The keyhole didn’t hide much, neither the eyes snapped shut in terror nor the muzzle of the gun sneaking up from behind the shivering steward.
But the face of the gunman never hove into view. Venkatamani Bhaskar is glad it did not.
“I was lucky enough not to open the door. If I had, like the others, I also would have been herded to the sixth floor and made a hostage,” the 44-year-old Hewlett-Packard employee told The Telegraph from Dubai airport on Sunday night.
Bhaskar, from Chennai, had just landed in Dubai after the 25-hour ordeal in Khobar’s Oasis complex. The familiar face of the steward saved Bhaskar, who, on a company assignment, was staying in the Oasis Tower hotel.
First, Bhaskar’s request for computer systems assistance was put on hold. The hotel then sent word through the steward that he should shut the door of his second-floor room.
“But soon I heard someone banging. I looked through the keyhole and saw the same steward, shaking and his eyes closed tight, knocking,” Bhaskar said.
Then he saw the menacing snout of the gun. “I could not see the person holding the gun. But after seeing the gun, how can anyone open the door'” Bhaskar asked. “I was told later that two people had been gunned down in the lobby a few minutes before they knocked on my door.”
Bhaskar spent the next four hours under the bed, surrounded by the sound of occasional grenade blasts. Around noon, his colleagues got in touch with him over his cellphone. A long lull set in after that, broken by calls from his wife and three children in Dubai and the colleagues.
Before nightfall, Bhaskar moved from under the bed to the bathroom — barricaded only by a mattress he hoped would double as a shield against bullets.
At 5 am on Sunday, the firing began. “I could hear over the phone the sound of shots, screams and the clatter of choppers. I also heard two big explosions,” said Tariq Mirza, Hewlett-Packard’s Saudi human resources manager who was in touch with Bhaskar.
At 7 am, Bhaskar told Mirza: “They are here.”
“I asked him who,” Mirza recalled. “Minutes before, he had told me that somebody was knocking on his bathroom door.”
Opening the door, Bhaskar found himself staring at the faces of Saudi special forces. Mirza recalled how Bhaskar broke the news: “I am really free now.”