Something’s wrong. Mall of the Emirates is unnervingly empty and suddenly there are no queues at Carrefour. No queues! On a Friday! Yes, it may well be Ramadan, and I know school’s out so the kids are on holiday, but my office is still at least 90 per cent full and Nando’s still takes more than an hour to deliver a chicken pitta. So where is everyone?
Last Saturday I spent a whole hour in Mirdif City Centre and, while there was an abundance of bored-looking sales staff loitering in shop doorways, I spotted less than 10 other shoppers. This isn’t my first Ramadan or summer in Dubai, but it’s the emptiest I’ve seen the city, so smarty-pants retorts from friends and colleagues to the effect of ‘Duh, it’s summer, everyone’s away’ just don’t ring true. Since when has Sheikh Zayed Road ever been quiet in the half-hour leading up to iftar? Okay, sure, it’s safer, but I’d certainly feel much less paranoid if – as it has seemed in previous years – every driver in Dubai viewed the impending dusk as an opportunity to get together and go for the land speed record.
Have the headlines of 2009 turned out to be rather more prophetic than phooey, against what we staunch Dubaians had first thought? Has our population really declined that much? No. Not according to official statistics, anyway. In fact, word on the street is that Dubai’s numbers have swelled by 2 per cent which, while surely super news for the economy, left me even more exasperated than ever.
After far too much head-scratching, I finally decided to shut up and enjoy it. But of course, to use the American term (it’s more polite than the British), Murphy’s Law always prevails in situations like these. In other words, anything that can go wrong, will. To be honest, I should have known better. What better way to take advantage of my newly crowd-free habitat than to finally make that much-needed trip to Ikea?
At almost the exact moment I set an exploratory toe across the property line, an army of school children hurtled past, screeching loudly at one another, while grown men huddled around lighting fixtures and muttered darkly about wall brackets (perhaps exchanging words of support), and mothers carted around all and sundry from both sides of their extended family. What is it about this shop that makes people think it’s suited to 20-strong family outings? It just goes to show there’s no summer hot enough, no Ramadan long enough and no desire for a new night-light weak enough to stop every able member of Dubai’s public from looking at furniture on a Friday afternoon.