Landscape of Worry
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Landscape of Worry

 Kim Farleigh
 Kim Farleigh
Landscape of Worry
by Kim Farleigh  FollowFollow
Kim has been published in several magazines around the world, but he has never been published on mars; but he feels that one day someone more be, and that he won't be around to see it - unfortunately - because he's going to die and he doesn't like that because he considers dying to be nothingness and nothingness is really a waste of time. Unfortunately, due to lack of metaphysical training, he can't bring himself to believe anything else. Long after his death Red Fez will probably have an offshoot called Red Planet.
Landscape of Worry
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THE SUN'S LOW ORB RESEMBLED a mosque’s dome in the east. Smoky columns, from fires, rose between widely-spaced palm trees across the flat desert.

The sky, like a gargantuan roof, topped those timber and smoke pillars, like the final piece of a vast temple whose dimensions were belittling my sense of destiny.

We cut through the palm-tree-dotted, yellow desert, the horizon pink, Tariq beside the driver, Marwan behind Tariq, James and I on the third seat, only the driver aware of where we were going.

“I wonder,” James said, “if the other driver was really sick.”

A dead dog’s snout was facing away from its front paws, the carcass splayed out on the road like a trophy from the night’s fighting.

A town sat on the straight road’s converging edges. More dead dogs, expunged of will, decorated the road.

High palms towered over the town’s low buildings. Black smoke rose above the treetops.

“I think,” Tariq said, “it’s Fellujah.”

Fire-orange flashed behind a hole in a concrete fence. Smoke veins, swirling upwards, without vapour’s grace, formed streams of ugliness so fast-moving that they seemed to be being sucked up by an invisible force, pulled up into nothingness.

Low houses lay behind low fences, the street without people; then blue, red, yellow and green doors were suddenly facing an intersecting road where men were in white and women in black. Bodies were rimmed with morning gold. Multicoloured minarets. Rusting cars. Bleating horns. A long traffic island. Criss-crossing pedestrians. A street furious with life. Honk, honk, bleat, bleat, honk. Bumper-to-bumper traffic, bleating.

I gawked through a crack between the curtains, my nose against glass. Ivory corneas made slithers of surprise in a girl’s face. The white lakes around her irises expanded. Black dots, like mica islands, sat in her snowy eyes. She stared, shocked. Don’t say anything! I thought. Perleeeeazzz! I regretted my curiosity – immediately. Why the hell had I stuck my stupid face against this damn glass! Her brother was probably the head of the local resistance! And what the hell were we doing in this joint anyway?!

She was on the traffic island with a baby in her arms. James drew his curtains. The baby was wrapped in the same fabric being worn by the girl, like a reference to a sealed future. We sat in gloom. Metal glittered outside.

The girl looked away. My temples ceased pumping.

“It’s Fellujah,” Tariq confirmed.

Wars put places on the map by blowing them of it, and Fellujah was again on the map.

Traffic lights lay ahead. Solvent tablets were fizzing in the lake of hope that aspiration had inserted into my head. The lights were green. We should not have been in Fellujah! Who the hell was this driver!? The normal driver had been replaced in the morning because of sickness.

“Sometimes,” Tariq added, “the Americans close the main road. Maybe that’s the reason why we’re coming through here.”

The real reason, I feared, was because the driver was mad. He was short and rotund. His self-contained oblivion made him look ambivalent to reality. His agenda was perplexing.

One by one cars made it through, the lights green. Car after car shot through. People were on the traffic island, next to the road, the lights green. Two men’s faces were covered by red scarves, the lights green. Thin slits crossed the scarves above the men’s hidden eyes, the lights still green. A faint glimmer appeared where an eye should have been, the lights still green. My lake temples were boiling, the lights still green. The car in front of us got through. The lights orange. The driver accelerated. Temple-lake steam thickened. The lights red! The last vehicle through! A gap opened behind us. James’s curved lips released a whispering howl.

“What the hell are we doing here?” he hissed.

“Having fun,” I replied.

