We moved off towards a vast empty landscape, the mountains like the edge of a saw along the horizon – two nomads, five camels like giant tortoises with their homes on their backs and a bewildered stranger.
In the West, where rainfall is frequent, we crave the sun. To us it seems hardly surprising that the ancient Greeks worshipped Helios, the Zoroastrians its fire, Ahura Mazda. In the Middle East it sometimes feels as if there is too much of it. The uninhabited settlements are built the Islamic way, just as the Prophet Mohammad decreed, without windows looking out as if, out there, beyond the walls, the only vision is tragedy. The blazing inferno that ripens crops and brings life feels like an assassin.
The sun climbed higher, the shadows grew shorter. I could hear the whisper of the wind and smell the charred brown-sugar smell of the baking desert sand. I placed one weary foot after the other, the burnt sand penetrating the soles of my shoes and scorching my feet.
Rocks tinted silver by the sun took on the shape of an airplane. Or was it a vulture?
The interpretation of the desert in Western art seems preposterous in the face of the reality. In Puccini’s Manon Lescaut Manon dies of thirst and her lover, des Grieux, falls across her body, unconscious and with heroic grief, but I could think only of how he romanticized the truth. The reality is a matter of sore feet and aching muscles.
We hiked wearily on to sit out the midday furnace in a tiny oasis called Afousses, and, as we rested our limbs, the camels cooled themselves by lying down and bathing in dust, reminding us in their dissonant a cappella that they had not forgotten our morning battle.
Samir swirled around, robe flowing, crossing the sands towards Fleabag and a look of suffering common to all tired, lovesick camels. She gazed at him, uttering plaintive koo-wee throat noises, as if to say, ‘I don’t need to visit the marabout to have his blessing. I already have my baraka. It is you.’