So much for the element of surprise. Kaila looked across the table into Ulima’s hardened eyes. There was no trying to wiggle herself out of this situation. She had to tell the truth, no matter how ridiculous it sounded, and hope for the best.
“You’re right. I’m not who I said I am. The truth is that I’m here in Qatar because, well… because I think that November Skies is my father.”
That got an eyebrow raise out of Ulima, but her face remained impossible to read.
Kaila sighed. Might as well go the whole nine yards. The story that had been the focus of these last few weeks poured out of her once more. It would almost be routine by now, if not for the fact that she needed Ulima to believe this story and trust in her once more. She had no idea what would happen if the story backfired. So she told everything, from her childhood when she assumed her father was dead, to the arrival of November Skies in the world of journalism, to traveling across the world to England and Thailand and finally to Qatar. It was a long story by now, longer with each retelling, but at last Kaila reached the end and sat silently before Ulima, her heart thumping.
Ulima looked at Kaila with piercing eyes, studying ever aspect of her face.
Kaila tried to steady her breath. The silence around the two was tangible.
At last Ulima sighed and stood up from the table. “If you were some sort of spy or agent for Eamon Industries, you wouldn’t have come up with such a convoluted and wild scenario. It would be foolish to assume that someone would believe such a tale. At the same time, the very absurdity of your tale is was lends credence to it.”
Kaila let a small smile cross her lips. The story had worked; she was in the clear!
“Well, then,” Ulima said, moving to refill Kaila’s cup with hot tea, “What are your plans in coming to Qatar? Did you hope that I would take you directly to November Skies himself, Ms. Oliver?”
Kaila’s heart leapt in her chest. “Is that really possible?”
“It may take a few days to arrange, but I believe if I tell him you are someone worth meeting, he would be willing to arrange a time and place.” Ulima poured fresh tea into Kaila’s cup. “If you are willing to wait for a few days, the best time would be this coming Thursday night. I’ve already arranged a meet up with November Skies in order to return his research which he was unable to take with him in his escape from Doha. I was planning to send a courier with the notes. Do you believe you would be up to the task of delivering them yourself?”
“Yes! Yes, absolutely! I’ll do anything I can to help.”
“Good. It shouldn’t be difficult to make your way to the rendezvous point. It will take some time to travel there, but if you follow the directions I give you there should be no trouble. No one will be looking for you, so it will be much safer for me to send you alone than to send along a colleague of mine.
Kaila nodded. She had gotten used to traveling to new places. There were sure to be some bumps along the way, of the physical and metaphorical variety, but she could deal with anything if her father was at the end of the road.
And to be doing something so important, to be helping her father in his research… this was the best meet up she could have hoped for. His long lost daughter coming to him as a fellow journalist, helping him in his fight against corruption and evildoing.
The corruption of Eamon Industries. Kaila gulped. She had left that part out when telling her story to Ulima. One might be sympathetic to a girl who was looking for her father, but a girl whose grandfather happened to be your worst enemy and biggest threat? That would be too much to handle. Kaila felt bad that she was still withholding information from Ulima, but she was too close to finally catching up to November Skies to ruin the chance on a moral quandary. Kaila couldn’t think of this deception as right, but she assured herself that it was necessary.
Speaking of moral ambiguity…
“Would it be possible, that is, would it be alright if I read November Skies’ notes? I’ve only ever seen his words in his articles. I’d sort of like to see his thought process, how he works.”
Was that the crappiest explanation ever? Probably. But she couldn’t tell Ulima that what she really wanted was to see what her father had discovered on her grandfather’s dirty dealings. November Skies and Ulima had both said that what was happening in Qatar was huge, and Eamon Arthur was a key player. She had to see the truth- what kind of a man her grandfather really was.
Ulima was noticeably hesitant about sharing the documents.
Kaila panicked a bit and quickly backtracked.
“It was just a request of course. No big deal if I can’t see them. I get it – can’t go showing that to just anybody.”
“Were you truthful when you told November Skies you wrote that article on Thailand?”
“The one I submitted to World News Today? Yeah, that was me.”
“He sent it to me along with your description for the airport pickup. You’re an aspiring journalist – you want to follow in your father’s footsteps?”
“Maybe. It’s all so new to me. Seeing what’s wrong in the world and speaking out to fight against it… I couldn’t think of a nobler profession. But I’m just starting out. I don’t know if I have it in me to be a great journalist.”
