Sand and Stone

Sand and Stone

A Story by Prodigo

There, in the desert, we met. We did not smile nor shake hands nor anything like that. We only lied there, in the shade of the dunes feeling victorious because we were alive.

 

The man beside me looked remarkably similar. Without a word, I believe we agreed that was comforting and so it was. He stood in the evening and shook the sand from his shoes. As he began to walk, I stood and followed close behind. The sand seemed lighter at the peak of the dunes and heavier at the base’. He followed the stars and we did not stop for many kilometers and neither did the birds. The hovered above the shifting sands, making little noise. They only hovered and still we had never spoken.

 

He glanced back at me often and appeared to admire my resilience to this very serious affair. My companion was unwavering in this desert with all the sand and the dead things. He seemed not only familiar but comfortable with this sort of living. We spotted a desert rat and followed it to its burrow. There would be water there a few feet from the surface. After eating some of the rats, we slept nearby.

 

I did not think of home nor of this desert nor of escape. I only followed this strange man and hope he did not lead me to a dangerous place. I wondered often what he thought of me. He seemed the sort of man that would not cry at a funeral. I do not think he has a prejudice against crying; only he does not understand the sadness to begin with. He was not a cold man but no other word comes to mind.

 

When we found shade, we would lie there for a moment. We soaked shirts in the underground water near the desert rat burrows after drinking and when we were thirsty again, we would ring it out of our mouths. I did not mind the sand in my teeth any longer.

 

After only the first day, my face and my neck and my hands were burned but my feet formed yellow boils at the peak coming to my ankles. When the boils popped, they bled a clear stuff. When we found shade, my companion glanced at me while I caressed my feet and said, “You have no shoes.”

 

“Yes, I know.”

 

“Why did you come to the desert without shoes?”

 

“For many reasons.”

 

“Many bad ones?”

 

“Yes.”

 

He slid back and reclined against the base of the dune. A shoe fell into my lap and I saw him dig his bare left into the sand. “I cannot accept this. You will burn as I do.”

 

“It matters not. You are my companion, yes?”

 

“I do not know the desert as you do. I am no companion. I am a burden.”

 

“You are good company. What is your name?”

 

“Aaqib.”

 

“Well, I am Basel.”

 

We shook hands and returned to lying down. “We will walk only in the darkness from here on, Aaqib. I do not wish you to suffer any longer.”

 

He continued, “You have chosen a sore place to come to die.”

 

“I am not here to die.”

 

“Do you mean this?”

 

“Without question.”

 

“Then you are not a burden.”

 

“Why did you come here, Basel?”

 

“Because I chose to.”

 

“That joke is as dead as this desert.”

 

“I do not joke.”

 

“Then why would you help me escape this place?”

 

“Because I choose to.”

 

I could not be angry with him. I was only angry at the sand and the wind that carried the sand and the birds and the water that retreated deeper into the ground where only the desert vermin could find it.

 

When the sun began to set, I felt diseased. I sweated from the heat, but a chill was settling into the pit between the dunes where we slept. I felt as if was having fever chills. I woke up shivering and Basel standing at my feet with his hands resting on his knees while he bent over to shake me. “After a kilometer or so, you will not notice this cold. I have brought food.”

 

I took the handful of bugs; where he found these, I do not know. I ate them hurriedly and he said almost affectionately, “We should hurry. Daylight is coming soon. I hope you slept well.”

 

I nodded and sucked the bug legs from my teeth. We marched along and the cold fell away like the sand clinging to my pants.

 

For a spell, I did not know in what direction we headed. We were resting more often. It was nice for a short while but I did not want him to think I was weak, so I stood finally and said, “Are we ready to move on?”

 

He smiled at me and patted the sand away. After that, we did not stop until daylight and the birds had come to feed. We followed them to another rat’s nest and we ate them and dug for more water. We did not pray. May God forgive us.

 

“The birds are strange.”

 

I saw them and they were black and grey and only hovering. More of them had come.

 

“They only come down to eat, Basel.”

 

“That is not what I mean.”