Beeping, bleating and honking cars, breathing out murky gas, were like communicating, metallic creatures.

We turned off the main street. Houses were set back a long way from the road. The streets were now without people, our vision less checked. A swirl disappeared on the lake’s surface where that fizzing had been, the new returning again like a pleasant dream.

We passed jade-coloured minarets that looked like the stems of exotic plants. The dome between the stems had a sensuous, green curve. White and yellow tiles ringed the dome’s base. Blue, green and gold tiles covered the mosque’s walls. The people entering its high, wide door resembled colourful specimens being lured into the heart of a wondrous plant.

A tank turret faced us down the street. Vehicles were parked bumper to bumper. An armoured vehicle sat before the tank. The whites in a black soldier’s face – like ivory in ebony – were made even more ivory by amazement as our eyes passed so close that only thin glass separated our corneas, the soldier’s shocked ivories shining with spotlight astonishment in his ebony face.

We were as ignorant as he was as to why we were there – thanks to the driver.

“Maybe this a short cut?” Tariq suggested.

“The driver must know,” James replied, “what’s happening here?!”

“I hope not,” I said.

Marwan cackled.

Ahead, two tanks were moving side by side, separated by a dirt traffic island. The tanks’ mincing motors created a grinding roar that sounded like metal being plastered and ground together against a soundtrack of breaking glass. Both tanks spun and faced us. The rapid about-faces of those metal-monster pirouettes occurred with perfect synchronisation – like a dance of armour. Another moment where exotic contentment obliterated concern.

The driver darted onto the island to avoid death. Brown dust rose. The tanks brushed past on each side of us, our vision blocked by swirling dust. Then the dust opened. Machine-gunners were poised to shoot on top of the tanks. Eyes, like stagnant pools of coldness, were staring down at me; a gun barrel faced my window. Not a flicker of sympathy, intrigue or compassion sat in the machine-gunner’s drained iris pools, like a reptile of lawlessness. I felt as if I was floating, buoyed by thermals of hot information, lifted up by wonder.

And death is nothing. It happens just like that.

“This,” James said, dryly, “isn’t the highway.”

We got back onto the paved road. I was still feeling elated at the sight of those spinning tanks. I never imagined that such bulk could have such nimbleness. It was wonderful seeing the unimaginable – sometimes.

Women in blue, wearing pink headscarves, were whipping black-and-white cows up a steep incline. Dawn’s violet ringed the earth’s distant lip. A woman in burgundy-pink emerged from a palm grove beneath the incline. Yellow dates were hanging under the trees’ boughs, like golden eggs under mothering sheathes of branches and leaves, the colours colliding gorgeously. Pastel vapours sat in rainbow bands on the world’s edge. I now didn’t care that we weren’t on the main road. I was buzzing with gladdened fulfilment. Maybe soon I’ll regret this, I thought. But I’m going to love it before I do.

Traffic slowed at a bridge that arched over the Euphrates. We crawled behind an oil tanker. Morning’s blurred eye, like fogged vision, was reflected in the river’s opacity. Fuzzy palm reflections were painted into the pale-blue glass that faced the sky. The seconds tightened, like wire, around our rigid bodies. We felt strapped in by this imaginary wire; opposite-direction, bumper-to-bumper drivers were staring at us, with predatory curiosity, like cats observing humanoid chickens, their unshaven faces, sharp, cold, and feline, spouting carnivorous forests of long whiskers. Unwanted curiosity glinted like metal on their dark faces. They stared with a kind of dour, deadpan savagery. The traffic crawled. Those faces stared. The wire tightened, straining, croaking, creaking – snapping on the other side of the river where we were able to fly away, leaving the oil tanker behind.

