Somewhere in the desert outside of Dubai—the boy doesn’t know where, not exactly—Father tends to the camels, the goats, the date palms. The boy is very happy, but he doesn’t quite understand this either. He is at home with his family, which is the full extent of his comprehension. Soon he will go to school, to learn something about the world, and this will change everything. For now, though, the range of his experience is quite limited and rather simple. The boy, let’s call him Mahmoud, runs up one dune, then down, then he runs up another. He can no longer hear Mother pounding the cardamom seeds. He calls out to no one and sings and laughs. He does not know how merciless the sun is, or that there are people who would consider it a punishment to live here. He does not know how much colder the world can be. Soon he is fifty meters away from his mother, Aisha, who is making coffee at home in the traditional way. She is not worried about the boy, whose voice grows weaker until it dies completely.
Abdullah, the father, takes a break under the oldest of the palm trees lining the compound. He employs seven people, aside from his wife and a cousin. Sultan, the oldest worker, is out sick. He will die soon. Abdullah wonders where he will find a replacement. No one is interested in this kind of thing anymore. Hard work, in the desert. They all live in the city now. Even the government wants them out. He thinks of an official letter waiting for him inside, and the disturbing offer it brings. Money, a city house of concrete, steel and glass. He stares at three docile camels tethered to a stake. In a few years, though he does not know it yet, tourists will stare at the camels and take pictures. In twenty years, everything will be gone.
—Andrew Madigan, Khawla’s Wall