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The Desert

Saturday, September 2, 2017 18:01
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“The Desert”
by Yasser Hareb

“The sandstorm was so severe that his footprint was erased before he could lift his other foot. The sun had disappeared, and the place was engulfed in a maze of eternal dust. The only thing that gave him a little peace in his heart was the halter of his camel, which he held on to tightly, as if it was his lifeline. Despite the sound of the wind howling like a pack of wolves, the breathing of his camel gave him some comfort.

He thought of making his camel sit down so he could take cover behind her body, as the Bedouins do during storms, but he remembered what his father had once told him: storms are the desert’s message to people crossing that they must carry on. The only thing that worried him was losing his camel – not only because he wouldn’t be able to cross the desert without her, but also because she was the only creature that never got bored of listening to him all night long.

He closed his eyes, opened his heart and walked on, listening to the sound of the wind as it grew louder and louder, as if someone wanted to tell him something. He struggled to open his eyes but couldn’t, so he decided to stop and shelter behind his camel just for a short while in order to clear the sand that filled his eyes. He managed to clear the sand away, and when he opened his eyes again, he saw a faraway light that penetrated the dust. He gazed at it for a while, trying to memorize its location, and then he closed his eyes and headed towards it, pulling his camel.

As he got closer to the source of the light, he felt warmth quietly passing through his body, and eventually he found a small oasis circled by a few shy palm trees. The moment he entered the oasis, the sound of the wind stopped. It was as if the universe had suddenly stopped breathing. He saw an old man with his eyes closed, resting his head against one of the palm trees. He approached the old man and noticed he was smiling, as if he had been expecting him.

The old man slowly opened his eyes and said: “Welcome, son! You’ve finally arrived.” The boy looked around fearing it was an ambush set up for him. The old man smiled and said: “Don’t worry! There’s no one here. Sit for a while.”

The boy sat, his eyes riveted on the old man, who said: “I know you want to cross the desert. We’re all trying to do so. Some of us do it without even realizing it. The desert is the destiny of any Arabian, my son. It bears us inside her more than we bear her inside us. Yet, some of us forget she exists. They think she’s the cause of their misery.”
“Isn’t she? I mean, why is the desert so cruel to us?” “The desert is not cruel. It’s we who don’t understand her. The desert is a sacred place, like temples, churches and mosques, all of which have their own rules and yet don’t belong to a certain group of people. Those of us who don’t abide by the rules feel the cruelty.”

“What are these rules?” “Alright! To understand the desert, you have to be silent and listen more. The desert doesn’t speak to the talkative. Also, you have to keep your eyes open all the time. Don’t be afraid of storms. The desert might fill up your eyes with sand, but she will fill your mind with wisdom. Finally, you have to know that the desert will listen to you only if you speak to her at night, because she’s busy during the day.”

“Doing what?” “Guiding the crossing caravans. Don’t think, son, that caravans manage to get through thanks to the guides travelling with them; they get through because the desert allows them to cross. The guide is simply a person who knows how to speak to the desert and who understands her signs. That’s why he remembers the routes well. A caravan’s guide listens all the time in order to learn the right directions. All voices can be heard except the voice of truth; it is seen.”

“And how can I cross the desert?” The old man stood up and so did the boy. He looked afar, out at the storm surrounding the oasis, and then he pointed at the dustiest area and said: “The desert respects knights and allows them to cross, but she doesn’t respect the selfish who seek heroism for themselves.”

“I don’t understand.” “The best of knighthood is when a knight helps whoever is walking beside him. When knights fight as a group in battle, they never lose, even if all of them are killed, because then they become legends. Legends are important for people to get inspired.To die with a friend is better than to win alone. Enter into that hurricane, and you’ll understand what I mean.”

The boy’s sweaty fingers were playing with the camel halter. He took a deep breath as he looked in the direction the old man was pointing. After a moment of silence that was only interrupted by the sound of his camel, he decided to enter into the twister and to keep his eyes open, as the old man had advised him. He walked for an hour until his face was completely covered in sand. He looked like a mummy that had just walked out of a tomb. In the midst of that hurricane, he remembered the words of his father: “Storms are the desert’s message.”

Camels understand the language of the desert, the boy thought. But what is the language of the desert? Then he remembered what the old man had said: “The best of knighthood is when a knight helps whoever is walking beside him.” When he looked at his camel, he saw that her eyes and nose were full of sand and that she was almost falling down with fatigue. “How have I forgotten to wipe out the sand off her face?” the boy said to himself. He removed his turban from the top of his head and started cleaning her face with it until she was able to breathe comfortably. When the camel’s eyes were cleared and she could see again, she realized the right direction. She took off with the boy at her side to protect him from the sand. The more they walked, the more the storm battered their bodies with sand, until eventually they had to stop and let the sand build up against them, as if they were one great mountain.

After the storm had died away, the boy opened his eyes slowly. The sand fell down on his cheeks like a waterfall. He looked around and saw the old man approaching him with a smile. The old man said: “To cross the desert, you have to face your fears before they face you. In order to overcome your fears, you need a friend who cares about you more than you care about yourself. When fear is shared by two, it becomes less frightening. My congratulations to both of you! You have crossed the desert.”

“How so? We’re still in the middle of the desert!” “Exactly! You’re in her heart, in the warmest place a human being could ever be. Head north and you’ll reach the town in half a day.”

“Before you go, tell me how I can cross the desert again.” The old man smiled. Waving goodbye, he said: “You’ll cross the desert when you find a friend whom you can share the same dream with.”


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