I woke up at 4-5am from jetlag, usually right in time for the Fajr adhaan outside my window. If it wasn’t the adhaan then it was the full-on congregation standing up for salah at the local mosque.
Al-Fatiha seeped steadily through the glass and blinds and the beige, lace curtains my mom had sewn decades ago. After praying I would think about food. As my stomach participated in jetlag with me, I had the leftover Chinese my mom had made for my arrival a few hours ago. The gray pigeons hooted their rhythmic song that had come to be the sound of home, their webbed feet visible on the atrium’s canvas top. As yellow light flooded in, I made rounds of the kitchen, tried to sleep again, went back on my laptop talking to those who were still hours behind. In some time my mom woke up, made me french toast, and we had tea while I flipped through the satellite channels—several Pakistani dramas, several Indian, loud news channels, the live Makkah channel, the live Madinah, the variety of MBC options, some showing English movies, some showing Arab documentaries.
My mom would show me the new scarves she got me from her last trip to Makkah or Madinah, new clothes she’d acquired from Dammam or her last trip to Karachi. Sometimes my dad would appear at home for 10 minutes in the morning hours to drop off za’tar for me, and leave back to work again.
By the time he came home for lunch, I was drowning in sleep but had to stay awake to pray dhuhr first. I remember everything. The sound of how the front door closed when he came in. The scent of the bread and vegetables my mom had made, how the heat felt in the atrium as I sat and read the new AramcoWorld or Arab News that my dad had just brought. Either one was always warm from sitting in his car for the few minutes it had. Even the heat in Saudi Arabia felt good. Its extremity made it real. When you came here, you became part of it right away. The heat wasn’t out to get you, it welcomed you into an embrace, and you knew that everywhere else other than here, you are but a traveler.