October 8, 2008
I ran away. Not that far. When I was ten years old. To a place where the world was inviting, where heaven and earth unfolded, stretching beyond any vision, in an uneven uniform. I would leave before dawn splintered the darkness, silently so that the other clan members wouldn’t pursue me on my excursion. As I walked, the warm sand cushioned my feet, which according to my father, were attributes of noble, sincere workers. I had reached the outskirts of the village, before me the golden sun was rising, penetrating the darkness with intense rays that unmasked the obscurities of nightfall. In a matter of seconds, the purpose of my journey was made clear. The sunlight rolled across the vast golden sand dunes of the Sahara desert. Revealing a remarkable beauty. A strange terrifying beauty that holds no mercy. A strange unexplored beauty that is my home. I returned to the village before anyone awoke, with dry roots to kindle the fire, a basket full of dates and leaves from the shhah plant. Meals consisted of only dates and tea because it was the dry season. It would be risky to slaughter a camel, for it will be needed for the caravans journey. During the dry season, meat was highly disregarded. I returned to my father’s tent with a plate of dates, two cups and a teapot. My fathers was wide awake reading a surat of the Koran. I presented the dates to him and poured the tea in his cup. We ate silently. Upon finishing the morning meal, I asked, “Abi, when will I go on a journey with you?” “Inshaallah, Abdullah, we will go after Ramadan”. My father was a merchant, who traveled to many lands. My mother ( may Allah have mercy on her) passed away when I was four.

My father led his caravan across the Sahara and into the cities. He would return with tales of extravagance, luxury, sights, sounds and smells. I longed to accompany my father, but he believed the journey would be to harsh for me. While he was gone, I stayed with Rahma, an old widow who lived in the outermost part of the village. Rahma endured plenty, the loss of her husband and her children, but her smile sold not a word of her suffering. She cared of all the orphans in the village, providing them with a home and the little food available. As an act of gratitude for her generosity and warmth, I offered to tend the camels, sweep the floor and repair the hut. Before dusk commenced and the sun said its salaams, Rahma sent me out to find dry roots and palm-dates. I walked along the trail that led to the edge of the world, where miles of sand are stirred by invisible strong winds, which altered the deserts appearance with every gust. The sun was now setting, licking the western face of the dunes with red golden light, creating enormous eerie silhouettes. I stood there admiring the unsettling, majestic beauty that the desert generously bares. I’d begun heading back towards the village, stealing one glance back at the bruised sky above the sand dunes, when I caught sight of the silhouette of a man approaching me. The stranger was wearing a white kamis and a turban that were stained by the desert ( the way my fathers clothes were) and a camel skin bag hung loosely at his side. He had no camel with him. Where had he come from? There were no villages within hundreds of miles from this one. How did he survive the unbearable frontier on foot? Who is he? The uncertainty of the encounterment suppressed my curiosity. The stranger peered into my face with kind, glowing eyes, as black as the sand beetles shell, like the smooth surface of a black stone and asked me, “ what are you doing , out here at this time?” I showed him the measly bits of roots and the pit of a date. He told me to give him the pit, then he dug into his camel-skin bag and gave me a handful of dates. Is he a magician? Where did he find such plump dates? Then the stranger said, “ Take me to the one who cares”. So I did. I led him to Rahma.

