Three days had passed since Kaila had sent her article to World News Today. She wasn’t sure exactly when she would hear back from them, but it would likely be after she had returned to the States. With about half a week left before her flight, Kaila had spent these last few days touring London, hanging out with Sophie, Oliver, Rose and Harrison, and looking at colleges in England so she’d have some convincing evidence to show her mom. As she researched various factotums and trivia about England’s universities, Kaila found herself genuinely fascinated by what she found. Perhaps she would attend university in England after all. There were a plethora of majors to choose from, but Kaila found her attention continually drawn back to journalism. It would be nice to continue writing and be contributing something significant through her work. If she got a degree in journalism, she’d actually be able to do her work on a professional level like Craig did in Thailand with his photography. The future may not be what she had intended, but it was looking bright.
As Kaila rolled out of her bed that morning, she grabbed her laptop to check her email before she got started on her day. She was planning to take a tour on one of those red double-decker buses around London, but the tour didn’t start till 1 in the afternoon so she had plenty of time. She’d just check if she’d gotten any news from home, then-
Kaila’s fingers froze as she scrolled over her email. There was a reply from World News Today! Had they already read her article? Did they hate it? Did they love it? No use wasting time wondering when the answer was right in front of her. Kaila opened the email.
Dear Ms. Autumn West (they were using her pen name from the article),
It was an pleasure to be sent your article for review. Your perspective is fresh, and World News Today is always looking for a human angle to our stories. Major revisions will certainly need to be made, but your overall content is engaging and thought-provoking. I have included a file below which contains all notes on what changes should be made. If you have any questions, feel free to write to this email. Best of luck in your writing endeavors!
World News Today
Wait, November Skies? Had THE November Skies just written her back about her article? Kaila’s heart was racing and her fingers shook a little as she scrolled back up to reread the message. She’d known that November Skies wrote for World News Today, but she’d assumed that was the extent of his relationship with the news agency. Was he also one of their editors?
Feel free to write to this email.
She had done it. Without even trying anymore, she had finally established communication with November Skies himself! She could ask him anything! She could tell him everything. No, that sort of mental regurgitation would be too much all at once. She had been searching for November Skies for weeks, following him for months, dreaming of her long lost father for years. November Skies believed he had just written a professional letter to a colleague detailing necessary edits. A proposal of his paternity was not what he would expect back. Kaila had to be careful not to startle him with what she wrote back if she wanted him to continue communication. She opened up a Word document on her computer. This was going to take a lot of rewrites.
After about a half hour of concentrated effort, Kaila had composed her minimalistic response:
Thank you for taking the time to look over my article. I have admired all of your work for World News Today, and was honored that you were the one to read my submission. I was wondering if it would be possible for me to talk with you more directly. Could we set up a time to talk – via cellphone, Skype or some other medium of your choosing?
She had kept it simple, polite and to the point. Her request was reasonable, not out of the realm of imagination for one professional speaking to another. She was certain he would reply, confident that he would agree to speak with her. Then, finally, she would hear his voice. She couldn’t expect to do the big reveal of her real name and her theory on his true identity right off the bat, but if November Skies answered her request with a “yes” then it was only a matter of time before Kaila could finally, finally meet her father.
The wait for the response was going to kill her. Kaila sighed, closed her laptop, and began looking for clean clothes for the day. She’d have to keep herself busy for the next couple hours if she didn’t want to go crazy. She’d go for a jog to dissipate some of the tension building up in her. Then she’d have breakfast, go sightseeing, do some shopping, go on that bus tour… but what if he didn’t even respond today? What if she had to wait like this for hours upon hours upon hours? Kaila swung her arms back and forth and began jogging in place to warm up. There was nothing she could do about that. She’d simply have to hope the reply came sooner rather than later and distract herself until then.
Luckily for Kaila, the reply came a couple hours later while she was on the tour bus. Her phone buzzed, and Kaila pulled it out of her pocket to see the email notification.
