I stayed quiet as Aisha pulled the car to a stop in front of a flight of stone steps leading up to a house that stood apart on the hillside, ornate wrought-iron railings protecting its windows and a vine trailing on the pergola in the garden to the front of it. I found myself following the swing of Aisha’s hips as she led the way up the steps from the road. She stopped abruptly at the top, turned to catch me looking at her bum and raised an eyebrow. I felt my face reddening. She pulled a pack of cigarettes from her burgundy handbag and offered them to me.
‘I don’t, thanks.’
‘Suit yourself,’ she said, lighting up and inhaling hungrily, her lipstick leaving a dark red mark on the white filter and her head raised to let the smoke go. I noticed she had ink on her fingers, like a naughty schoolgirl, an incongruity in someone so sophisticated. ‘It’s owned by a lawyer and his wife. It’s on two floors, there’s a Swedish guy who rents the upper floor. You would get the ground floor and the use of the garden area.’ She opened the door and waited for me to go in. It wasn’t huge, a traditional house built maybe in the thirties or forties and clad in pale Jordan stone. A green painted door led straight into the cool, terracotta-floored kitchen. I wandered around the echoing rooms before going back outside and standing in the lush little garden.
I looked out across to the Jordanian flag flapping merrily atop the Citadel, the central hill of the seven that Amman was founded upon. The buildings carpeting the city around us glowed deep orange in the sunset. I listened to the sound of a cricket in the bushes, taking in the fresh breeze and wishing time would stop and leave me with these feelings for ever. All thoughts of police charges and cells were gone, chased away by my joy at the little house. I heard Aisha’s step behind me and caught a whiff of her cigarette smoke, looking round and seeing the glow of the setting sun on her skin.
‘I want to live here.' I said, 'This is beautiful.’
‘It means thanks to God. Why do you look so worried if you like it?’
‘How am I going to furnish it?’
‘I can get the landlord to defer the first three month’s rent if you agree to leave the furniture behind you when you go.’
I glanced at Aisha, her brown eyes alive, gauging my reaction. I looked around the garden again, at the trellises and the wooden table and chairs under the vines. She ground the cigarette out under her foot. ‘Who’s the landlord?’ I asked.
Aisha walked back to the car. ‘Come on, I’ll take you to your hotel.’
I laughed and persisted. ‘Who’s the landlord?’
She stopped and turned, grinning. ‘My cousin.’ Then she flicked her hair at me and carried on down the steps.
And so, in the first serious book wot I wrote, Olives, Paul Stokes settles down into life in Jordan, where he is betrayed and in turn betrays because betrayal is all he eventually has left. I'm back in Amman, the country where the book is set, for the first time since I finished re-writing it and I'm grinning like an idiot to be back. The drivers always ask, 'Is this your first time in Jordan, seer?' and I enjoy the reaction to my, 'No, the sixty fourth' almost as much as I enjoy talking about petrol prices with London cabbies. I have spent a lot of time in this country and have many friends here. It's a sort of third home.
I called my pal Ra'ed and told him how very much I loved his country. His reaction, instinctively Jordanian, was 'Why? What's the problem?'
It's great to be back!