Being a diaspora kid is always tough. Your heart is divided into as many pieces as the number of places you call home. Growing up in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, ‘home’ was always this small town. Then I moved to Islamabad, Pakistan, and the definition of “home” broadened to encapsulate its hills. But Khobar – its sounds and smells – has my heart.
Back in 2009, when I was a home-sick hostelite, one of my school classmates, B., moved into the same hostel. She was one of my closest friends growing up (sidenote: there’s a big emphasis on “WAS” – and that is a story for another slice) and doing adult things together, like grocery shopping, was a novel experience that we couldn’t get enough of.
We used to do most of our shopping at a supermarket called “D. Watson”. It was reminiscent of the corner stores, or ‘baqala’s, we have in Saudi, not only in the setting but also the nonchalant attitude of the staff.
I remember a particular Saturday in the fall. We’d been out and about running errands. D. Watson was one of our last stops that day. We had grabbed all the (hostel) essentials; instant coffee, instant noodles (not exactly ramen, but ramen-adjacent), cookies, chocolates, milk, cereal… We each had our own baskets since it’s each hostelite for themselves. We were still going through our mental grocery lists as we went towards the check-out line.
“Do I need sugar?”, B. asked.
“It’s all the way in the back,” I remember whining, “just borrow some from me, and we can get it the next time we’re out.”
“I already borrowed some of your shampoo, and milk for last night’s coffee. It’ll only take a minute. I’ll be quick.”
“No! We still have to stop at the tailor and then grab dinner, and I’ve got a paper to finish.”
We would’ve continued the back and forth, but we’d stepped into the check-out line, behind two men who were having what sounded like their own version of the same argument but in a language that brought us two homesick girls almost to tears.
We stepped as close to them as respectfully possible. We weren’t eavesdropping, we couldn’t even understand a word they were saying. But as they continued to talk in Arabic, I felt for a second as if I was back home. As I made eye contact with B. I was sure she was experiencing the same thing.
With the last item in their shopping cart scanned and their bill handed to them, they made to leave and our hearts dropped a little. But they continued their Arabic debate standing a few feet from us. We couldn’t pile our things on the counter fast enough in case they left.
As they resolved whatever issue they were discussing and moved towards the exit just as our bill was handed to us, B. leaned to me and whispered conspiratorially, “How far do you think we can follow them before they notice?”
“You mean ‘stalk’ them? Wow, mature.”
“Not stalk, just casually walk behind them as they go in the same direction as us.”
“But that’s not the same direction as us. We have to head to the tailor, remember?”
“We can loop back!”
I was almost convinced, but B.’s plan didn’t consider that they might have a car that they’d drive off in – which they did before we’d become actual creeps.
And so, the two homesick hostelites went back to their gloomy hostel with a mild cockroach problem, but with a small taste of home that would tide them over till the end of the semester at least.