Desert Night

I awoke. As my mind slowly returned to consciousness, the first thing I was aware of was the little pebbles that felt more like stones digging irritatingly into my back. I fuzzily wondered what had awaken me then my mind registered some sounds, there was music, people singing and laughing, voices I don't think I really knew too well invading my rest. I moaned sleepily in annoyance, stretched and opened my eyes slowly, knowing that I couldn't return to sleep now. Looking up at the blackness, I wondered whether I actually had my eyes open. Abruptly, I remembered that the blackness was the dark brown fabric of the tent I was sleeping in. I followed the slope of the fabric to where it met the long pole, a shaft of moonlight peeked intrusively out from a hole. I sat up, stretching a bit more, my clothes felt inadequate, I could barely feel my hands, I had never felt so cold in my life. I turned to look at the slightly open flap of the tent. A red light was flickering uncertainly on the to some extent folded fabric of the flap together with a yellow glow moving in time with it, like two dancers, one more experienced than the other. Through the open gap, I could glimpse joyful faces illuminated by the same lights. A thrill of excitement ran through me and the last vestiges of sleep left in its wake. I hurriedly rubbed my eyes, the cold all but forgotten and slipped into my worn slippers. I quickly went outside.

Looking at the flickering red flames, eyes wide open with wonder, I thought childishly, 'A fire! It's a fire!'. Except on the inadequate screen of a television, I had never set eyes on a real fire, never felt its reassuring warmth and never had known a reason to. I stared and stared in that single-minded concentration that only children seem to have, entranced by the flames that seemed to dance with the more or less fast-paced Arabic music and in celebration of much more. I watched the swirl of colours; red, orange and yellow, all shimmering in my vision. A piece of fuel was thrown into the flames and I watched as it was slowly burnt into ashes, devoured by the hungry flame.

A familiar voice close to my ear intruded into my trance and it was abruptly broken. It was my mother asking me to join in the dancing, I smiled at her, the memory of the beautiful flames still brightly burning in my mind, and I slowly shook my head in the negative, still recovering from this awe inspiring experience. She left me to my devices with some regret, a mother's disappointment at a thwarted opportunity of proudly exhibiting her child's talents. 'Showing me off to who, mum?' I thought, looking around at the faces around me. Family. Family and family friends. I watched them as they danced and their movements were blurred by the darkness, the glow of the flames only just reached them, making disproportionate moving shadows. Blurs. That's what they were to me, just blurs in my life. People that I never wanted to know. People that I was too shy to know. People that I was too busy to know. The important thing was that I did not know them. They were just unidentifiable faces sitting, singing and dancing around a fire. I felt strangely detached from the scene before me, I wanted to stay away from these sounds, grating at my ears insistently and these voices that I did not know. I was in the desert, I told myself, I could go and explore the desert night.

I quickly borrowed my mother's jacket and wore it, enjoying the warmth and the reassuring scent of my mother that immediately engulfed me. Our big tent was on a flat area of rock. A sort of road beaten flat over time by the tyres of four-wheel drives and the ministrations of campers led from the area to the highway we arrived from this early afternoon. Where there wasn't the road there was sand sloping gently down at all sides eventually rising up and down again to form a wave in the endless sea of sand dunes. There was one dune that was steeper and wider than the other dunes; I headed in the direction of its towering bulk, wishing to climb it. Sand resisted my feet and seemed to sigh in submission as I moved through it. The alien, completely unfamiliar cold stroked my cheeks with frigid hands silently bidding me to return to a warmer touch. Ignoring it, I reached the dune. With difficulty I climbed its steep slope, sand sliding and shifting with my every step.

Reaching the top, I surveyed the landscape before me and felt my breath catch with the sheer majesty of it. Like the folds of a silky blanket, sand painted silver by the moonlight rose up and down in enchanting waves. On the horizon I could see a thin column of smoke illuminated by a distant fire. I closed my eyes, forgetting the cold, and sighed contentedly, gratified by the peaceful scene. There is a type of stillness in the desert, unlike any other, it is the truest quiet you might ever find. You hear nothing, not the trickle of water, the rustle of leaves or any other living thing, merely you and your breathing. You taste nothing but the dryness in your throat. You smell nothing except perhaps the slight staleness of dust. You feel nothing but the motionless air, your clothes and the ground beneath you. You see nothing, only the endless sand and the clear sky above. A confounding nature of peace without the various noises, sights and smells of the world to plague you.

I opened my eyes and looked up to the meditative face of the timeless white moon. Its waxen face seemed to contemplate the habitually foolish exploits of humankind. I shifted my gaze to look at the stars. There were so many! I had never seen stars in this number, dotting the black inky canvas of the sky with drops of silvery white. They spoke to me of dreams, seemingly unreachable but always there, dazzling in their beauty and inspiration. I wondered why some people were afraid to reach for the stars, maybe they might never get there but… it would always leave you feeling fulfilled, rewarded knowing that you tried your best. I diverted my marvelling stare to the sand underneath me. I crouched down and scooped up a handful of it. I let it sift through open fingers, looking at each individual grain of sand, astonished that these tiny dots could form such a vast beautiful place, astounded that these little specks could together support life. Perhaps a tiny speck is not insignificant in the world at all.

I stood up again, dry washing my hands and putting them back in the pockets of my jacket, shivering slightly from the cold that I became all too aware of. I looked around me, slowly turning around and admiring the beauty of the desert night. I was exceptionally bemused at how much the inert place had to say about life. I noticed that the merrymakers were retiring and it was time for me to return to the large dark tent. With a regretful sigh and another last searching look, I savoured the rare tranquillity of the desert, knowing that I would in all probability not experience its unique peace again in my lifetime and if I ever experienced it again, even if it would be within the next month, it would never be too soon.