Day Five: Haze
Guttural and harsh, the voice cuts into my foggy brain. No, that isn’t right. Not foggy. Hazey. Dried out. My dried out, crispy, shriveled brain.
Parched, my throat is a chasm words cannot escape.
In another language the voice shouts again, another language sounding like my mother tongue. Animal sounds surround me, thudding through the ground beneath my body. Like a snake I feel the vibrations echoing through the sand. Miles of sand, dunes upon dunes of it. A breeze kissed by flames blows over me and stings my sore-ridden flesh. I try to moan, to beg for relief, for anything other than the million blinding flashes of pain that sparkle over me and descend, but the sounds crumple and die before I can make them take flight.
“Alive?” Another voice says from high above me, like an eagle calling from the sky.
“I hear the heart beat. It is faint, but there is a pulse.”
These are men. Deep voices that roll and rumble and have brought me so much pain in the past, but today, in this moment, they bring desert rain. I have to open my eyes, to see them, to show them I am alive. I can live. I must live.
“How strong?” The voice descends again.
And suddenly I am being handled, someone is touching me, touching me for the first time since I can remember. Even in this dehydrated shroud my tiny pebble-heart leaps: this touch, this contact, it transcends my thirst. Riddled with sores, my papery skin sealed to my brittle bones, an emaciated imposter to my previous health–I am still human and I am finally worthy of someone’s touch. A man’s touch. I try to open my eyes, to force the binding glue of sleep tethering my lashes together to melt, but the haze and wind and hot, hot sun chant no. It has taken the grip of death to blind these men to my disease, my disgusting existence. I soak it in, their presence like rain water on my skin.
Grunting sounds as my body is uprooted from its grave and I am turned on my side. The sand is gritty and I feel my skin give way to abrasive teeth. Another sore has been bred for tomorrow.
“Not very strong. She has been here for a day at least. Look, she is riddled with the disease. She is dirty.”
“That is a woman?” This voice sounds incredulous. I know I am hideous to gaze upon, and the desert heat has done me no favors.
“Yes. On the cusp of death, I think. Should we leave her to her fate? She will not survive the sun. Perhaps it is a mercy.”
There is brooding. I can feel it in the air. My bodily senses may be lost to me, but I know the weight of silent thoughts, of judgement and condemnation. I can feel a hateful gaze long before I can see the culprit; I know the sting of pity. I have yet to experience the soft touch of mercy, but I know this man is wrong. Leaving me to catch fire in the sun and starve to death is not mercy. It is cruelty dressed up in kindness. It is willful ignorance and a denial of my humanity.
If I could clench my teeth in protest, I would. But my mouth is full of sand.
I can hear them exchanging solutions to their plight of stumbling upon me. They effortlessly slip between languages, some I am accustomed to, some I have only heard in passing. They are traveling between villages, I am sure. They will not linger here long. If I am to make my case for survival, I must do it now. I settle for pushing a grunt out of the abyss within me. This time, it breaks free, but I sink further into the sand.
The voices continue: they are too loud for me to overcome. I push another sound out, a moan, reaching into myself with all my remaining strength.
“Wait… Wait! I think the girl is coming to!”
The speaker bends down low and his voice washes over my face. “Can you hear us? Are you awake?”
I try to nod, but my strength is failing me. My breathing is shallow, rattling in my lungs. My head is so heavy.
“She barely stirs.”
Voices mutter consent. I hear a camel snort and stomp on the sand. At least, I think it’s a camel.
“If you wrap her in blankets to be burned after, we will spare her. Is there room to pack her?”
There is mutiny brewing at the suggestion. How dare this man risk saving someone like me?
“There is no room!” I hear someone shout.
“She is dying, anyways! And then we will be carrying her curse! Leave her to her fate! Look!”
I am not surprised by the anger at my rescue. But I am moved, even in the throes of death, that a man would consider rescuing me. I scrape out a sigh of relief and my eye lids are heavy stones. I will never open them again, I think. But I don’t need to; I am being rescued. How redemptive.
I am being picked up suddenly, gingerly. My limbs are weightless and the sand pours out of them, filling the desert with dunes upon dunes, more sand than it can hold. My body was full of it, full of its grains, full of its salt, full of its heat. But now it is gone, and I am rising above the sand and my skin is healthy again. Rare and precious water is being poured over my face, and I am healed.
I hear a wind-filled voice whisper, “Be free, beautiful one,” and my pebble heart is swelling into a gorgeous oasis of flesh and blood again. I have never been called beautiful. My eyelids peel back and I can see, more clearly than I have ever been able to see before in my life, and I realize I have never had true eyesight before now. I am being lifted, higher and higher, and looking below I see a group of men picking up a lifeless body, wrapping it in a blanket.
Poor soul, I think, and my heart goes out to the wraith below.
They shrink until they disappear beneath the desert haze and I soar onward.