 

“Why are the birds strange then?”

 

“Because they want us to die, but they lead us to food and water.”

 

“Perhaps they want to fatten us up first.”

 

“They should bring more rats, then.”

 

I laughed and lied against the dune and folded my hands across my empty stomach and said, “Where are we going?”

 

“South.”

 

“How far south?”

 

“Far enough to make the birds nervous.”

 

“How will we know when that is?”

 

“Because they will stop following us.”

 

“What would possess them to do that.”

 

“If there are men with guns from a village nearby, the birds will know and they will go away.”

 

“Perhaps we should thank them then.”

 

“When we are safe, I might do that.”

 

I dug into the sand and made a cradle and lied in the hole until night came. Basel was asleep, so I awoke him. He shook the sand from his hair and his beard. We trudged on.

 

Basel seemed despondent and his mood was infectious. I followed him from a distance and saw the moon cast a long shadow behind him into the darkness of the pit between the dunes. I felt the skittering bugs in my pocket searching for escape. I reached into it, and scooped one into my hand and chewed. They tasted better than raw rats.

 

The blue grey dunes collected their heat on the moonlit side. From the peak, facing the moon and studying these sad, dry hills, I saw no end. Over the curve of the world, they ran juggling their sands among another and journeying across the desert as we would.

 

“The desert is a place of sharing.”

 

“It seems that way.”

 

“Do not be angry with it, Aaqib.”

 

I was angry. And I was sad and disturbed and too excitable.  Though, I would not be policed by these birds nor this desert. I would not salvage my dignity if I survived. After all, I am here to die.

 

“I am not angry with the desert. I fear it might be angry with me.”

 

Basel roamed the base of the dune and called me to the shade. He lied with his shirt on his chest balled up and dripping from the waterhole nearby. The sand around him clumped together and clung to my feet as I stepped over him to find the waterhole. It would be there away from the heat of the sun and surrounded by very tall dunes where the sun could never shine upon it.

 

I returned with the grittiness of sand on my tongue but my lips were wet enough to smile without bleeding.

 

“Do not be angry with it, Aaqib.”

 

He wore a grand smile as I kicked sand into his lap onto his sopping shirt. He smiled still and only lied there and laughed as he spread the shirt in the air to brush away the sand. The water ran coolly from the shirt in streams and I joined him with my back against the clumpy sand and we admired those blue grey hills, cold and bare and imagined them dancing on the desert in moonlight. They did not seem so gloomy that way.

 

I felt hunger pains and stood while I battled the dizziness. I rounded the base of the dune and stumbled into the moonlight and heard soft grainy footfalls nearby. Another dune loomed over the waterhole adjacent to me and I recognized the dark outline of an animal creeping from the darkness. It hurried to the waterhole and sank its face into it and every so often stopped, and looked in both directions a moment, then returned to drinking.

 

I felt the water from my shirt wetting my belt line. I opened up my balled up shirt and held it by the collar and the waist where it dripped as I cast it like a fishnet atop the animals head. Basel vaulted from another dune and used his shirt to strangle the beast. I tackled the animal from behind and hugged the hind legs until death settled into his limbs and he lied there with drenched fur, limp and still very warm. I slapped the hind leg in celebration and felt closer to Basel than I had for these many days. We were victorious and we carried the beast to where we slept. It was a dog.

 

We carried the dog from our shoulders. After finding a bare tree, we fit his leg into a nook and hung him there until all the blood ran from his body. Then I removed him while Basel fashioned a sharp rock by beating it against another. We cut his underbelly and let fall the loose intestines before we tugged at the organs. After everything was removed, we finished pulling the skin and inspected each limb for edible meat. While I gave the meat a quick look, Basel poked and pulled at the muscles and the tendons curiously.

 

“Do not play with your food, Basel.”

 

“He was a very stupid mutt. Where is the pack?”

 

“There are tracks. We could follow them over those dunes to the east.”

 

“That is not east, Aaqib.”

 

I looked again and cursed and said, “The west then.”