Dear Ms. West,
I’m sorry, but the internet in my current location is too slow and intermittent to allow for that sort of communication. My cell phone fell into the Persian Gulf a few days ago (a silly excuse, but true), so for now phone calls are out as well. I’d be happy to continue communications by email however.
No. No, no, NO. She couldn’t ask him what she wanted to over email. It was far too personal. The connection established through these emails was so fragile, so temporary. She needed to get to know him better, and there was no way the professional restrictions of email would allow for that. What could she do? What other options were there?
My cellphone fell into the Persian Gulf…
That was the only information in that email that gave her any real clue as to where he was. Not that it mattered. She’d tried the whole wild goose chase in two countries with no luck. It wasn’t enough to go on. Unless… she could get him to tell her more. Kaila knew she was grasping at straws here, but she needed to keep this momentum going. She couldn’t stop now.
You mentioned the Persian Gulf… Are you in Saudi Arabia right now? What sort of story are you chasing down there?
Did that come across too nosy? Considering his pen name, November Skies wasn’t likely to be that open about his business. Was he even still online? He’d said his internet was spotty… Kaila wiped a sweaty hand against her jeans.
Her phone vibrated again. He had replied right away.
Looking for the latest scoop, are we? I’m currently in Qatar. I suppose you can surmise what I’m working on from that.
She couldn’t. Kaila knew exactly zilch about Qatar. Opening a new tab, Kaila googled “problems in Qatar”. Migrant workers’ rights, huh? Kaila sent a short response.
The phone buzzed.
Close. You’re on the right track with the human rights angle, but the project is different. Have you heard about Eamon Industries’ new headquarters for the Middle East sector? Construction has been going on for about a year now in Doha. Conditions for workers on the project make the FIFA World Cup stories pale in comparison.
Kaila felt like she was going to be sick. Eamon Industries. Grandfather’s company. She’d known her grandfather was no saint, but for November Skies to be going after him now of all times… it wasn’t fair. This was what had split her family up in the first place- her father and grandfather’s hatred for each other. How could she get past this if things were all coming full circle?
Kaila hadn’t wanted to think about the possibility of her father being unhappy to see her. If he met her, would he simply see her as a burden? An unwanted problem? If she told him that her name was Kaila Oliver, would he tell her she should have been Kaila Arthur this whole time? Would he not see Kaila herself, but rather her grandfather?
There was no point in assuming the worst. She had a better shot of finding her father now than ever before. Kaila wasn’t going to give up now out of fear. Perhaps she could use this turn of events to her advantage.
Would you be interested in doing a collaborative piece? I’ve had some experience with Eamon Industries in the past myself. I’d love to compare notes.
Would he take the bait?
That’s an interesting offer. What exactly did you have in mind?
Kaila pondered the question for a minute.
I want to meet with you in person.
A minute passed with no answer. Five minutes. Ten.
The tour bus was pulling up to its final stop.
Her phone buzzed.
I’ll send someone to meet you at the airport. You tell them what information you have to offer and we’ll proceed based on their judgment.
He’d said yes. It wasn’t exactly what she’d hoped for, but it would have to do.
How will I be able to recognize them and vice versa?
Send your arrival time to this email and I’ll pass it on to them. When you get to Hamad International Airport, wait by the Lamp Bear sculpture. Wear a red rose so that they’ll recognize you.
This was all turning out to be more cloak and dagger than expected. It was kind of awesome.
OK. I’ll send you my flight information ASAP.
The hunt was back on. Kaila was closer than ever before. She wouldn’t mess this up.
Kaila stood in the grand foyer of Hamad International Airport, looking up at Lamp Bear, a 23-foot tall, canary yellow teddy bear sculpture with a lamp on its head. Kaila had to give November Skies props on the meeting point. It was something no one could miss. Looking down at her jacket, Kaila adjusted the fake red rose she had pinned on minutes before. Having a plastic flower sort of took away from the intrigue of this meeting, but she couldn’t have gotten a live one through security on British Airways so this would have to do.