Along the way he asked me what my name was and how was my madrassa, what surat I’m on and who my friends were. I told him that my name is Abdullah and that I’m about to graduate from my madrassa and that I have two friends; Muhammed and Bilal. He replied, “Mashaallah”. Then he remained silent. I felt his kind eyes and lenient smile grazing the back of my head. We had reached Rahma’s hut. Rahma was outside doing the laundry. She took the last filthy garment and scrubbed it hard with sand and salt, then layed it alongside the others, on top of a sun-baked boulder. She then turned her attention to the earthened traveler and told me to give him some of the dates. The stranger smiled kindly and denied the offering, he said he was in dire need of water. Rahma went out of her way to provide him with food. She apologized that she didn’t have bread or an adequate meal for him. She offered him camel milk and tea, but the stranger strongly insisted that he only wanted water. Rahma gave him half of the water that remained. We used the other half to boil the dates. While I was trying to kindle the fire, I couldn’t help but sense the radiant eyes of the stranger closely watching me. After several unsuccessful attempts, the strange man spoke in a hush tone, “Abdullah, may I show you.” He took the two rough edge rocks, positioned them above the small pile of roots and with incredible speed, he striked. A blazing fire erupted, leaping 6 ft. into the air. I stood back in awe, my eyes glued to the mesmerizing, dancing red flames that towered above me. The soft, intelligent voice of the stranger brought me out of hypnosis. “Abdullah, come sit down and eat”. He handed me a bowl containing one spoonful of tendered dates. With trembling hands I took the bowl from him. I was unable to thank him, let alone utter a word. I ate my last Ramadan feast with great difficulty. Once everyone had finished their small portions, the Imam led the congregational prayer. After that he delivered a khutba, a sermon vividly addressing the religious duties everyone is prescribed and the consequences of neglecting them. Most of the adults attended the sermon, while the children in the village quarreled over the last scrumptious date. I made my way back to the fiercely lit fire that assaulted the darkness that overcame the heavens. There, I saw the strange old man. He gestured me over. “ Abdullah, there are many wonders in the desert. Some of them , you may have to look for, others may come looking for you. Miracles may occur… The desert is infinite and a mere man will only see a fantasy, but the one who looks inside himself, won’t be blinded from the life that exists therein. On a barren land, it seems an unlikely place to find an abundance of and community. The best kind of wealth one can receive…blessed is that kind of wealth and those who spend it…The old man looked towards the sky. His face aglow by the fire’s flame. His eyes gleaming unearthly. “ An enormous hour glass, where time is recorded and preserved. Where the world seems so distant. Where the sun ,moon and the stars have meaning. Where all pride is stripped away by invisible strong wind, reducing a human being, leaving them defenseless against nature’s shortcomings. A place where we are truly shown what we are…” Slowly I began to drift asleep. The sounds of the sermon, the children’s cries and the stranger’s calm voice, lightly revolved around my mind.

“Abdullah…. Abdullah. Abdullah. Wake-up. Eid mubarak. The blessings of Ramadan has surely descended upon us. Wake up.” A familiar lost voice lingered around, pestering me to get up. It was my fathers voice. I bolted upright to embrace him. My fathers face was saturated with joy, something that had became obsolete since my mother departed. My father’s joy was totally foreign to me, he wore an eternal smile that a king can’t even afford. I had to ask. “ Abi, how come your so happy?” He said, “ Take a look for yourself”. I lifted the veil of the tent.

My heart skipped. Where am I? Am I dreaming? Time was stagnant.., frozen.., distorted into incoherent fragments, as I tried to make sense of my home. Then the sounds of reality flooded into my ears. “ Eid mubarak, Eid mubarak”, some of the villagers rejoiced. Others just stood there, immobilized and tooken aback, but nonetheless gladdened by what they saw. It was an magnificent perplexing sight to bear-witness. The parched, dusty land that I knew, was mysteriously revived into a lush oasis. Many palm- date trees were erected from the ground, displaying their ripened dates. A variety of exotic, fragrant fruits and vegetables flourished from where the siddan bush use to reside in excessive coils. Water gushed forth the villages center, drenching the once deprived land. To me, it was an overwhelming mirage. Surely, its just a mirage. I reached for a soft, slightly hairy fruit and dug my teeth into it , expecting to bit into a rock. Instead, my jaws ached only from the sweetness of the fruits nectar, which dribbled down my chin. I never experienced anything sweeter in my life. This must not be dream. I ran towards the water. The cold colorless substance trickled down my tunic, soaking me with tranquility. I scooped the water with my hands and drank its wealth, reviving myself with life. Then I rubbed my face hard, forcing myself to believe in the miracle that had occurred. That’s it!!! A miracle!!! I frantically looked around the village that teemed with life. Scanning the bright faces of the villagers. Returning to the fire, which was still burning intensely, scorching 7 ft. in the air. The strange old man was nowhere to be found. I left the village, following the trail that led to the edge of the world, hoping to run into him. But I had reached the desert, void of the stranger’s whereabouts. Questions persistently pushed the envelope of my mind. Where could he have gone? Did the strange wanderer gift my home? Who was he? Was he an angel? I gazed at the horizon, searching for answers. The vast serene Sahara was calling, daring me to venture in its peril unknowns to find out.

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mossrose citruspeels said...
Oct. 24, 2008 at 2:47 am
is this a true story? belief that its not eludes my mind. the story is written in a very peculiar way. the setting is not introduce to the readers, making us wonder if this story taking place on a tropical island or some other landscape.The descriptions are very visual,sensitively printing the mind with feelings and images. I absolutely loved "The sunlight rolled across the vast golden sand dunes","the golden sun was rising, penetrating the darkness with intense rays that unmaske... (more »)
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