a true story

Shoulder to shoulder with a Lithuanian, I sit. He in his yellow trousers. I in my pink plaid cotton pants. We’re a colorful pair in the back seat of a long-ago silver 4x4 of an unknown make or model. He’s just arrived from Uzbekistan. I from Spain.

Brahim drives. His accidental wife, the German, the dutiful passenger, rides beside him. 

To my left, my husband. I watch his eyes as he looks toward the non-existent road. In the Sahara Desert, there are no roads. No mile markers counting down to the next state line. No treed rest areas. No way points. Nothing to give direction across the shifting land, save for the ever present sun. When you can see it.

A burnt orange haze lolls over the ground, North Africa's misty moor. Sand. But that sand lazing along the rusted earth, it’s a good sign. It means there’s a breeze. A breeze that carries two things: sand and the scent of fire. Not of wood-stoked campfire. Not match-lit gasoline. It’s the earthen clays of Africa. Red. Hot. Dust on fire. 

We ride east. The landscape both hard and soft, jagged and smooth. A summer dress hem across a pair of thighs, the elegant dunes of ergs flirt with rock laden, boulder strewn hamadas. Fossils of an aquatic past mixed by the wind with leaden meteorite stone and soft-edged scraps of crystal. Desert sea shells hunted by wandering Berbers. With a see-saw gate, no man’s camels run past lone Acacia tortilis.

In twelve hours’ time, I will herd camels. Payment from a man. Led across the Saharan expanse by two Berbers. As our trek wears on, a sand storm will rise. A storm carrying the east west. It will blot out the sun with a thundering wall of burnt orange night. 

Berbers have long eye lashes. Thick, black fringe. To wave away the sand. Camels do, too. I cling to my tagelmust. A cotton turban forced electric blue by hands pounding stones pounding indigo into its warp and weft. A cloth synonymous with the Blue Men of the Sahara. An indigo as electric as the Saharan sky. When you can see it. 

It will save my eyes. And my ability to breathe. For the better part of a day, we will wander, the long-lashed leading the hapless through sand walls. Hoping towards our camp. Past the desiccated remains of a desert camel. Past Calotropis procera relinquishing meaty leaves to the beating sands. Past the nothingness that is sand above, to the side and below. Disoriented, we will lose the camels. A man will not receive his due, and a debt will rise. 

In a week, the sands we walk against will return to Earth. In northern England. Burnt orange drops of Saharan rain. Proof of the Sahara’s worst sand storm in twenty years. Even the Berber will take note in their mental history books, looking in wonder toward a missing sky. 

But for now, shoulder to shoulder with a Lithuanian, I sit.