The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a reliable, luxurious and screaming-legitimacy kind of car.
But if you overfill it with non-Arab-looking folks, take it for a carpool at night around Jeddah’s ghettos, you might understand why Batman prefers to patrol from the rooftops of Gotham than on the Batmobile.
To be fair, we were asking for it. And not just because it was such a flashy car. The way our friends got out, a mile apart from one another. The way my hair was not covered. The way Jay drove at such an hour. We were only relieved that our friends were spared from questioning before the cops finally flashed their high-beams behind us.
I heard Jay say, "My wife," in his cheekiest tone. The car's magnificence seemed to have injected his answers with confidence, regardless to truthiness. “No, of course we don’t have our legal papers. The mu'amalah (permit) takes forever for Saudis to marry outside the citizenship. Would you like to speak with her?”
My social life is actually one of the things that I miss most about living in Jeddah. I’m sure distance has had some effect on rose-tinting my opinion. Though whenever I was there, I hung out with male friends as regularly as with the female, as regularly as I cared to do so in Jakarta. Regardless to citizenship or driving distance.
Saudi is not singular in its treatment to citizens based on race, sex or tribe. On the daily level, life is always much less dramatic, and so much blurrier than any journalistic segment. Authorities do not arrest and question people at random. There has to be glaring causes of suspicion for that.
And even with glaring causes of suspicion, with the help of fancy attitude and a comfortable tone of voice, one might still get away unscathed.
I smiled when I gave my ID to the cop standing by the driver's window. "We lost track of time," I said. “Dropped-off our friends – wanted to spare them the cab fare. With this car, could you blame us? Are you sure you've got everything you need? Would you like to see my father's business card as well? Some gum?”
And they let us go.