I had separated from the caravan. When I woke up, the camels were nowhere to be seen. Only the steaming piles of their dung and the smoldering fires remained. The sun had risen in the desert sky – it was already midday. A few vultures sat at a distance, watching me with hungry eyes.
I cursed my luck and silently abused the spicy wine, bought from an equally spicy desert woman. I lay with my naked back caressed by the cool sand. Her head full of dark snakes formed a halo over me. I looked at the glittering galaxy weaving stars in her Medusan tresses. She moved and the galaxy moved with her. We left the desert floor and rose up into the crisp night air. One supernova after another and I lost myself in time and space.
I got up and swayed on my cramped legs. The day was hot around me; the cruel sun beams scorching all that they touched. The scalding wind blew from an unseen burning oven. I filled up the leather flask from the muddy water hole and started walking. I followed the camel tracks with a rapidly fading hope of catching the caravan.
I walked and walked some more. I walked until blisters formed on the soles of my feet. Then the blisters burst and became sores. But still I walked. To stop meant death and I didn’t want to die.
I walked on and entered a village devastated by famine – a handful of mud huts and burnt fields of corn.
I looked around and saw death everywhere.
Hunger sucked the life out of the dying children, the shriveled breasts of their mothers oozing blood.
The earth was blankly staring at the merciless skies, cracked all over and parched with eternal thirst.
The mangy dogs had their bloody jaws buried in the bellies of the dead, thankful for a mouthful of stringy rotten flesh.
The vultures sat atop the dried up branches of blackened trees, silently watching the last glimmer of life fading away.
‘This is surely hell…..!’, I thought, ‘……and God has abandoned earth!’
A sudden pull on my tunic and I looked down. It was a woman, rather just the shadow of a woman.
Her skeletal hands grasped my ankles tightly, the shrunken eyes screaming a silent plea. A tongue, dry and white with thirst, licked at the dry blood clotted on her lips. She collected her energies but her dried up throat was unable to say ‘water’.
I offered her the unscrewed flask, only a mouthful left in it.
‘Take it!’ I gestured.
She held the bottle in her hands, her eyes wide with disbelief. Then took a sip but was unable to swallow.
‘Go on’, I pushed her silently. ‘Swallow it!’
A ghost of a smile danced on her bloody lips. Bending down, she brushed aside her tattered shawl. She kissed her dying baby on the lips; and poured the water into the baby’s mouth.