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Authors: Zoë Ferraris

Tags: #Mystery, #Middle Eastern Culture

City of Veils

BOOK: City of Veils
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Finding Nouf


Copyright © 2010 by Zoë Ferraris

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Little, Brown and Company

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at

First eBook Edition: August 2010

The characters and events in this book are fi ctitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

ISBN: 978-0-316-08928-9




Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52



he woman’s body was lying on the beach. “Eve’s tomb,” he would later come to think of it, not the actual tomb in Jeddah that was flattened in 1928, to squash out any cults attached to her name, nor the same one that was bulldozed again in 1975, to confirm the point. This more fanciful tomb was a plain, narrow strip of beach north of Jeddah.

That afternoon, Abu-Yussuf carried his fishing gear down the gentle slope to the sand. He was a seasoned fisherman who preferred the activity for its sport rather than its practical value, but a series of layoffs at the desalination plant had forced him to take up fishing to feed his family. Sixty-two and blessed with his mother’s skin, he had withstood a lifetime of exposure to the sun and looked as radiant as a man in his forties. He hit the edge of the shore, the hard-packed sand, with an expansive feeling of pleasure; there were certainly worse ways to feed a family. He looked up the beach and there she was. The woman he would later think of as Eve.

He set his tackle box on the sand and approached carefully in case she was sleeping, in case she sat up and wiped her eyes and mistook him for a djinn. She was lying on her side, her dark hair splayed around her head like the tentacles of a dangerous anemone. The seaweed on her cloak looked at first like some sort of horrible growth. One arm was tucked beneath the body; the other one was bare, and it rested on the sand in a pleading way, as a sleeper might clutch a pillow during a bad dream. The hand was mutilated; it looked to be burned. There were numerous cuts on the forearm. Her bottom half was naked, the black cloak pushed up above her waist, the jeans she was wearing tangled around her feet like chains. His attention turned to the half of her face that wasn’t buried in sand. Whole sections of her cheeks and lips were missing. What remained of the skin was swollen and red, and there were horrible cuts across her forehead. One eye was open, vacant, dead.

“Bism’allah, ar-rahman, ar-rahim,”
he began to whisper. The prayer spooled from his mouth as he stared dumbfounded and horrified. He knew he shouldn’t look, he shouldn’t
that sort of image knocking around in his memory, but it took an effort to turn away. Her left leg was half buried in the sand, but now that he was closer, he saw that the right one was cut around the thigh, the slashes bulbous and curved like tamarinds. The rest of the skin was unnaturally pale and bloated. He knew better than to touch the body, but he had the impulse to lay something over the exposed half of her, to give her a last bit of dignity.

He had to go back up to the street to get a good cellular signal. The police came, then a coroner and a forensics team. Abu-Yussuf waited, still clutching his fishing rod, the tackle box planted firmly by his feet. The young officer who first arrived on the scene treated him with affection and called him “uncle.” Would you like a drink, uncle? A chair? I can bring a chair. They interviewed him politely. Yes, uncle, that’s important. Thank you. The whole time, he kept the woman in his line of sight. Out of politeness, he didn’t stare.

While the forensics team worked, Abu-Yussuf began to feel crushingly tired. He sensed that shutting his eyes would lead to a dangerous sleep, so he let his eyes drift out to sea, let his thoughts drift further.
. Her real tomb was in the city. It had always seemed strange that she was buried in Jeddah, and that Adam was buried in Mecca. Had they had a falling-out after they were exiled from the Garden of Eden? Or had Adam, like so many men today, simply died first, giving Eve time to wander? His grandmother, rest her soul, once told him that Eve had been 180 meters tall. His grandmother had seen Eve’s grave as a girl, before the king’s viceroy had demolished the site. It had been longer than her father’s entire camel caravan.

One of the forensics men bent over the body. Abu-Yussuf snapped out of his reverie and caught a last glimpse of the girl’s bare arm.
Allah receive her.
He leaned over and picked up his tackle box, felt a rush of nausea. Swallowing hard, he looked up to the street and began to walk with an energy he didn’t really have. Uncle, can I assist? This was another officer, taller than the first, with a face like a marble sculpture, all smooth angles and stone. The officer didn’t give him time to protest. He took Abu-Yussuf’s arm and they walked up together, taking one slow step at a time. The going became easier when he imagined Eve, a gargantuan woman stomping across cities as if they were doormats. She could have taken this beach with one leap. Pity it was only the modern woman who had been rendered so small and frail.