She scanned the foyer, looking for who the potential contact could be. A businessman coming out of the duty-free store glanced her way, but then kept walking. Was she looking for a Middle Eastern person or an international traveler like herself? Kaila fidgeted, shifting from one foot to the other. She’d been standing here for fifteen minutes. How long was an acceptable time to wait before she should start being worried? She hadn’t made a plan on what to do if no one showed up.
Kaila turned to see a Middle Eastern woman about her age speaking to her. She wore a beautifully detailed headscarf and her eyes were a warm brown.
“Are you Autumn West?”
Of course. The contact had been given her pen name.
“Uh, yes. Yes, that’s me.”
The girl offered her hand. “I am Ulima. It is a pleasure to meet you.” Kaila could tell that the girl was analyzing her to decide how to proceed. “Was your trip long?”
“It wasn’t the longest flight I’ve taken, but I’m glad it’s over. Where exactly are we heading from here?”
Ulima nodded toward a man who stood a few yards from them. “My cousin Hashim will take us back to my home. There you can rest, get some food and tell me more about yourself. Before you leave though, we need to get you a tourist visa,”
“Yes, definitely. Do you know where we should go for that?”
Ulima nodded. “Follow me,”
As they walked through the airport, Kaila watched Ulima’s back, trying to get a read on the girl. She hadn’t expected someone so young to be her contact. Ulima seemed barely older than her, but the girl walked with a confidence that showed she was not to be underestimated. It made Kaila wonder if keeping up the Autumn West alias was a good idea. Ulima seemed to have a good head on her shoulders. If she figured out that Kaila was lying to her, she was sure to warn November Skies to stay hidden and Kaila would never meet him. Then again, the likelihood of Ulima accepting Kaila with open arms if she revealed her true identity from the start was also small. Kaila would have to keep her cards close to her chest for now, but she couldn’t put off the decision for long. If she was going to reveal her true identity, it should be sooner rather than later.
It wasn’t long before they were out of the airport and on the road, with Hashim driving the car while both girls sat in the back. As Kaila slumped back in her seat, her eyes drifted out the window to the surrounding landscape. She was surprised at how modern Qatar looked. Kaila hadn’t really thought about what to expect before coming, but subconsciously she had probably been expecting something more like the opening of Aladdin, with mud brick buildings and merchant stands everywhere. Skyscrapers loomed across the sky, creating a distinctive, modern skyline. This urban center also had one more thing to give it the final, modern touch: horrendous traffic. It was going to be a while before they reached their destination.
“Have you ever been to Qatar before?” Ulima asked.
Kaila shook her head. “No. Sadly, I’m not as well travelled as I’d like to be. Has Qatar always been like this, so urban and modern?”
“Qatar has some of the largest oil reserves in the world. That has lead to great wealth to those with access to the oil, and in turn technological innovation and development for Qatar. For a small country, we are highly successful,”
“How big is Qatar?”
“About 11, 500 kilometers squares. That is about 4,500 miles squared. You are from America?”
“Yeah, how can you tell? Do I have an accent?”
“Yes, and your demeanor is also quite Western,”
“Could you tell with November Skies as well?”
A smile played on Ulima’s lips. “I see you feel no need to hide your curiosity. I won’t be much help to you in learning about November Skies, because I have never personally met him,”
“What? But you’re his contact! How is that possible?”
“My interactions with November Skies have all been through email. We agreed that it would be safer to exercise caution in our work together so that if either of us were to be caught we could not reveal anything substantial on the other.”
“What kind of work have you been doing for him then if you never meet?”
“I provided him access to the migrant labor camps surrounding the Eamon Industries Headquarters. I opened the route and left, then he came in separately and did his research. Even with our precautions though, Eamon Industries still caught on to his work. That is why he has left for a time until their search dies down. It is good he got out while he did. Eamon Industries would never let him go free if they had captured him,”
“Are they really that dangerous?”
Ulima gave her a funny look. “I would think that is not a necessary question for you to be asking, Ms.West, considering you have come to Qatar to provide information on Eamon Industries itself,”
Crap. She had to be more careful with the questions she asked.
