You check out at midnight, from a lobby necklaced in light. Diesel hangs in the air, braiding with sweat. You wait for a taxi in a snaking queue of silk; jasmine; musk. This sea of hair and diamonds is waiting, too. Swipe a damp hand over your forehead but know it’s pointless. You are also late, catastrophically late.
A man appears at your side, with a dark beard; skinny; ageless. The veins on his arm glow and reach for your bag. You shrink away, and when you do his eyes know what you think. He isn’t in the hotel’s livery.
Where are you going, he asks.
The airport. Please.
It’s a bad time for a taxi, he says.
He melts into the crowd for minutes, maybe miles. Try and spot the suitcase he took with him but you’re rooted in place, a cone of cotton hesitation. He reappears and motions at you to walk. You walk, sliding past bowing palms, and pull up to the oldest Toyota in the world. Suspect it used to be red.
He dumps your bag into the trunk and says good evening. Your brain imagines limbs in the desert, drying like jerky. But you look down at your tee-shirt patched in sweat and think – who would want to? You climb in and count to three. Shut the door but not the lock.
The driver is Azam, his name card says. You ask if he’s from Pakistan. He says good guess and then nothing more. The radio blares his music and you fly past smears of lights, hurtling down the night. At some point you’re off the motorway, plaiting past a night market; a construction alley; possibly some livestock. The car lurches eventually back to concrete. Your stomach is still slinging when the car stops, and you shout thanks over the thunder of bulldozers plowing through the night. Shove a triple fare through the window. Ask him to share with his friend back at the hotel. The concourse is a swamp of moist fluorescence, and you tell yourself that he really will.