We went parallel to the river. Relief made me feel as if I was cruising in silence in a balloon at high altitude. Men in white fabrics were walking under palms on the other bank, their heads wrapped in red-and-white scarves. The palms’ trunks resembled high stems that exploded at their tops with green eruptions. My temples were oscillating with a kind of swishing clarity. All failings and hopes got swept aside by grace. Two mosque domes, side by side, amid the high, sheltering palms, were inlaid with gold that sparkled with elegant tastefulness. Pleasure and wonderment hit me as I realised just how much tourism potential Iraq had; it was like seeing a brilliant future emerging from a lavish past.

Vehicles rushing along the distant highway – that umbilical cord back into the world – were glittering and shining and sparkling, flashing into the horizon, like discrete units of metal whose occupants were escaping with snippets of fascinating information – and soon we would be joining them; I thought……

My levity of relief disappeared when the driver left the link to the umbilical cord back into the world to join a queue of vehicles that were lined up to enter a petrol station. Our mouths sagged open. This guy, I thought, is so locked into his own personal agenda that he doesn’t seem to acknowledge or recognise hopes or intentions in anyone else! Two other queues were waiting. Only people were moving inside the petrol station. The cars were still. The people inside the cars were still. The parked drivers were waiting quietly. Only men, with covered eyes, were wandering around – and they were carrying guns!

James gasped: “What the f----?”

Tariq said, raising his hands, with surprised ignorance: “The petrol gauge is on FULL.”

His rising eyebrows furrowed his forehead.

Three queues were lined up, waiting to reach the pumps. The gun-carrying men, with the covered faces, were wandering between the waiting cars. A metal roof covered the station in a rhombus of darkness. The highway, awash with light, could be seen disappearing, like a streak of temptation – like a false hope – like a dream – into the horizon.

My temples started simmering, my vision sharpened – and hazed – at the same time. The distant sight of the highway now had the vagueness of an ideal construction of the future. I yearned for uneventful boredom. Boredom was now exciting. I suddenly had become a lover of predictability. A weird feeling – the feeling that normal people must have – overcame me. I wanted absolute predictability. What a turnabout in thinking! My mind had spent most of the day oscillating around a thin line of difficult-to-sustain, rewarding sensibility, all abstractions removed – a day with a purity of emotion that made me feel as if I had been a part of nature. And now I was really feeling too much like a part of nature! Often my mind had sat contented on that line – but you never know just how close you’re going to get to something intolerable, and the idea of the intolerable – in this unpredictability – was now making me lust for the drab and the conservative. There is probably, I thought, an advantage in having a coward’s imagination, for this restricting blessing would be an intelligent restraining device – like the morality I probably lack.

“Marwan, lay my jacket down, please,” Tariq said.

The Western jacket was hooked up, like a false declaration, from a hook above the window that Marwan was sitting besides. Tariq’s left arm was resting along the back rest of the vehicle’s front seat in a pretentious gesture of relaxation. Marwan laid the jacket down carefully – and slowly – no fast movements. James and myself drew our curtains – very slowly. The gloom was our only protection. We sat without moving. Only our eyes shifted in our still heads.

I hissed: “If something happens, and I survive, I won’t be responsible for my actions.”

My lips hardly moved.

I was referring to the driver’s possible mutilation at my hands. He was risking our lives for cheap petrol! Jordan was much more expensive than Iraq. I suspected that the driver was taking these risks so he could make a quick buck at our expense – assuming that he was even aware of the risks!

The armed men stared. James’s left-right-then-back-again eyes glinted. His head was still. Dull amazement smeared his stony face. The seconds were stacking up, trying to force their way through uncertainty’s barrier.

James hissed: “Idiot!”

But the driver didn’t care about other people’s assessments. And who the hell was he anyway? No one can be trusted in this place! Everyone could be a killer! Everyone! Especially him!

My mind raced with wild speculation, as if howling winds of possibilities were creating blustery clashes inside my head. Everything got focussed right down tight, like staring into the small lenses of binoculars, the distances now far away.

Tariq, gesturing, expressed to the driver: Could we try another place? But the driver waved this off by shaking of his head. The driver was the client and the supplier at the same time – a new venture in business practise.