“Oh, yes, I’m sorry if that was confusing. When I told November Skies I had information regarding Eamon Industries, I wasn’t referring to the corporation’s work here in Quatar. I have no specific knowledge of their workings in this country. Most of my experience with the organization has been back in the United States, and while I am sure they are dangerous, I’ve never found any records of imprisonment or other such dealings back in America.”
Ulima sighed. “They hide their practices better in the States because the laws there are more strict, especially as pertains to human rights. Qatar is working to make changes in our laws to protect its migrant workers, but implementation of these changes is slow, and rich and powerful companies like Eamon Industries can usually bribe their way into getting what they want. If November Skies’ research on their practices got out, our hope is that it would cause such a stain on the company’s name that they would be forced to comply by the laws and admit to their gross misconduct toward the migrant workers building these new headquarters,”
“What kind of ‘gross misconduct’ are we talking about?”
Ulima went on to summarize the evil deeds of Eamon Industries as well as countless other companies operating within Qatar today. Though Qatar might be a fairly small country, it is jam packed with people. In 2013, the census counted 1.8 million people in Qatar. The truly surprising thing was that 1.5 million of those people were expatriate, non-native to Qatar. A huge percentage of the population of Qatar consists of migrant workers. Many of these people work in horrible conditions with minimum pay, and the laws in Qatar give employers complete control over their workers. Most laborers couldn’t even leave the country to look for better work if they wished. Few dare to report the misconduct of their employers, as it is unlikely anything would come of this besides more severe punishment from their employers.
Kaila’s heart broke as she heard Ulima’s stories. How could companies be so cruel? There were hundreds of thousands of people suffering unfairly here, and for what? So rich people could get richer? Was this really the work her grandfather did? The work he had been preparing her for? How could he have wanted her to do this? She would never have agreed to do any of the things happening in Qatar!
Could she really say that with certainty though? Kaila thought back to January, before she had gone on this worldwide adventure. What if she had gone on to finish her degree in business? Would Grandfather have eventually shown her the dark side of his corporate dealings? Probably not at first, but years down the line, when she had grown into her role at Eamon Industries, she would have found out. The darkness couldn’t be hidden forever.
What would she have done then? Would she have cared enough to speak out against what she had learned? Kaila liked to believe she would have, but she wasn’t sure if she’d have been brave enough. She probably would have just swept the whole thing under the rug and not looked back, ignoring the suffering of others because she didn’t have to see it firsthand. Now that she’d been to the slums though, she couldn’t pretend suffering was just a far off concept. It was real, and it had to be stopped.
Finally they arrived at Ulima’s home. It was a nice house with several rooms, obviously having some Western influences, but more sparsely decorated than an American home would be. Kaila was directed to the guest room where she put her things, then was told to feel free to take a shower while Ulima made some tea. There were some pictures of Ulima’s mother and sisters around the house. There were some larger group photos with men in them, but these were likely pictures of Ulima’s uncle and male cousins or older pictures of her father as Ulima had mentioned that he had passed away a few years ago. Kaila hopped into the shower, washing away all the stress and grime of travel, then changed into something nicer than the sweatpants and hoodie she had worn on the plane.
When she stepped out of her room, Ulima had finished making the tea and had a few plates of sweets, nuts and dried fruits laid out as well. Kaila took her own cup of tea, blew on it to cool it down, then took a sip. The rich, earthy flavor of the tea was delicious. She looked up at Ulima.
“Thank you so much for letting me stay here with you. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got here, but you’ve been so kind and generous.”
Ulima gave a small smile. “Hospitality is of great importance, especially toward the stranger who visits your home,” Her smile faded. “You, Ms. West, are certainly a stranger. When November Skies wrote to me, he said that he knew very little of you, but he wanted to trust you. Now that I have met you in person, I believe that the little you have told him about yourself is false. So tell me, who are you really, and what is your business here in Qatar?”
Kaila choked on the tea she had been drinking. It splashed down her chin, drenching her clean shirt. How had Ulima known? Had she really been that sloppy at maintaining her disguise? How was she going to get herself out of this debacle now that her cover was blown? What options did she have? Kaila looked back up into Ulima’s eyes, now cold and wary.
What was she going to do?