 

“I would not stray from this path. It would be simple to only go south. Our tracks to this place would disappear by tomorrow night.”

 

“We could find more though.”

 

“The desert is a place for sharing, Aaqib. We will survive with this kill for a few days. Even the birds will eat this night.”

 

“Damn the birds and damn this desert and this stupid mutt. These dogs can eat us and we can be done with it all.”

 

“Why do you want to die so badly?”

 

“I have done something terrible, Basel.”

 

Basel said nothing, “I committed adultery.”

 

“That is all?”

 

“No.”

 

“Tell me what happened. Where is the woman?”

 

“I lived in a small room above a café. The owner was a woman who inherited the café from her husband because they had no sons. She was a good woman and when Najah would visit me in my room, this café woman kept our secret and even offered food when Najah was expected. I would lie there in the late afternoon drinking tea alone and I would wait there until she very delicately knocked on my door. After making love, we would drink tea in my bed and she would lie against me and whisper to me her secrets. She asked me often if I loved her and I did. I loved her very much and I would watch the clock to avoid us being together too long. She would stay for only a half hour every other day and the café woman destroyed the evidence of her being there.”

 

“Najah disliked her husband very much. We had been seeing each other for almost six months. It was my birthday and Najah told me on her last visit, that she would wear perfume. I imagined all the good things I have ever smelled and I wondered if she would smell like any of those things.  It delighted me to think this and for two nights, I dreamt of Najah and this perfume and her delicate hands and the shape of the perfume bottle and I wondered if I could ever afford to buy her such things. I knew I would, because I loved her and there was money to be made in such an enterprise.”

 

“That afternoon, I washed myself carefully and made the tea just before she arrived. It would be perfect that way. The bed was warm and the air from the window was cool and the floorboards were scrubbed clean and the café woman was singing from the kitchen beneath me. Above the cooking and the sounds of the village and the passing goat cart, I heard the café bell ring above the door. I could tell you the way her feet landed against those floorboards above anyone else and how the stairs moaned and the floor would creak outside my door. I smelled something so exotic and lustful; I gagged at my own smell. The tea lost its potency and the goats outside had never smelled as horrid as they had before she rapped at my door. The door opened very slowly and I was overwhelmed when she entered the room. She was this and called me to her. I jumped from my bed and ran my hand along her dress and slipped it off. Her body and the perfume pressed against my senses; we made love.”

 

“We had only a few minutes to lie there and we heard the café woman greet someone above the sound of the bell. We listened with our ears against the door and heard the voice of death screaming at the café woman. Najah’s husband recognized the perfume and followed the scent to my room. When the door opened and he stood there in the darkness of the unlit hallway, I felt doom had finally sounded its horn. She stood against me, naked and glaring at her husband. He took her by the arm and beat her with his other hand. More men rushed into the room to hold me down while he forced her to dress herself. He did not wait for her to wrap her head. He dragged her into the hallway and pushed her down the stairs and she tumbled to the bottom and cried in pain.”

 

"I had never fought so much like an animal. I do not remember the rest of it all because I was unconscious. For several days, I lied there in the late afternoon and wondered if I would ever hear her knocking again, When she entered my room all of those times before, I did not realize how much I cared for the way her raven black hair rippled and breathed freely when she lied against me naked. She smiled and giggled like no thing I have ever known. I was never very funny, but she laughed at me all the same. Najah did not come to my door after those many days alone.”

 

Basel said after a moment, “So, where is she?”

 

I scooped sand into my hand and let it run through my fingers when I said, “They stoned her to death.”

 

He sighed and after a minute without uttering a word, he said, “Did you throw stones as well?”

 

“I had slept in that morning. The noise coming from beyond the window was unusual. I dressed and joined the crowd in the plaza. They had her tied and gagged. Her face was very bloody and bruised and the elders called for cheering when the husband shouted her offense. Through the loose dirt of the main village road, they dragged her. The outer village wall faced an open cliff and there, two young men were waist deep in a small hole. The dirt they cast sailed onto a large pile. They climbed out sweating when they saw us approaching and stood beside it until they dropped her in. They faced Najah to the crowd and several carts of stones were wheeled in behind us. The husband, he rummaged through the pile and the stones rolled to our feet. He picked up a large smooth rock and presented it to the village. He grinned with big teeth like a frightened horse and wide eyes. He commanded the crowd to choose theirs.