“Just when I thought we’d made it,” I said, “we get this! This trend setter in exotic business practises! We’re supposed to be paying him! He’s supposed to be doing what we tell him! Not the other way around!”

James groaned. One of those faces, hidden by a scarf, that you see filmed in front of Arabic slogans – a face groomed to carve a niche in martyrdom’s mounting mountain – was now knocking on the driver’s window, wanting to speak to the driver! And the “martyr” was clutching an AK-47! And that gun, with its metal braces, looked like a steel skeleton! Like a cold, bony, bare instrument of annihilation.

Death is nothing – but dying is another thing.

Molecules I didn’t even know the human body could produce began swimming up my veins. They felt like transparent spheres in my rising blood. I had never felt those chemicals before; now I knew what terror was: It’s something you can’t imagine! Those chemicals seemed to be making me shrink. I felt my ego being crammed into a tiny space, sucked, by the build-up of information, into a black hole. The fact that my name was supposed to get itself etched into the bedrock of history through my unusual experience – and that I was supposed to live long enough for this to happen – was giving my possible impending death the sad grandeur of tragedy – at least to me. The overwhelming thought of dying – prematurely – without my vast potential getting itself realised – the very concept of this – melted all over me, dissolving all other considerations, reducing me down and down and down, down into microscopic insignificance!

The driver’s window came down. His head turned to the left. Head Scarf Head was stationary. James whisper-hissed: “Idiot! Idiot!” His whispering was like steam escaping from a crack in a hot-water pipe. Head Scarf Head was persistent with inquiry – a still head full of what? Gleam-eyes were in the split in the scarf that covered his face. The only visible part of his body from the chest up were those gleams, James mumbling: “Gawd…” Anticipation swirled like one of those black columns of smoke we’d seen on the other side of Fellujah, swirling from my feet to clamp my temples, a coiling dread-snake slithering around my heart, squeezing it, crowding the distorted seconds together, Head Scarf Head, of machine-gun Arabic, splattering words, the driver’s hands rising, in exasperation, Tariq staring straight ahead through the windscreen, Head Scarf Head not moving, Tariq being stared at by Head Scarf Head, the chemicals sweeping up from my feet and up my legs and exploding in my head. We were like street entertainers specialised in immobility as the driver’s hands and head quaked and shook. Then the driver tossed his hands up once again, really throwing them up with mysterious exasperation; I wondered if a deal involving us was now off; then the driver grabbed the steering wheel and we started reversing, and as the van started swinging around, we heard a popping swat, a hollow, shallow crack, a tight-drum-skin boooom….Jerrr zusss…..our roulette-wheel eyes were flashing, fascination head jerks, dumb-surprise gapes…a round?....Was that a round!? Tariq’s spinning head producing: “He was just trying to sell petrol! And a car backfired!” Our mouths, cut, titillated, yelled: “Petrol! Petrol!” all of us yelling “petrol! A car backfiring!!”, yelling as the van shot past the burnt-out skeleton of an upturned bus whose remains resembled a fossilised creature that had withered like a fallen beast beside the road, our Nile-relief laughter pouring amused life back into the parched earth.

“Petrol!” we laughed, as the van streamed down the highway. “A car backfiring! Haaaaa!….”

We cruised down the highway under a vast sky. The tremendous space had the levitating beauty of a precious gift, the magnitude endowed with solid lightness, like an immense embodiment of relief. The gigantic, circular horizon rimmed the yellow desert’s great plate. Soon, under the light release of freedom, our limbs were languid. Our heads lolled between wakefulness and sleep. The traffic curved in a long arc of dots of glinting metal, like a moving necklace that was falling over the edge of the earth. The speck of the most distant vehicle glinted where hazy barrenness, punctuated by green splotches of vegetation, met the immense heavens.

Steel-wax pylons, twisted into frozen-melt falls by air attacks, lined the road.

James, who real name was Jamal, said: “I’m now worried about my visa.”

His self-deprecatory smile made me smile. He was an Indian. He didn’t have a visa for Jordan.

“You really would be worried,” I replied, “if they shot people for false entry.”

