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THE DESERT LIGHT
It's an ordinary day and when I switch off the light I see the desert light. But it has never been like this. Once, when I switched off the light, my room was left in the dark. I remember when I got engaged to Wilbur and when my hands were shaking for the pompous engagement ring he slipped to my ring finger, amid the applause of our relatives.
" My God!" I thought, looking at his face, " this man must have the same expression of satisfaction as at the purchase of a horse for his stable..."
I trembled. " It's the emotion," I said, apologizing with a smile.
"She is excited, my little darling!" said my mother, speaking in a loud voice. Everyone nodded in the restaurant. I was already excited!
When did I really get excited for the first time? When I met Wilbur and I accepted to love him? When I grew into a woman? The day of my degree examination? Or during my first journey as an archaeologist far from the London's fog and from the important words of my university colleagues?
It happened when the aircraft engine stopped with a short wince, when the airscrew overturned and we slowly and inexorably crashed on the Egyptian desert. When the plane engine stopped, I got really excited.
It was at that very moment and at the following one.
"We are at the end of the world..." said the pilot, as I recall, sweating and fumbling with the ailerons and the emergency radio, just before the crash.
Then, the fine and hot sand.
I immediately understood that I was left alone. In the red sky of sunset, a small white cloud was blowing away, as if it was alive and tried not to soil itself with the black smoke coming out of the wreckage of the plane. It was burning over there; after jumping out of its belly I was lying on the ground with my broken body and my watchful curious eyes.
" I'm dying..." I thought, just before fainting.
I remember some things well, others disappeared in the suffering of my wounded body. For example, I remember the bumps of the camel where I was lying very well. Partly because, with a very curious mental analogy, they reminded me when I played tennis in the college. The rhythm, after all, was the same: you strike the ball, a pause, you throw the ball again, a pause, you strike the ball, a pause...
Someone had picked me up, someone had talked to me, someone had decided to save me, someone who?
"If only I could stretched out my hand, I would take a bottle and drink some water," I thought. At the same time, a stranger stretched out his hand towards me and quenched my thirst.
"If only I could speak, I would intone the song that my father used to sing me when I was ill: he stoopped down beside me to wipe my forehead." While I was thinking of my father, a man next to me sang softly and deeply. But, he was not my father.
"Who was he?" Someone.
I was delirious, and I understood that when I was not delirious. In my moments of lucidity, I understood other things: I was wounded - Iwas wounded so deeply that I couldn't move and I was in need of specialistic treatment, x-rays, injections and of staying in a clean and tidy room of an English hospital.
Instead, I found myself in a torn, even
malodorous tent. My bed was a carpet of rough sheep's
wool, and my body was immobilised by wooden sticks and
rough bandages that once had been white.
He attended me everyday,even if his visiting hours were never the same. Nevertheless, I was never left alone: the whole day a young woman used to sit next to me, smiling with her almost toothless mouth and speaking an unknown language. She was dressed in a dignified way, but it was the large number of rings and bracelets adorning her arms and ankles that struck me more. They lent her such a femininity I had never had before, and not even today I am able to express.
My days were very long and short at the same time. I almost always kept my eyes closed, and I opened them only when I heard the particular clinking of the bracelets of that woman. I had learnt to recognize those sounds that made me immediately understand all her movements: I knew if she was standing up to simply take something in our tent, or to shift the tent veil and let his man enter: the man who had saved me from the flames of the plane. In that case, the clinking of her bracelets was different: it reflected her rapid gesture of excitement, it showed her emotion for that meeting.
She stood up and quickly put out all the
candles, plunging the tent into darkness. Then, the veil
was drawn to let the blinding, involving desert light
enter together with him. In a moment our tent brightened.
I forgot breathing that very instant. I wondered for a
long time the reason why the girl behaved that way: why
she put out the candles, why she wanted the darkness
inside our tent. Then I understood, or perhaps I believed
to have understood, the reason for her strange behaviour:
that girl was jealous of me. She wanted the darkness, she
tried to hide me from her man, so that he could only see
a body wrapped in bandages deprived of any dangerous
I didn't know how long I had been remaining with them waiting for the clinking of the bracelets. To tell the truth, I was told it later: it was about three months. After the removal of nearly all the bandages, when I hardly manage to caress his hand, Wilbur arrived with noises of motorcycles, screeching of brakes, dog's barking, nervous camel's braying.
" I'm here, my dear Lara...," said Wilbur to me tenderly. So, without trying to dissemble his feelings, he said to be horrified by what surrounded me and, after insulting anybody, he carried me in his clinic of Edinburgh, far from them.
Doctors were very kind to me and shook
their head when they listened to Wilbur's story about the
way in which those Bedoiun had cured me and how he had
arrived in time to save me. " Oh my hero!"
I hated her, of course. I detested her clean and tidy uniform, her little starched nurse's cap, her naked arms, deprived of bracelets. She was right about some things, and wrong about others, as usual, however. My body got well, but my mind had changed. Wilbur found me a teaching post of Ancient History in a small college, thanks to his friendships.
" This is only the beginning, you have to gain experience in the teaching career.You can't go around the world in search of disappeared treasures," he always repeated me. " Besides, a woman must always stay close to her husband and, certainly, not inside the Cheope's piramids...."
You cannot have your cake and eat it! Indeed, I was lucky he had found and saved me in the desert from those barbarians, with his great force of love. Yes, from bedouin barbarians....
But, unfortunately, when I returned home,
every night, after he had kissed me goodnight on my
forehead and switched off the light with a mechanical
gesture, the room was left in the dark all night long.