and fancy way to wash your feet before using the pool, and the lovely room service bike!

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A lot of people are under the impression that Maldives is only suitable for couples which is totally wrong. It is a great option for group of friends and families. It is a great beach destination and the best holiday option if you’re looking for a quiet break away from the city. Some people told us that “5 nights is too long for Maldives and you’ll definitely get bored”. It turned out to be the total opposite. We didn’t mind extending our stay and we didn’t get bored for one second. It is an extremely expensive destination but it’s worth saving up for. Your eyes can never get enough of all the shades of blue around you. Maldives is a piece oh heaven!

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Kuwait, The Happy Bubble. (2)

Visit date: Dec 19 to 21, 2013. It was only a month after the previous visit but it was freezing cold!

Airline: Gulf Air

Hotel: Movenpick Al Bidaa. Location wise it was perfect, but it was more like a resort with the rooms located outside the main building. It wasn’t luxurious although it’s a 5 star hotel but the rooms were spacious with a kitchenette and a lovely balcony overlooking the pool/garden. If you’re looking for practicality then this is the place to be as you get to park your car right outside the room and you don’t have to go through reception etc.

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Restaurants:

Lorenzo (Salhiya):

The outdoor area was packed and the cold winter couldn’t stop Kuwaitis from enjoying their weekend. The place was vibrant and it’s exactly how you want to spend your Thursday night. The starters were delicious and fulfilling that the main dish was barely touched.

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Baking Trey:

I fell in love with this place although it was empty. The outdoor area was lovely with greenery and flowers surrounding the area. The dishes we ordered for breakfast were not bad but the baked stuff that i ordered for take-away were extremely good.

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Katsuya:

I was crazy about  the food the last time we visited so i had to go again. For some reason the food tasted better last time. One dish was extremely delayed but i loved how they handled the situation. Great customer service.

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Villa Fayrouz:

Located in a villa in AlShaab. Unfortunately the outdoor area, which was beautiful, was closed. We dined inside but i didn’t like the atmosphere nor the crowd. Fayrouz didn’t exist over there. Not on the walls and her songs weren’t playing in the background. We should’ve gone to the other branch in Avenues. On the contrary, the food was excellent!

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Lanotre:

An old branch of Lenotre overlooking Kuwait Towers. We went for breakfast mainly for the view which was amazing. But the breakfast buffet was disappointing. I felt that the quality of food was not as good as it used to be. Overall it was obvious that this place was the “it” place once upon a time, but not anymore.

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Cioccolat Italiani:

A busy cafe in The Avenues that looked tempting. We had to wait for around 10 minutes to get a table. The waiter recommended the most famous dessert which was a bun stuffed with chocolate. It was surprisingly bad with an orangey hint that made it worse. My friends ordered chocolate drinks and they loved it.

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I finally got to visit That AlSalasel Bookshop. A good variety of Arabic books and few English titles.

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We found a toy shop at AlMe’allem that was a blast from the 80’s. Walking around was like a trip back in time except for the social  media bags and wallets that they were selling! They brought us back to reality.

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Till we meet again K town!