24 hours earlier

n the loading garage of Al-Amir Imports, the great bustle of activity drowned out the sound of Nayir’s cell phone, which went unnoticed in his pocket. There were tents to be folded, rations to be stored, and water to be measured, not to mention that the GPS navigation network still hadn’t been brought online. While the younger Amir brothers were raising a fuss about the static on the screens of their handhelds, an assistant came rushing up to warn Nayir that the servants had forgotten to stock salt tablets.

Nayir went straight to the Land Rover in question—cell phone still happily jangling—and foraged in the trunk for the missing tablets. He found table linens and silverware, two boxes of cigars, a portable DVD player, and a satellite dish—none of which he had approved for the trip. Men brought whatever they wanted to the desert, but the satellite dish was going too far.

“Take this stuff out,” he ordered. “Don’t tell anyone. Just do it.”

“Where should I put it?” the assistant asked.

The sweat ran in rivulets down Nayir’s back. “I don’t care. Just make sure they don’t notice it’s missing until we’re gone.” He took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face. The garage, like many belonging to the superrich, was air-conditioned, but it made no difference. The heat bled into everything. “And send a servant to buy salt!” These men were going to have daily doses of salt tablets whether they liked it or not. He didn’t want them coming home on stretchers, dying of dehydration.

Nayir grabbed a water bottle and headed for the door. Behind him, twelve Land Rovers sat in regal formation, each attended by detailers, fussed over by mechanics, lovingly attended like pashas of old by the eager hands of slave labor (this more modern type of slave imported from Sri Lanka and the Philippines), and all for a five-day jaunt to the desert so that the male half of a large and obnoxiously rich family of textile importers could later brag to their friends and neighbors about shooting wild foxes, eating by a campfire, and generally “roughing it” at the edges of the Empty Quarter. The trip had originally been planned for a fortnight, but because of the great chaos of schedules and commitments—each Amir son with his own boutique to manage, investors to please, workers to boss around—their desert adventure had slowly been whittled down to five days.
. Nayir counted them in his head: Days one and two, to the desert. Day three, piss in the desert. Days four and five, drive home.

He remembered the preparations for long-ago trips, taken to far more difficult locales in the company of greater men than these. Packing sandbags and live pigeons for archaeological digs with old Dr. Roeghar and Abu-Tareq. “Why are we bringing
to the desert?” Nayir had asked, back then a boy of eight. “To give us ballast in case of a storm,” Dr. Roeghar had replied. Nayir had not understood the word
and he had had to refer to his uncle’s English-Arabic dictionary. When he finally understood, the idea conjured such a wild, windswept image of the desert that he could hardly suppress his excitement. Then he reached the real desert, so treacherously hot that he and the other children had to cover their faces for the first time, ingest water at ritual intervals like medicine, and discover the indignity of salt tablets on the gastrointestinal system.

He’d worn his first pair of sunglasses that year and been teased by Abu-Tareq’s daughter Raja’ for looking American, so he’d taken them off and never worn sunglasses again. Young, beautiful Raja’ with the bright green eyes. She swore that she’d marry him someday, and he believed it, to his later, quiet embarrassment. During the day, they slept side by side in his uncle Samir’s tent on an old mattress of straw that smelled incongruously green and chemical. Machines loomed above them, set on folding wooden tables. He and Raja’ always curled up like twins, face to face, with dust on their cheeks and sand in their hair. They locked legs sometimes, and once he tied pieces of string in her hair while she slept, and then tied the whole bundle with a longer string to his own hair. Occasionally, when they woke, he’d find that her fingers had become entangled in his hair, which was long and often knotted from the wind. The wind would wake them at dusk, and they’d hear the camp stirring, and the coolness of the evening would beckon them outside. Entangled fingers would be forgotten as they raced off to play.

BOOK: City of Veils
3.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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