The train slowed down until it finally stopped, maids carried sleeping babies and families gathered their things making their way into the station. Two weeks had come and gone quickly, leaving us back in the same routine. As we entered the villa, the smell of pif paf (bug powder) and dust wafted through the air. I looked at the walls, tan with specks of brown, reminding me of the first night we arrived in Riyadh. Lines traced the places where furniture had once stood. The indoor outdoor black carpeting felt coarse on my feet and the three bed pads now looked shabby and worn. Dirty clothes were stacked on the blue plastic chair as we settled into our old sleeping quarters. The kids continued to snicker and talk of their antics with “the cousins” as we lay in the dark on the villa floor.
The next morning feelings of doom returned as they had in the beginning of life in Saudi. The boys played on the roof and in the downstairs area while the girls made forts out of the bed pads. I carted loads of laundry upstairs to the washer on the top floor and made up games to fritter away the remaining days left until school. Baby Abude slept most of the day while we sat in front of the new t.v. watching lines and patterns signal the start of daily programming. The English channel started at 4 p.m. and was limited to censored news read by a local English speaker and then obscure shows intermixed with some Western programming. The stress of school was exhausting and so we chose to overlook it until the time arrived. The trip to Al-Khobar had been rejuvenating but had also heightened our awareness of the stark reality we had been living in.
Soon after our little vacation he announced that he had located the perfect apartment. It was new, centrally located downtown and within walking distance of shops, restaurants, but most importantly, a new school. The children were filled with excitement and the villa was humming with chaos. Questions raced through our minds and the only answer was to bring us along and tour the new place. The building was sleek and shiny, unlike the rough exterior of standard Saudi homes. The entry way was lined with polished marble where one could place an accent table and chair. Finishing touches were flawless, unlike the villa where spackle and putty covered holes in tiling, doors and bathtubs. Three large bedrooms, a family room and living room, each with a view to the busy street below. Light streamed through the clear, large windows and seemed to reflect and dance upon the walls. For months the dark villa had seemed like little more than a cage, no way to see the sun or sky.
At the end of our tour he mentioned a tiny detail, as he always did, to make sure I understood and accepted, no electricity. The building was finished but waiting for a simple hook up which would be coming any day. Until that time, it was rent free and electricity was supplied from the building next door. The atmosphere and ability to view the outside world precluded logic and in reality the decision had already been made. I had no idea that days would turn into months, enduring temperatures as high as 115 degrees, struggling with hours of no a/c, no lights and no way to cook on the swap meet stove.