I stare at her, unblinking. She stares straight back, as much as her lazy eye allows. We slowly look down at the rainbow-coloured poncho we’re both clasping (at least, I think that’s what she’s looking at). ‘I give you Dhs3,’ she repeats for the umpteenth time. ‘I told you, it’s Dhs30. Not Dhs4 and not Dhs3,’ I snap back. All this, before the market has even officially opened.
Little had I known what I’d be letting myself in for during the days leading up to this showdown. I’d been meaning to declutter the apartment for months, hoping to pocket some extra cash. Nowhere is this easier to do than in Dubai: the land where there are always as many folk looking to set up as there are planning to scarper. Thus I signed up for the famed Dubai Flea Market, the second-hand institution that’s grown faster than bedbugs have taken hold of New York City.
‘Okay. I give you Dhs2.’ We’re still staring at each other. Still clutching the hotly contested blanket-with-a-hole. My partner tries to distract her. ‘I’ve got Paul Simon!’ he cries, waving a CD in the woman’s direction. She doesn’t flinch. Moments before my face shifts from determined to demented, the stubborn stranger drops the poncho and my gaze, and retreats. I’ve won my first flea fight.
Without stopping to bask in the bartering glory, I set about finishing off our ‘stall’. Having failed to bring a clothing rail (blunder!), I arrange my old clothes, books and jewellery in an enticing manner. We stand back and marvel. ‘Well done!’ my partner says, impressed with my ability to dress up utterly past-it scrap. Before I can utter a thank you, a group of high-energy Filipino women approach and, in a whirl of colours, questions and stretching, they pick up every single item on the table, crumple it, turn it inside out, and discard it.
We’re in a slight state of shock as the real haggle-hounds surround the PlayStation end of our table. What ensues is like a drawn-out poker match; bluffs are made, stamina tested, tension hangs in the air. One 10-year-old boy offers Dhs5 for a game we’ve priced at Dhs50. My other half holds firm, before relenting and offering to give it to him for free. ‘I don’t want it for free!’ he yelps, sprinting across the packed venue The rest of the players frown and back off slowly.
The hours pass, our table empties, our little money pouch grows podgy. By now the final gauntlet is laid down: the lure of the other stalls. Pouch in pocket, I drift off to browse. Tired and emotionally drained, a well-thumbed chick-lit novel seems like a good idea. Thankfully I’m persuaded to leave it on the table, along with all our other unsellable goods before departing, as is the practice once stallholders hit ‘the wall’ (typically around 2pm). Looking back, I’m sure I spot my lazy-eyed friend flicking through the teeny paperback. She’s already wearing the poncho.