A Tale of the Desert

“Land is the kingdom of man. And yet there is no king in the desert save for nature itself. Where man intends to stab a flag and build castles, the desert swallows his pride in storms and blows away his fortresses as though they truly were made of sand, a child’s construction.”


We cleared out the garden today, the one on the rooftop. I hadn’t cared much for it before, except for the nights I’d needed to get away and had needed to mind my step.

I was on dirt duty, having to sweep away the mess of a garden unkempt for so long. There were heaps of very fine dust that had accumulated into dunes almost everywhere, most of all the corners. I hadn’t known dirt could shine so prettily in the sun, like gold dust or bits of precious stones. The sun beat down on my neck as I swept the dust away, sweat already glistening on my forehead.And suddenly, like a child, the mundane chore turned into an adventure. I was in the desert.

Often, people who have spent extended periods of time in the heat and utter isolation of the dunes, they cannot describe it. And yet, it is within human nature to always try. There is nothing like the desert, they say. Nothing like this overpowering nothingness, this capricious nature that will soothe as it will kill. They say it is a world of its own, a planet distant from Earth. The desert, if it were comparable to one thing, it would be the ocean. But even then, the desert is not like the seas. Land is the kingdom of man. And yet there is no king in the desert save for nature itself. Where man intends to stab a flag and build castles, the desert swallows his pride in storms and blows away his fortresses as though they truly were made of sand, a child’s construction.

I imagined the desert was lonely. So vast, so empty, yet brimming with restless energy.

The desert was once human, I thought as I swept away. She was a young human of learning and knowledge who yearned to make beautiful things. As the gods did.

She voyaged nights and days, sacrificing years and the quiet happiness of selling books and maintaining a garden. She went east and west and wherever the road would take her, on a pilgrimage that lasted many years. No one in her village had heard of her in a long time. They spoke of her, on those long, cold nights when they all gathered around the meat cooking over a crackling fire. The children delighted in the stories, quiet wonder gleaming in their eyes.

Unassuming during all her youth, save for her brilliance and crafty spirit, she was a gentle soul. Her parents had died shortly after she had come of age. After that loss, there was something that shone sharply in her eyes. A fire greater than the one that had claimed her parents. A fire greater than they could ever extinguish.

Then one day, she went to the chief’s house, a bag brimming with scrolls and books slung across her shoulder. She emerged, painted in the colours of their people, red and azure dotting her forehead and cheeks. Her hair was braided in intricate knots only the old mother remembered.

She went, as though a conqueror.

As plain as she had once been, she was beautiful now. The hazel of her eyes burning against the dark brown of her sun-marked skin. And after that, she was never seen again, the old man would tell the children huddled around the fire.

Yet, unbeknownst to them, she reached. She reached where she needed to be.

And she roared. Roared and roared her anger. Years, years of research only to be shunned at the doors of the heavenly light. Deep marks covered her face now. The sun had eaten away at her youth, her beauty. Her fingers threatened to pull out her black hair (browned at the tips now, what would be a sign of ugliness in her village) as the acrid tears fell.

“Why would you deny me light?!” she cried, and in that moment, she was young and tender again. Wounded. A girl with no parents, not anymore. A girl with a dream to be a god. To heal others, to heal herself. To give light and beauty when there was darkness. The same darkness that had once overpowered her, stricken her from the inside all those years ago.

“Let me be light!” she roared and cried and tugged at her hair, “Let me be light!”

But when they did not grant her wish, when her years, her knowledge, her beauty had been sacrificed for nothing, she raged. If you will not let me be light, I will be the world instead. If I cannot shed light to the world, I will become the world, I will decide its fate instead.

So with her knowledge, she summoned an old demon, sly and willing.

“Let me be the world.” she had asked.

The demon narrowed his yellow eyes. “I do not have the power. I cannot make you into the world when you have not walked all its lengths nor climbed all its heights.”

“Then,” she thought, that quick, beautiful mind spinning, “make me into the world of here. Give me this land here, that I have walked for all my life, from the north to the south, from where the sun rises to where it sets.”

“Very well.” the demon had smiled.

And for that wish, he took all of her.

The desert now, is her. Oases are said to be the places she could not visit or the places she held too dear. Her old village now was dust and bones.  But she always protected the sons and daughters of her people. Although now, she had lost so much of herself she could not remember why she did so.

That is the desert: vast, lonely, capricious.

A desert that does not understand itself, but rages at an old wound that cannot be remembered.

Note: Day 1 of  (sortof) NaNoWriMo


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