“You have the drive to try. I will show you a few pages of the notes. Wait here,”
Ulima disappeared into an adjacent room. After a few minutes she returned. “Here.”
She handed Kaila several pages of handwritten notes. The pages were full of chicken scrawl, covering every inch of surface space. These were a mess. It would take some time to read them. They were her father’s notes though- it was worth the struggle to figure out what they said. Kaila hunkered down in her seat and began to read.
It took some time to get a handle on deciphering November Skies’ handwriting style, but as Kaila continued to struggle through the text before her a picture of Eamon Industries began to rise in her mind’s eye. It was a frightening image. As Kaila read on, she felt sick at the details given on the abuses to the construction workers at the site and their horrendous living conditions. Could things really be so bad? How could a company be so harsh to its workers just for the sake of lining deep pockets with more wealth? How could such abuses go on in the world without more people protesting against it?
Kaila chided herself. She had been one of those people, one who hadn’t listened, hadn’t cared enough to stop the injustices she had heard of. Those problems had never touched her life. They’d simply felt like abstract concepts to her: starvation and poverty and disease. They were simply the frightening elements of a story. But this story was real.
It was about two hours later when Kaila went to find Ulima in her room.
“You said that the rendevouz with November Skies was this Thursday?”
“It’s Monday now. In the time before then, would it be possible to go to the camps and to the construction site? I need to see this for myself, to know that it’s truly there. Can you take me?”
A determined smile crossed Ulima’s face.
It was a rough but short ride along bumpy, half formed roads to the labor camp. The buildings were only about a half hour from Ulima’s house, but walls blocked off the unseemly sight from the bustling highway. On the rough roads where they now drove, the traffic consisted mainly of construction vehicles and buses transporting the construction workers to their work sites. They were visiting the labor camp in the morning so that there would be less eyes on them while they walked around. Of course, two women being present on the grounds was odd in itself, so a guard friend of Ulima’s named Kasun had agreed to take and accompany them for their safety. He drove the vehicle for them now.
Kaila fidgeted in her seat and adjusted her burqa. Her outfit covered even more than Ulima’s had the previous day, with a veil covering her mouth and nose as well. Only her eyes were uncovered. This was to reduce the risk of someone recognizing Kaila as a foreigner, since that would cause a far greater hubbub if they were noticed. Outside the car, the sun beat down heavily on the city of Doha. It was early morning now. Kaila dreaded the later hours of the day.
As they pulled up to the first building, a long cloud of dust was left in their wake. Kaila and Ulima stepped out of the back of the car and followed Kasun as he motioned them toward the entrance. Everything around the buildings was dust, and Kaila could already tell from the worn out, bleak exteriors of the buildings that she would not like what lay inside. The smell of urine invaded their senses as soon as they drew near the first building. As they stepped inside, Kaila saw that the entire place was filthy. Trash and debris littered the floor, and the walls were stained from water damage and who knew what else. Ulima motioned Kaila towards the entrance to some sort of communal space. Kaila saw several stoves and grills inside, caked with soot and grease. A table and a couple of chairs were at the end of the room. Some broken down cabinets were along one wall, and a single, leaking sink was in the other corner. That was it. How could anyone make food in here? What could you make anyway? There was no clean surface to prepare food on, no fridge to store perishables in. As they stepped further into the room, a cockroach ran by Kaila’s feet and she shuddered.
“I take it there’s no cleaning staff?”
Ulima laughed. “Of course not. It’s not like the men have time to clean- they work from dawn to dusk with only one unpaid lunch hour to rest. They come here, eat whatever they can prepare, and go to sleep.”
“It’s all men in all of the buildings?”
“It is construction after all. Workers come from all over the place: Nepal, Bangladesh, India, even parts of Africa. Some have been here for years, some are younger than you and I. Most are here to provide for their families, so they send almost everything they make back home. They have no money, time or energy to invest in making their own lives better.”
Kaila looked around. “There’s no kind of health code that needs to be followed here? No government checkups, social workers?”
Ulima shook her head. “Come on, I’ll show you where they sleep.”
The rooms they walked through were nothing short of depressing. Tiny rooms with bunkbeds shoved within them, forcing as many as eight people to live within a 12 foot by 12 foot space. Their entire room was smaller than Kaila’s personal bathroom back home. There were no sorts of decorations, nothing even of any real value in the rooms. There were simply the beds, blankets and some random crates or containers holding the rest of each individual’s worldly possessions. Everything looked grimy, and the heat made Kaila long to return to Ulima’s place for a long shower.