He grinned briefly. Half-melted pylons disappeared and re-appeared behind his head. He stared through the windscreen. The road narrowed where buildings, like nuggets of ivory in the base of an enormous sapphire dome, were beginning to appear on the rim of the earth. Those buildings possessed a significance that disassociated them from the past. The past was now melting away, the present expanding, the future contracting, the nuggets expanding.

We shot in a straight line towards those nuggets.

Upon the yellow-white earth, a goat herd was throbbing, like a moving black carpet. The driver pulled into a petrol station to fill up. The carpet halted on the edge of the station’s paved surface. We could see the border fence a kilometre away. The driver removed plastic containers from the van’s boot.

The goat herder filled a bucket with water so that his goats could drink. The patient, orderly way that the goats took their turn to stick their snouts into the bucket made a mockery of human greed.

While the goats drank, the driver filled up his plastic containers with petrol. We stretched our legs.

“He’s obsessed with petrol,” James said.

“Imagine if the Jordanians confiscate it all,” I replied.

“They might,” James said.

“He’d go crazy.”

“I think he already is.”

Between the two border fences was a refugee camp whose tents were bordered off by a wire fence. Women wearing overcoats and headscarves were moving between the tents. Their vibrant fabrics shimmered in the light, like precious stones against the whiteness of the tents. The camp’s existence was divorced from normal chronology. You could feel it; it wasn’t just a staging post between more fluid physical states, but a place in an incident freeze, as if it had become absorbed into the sky that overlooked it: time in that camp seemed to be on a geological scale.

“Refused entry,” James said.

We stopped next to a white hut. The driver asked for our passports. James wanted to get out. He leant forward, placing his hands on the top of the facing backrest. His nose almost touched the backrest. There wasn’t a door adjacent to our seat.

“Don’t worry,” Marwan said. “The driver will take care of it.”

Marwan’s unflustered casualness suggested that our destiny was in the hands of Almighty Good.

The driver had disappeared into the hut with our passports.

“Please!” James insisted.

James believed that our destiny was in the hands of Almighty Earthly Influence.

“It’ll be alright,” Marwan said.

“Please,” James continued. “I really have to get out.”

Marwan got out so James was able to push the facing backrest forward and skip out through the side door. He raced into the hut, clutching a letter that he had managed to get from the Indian ambassador through one of his father’s connections. He disappeared into the hut’s gloom. I followed him into the hut. A man was shrouded in half-light behind a desk – like a sombre figure stripped of human sentiment. The gloom felt like intransigence. A fan was swishing. A map of Jordan lay on a wall. The man was studying James’s passport.

James said: “Excuse me, sir, I’ve got a letter from the Indian ambassador.”

The man took the letter and read it. His head tilted to one side. He was formal, but relaxed, his eyes solid with concentration. His facial expression didn’t change.

He looked up and said: “I’m going to fax the letter to the authorities in Amman for verification.”

“Thank you,” James replied.

“How long are you intending to stay?” the man asked.

“Two days,” James replied. “I’ve got a flight from Amman to Madrid.”

“Can you show me the ticket, please?”

James dashed back to the van. He felt much better now that he knew that his destiny was back in his hands. He and I were too cynical to believe that our destinies were being protected – hence we had rational fear. James had a long stride for a short man; he used it to the full as he headed back into the hut, stretching out with purposeful enthusiasm – the enthusiasm of controlled destiny. The letter was in the fax machine when he came back with the ticket. The man glanced at the ticket and said: “Thanks.”

The fax machine was now silent; but the fan was humming like summer lethargy.

“It’ll take a few minutes,” the man said.

The driver was sitting next to the fax machine, drinking tea. He possessed the inoffensive distance of a man content to mind his own business. When you’re in the oil business all other activities are irrelevant – as any oil man can tell you.

