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Man of Constant Leisure

I am a man of constant leisure. I’ve sat in more swimming pools and aeroplanes than I have at desks and meetings, and, no doubt, that sickens you. But, as you might imagine, I couldn’t care less.

This hotel, Hotel Parisienne, is good. Big and empty, it smells of new carpets and there is a nice chill to the air conditioning. I have liked it well for many years now, ever since my mother started bringing me here when I was a boy. Dubai is hot, too hot to do anything really, and so there is no point in ever going outside. Believe it or not, in the dozens of times I have visited the Emirates I have only ever been outside for what would add up over the years to being perhaps a few minutes. And that is only moving from the airport to the taxi – technically under the cover of the taxi-rank roof and, on arrival at the hotel, under the cover of the entrée de la hotel. Except through glass, the desert sun has never stung my white skin. Even from my 34th floor window, from which I can see the Gulf, see the glass, the towers in the sand, I do not feel outside (you cannot open the windows – it would only allow in the heat and dust). And Arabia from the aeroplane, I have witnessed the carves of desert beneath a haze, bright blue and air-con, the hum and rattle of aluminium that even the First Class passengers must endure – for me it is not a passage of space, but merely a passage of time. Time with drinks and films.  

Morning I wake up and shower and shave before dressing for breakfast – always the same spread, but there is enough stuff that you can create enough variety within the weekly diet: Monday – eggs, Tuesday – granola, Wednesday – fruit and jam, Thursday – croissants, Friday – cake of the week, Saturday – full English, Sunday – just tea (coffee every day, of course, but not Sunday). After breakfast I get changed into my bathrobes and take my sauna-steamroom routine, and swim for ten minutes. This usually lasts until lunch which I like to have brought to me by the pool (I usually just have fruit and bread). After lunch I have my Reiki massage, which I nap after. I tend to wake mid-afternoon when I return to the pool for cocktails and my magazines. It’s usually just me and the nice Indian pool-bar staff. We don’t converse beyond greetings. Around six I’ll return to my room to get changed into my dinner clothes and apply some scent. I take dinner on the rooftop lounge (it is on the top floor, not the rooftop) and usually settle for two courses, either a starter and a main, or a main and a desert, depending on how I feel. I drink two glasses of red. After dinner, I like to go to my room and watch some pay-per-view film, usually an old Disney classic (don’t judge me), and I might have room service bring me a brandy. Most nights I’m asleep before the film is finished, but I maintain the tradition regardless; it’s almost nice not knowing how the hero will be saved and it reminds me of sleeping next to mum while watching Beauty and the Beast as a child.

Mother’s credit card still pays for everything. I can feel you hating me for it as I type. Well, hate away: I’m here and you’re there. The settlement she got with dad when I was five years old still pays out. She got half and me. I don’t remember him. I haven’t seen him since the split, and to be honest it doesn’t bother me. He obviously still lives, as his payments to mother’s accounts still come punctual and regular. He is probably in the UAE too, even now; as mother said, he always was before. Dubai is a big city though, and its hotels are many; we will never meet.

I handle the accounts now. Mother no longer likes to. It suits me. It’s not like we have financial worries – the hotel manages the bills. Mother no longer does much, although she never did much anyway. She doted on me of course, how could she not? Me being her only son and child and all she had left? She cares so much about me. Loves me til the end. And obviously I love her too. She is a single-mum but she always provided for me. Holidays in Dubai four times a year (extended in winter) and nowadays we could stay all year if we wanted and I think we will.

I like it here. The routine keeps me happy. It keeps my skin clean too. My hair is always silkier here, and seems blacker against my bone-pale body by the pool. Back home, I thought I was going grey from the stress of British life. Here, everything is planned; everything is easy. Mother always liked it here too. And, though she never comes to the pool any more, she is still happy to be here.

The only problem I have is the cleaners. They have been known to come into rooms even when the Do Not Disturb sign is hanging. I had to put a special message into reception – I will clean my own room due to my particular allergies to bleach and certain soap powders. The cleaners don’t mind – less work for them.

Another problem, actually, is the smell. While cleaning the room is not such a massive task and I do it all within an hour on Sundays, the air-con never seems to fully recycle the smell. The windows are a no-go due to heat and dust as I have said, and so I have resorted to vacuum cleaning the air from the bedroom and ejecting it into air vents in order to speed up circulation. This works to a greater or lesser extent and the smell is not nauseating for at least a day and half after this practice.

Bits have started to come off as well. Only tiny bits, but it has been no fun cleaning. I almost thought to employ a private cleaner from one of the Indian firms in the city to deal with it but I could not take the risk, even if they sent an immigrant from the slums who would work for food and would certainly fear of reprisal. Too risky.

I bought mother a new dress, and once we had it on her it did improve things markedly. It was one of the summery dresses we used to look at together in pictures of her in her youth. She is no longer young now, but who can stay young forever? Not even I.

The worst thing to happen was when I bought her new shoes. Summer sandals. Her foot broke when we tried slipping them on. It looked terrible. I had to leave.

When I came back she had fallen off the bed. I gathered all my strength and sat her back up and managed to twist the ankle back into place. Her sunglasses had fallen off but when I replaced them she looked like she was sleeping, pale and shrunken, on the bed. The make-up made her look so shrivelled. She was old now.

I kissed her twiggy hair and went back to the pool for my massage and cocktail.

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