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Caught in Qatar

I’m at one of the Movenpick Hotels in Doha, and I’ve just had another smoke. The first one was before taking a 15-minute dip. There is nothing quite as therapeutic as floating and shimmering through a swimming pool at night. I have laid out clothing for tomorrow and packed a piece of luggage for Kuwait. Mike Myers’ ‘The Love Guru’ is playing on my laptop, which I began watching on the plane from Dubai that evening.

There is quick banging on the door, then nothing, at least for a while. And as suddenly, the banging comes again. I tread towards the peephole where I’m looking down on a grey fringe surrounding a bald crown in its early old age.

”Who is it?”

The man shouts, “We are men!” His voice is angry with purpose so I am scared, but for the time being, I think, at least there is the door between us.

“Who ARE you?”

“We are men!” The pounding continues.

He materializes a cigarette, lights it and walks away.

I retreat to the desk now aware of my heart pumping. I think to steady myself. It then occurs there could be cameras in the room. Is that even possible? I look around.

I consider that I should only smoke in the bathroom. I then doubt that secret police would monitor the bathroom.

I turn to my laptop and it dawns that the volume could have been up too loud. I listen around the room and hear nothing. The laptop reads 10:31 pm. That can’t be too late to watch a movie.

And before I can form a cohesive thought the banging commences. It’s the same scenario on the other side of the peephole.

I’m now on the phone. I calmly explain the situation to the receptionist who says she’ll call security and then call back. The banging continues.

I again peer through the door, and I now see a much younger man in his forties with a stylized head of salt-and-pepper hair.

“Who ARE you?” I almost plead.

But then from one side of the hallway a hotel employee walks past the threshold, and the two men as briskly walk the other way.

I continue to stare not knowing quite what to think. The thought to relax hasn’t yet struck me.

I call the front desk again.

The receptionist’s English is hard for me to understand. She says something about 911. Is there 911 in Qatar, I think to myself. I slip back to the call and implore her to call back when she has an explanation.

She doesn’t call back. The minutes pass with weights, and so I have to call her back.

Now I am speaking to a manager. He describes the implausible scenario that someone had lost their room key so was trying to find where he was staying.

This would have made sense if the man, the men, were drunk. But it still wouldn’t be excusable. Not in a dry hotel in an essentially dry country. But this didn’t even seem a remote option. Hearing this explanation I conclude that if this were a lost-key story then there was clearly something very wrong with the man himself. I considerer he could be medicated, but this seems a long shot. And besides, there were two men. It just doesn’t piece together. The man on the phone apologizes, but it is too brusk to feel much relief.

I have already hidden all evidence. I’ve crushed the diet Pepsi can and shoved it in the dustbin.

The manager apologizes again. He says how the guest in room 911 had called. Perhaps he was the second man I saw through the peephole. He explains how the one man was banging on all the doors from rooms 901 to 912 looking for his room. And the last room he checked, room 912, was the one where he was staying.

I realize I am not that nervous. I know this because I am also not that relieved.

Before going back to the movie, I jump on Facebook and smoke a cigarette. There is a message from Julie. I haven’t spoken to Julie in years, so I’m excited to hear from her and eagerly read:

I wish I was writing you under different circumstances but I have some really sad news. Stephan took his own life on Tuesday.

Without quite processing what I’ve just read or having perhaps not really paid attention, I quickly plough through the email.

I got the news on Friday from his ex boyfriend Matt who heard from another friend of ours from NY. I’m in shock and totally distraught…I just can’t believe it…he had been doing so well over the past year.

I’m sorry. xo Julie

I haven’t spoken to Stephan since I last spoke to Julie. But we had known each other for many years until then, or at least on and off. And in my head I compiled our timeline together through Korea, Thailand, New York, and Portland.

In layered dazes, I scroll through other Facebook posts. A high school friend is finally engaged, and I think about it long enough to be happy for him.

I reread Julie’s post from beginning to end, this time letting each word soak, as if doing so would somehow reveal more than what I already know; as if I could ever really know; as if really knowing makes a difference.

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