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(The Nokhada)

There was a famous Nokhada, perhaps the most brilliant pearl-diver in the Khaleej, known as Al Basti. He had a nose for oysters and would always find many pearls. During my first few voyages, I vigorously chased Al Basti and plunged with my crew wherever he did, but he did not pay me any mind. He knew he would always beat me for as long as he dived. I knew I would always be beaten by him for as long as he dived. Compared to him, a fully-fledged man who treated the sea like his mistress, I was only a prepubescent teenager, inexperienced to the fluctuating waters of the Arabian Gulf.

Each plunge I took felt like the tight, painful, yet protective grip of a mother. I missed my mother, much, during my voyages. She was a small woman with honey-coloured eyes and strawberry-stained lips. Despite her chai-tinted complexion, she had a pink flush to her that reminded me of the British after a long day of scurrying in the Dubai’s heat. Her face was always hidden under a black veil, but every man and woman, British or Arab, knew that she was just as stunning, if not more, as the set of pearls she wore.

As for my father, he was a dunce; an incompetent pearl-diver, according to my grandfather. I was my grandfather’s savior; the heir to the family riches and the successor of his five wooden boats. After each expedition, I came back to my grandfather’s warm embrace and my father’s envious glares. I was praised and put on a pedestal. I was the youngest Nokhada in all of Deira, but I did not care for that title. I was not devoted to the sea. I was only twelve years old when I sold my soul to diving. The sea was my home and my unknown. The sea was my guardian, my teacher, and my first love; and yet, simultaneously, the sea was my oppressor, my dictator, and my intimidator.

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