Tears trickle down his cheeks and fall on the ground, where they build a small puddle, around which birds gather to dip bread crumbs. No single water-resembling drop goes to waste here.
She says: “Men don’t cry.”
He says: “Like the sky. Perhaps we are all too proud for our own good.”
She says: “I will be gone forever, don’t expect me to return.”
They have grown up together. Something happened between them on his thirtieth birthday. He doesn’t know whether she still remembers. Now it feels like a distant dream, of the same nature as the blurred lines things have over here, with the same silky texture of the sand dunes engulfing Merzouga and the aftertaste of a sun that makes one squint.
He lights up a cigarette and sits down on one of the wooden chairs spread around the garden. Two days ago his old pal passed away, he has just learnt. It had been a long time since he had seen him last. He only came by when in need of help. Still, it hurt.
He stands up. He has decided to go for a walk. For the time being, he will head North. After a while, he comes across a clay hut perched on a hill. As he starts walking toward it, he sees a man getting on in years kneeling on a carpet rolled out in front of him. He is praying. It doesn’t take him long to recognize him. He is the former imam of the town’s big mosque. One day, his ideas were deemed too eccentric and he was let go from the mosque. Everyone turned their backs on him. He could hardly ever be glimpsed in town nowadays. Rumor had it that he was a bit unhinged.
The imam finishes his prayer and turns toward him.
“I was already worried you might not come.”
“Sorry, the hut looked abandoned from afar and I needed a break from walking under the baking sun,” he says, blithely ignoring the imam’s first remark.
The elder invites him inside. They take a seat on a worn couch and the imam begins pumping him for details about his private life.
“Do you trust her?” he shoots.
He shakes his head, oblivious to why he is confiding in a perfect stranger.
The imam continues asking his questions, “Then, why did you befriend her to begin with?”
“It’s not her I don’t trust, it’s women in general.”
“But you fell in love with her?”
“I was afraid I’d forget.”
“Who I am.”
“And you need her for that?”
“That is what everybody seems to think.”
“But you need to love yourself before you attempt loving others!”
He casts a glance at the mirror hanging on the wall and realization hits him like a train, like a divine revelation. He then utters, “I have to find her,” stands up, and runs for the exit. He keeps hurtling until disappearing from sight, enveloped by a thick cloud that makes it seem like night has fallen. Eventually, he reaches the bus station, buys a ticket and sits down to wait for the next bus leaving for Merzouga.
He arrives at his destination at dawn. The desert rises. He finds her place and parks himself on the stair at the entrance. She is not expecting him and he has to wait for over an hour before she finally shows. He then goes to her and, as he stands before her, while the wind plays with her blond locks of hair, his black-skinned face sweating and his dark eyes looking directly into her hazel ones, he pledges in a soft voice, hardly above a whisper, “I want to get to know myself through getting to know you.”
Written by Anis Aziz Elkohen.