A man in a white ensemble was sitting on a chair outside the hut next to the door. His black moustache made a vivid contrast with his apparel. His red headscarf was lurid against the hut’s white wall. Smoking a hose pipe, he was as sedate as the desert. James paced around in front of him. The curious, non-judgemental pipe smoker observed the pacing James. Fretting was as foreign to the pipe smoker as terror had been to me only hours before. That experience had turned me into a micro-biologist.

James heard the fax machine; he dashed back into the hut. The immigration officer, taking the response out of the machine, remained mysteriously impassive. Concern made a leaf structure pang inside James’s head – or, at least, it appeared that way to me. The immigration officer’s distance was joyless – no apparent desire to be helpful; nor did he look unhelpful either.

He picked up a stamp. The silence got filled by the humming fan. Light from the door left the man’s eyes aglow with sparkles that shone without life, as if the gloom within the hut had drained those irises of all enthusiasm; a dull stubbornness of intransigent intention could easily have ignited into something regrettable had any false moves been made by James who stared at the stamp with that look that hungry dogs have when they suspect that their food bowls are about to be filled. James resisted the temptation to move. His perception of time had been altered by the threat that that bureaucrat offered to his ideal view of his immediate future. He looked as if he was experiencing refugee-camp time. He gave me the feeling that he thought that he was going to be hemmed into a type of vat in which it was impossible to experience any positive, fluid outpouring of events. He may have even thought that he could have ended up in the camp next door. His concentration suggested that time in his imagination had become concentrated into a grave pin-point of brooding hope. His hungry-dog eyes were still with concentration as they stared at that stamp.

Built-up hope gushed out of him like a stream of alleviation when he heard the stamp being thumped against his passport. The wheels that had been spinning in his temples slowed down as his stamped passport re-entered his hands. He drifted back out into the light. The new radiance possessed a refreshing lightness that made things look younger.

We got back into the van. A barrier was raised and we proceeded towards another white building where men in blue uniforms were waiting to meet us. James leant back against our seat’s backrest. His head fell back. He looked out through a side window. An absorbed, self-contained disassociation from all possibilities left him incurious with contentment. We approached the uniformed men. Their black moustaches made hairy crescent moons upon the swarthiness of their faces.

We had to get out with our possessions. The driver was instructed to place his vehicle over a rectangular hole. A man walked through a door in one of the hole’s walls. A metal detector was going to be swept over the van’s underside.

I amused myself by thinking that the driver’s obsession with petrol was connected with Molotov cocktail production. I imagined the man in the hole discovering empty bottles pasted to the van’s underside.

“He’s going to find Molotov cocktails,” I said.

James’s head went back and forth. He put a hand up to his face to hide his amusement.

“When petrol costs are too high,” I said, “he gives up Mototov cocktail manufacturing to work as a driver.”

Marwan and Tariq were asked to go into another hut with the documents and disks that they had brought with them from Iraq. Tariq walked with his head down. He had the body language of a condemned man. Bureaucracy emerges from the territorial instinct. Everyone unknown entering a new space is a suspect until proven otherwise. The more important the space, in the minds of the occupiers, the greater the suspicion.

Tariq had begun conjuring up worst-case possibilities. Bureaucracy does that to a man’s mind. It didn’t help when he was asked to say – exactly – what was on the disks.

“You don’t know?” he was asked.

“Only generally,” he replied.

“Generally – what do you know?”

“It must be information about the projects we’re doing in Iraq.”

“And what projects are they?”

He explained.

“Okay. Wait outside, please.”

Tariq paced outside, staring at the hut. He paced and stared. The petrol-station experience was already a memory, as if it had occurred to someone he once knew well who now had other things to consider. Being charged with paedophilia or planning terrorism now seemed worse than torture and beheading. Torture and beheading had gone back to being things that only occurred to others. Survival means our minds elevate or relegate experience with convenient shuffles.

