Volume 8, Issue 3: Pictura
He never had liked the desert. It was too big, too bright, and besides, it was too big.
"Having sand in one's boots is the epitome of horrid, don't you think?" he asked the little ugly guy on the other camel. The response was limited to half a grunt. Talking made you thirsty.
"Yes. My good man, sand in the boot is definitely not to be described in the presence of the weaker sex. Such a description calls for liberal use of that which is profane." Another half a grunt. The Arabs had learned to ignore this man, and the camels always had. That's another thing he didn't like, camels. They were ugly, they had the most uncomfortable gait possible, and they were . . . well, they were ugly. The camel he had the privilege of cursing today, having shot his last one, was named after a man he'd always hated in England. Percy was the camel's name, and the camel did not answer to it, nor to anyone else's. He was his own camel.
"Master." The little man had spoken! "Must stop."
"By Jove! Do you have sand in your boots as well? Isn't it horrid?"
"Must water the camels."
"Not this one you don't. Percy becomes positively frisky when watered." He remained mounted and watched the Arab lead his camel to a dent that must be the only well in this eternal beach. He wasn't getting off. No, that is how one got sand in one's boots. And that is horrid. "Are you sure you don't have any sand in your boots?" He received only a smug look from Percy in reply as the Arab began to water him as well. "I told you no water! No water for Percy!" he screamed kicking at the little Arab. "He will begin frisking any moment!"
"You want him die?"
"Yes!" he shrieked.
"You then walk."
"Think of the sand," he whispered. "No, I will mount your animal and you will walk." This produced an Arabian giggle.
"We now go. Percy live." They moved on, and the scenery did not. That's why he did not enjoy the desert. It was too big and nothing changed. The sun always hurt your eyes, the camel your rump and your pride, and there was always sand in your boots.
The two-camel troop had been on the move for over a week now, and they still had a few days ahead of them. They had always been in the sun, but the Arab had kept them well out of the wind. Sand in the boots is bad, but sand in the eyes is considerably worse. But if you stay at the base of the dunes, the wind is a breeze at best, and that is exactly what was blowing on the nomads now.
"Ghastly wind, this. I should have thought the place had exhausted its tortures." He was branching out. "It is not, however, in any way as ghastly as having sand in the boots." The subject dropped temporarily. One man conversations are always awkward.
"Don't ignore me." He hated that. "I shall have to take disciplinary measures." A pause. "I hate sand. It gets in your boots."
He was thinking of his first meeting with this desert. It had been a week ago when he had hired his Arab guide in . . . he didn't remember the name of the town. The next day they had surrounded themselves with sand for some reason. Why hadn't the Arab told him about the desert? He didn't like the Arab. He ignored his betters, and he didn't know what it was like to have sand in the boots.
"Haven't you ever had sand in . . . no, of course not." A week, and it seemed like millennia. Camels, sand, heat, now this infernal wind, camels and sand. This place could work nights as Hell.
"I hate having sand in my boots! I hate camels!" Screaming felt good "You sir!" he pointed at the little Arab's back. "You are bally impolite! But the worst thing `bout this whole blasted journey is the blasted sand in the blasted boots!" The little Arab kept riding unperturbed, the breeze kept blowing, Percy spit, and the sand remained firmly in his boots.
He was here to help the Arabs, but how the devil could he do that when they completely ignored him? At least this one ignored him, and the rest couldn't be all that much different from his indifferent guide. Why did he ever let those blasted aristocrats persuade him that the Arabs so desperately needed him? "The Arabs are a people fighting for their freedom. They are doomed without a leader. They need your leadership, your genius. They shall live as men or as slaves. It is your choice." That's what his whole family had told him. "They need you; they'll perish without you."
Of course they were right; the Arabs did need him. He was their only hope for freedom. He had come prepared to be their hero, and what had the ingrates done? They had ignored him. Not one had given a ball in his honor, there had been no parades or dinner parties. And he'd been in their infernal homeland for a week now. He didn't expect his guide to throw any parties. He was after all a mere commoner, but he had expected him to introduce him to those who would throw parties. And all the little heathen had done was march him `round this tremendous, huge sand trap. He hadn't even been given the chance to save the Arabs, having only met a few, and he was beginning to wonder if he even wanted them saved.