 

I was last to the pile and there were only the rejected pebbles small enough to sift to the bottom. I left them and hurried back up the village road to find larger stones. They would not start without me. I was supposed to be one of the offended men. After I returned, the crowd cheered and my arms were shaking to carry the stones I gathered. I shook my head, “no”, to the others. The stones were only for me. I set them at my feet and watches as she smelled the earth. They carted more stones and left them behind the crowd.

 

The husband roared as he cast the first stone. I heard her eye socket break and for a moment, no one said a word until he raised his arms in triumph. Her brother was to throw next. He turned the rock in his hand and tossed it softly in front of her. After this, he disappeared into his home and shot himself. The village thought she had bewitched him. The husband came and put his hand on my shoulder and pointed to Najah. He placed a stone in my hand and guided me to where he stood moments before and granted me to throw. Yes, Basel. I threw many stones as hard as I could. She did not die until dusk. When everyone returned home, I lied in my bed and watched the clock and drank the last bit of tea I had and left my shoes on the village road and left for the desert to die.”

 

Basel looked away from me and watched the birds leave their nest. He said, “Dawn is soon. The birds left to eat. We will stay here until tonight.”

 

I was trying very hard not to be rude. There we were, in the desert, with all of my pity lying there beside us in the sun. I had never been ashamed of myself and Najah would not like this either. I left a trail of my dignity to the wasteland in case it got the better of me. Not even the sand could hide that trail. Not even the desert.

 

It was still very early out with the sun and all and we stayed along the base of the dunes to keep our trail from disappearing as the stars were. Those blue grey hills had turned to a corpse colored white and no longer did they dance and move about the desert. Only the birds moved about, and even they only hovered.

 

I slept until the late afternoon just as I had before and Basel would then sleep while I kept the birds from our dog. They would waddle when they landed and flutter their great black wings to claim their food. They gobbled up the organs and left their beaks bloody until they drank from the waterhole. I did not chase them off. I probably should have.

 

I had never eaten dog meat. Once before, my family shot a wounded horse. When the meat is raw, it is tough and stringy. When we carved this horse and shared it, I felt much like one of those great black birds. But I did not want to understand why. I remember putting the bones in a cart and wheeling them into the desert. We shared the horse with the birds. After watching them pick the bones, I did not feel like one of those birds anymore.

 

I was lying at the edge of the waterhole and running my fingers through the thin grass. They lied always in the shade and were cool. I rested my head there and tossed pebbles at the birds gliding to the ground to eat our dog. I missed every time.

 

I had only slept for a few moments when the birds that hovered squawked like mad and escaped following whatever was left of our northern trail. I heard an alarming collection of hoof beats coming from the south end of the dunes. A man rode up to me on a great black horse and uncovered his face. He said, “What are you doing so far from the village?”

 

“I have been lost.”I said. But I could not contain myself. I began to cry.

 

Another man came up the dune beside him and whispered, “There is a trail leading very far north.”

 

The man on the black horse said, “How long have you been walking?”

 

“I do not know. It has been a great deal of time.”

 

“You are fine, then? You are not diseased?”

 

“No, not at all.”

 

“Follow this man to the caravan. You may ride with us to the village.”

 

I laughed and wiped my eyes into my shirt and rolled over to see the sun once more. I sat up and stopped and said, “Wait, what about my friend?”

 

The man peered over the long northern ridge of dunes and the trail and said, “My friend, there is only one set of footprints.”

© 2011 Prodigo


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Added on May 6, 2011
Last Updated on May 6, 2011

Author

Prodigo
Prodigo

Victoria, TX



About
Bad art is tragically more beautiful than good art because it documents human failure. more..

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Jim Jim

A Story by Prodigo