“They come here to provide for their families and this is how they’re forced to live? Why would anyone choose this? How bad are things back home?”
“Very bad. While most make more than they would make back home, almost all are paid less than they were originally promised. Pay is irregular and many go months without receiving compensation for their work.”
“And their bosses can just get away with that?”
“The employers have all the power thanks to the kafala system.”
“No expat can work within Qatar without having a sponsor within the country. The sponsor is in charge of the worker’s visa and legal status. As soon as workers arrive, their passports are seized by the company they work for.”
“So if you cause trouble, your employer can kick you out?”
“Actually, oftentimes the trouble is that employers will prevent workers from leaving Qatar. To receive an exit visa, workers need their sponsor’s approval, and many employers withhold it in order to keep workers around longer. Many don’t return to their home countries for years.”
“Yes, the kafala system is to blame for much of the abuse employers can legally get away with. The system is almost akin to a form of modern slavery. It prevents expat workers from having any sort of rights or any power to stand up for themselves. Most come to the country with outstanding debt since they have to pay for an agent to get them the job and also for the flight here, even though legally the agencies and employers should be paying for flights. Workers end up trapped in Qatar with no legal means to leave, and once they finally end a contract with their employer, the employer can withhold permission for them to seek other employment, blocking them from working for other companies in Qatar for as long as two years.”
“How do they even survive that long without being able to earn money?”
“Many have relatives here who can help them. Like I’ve said, there’s about 5 expatriates for every national Qatari citizen. Many families have actually lived and worked in Qatar for genrations, but this does not give them any rights as citizens. Even if they were born here, if their parents are expats then the children are as well. There’s no way to advance and little chance to break free from this system.”
“Man, I can’t imagine growing up in a country my whole life and still being treated as a foreigner.”
“It’s an unpleasant truth for many,”
As they walked past another room, Kaila saw a man lying on one of the cots, groaning. He was sweating profusely and his skin had an unhealthy, off-white tone to it.
“I take it there’s no such thing as worker’s comp?”
“No, nothing. Safety regulations are also horrendous, as you’ll see on the site. Also, if a worker is injured and requires hospitalization or bedrest, he won’t be paid for the days he can’t work. Honestly though, more deaths occur due to heart attacks than accidents.”
“It’s the heat. It leads to young, healthy men in their twenties dying of heart attacks when they should have lived long lives. This in turn leads to thousand of unidentified bodies in the morgue since the relatives of these workers are in different countries.”
Kaila felt her blood starting to boil. These were honest, hardworking men, willing to live hundreds of miles away from their families for years at a time simply to provide for their children and loved ones. The least they could receive for their work was a regular salary and a decent place to sleep at night. She’d seen her grandfather’s eight door garage housing his vintage automobiles, his collection of rare coins which he proudly displayed in his office, his sailboat, the S.S. Victory, which he only used two or three times a year. He didn’t need any of that. If all that was taking away, Eamon Industries’ workers could live in acceptable housing.
Kaila thought back on her first car, how happy she’d been when she’d received it from her grandfather on her 16th birthday. This was how the money for that car had been earned. Kaila felt ashamed of herself, not for living in comfort, but for never realizing how that comfort was won. The truth tainted her perspective of her life back home. The kafala system might be what legally allowed her grandfather to get away with doing such things, but she couldn’t imagine the moral bankruptcy it took to treat people like this.
“I’ve seen enough. Let’s go.”
“On to the construction site?”
Once they stepped within the car, Ulima handed Kaila a bottled water which she eagerly chugged down. Even this was a luxury. Kaila leaned back in her seat, full of self-loathing for the cost of her life of excess to others and burning hatred for the man who had raised her that way.
They could only observe the construction site from the window of their moving car as there would be no excuse for women visiting the site. Kaila saw more of what she had expected after visiting the camp. There were safety violations everywhere, some so basic even Kaila could spot them, and others which Ulima explained to her. In the end it was all just to cut corners, save costs. But to save costs by not buying protective eyewear for men working with high powered tools? To never let them rest in weather in the high 80s, which would rise above the 100s by midsummer, was inhumane. By the time they made their way back to the car, Kaila was fuming.