The driver was gesturing with haphazard sways of his hands. He was being questioned about the petrol stored in the plastic containers that filled his boot. The rear end was a powder keg and the immigration officer was concerned about a bonfire of all bonfires taking place on the road to Amman. I suppose the immigration officer, who was listening with pleasant reasonableness, also found the driver admirable as well. I admired the driver because his tenacious, disarming oblivion made him look so lost in his own preoccupations that he seemed incapable of plotting against any another human being. With spirited determination, he convinced the immigration officer that a rear end full of petrol wasn’t a hazard, his hands describing persuasive circles.

While those hands swayed, Tariq was staring and pacing and glancing, looking, stopping, and pacing again, then repeating: “Nawful – what did you put on those disks!?”

“Don’t worry,” Marwan said.

Marwan’s voice was like a breath of calmness. I had seen Marwan and Tariq praying together in the garden of a house in Baghdad in the early morning; and now I had reached a conclusion: Only one of them was a consistent follower of eternal, irrational optimism.

We were asked to put our luggage through an X-ray machine. A conveyor belt entered a grey, metal box whose face was covered with vents. Other people were ahead of us in a queue.

I saw a television monitor in front of a security officer’s face. The solid objects in other people’s bags made schematic representations of reality on a screen. Security is now big business: There’s a lot to be gained from creating schematic representations of reality in the minds of TV viewers. Terrorism is a goldmine – like an oil field that needs to be exploited. It’s one of our greatest employers. Bring it on!

I was relaxed until I saw a black plaque on the machine’s side. Crosses lay over a sign showing film. Tariq was still staring at the hut. I felt he had little to worry about: his staff would have been careful about what they had put on those disks. But it still didn’t stop him from staring.

“Don’t worry,” Marwan repeated.

I raced to the other side of the machine. My backpack was moving on the conveyor belt towards the X-rays. I took the film out of my bag. The security officer confirmed my suspicions by saying: “Good idea.” I put my backpack back onto the conveyor belt, and, bending over, I began studying the vents inside the machine, trying to convince myself that the rays started past where my backpack had been. I couldn’t determine anything definitive because the purpose of the vents was so unclear. Niggling fear arose – a great loss might have occurred! I felt dread’s slow wheezing. I thought I may have lost photographs of a unique phase in history, as if a part of my past may have been obliterated by radiation. And what is death – but obliteration! And now that I wasn’t directly confronted by real obliteration, I had become sensitive to trivialities, the ego frying up perspective, things inflated, swollen by narrowness. My photographs may have been destroyed! My head boiled with indulgence. My very being may have been compromised!

Tariq continued staring, his gaze fixed. He put his hands on his head. He was drained of animation. He continually muttered: “Nawful – what did you put on those disks!?” He stared at that hut. Time dragged – passionately. That simple hut had become a place of grave import in Tariq’s imagination, as if it had turned into Versailles or the Reichstag, or some other place of historical significance, the place where he felt his fate was being decided.

“It’ll be alright,” Marwan calmly insisted.

Tariq’s face had the tightness of a tense grimace. I continued looking at those vents. James looked around like a satisfied visitor. He had got his visa so he was happy; but I needed to get evidence to sustain a desired view that had taken on a tremendous importance in my mind. I felt impatient. I was now going to have to endure a frustrating wait to find out if a part of my past had been wiped away by radiation. I was bitter towards myself for having been so lax! I hadn’t controlled my destiny when I should have! What an idiot I was! The fact that I was alive suddenly just wasn’t enough.

A policeman appeared with Tariq’s disks. Tariq’s temples, if his eyes were any indication, could have easily started throbbing like frogs’ cheeks.

“Here,” the policeman said. “Have a good trip.”

Boyish glints appeared in Tariq’s eyes.

“See,” Marwan said.

Marwan was free of ideal constructions, for he had it clear on what happens after death. He had it clearer than anyone I’d ever met. He was like a pebble smoothed by a washing thought.

“That’s a relief,” Tariq said.

I was hoping I’d be able to say the same; but anything could bother me, for death, for me, was the likely end, short time made rapid by demanding ego. Only ego creates freedom – the illusion of destiny. And this illusion is the most important thing you can have; so we really can get quite distressed when anything impedes it.



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