After a few more riding lessons my wonky vertebrae rearranged themselves, although for my muscles there was no respite. Some say that the camel was put upon earth by Allah the Merciful to help the desert people, but in my view it was put upon earth by Allah the Unmerciful to test the endurance of the infidel.
Fleabag’s mood was erratic. Sometimes her tail swished, at others it hardly swung. One moment she seemed proud and stern. The next minute a stomp of irritation took up residence in her face, evident from the nose position. She seemed unhappy to be herself, or rather to express that which she didn’t wish to be. Her tongue did not sit easily in her mouth, but lolled about from one side to the other. She sat ensconced, fed, watered and ready for she knew not what, a party girl dressed up with somewhere to go – only in all likelihood that meant nowhere.
At other times a sense of bonhomie descended, or a hurt, sullen look that gave her the appearance of such vulnerability that it became impossible not to hug her. As soon as I was on her back, she would swing forwards and back again as violently as possible. I would give her an order, consulting her on any tricky patches, and she would obey reluctantly, navigating the route as if she had heard the instruction and was responding to it grudgingly. And she loved to disobey. Of all her impulses, her hang-ups and her whims, her strengths and her weaknesses, her attitude was faultless.
My presence often drew a small crowd and sometimes I was assailed by youths who clamoured around to offer me water. Shorn-headed children bore the expressions of their elders, wise and lost. It was impossible not to be moved by the generosity of those who had nothing.
In the evenings the elders came together and ate simply, chatting and gossiping, while their women sat separately, commenting on their decisions and over-ruling them. At night I washed my clothes with well water and hung them up to dry. The high adobe walls rose around me, as the lambent sky cast a white glow across the sand. Under cover of my sleeping bag, I drifted, woken periodically by high gusts filled with grit that obliged me to chase after the thin door that flapped like a disgruntled chicken.
Dawn rose at last, my dreams floating upon a distant continent where oaks were nourished by rain. A symphony of goats bleated its shrill wake up call and I felt glad of my new friends, of varying shapes, sizes and colours, who often crept in and slept inside the tent, like dung-scented hot water bottles. Outside the tent, Fleabag chewed happily, occasionally issuing a gurgle to remind me of her presence. Her visible scars had gone, but the invisible wounds lingered on.
Extracted from The Sky is on Fire