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The Sheikh’s Secret Son

By:Leslie North


“Welcome to Sharjah!” Sheikh Zaid Al-Qasimi boomed as he stood, dressed in a traditional golden gown with white headpiece, his arms open as the members of the U.S. Diplomatic Tour entered the Reception Hall at the Sultan’s palace.

He’d long ago chosen the gold to set himself apart from his older brother Khalid, who always wore plain white and Ahmed, his younger brother, who always wore tailored suits when meeting with foreign officials, as if to say he was one of them. Zaid was not one of them. He was proud of who he was and of the culture of his home.

Zaid presented a warm smile to welcome his guests as they filed past members of the palace staff who held the ornate wooden doors open for the government officials and business investors. The Sultan had long ago divided the various aspects of representing Sharjah in the best possible light. He’d assigned Zaid to overseeing and guiding government and business investors on their ventures through the Emirate of Sharjah with the hope that they will choose to invest in Sharjah’s growth.

As the diplomatic envoy made their way into the room to stand in front of him, Sheikh Zaid delighted in seeing their eyes fill with awe as they took in the centuries old palace with its original gilded walls and columns. Given how young their country is, most Americans have no idea what it’s like to live amongst such history, as they gazed upon the priceless ancient art and sculptures lining the walls, all pieces from the Sultan’s private collection.

As the doors leading into the hall were closed, a lone member of the group lingered near the entrance, with her back to the room. Something about the short woman with wavy auburn hair seemed familiar, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Trying to ignore the woman who wasn’t paying attention, he continued his welcoming speech. “I am Sheikh Zaid Al-Qasimi, middle son of the Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi, and I welcome you to Sharjah. For those of you who haven’t been here before, I hope that you will have time to avail yourself of the many things we have to offer from our museums and parks to our restaurants and markets. There is something here for everyone. The gentleman next to me is Alacabak Noozu, Chief Advisor to the Sultan.” Zaid gestured to the man who stood next to him in a white gown and headpiece with a tan robe draped over his shoulders. Alacabak stood a little shorter than Zaid, but he was still a broad and imposing figure with severe eyes and dark features. He wore his experience and political status well, commanding respect from those around him. “Together, we will see to your needs during your stay here in Sharjah.”

“The Sultan will be down to join us momentarily,” Zaid continued, still distracted by the woman now talking quietly on her cell phone. “If you have any questions during your visit or if there is anything you need, let one of us know. You are our guests, even if you are not staying at the palace.”

He lost focus on his welcome speech, nearly forgetting what came next, and jerked his gaze away from the woman in the back, forcing himself to look at the group of government officials and investors in front of him.

“Over the last several years, we have made tremendous progress here in Sharjah, as I’m sure you are all well aware, making great strides towards eliminating poverty and promoting growth in the private sector. We have done this by bringing major companies into the region to provide our citizens with better jobs and more opportunities for growth. We welcome you here today in an effort to continue that progress,” he continued, struggling to keep his train of thought as his eyes drifted back to the woman on the phone.

“Maybe the Sultan’s Chief Advisor would like to add something,” he suggested to Alacabak, hoping he would take over before he completely lost his train of thought.

Thankfully, Alacabak nodded his head in agreement, as he stepped forward. “Thank you, Sheikh Zaid. I want to thank you all for visiting Sharjah. We welcome new business opportunities and investments in our growing economy. You find us at a crossroads where the past is connecting with the future in the Emirate of Sharjah. In all of the United Arab Emirates, really. We take the task of blending our traditions with the modern world seriously; something that will be evident as you move about our fair city.”

The woman in the back turned around, and Zaid finally caught a glimpse of her exquisite face. It was her! Despite the glorious time they’d spent together, the way they’d left things when they parted, he’d thought he would never see her again but there she was. Rebecca Reid. He knew he shouldn’t be surprised to see her amongst the group given her area of expertise, but suddenly seeing her took his breath away and he wondered if she would be equally affected to see him. Trying to catch a glimpse of her left hand, he couldn’t tell if she wore a ring and he itched to stride across the room for a better look.