“How could they do that? How could a company put so little value on human life and welfare? How could a country not fight to protect those within its borders? This is one of the wealthiest cities in the world! It should be able to provide basic human rights for its citizens! And the men who run these businesses are public figures! They’re admired by the public, even when their misdeeds are out there for people to see if they’d just look! I can’t believe what we saw today! This is so messed up!”
She continued on in this way until they reached Ulima’s house. Once they’d said goodbye to Kasun and headed inside, Ulima made her first comment.
“I know you’re rather new to the world of human rights and journalism, but your article on Thailand seemed to show that you’ve seen poverty even worse than this before. Are you always this fired up after witnessing injustice?”
“If I was as angry as you are, I’d never get anything done. Fighting big companies like Eamon Industries takes a clear, level head.”
“I’d like to level Eamon Arthur’s head! That lying, no good, rich, fat cat-”
“There are plenty like him,” Ulima said bluntly.
“Yeah, but I didn’t know he was one of the worst! I mean, I knew that business is rough and that people get hurt in the process, but I never thought that Eamon Industries was so, so…”
Kaila was sitting at the table now, her head in her hands, breathing hard. She couldn’t figure out whether she wanted to cry or scream right now.
“Kaila, is there something you have against Eamon Industries in particular? I know that Jeffrey Oliver wrote some pretty scathing articles on the company back in the day. Is that why you’re so angry, because of that history?”
“There’s more history than you think,” Kaila muttered.
Kaila sighed, keeping her eyes locked on the table. She was too ashamed to look up at Ulima.
“Ulima, I have something to tell you, and you’re not going to like it. You’re going to hate me, and you have every right to, but just please don’t kick me out. I need you to hear the whole story before you decide how to react.”
There was silence for a few moments, then Ulima simply said, “Aright.”
“I told you my name is Kaila Oliver, and that my father is Jeffrey Oliver and that I’m searching for him, and that’s all true.”
“What I didn’t tell you is that my mother’s name is Aileen Arthur, which makes Eamon Arthur my grandfather.”
Ulima remained silent. Kaila was too scared to look up to see her reaction.
“My parents met and fell in love while my mom was in college. They were going to get married, but then my dad suddenly left, and a couple months later it was in the news that he had died. Soon after that my mom had me, and she gave me my dad’s last name. My grandfather took care of us, paid for my education, the house we lived in, everything. He hated my father, and my mom never spoke about him, so all I had to know him by were his articles.
That’s why when I saw November Skies’ work I recognized the style and I knew it was him. So I left home and went searching for him.”
She looked down at her hands. “This is my last shot at finding him. I’m so close… but I’m sorry I lied to you. I wanted to see if what my father wrote about my grandfather was true, if Eamon Arthur is as awful a man as Jeffrey Oliver said he was. Now that I know it’s true, I hate my grandfather so much, for hiding this all from me, for raising me to be like him… and for driving my father away.”
Kaila sighed and took in a shaky breath. “I used to wonder if he’d had him killed. I thought that was too awful, but now that I’ve seen what my grandfather’s capable of, I wonder what else he’s done, what I would have done if I became like him..” Tears were running down Kaila’s face as she gritted her teeth.
“Does your grandfather know you’re here?”
“No. He and my mom think I’m looking at colleges in Europe. I had planned to go home next week and give up this whole search, but then November Skies wrote me. I had to try one last time to find him, and I had to see what Eamon Industries was doing in Qatar that was so awful. Coming to Qatar was never my plan – it was just some spur of the moment, last-minute attempt at finding my father. I’m sorry if it looks like I came here to spy on you.”
“There’s no way you could be a spy.”
Kaila was surprised at the confidence in Ulima’s statement. “Why do you say that?”
“Because of everything I’ve already told you: your story is sloppy, crazy and almost unbelievable, and you are far too emotional and foolish of a girl to present a real threat,”
“Perhaps ‘foolish’ is too strong of a word. ‘Naive’ may be better. You have a good heart, and a good head on your shoulders, you just haven’t figured out how to use it yet. If you had done any harm by lying to me I’d be angry, but as it stands… I understand your actions. Growing up the daughter of Jeffrey Oliver and granddaughter of Eamon Arthur couldn’t have been easy, and you’re choosing the opposite side to the one in which you were raised. That being said, I expect that this is the last of your secrets?”
