A Short Story — Part II

So where were we? Oh, yes, just having made the Sahara Desert late in the day and headed off the beaten path onto a piste that our guide, Abdul, was unfamiliar with. And the car stopped. For those of you who are just tuning in, may I strongly suggest you go back first to the previous post, A Short Story — Part I, and read the beginning of this tale. Otherwise, you will be highly confused and really miss the whole point. For the rest of you, off we go, back to the desert.

The Desert Calls (continued)

Stefanie in a professional wrapped scarf, desert-ready head gear
Stefanie in a professionally wrapped scarf, desert-ready head gear

Abdul put the car in park, shut it off, and then restarted it. And then shut it off again and got out of the car. “What’s going on,” I asked David. “Are we out of gas?” No, we’re stuck, he informed me. In my mounting panic I envisioned us spending the night here huddled in Abdul’s car, awaiting rescue in the light. Abdul called to David and we both got out. Motioning him to the rear, Abdul instructed David to push up and down on the car above the rear wheel while he put the car in gear and tried to drive out of the soft sand. The temperature was cooling with nightfall and the breeze brought a bit of calm to me with it. As David and Abdul strained to gain advantage over the sand I looked behind us to see several forms in the distance walking toward us. Their figures were lean and fluid, as though shadows formed in the waning light. “Wait. Somebody’s coming.” Abdul and David stopped, and we all looked backward as the figures came onward, revealing themselves as a group of five or six young boys, perhaps 10 to 12 years of age, carrying a small, round washbasin, a water bottle, and a shoe. They trotted enthusiastically toward us the last several yards, exchanging excited greetings of friendship with Abdul. My fears evaporated with the boys’ laughter and camaraderie.

Soon, a phalanx of boys stood with David behind the car, ready to push at Abdul’s command. The boys’ figures appeared slight beneath their flowing robes, and their mixed voices cascaded into the night. I thought of summer nights at home when neighborhood kids and I had played until darkness fell, and I recognized a familiar excitement that comes with the day turned to dusk. A smaller, almost delicate, boy eased up beside me and slipped his hand into mine. “What eez your name?” he asked me. Startled and warmed by his unexpected touch, I answered, “Stefanie,” amazed at his knowledge of English. He told me he preferred to watch and let the others push the car from the sand.

With a crank of the engine and a mighty heave from David and the boys, the car jolted out of its rut. A thrill caught my throat as I leapt into the back seat and we set once again into motion, not knowing the way exactly, but glad to be moving forward again with possibility. This new spirit filled the car, and I felt a bit sad to so soon have said good-bye to our little heroes. Now there was blackness and I wondered at their ability and ease at such an age of making their way to wherever they might be going in the desert alone. But they had only laughed and waved as we left.

Our concentration now was focused on the beam of light in front of us, sweeping the rolling car track coming and going in the sand. I felt strangely resigned to whatever our fate might be in finding our way forward. We might just have to spend the night, but the morning would come and rescue with it. Suddenly, a larger patch of sand loomed in front of us and the Peugeot lurched to a dead halt. We hadn’t gone far, and as we clamored out of the car we heard the boys calling to us, running to help. They reached us out of breath and trailing laughter, once again throwing down their basin and shoe to help us on our way. In unison, they rocked the car back and forth, up and down above the wheel mired in the sand, and with great effort freed us a second time. With a whoop, Dave and I swept into the moving car as it spun out of the sand but were surprised to see that one of the boys had joined us for the ride. We were off without delay, this time with the boy posted behind Abdul instructing him in his ear on which track to follow, gesturing wildly when he’d missed a turn or over steered. The car careened into the night, sweeping over hillocks and through dips in the piste. We were no longer in the Sahara but on some strange, fantastic roller coaster, literally leaping through piles of sand, skidding around looming scrub, and knocking our heads on the ceiling, all the while through shrieks and peals of laughter. I held to the back of David’s seat as we exchanged looks of disbelief and sped into the night. Onward, onward, up and down, time unknown, unceasing. The boy’s directions remained sure, unwavering, as though there were signposts to tell him the way. He guided Abdul continuously, leaning over his shoulder, in rapid fire French. I imagined him saying, “This way, no there! There! Go up that hill, now there!” as he pointed and directed our way into the night.

In one strong motion like a homing device, our headlights suddenly latch onto a small, squat structure immediately ahead. Made of what appears to be dried cornstalks and sporting one paneless window, it appears as though a vision before us. And in front of it stands a tall, strikingly handsome, dark skinned man in a black turban and flowing blue robe, a sultan before my eyes, waving us in. Just beyond the cornstalk hut is a camel hair tent with a rug hanging in its doorway. We are home.

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