He was to lead them to their freedom. He was to be the great white general followed by his thousands of lowly but devoted worshipersmen who would die willingly at a word from him. But all he'd accomplished thus far was the death of one camel, the spite of another and the low opinion of one Arab guide. This was no revolution. This was a mistake.
"Listen to me." The Arab gave no indication of doing so. "When am I to meet your leaders?"
"Saalmon you will meet."
"Saalmon, he is your chieftain then?"
"Well then, why the blazes am I to meet him? I have no intention of parading about this sandbox all over again with a mere change in natives!"
"Saalmon is our leader. He is great warrior. Saalmon is one of your race."
"He is English?" This was tremendous news. One who would understand his importance to the Arabs. Finally he could see what looked like the beginning of his greatness. He began to whistle. Not any song in particular. He just whistled. It was a joyful and obnoxious sound. Not at all pleasant.
"Saalmon shall not love you." The whistling stopped.
"Why wouldn't he, you little desert monkey?" The monkey had no comment. Of course he would love him. He was here to help free the Arabs.
This place was hideous. No fun at all. By this time, if he had only been treated right, he should have had Arab princesses draped all over him. His camel would be . . . he wouldn't even be on a camel. He would be riding in a litter carried by his devoted followers. All would fear and love him -- he would be, at long last, popular. He'd never been popular before, and didn't know why.
But of course, instead of the way it should be, it was the way it shouldn't. He was riding a camel. There was not an Arab beauty in sight, and moreover there was one Arab ugly in sight, which was worse than none at all. And now after suffering so much for the Arab people, he, the one with the sore rump and the nasty camel, he, the unsung hero, is told he is to meet an Englishman. This is his one hope for life, his only joy in a forsaken land. But what does his pagan guide do? He promptly captures and slaughters his bluebird of happiness. Of course the man would like him. They were both English, weren't they?
Percy decided to stop. He had walked a long way and it was time for a breather. This loathsome little burden would have to go. Although most camels won't buck, Percy was definitely no ordinary camel. He bucked. One little buck was all it took and the camel was riderless. There was a small splash of sand, and a silence that did not last very long.
"You mongoose! You overgrown salivating rat! I shall cut you into small pieces and feed you to my mother's Pekinese!" It was at this point that the Arab stopped his very submissive mount and turned around to the sound of the screaming. It is hard to analyze the grunt of an Arab but this was obviously a gut chuckle of ecstasy. Both Percy and the Arab were enjoying the festivities.
"Come here, Percy, and die!" The scream was shrill enough to impress any operatic Brunhilde. Percy watched as his victim picked himself up and charged with another scream. The hapless attacker didn't advance two meters before he was once again kissing the sand he so hated.
"Thbbbbbbbbbbt" Sand is the hardest substance to remove from the mouth. He sat up and wept. Spitting and crying, he became a picture of frustration. Spitting removed nothing, so he began to wipe with his hands. They were already sanded, and so he deposited more grains into his mouth than he thought could fit. The struggle continued. Man against nature. He wiped and spit and cursed and spit and swore and spit and then finally he discovered that if he used the interior of his robes to wipe off his tongue . . . well, then it wiped off his tongue. He was still crying while he performed this sanity saving operation. It was a fairly lengthy process and took all of his concentration. As he finished swathing out his mouth he looked up. There were three camels looking at him, one was Percy, one was the Arab's, and the last was an unknown. The unknown was bearing a stranger. The stranger was staring at him. Percy began to snort. The staring continued. He slowly
stood up from the sight of his recent struggles.
"Saalmon, he is the white man." The Arab told the stranger.
"Saalmon? Saalmon! You are the Englishman? At last a civilized being. Do you know that I've just had sand in my mouth? I've had sand in my boots as well. . . ." The look of the stranger cut him off, being a look of disbelief.
"You are Lawrence of Arabia?" The stranger managed to choke.
"Yes, I am Lawrence. Do you know what it is to have sand in your boots?