“Yes, absolutely. You know everything I do now.”
“Good. Now, do you know what you’re going to do with all those emotions pouring out of you?”
“No. I have no idea what I’m going to do with myself.”
“I have an idea.” Ulima stepped out of the room and came back holding a stack of papers which she handed to Kaila. It was all of November Skies’ research notes. “Combine what you saw today with what he found in his time investigating Eamon Industries. With his analytics and your rhetoric, it could end up being a great article. Likely it will be a mess, but you’ll never learn without trying.”
“Do you think November Skies would be alright with me using his research?”
“Show him a rough draft. If he hates it, you’ll move on, work on writing something else. I think he’ll appreciate your effort though. And it’ll keep you busy these next two days so you won’t go crazy waiting for the meet up.”
The meet up. If she could have their joint work to show him, then reveal what she’d been waiting so long to say… it was too epic an opportunity to pass up.
“I’ll get you some coffee. It’s going to be a long night if you want to present him with anything of real substance.”
Bless that girl and her blunt, forgiving nature.
“Thank you, Ulima,”
“Get to work.”
Ulima was right. It was a ton of work to write an article. Kaila had thought that her personal piece on Thailand had been difficult, but writing a piece on a specific company, especially one as big as Eamon Industries, was a true challenge. Trying to present your facts clearly and appeal to the reader emotionally at the same time was another constant challenge. If there was any article that Kaila would be willing to strive with though, it was this one. She gave it her all, and when the powers of sucky writing and discouragement moved against her, she pushed back.
Ulima stayed up till 1 AM with her, then called it a night. Kaila worked feverishly through the rest of the night, writing and rewriting, poring over November Skies’ notes and recording her own memories from the day. She tried to communicate her own thoughts on what a person’s actions towards his fellow man should be. By the time morning rolled around, she honestly couldn’t tell if her writing was even coherent anymore. Ulima emerged from her room around 7 AM, and laughed when she saw Kaila.
“You really did work on it all night. Good for you. Would you like some coffee?”
“Actually, I was thinking of running over to Starbucks and getting something so I could stretch my legs and get some fresh air at the same time. There is a Starbucks near here, right? I was sure we drove past one the other day.”
“It’s a bit of a walk, but if you have a GPS in your phone you should be fine. You should get changed too. Just check with me that what you’re wearing is appropriate before you leave the house, OK?”
“OK, sounds good,”
A couple minutes later, Kaila was out the door, her computer tucked away in her backpack, her feet compelled forward by the promise of coffee. She would get her pick-me-up at Starbucks, then get back to work. She wanted the article to be perfect when her father saw it. She had emailed a copy to Ulima who had promised to look it over while she was gone, then the two of them could go over it together as soon as she got back. This article was going to blow November Skies away!
A black limousine made its way down the street Kaila was walking along. Who in the world needed to drive around in their limo at 7:45 in the morning? Rich people were so silly. The car pulled to a stop a few yards in front of Kaila, and a man in a dark suit and sunglasses stepped out, the kind of guy that you’d hire as a bodyguard. Must be someone important.
Kaila was simply going to sidestep the man as she walked on by, but just as she was about to pass him, the man’s hand locked on her wrist and his other hand covered her mouth, cloaking the shocked scream Kaila let out as she was thrown into the limousine. What in the world??? Was somebody kidnapping her? Who could want anything with her? Her kidnapper stepped back into the car, closed the door, and the limo sped off, easily doing 60 on the empty sidestreets. Kaila looked to her right to see another similarly dressed man sitting beside her.
“What do you want with me?” Kaila cried. “Help! Somebody, help!” she screamed, lunging for a window. The men easily held her back.
“Ms. Oliver, please calm down,” her captor said calmly.
“How do you know my name? What do you want from me?”
“Your grandfather directed us to get you. He wants you to come home,”
“What?” Kaila felt dazed. “No, he thinks I’m in London…”
“Your grandfather hired us to keep an eye on you during your travels these past three weeks. When he heard that you had visited the Eamon Industries construction site here in Doha, he thought it was best to have you brought home.”
“All three weeks? He’s been tracking me this whole time?” Kaila looked more closely at the man before her. “… I saw you before! In Lancashire, at the rally, you bumped into me! Oh, God… you really have been with me this whole time, haven’t you?”
The man nodded.
“Ms. Oliver, it’s time for you to go home,”