February 10, 2009



Think not that dreams appear to the dreamer only at night:

the dream of this world of pain appears to us even by day.

(Yoru bakari Miru mono nari to Omou-nayo!

Hiru saë yumé no Ukiyo nari-kéri.)

OLD JAPANESE POEM.- Tx  by Lafcadio Hearn 1899

I want to tell you a little of my story.  Perhaps no one will ever read these pages, yet in writing I feel that I am speaking to someone who understands. For you, the one who reads without judging, these pages are written.

“Tomorrow … tomorrow I must leave everything.

I will not see any of my friends again.

I cannot tell them.”


My people have not always been in this place.  How came we here  – and not to some other place ? That is a story which goes back a long time. At dusk, when the sun sets, we talk about it: where we came from, why we had to leave to live here in the sea of sand.  My friends and I like to hear the story told while lying down in the cool food gardens, it helps us imagine the forest and the plants those stories talk about. None of us have ever been there. Jani, the last person I know who lived there, she died three years ago.

But I will go there before I die.

Dusk is the time everyone gets together, those who want to rest from the day’s work and the guards who don’t have to leave for their night watch yet.  It may seem strange to speak of guarding a place, which is a tiny dot in the great desert sands of Umijaabour.

It is impossible for any living creature to cross Umijaabour on foot, no human or animal can carry enough food and water to get even a hundredth of the way across. Even the dromedaries that live on the borders of this sand kingdom, do not venture more than a few months journey into its interior. They do not even come close to our Morai.

And yet, despite this remoteness, this vast distance between us and the rest of the world, we cover out Morai in sand, we hide all bright colours and we dye our clothes the colour of sand. Everything we show to the outside world is the colour of the shifting sands. But inside we love bright orange, reds, blues and yellows and most of all, the cool green of our living plants, our source of life.

When I am home, I am a lookout and a guard, soaring high up in the air.  One of my duties is to make sure that no carelessly left cloth, no bright gleaming object is visible.

The night fliers were not common in the early days. Posting night guards in the lookout towers was as much as anyone could do. Now we send up three or four night guards at a time – especially since our friends in the southern Morai were destroyed twelve moons ago.


Mantosan was my special friend in those days, before Kai. Mantosan was the first one in our Morai who copied the great gliders of the “lonely eagles” that brought our grand parents here. He was always restless. No one was surprised that he became our first windrider. Now every Morai has someone who watches and stands guard from above day and night. Now windriders are the messengers to the other Moraii.

I have not always lived here. I am lucky I was given a home here. Lucky to be able to say ‘my people’, to have a place to come back to. It is true I did spend most of my time travelling, yet this was my home.  I remember coming here, to the northern Morai when I had just learnt to talk.

In my time, the first outsider to land at our Morai was Kai.  At the time he was almost killed, but later celebrated as a hero. I think they did that to make up for almost skewering him on arrival. When he landed he was bound and roughly taken below, but he always remained quiet and calm the whole time. I think that saved his life.

Kai was a tall thin man surrounded by a peaceful feeling which I had never felt from anyone before. I think it was that which won them over in the end. I always thought that the long hours of flying and watching must have become part of his blood – so that even when speaking, he looked at us from a long way away…as though he was still riding the air currents high above the sands, soaring, a small dark speck high in the glaring sky and we were just a particularly puzzling air current to navigate. I had read that men who spent months on the moving and heaving waters in ships seemed awkward and unsteady when they walked on solid land. Kai, was like that, he was like a graceful bird, forced to waddle clumsily on land, stopping only because need had forced him to touch the earth for a while, eager to be gone again to where he was at home. I did not understand the lure of the wind in those days. I did not know that she is also a jealous mistress not afraid to use her claws.

Oh, Kai, he was charming enough and could tell a good story, but when he thought no one was watching him he would wrap himself in the mantle of his loneliness and his eyes would take on that faraway look. His natural quietness came back to him.  I saw that he had to work hard at talking, smiling and speaking with us in an open way. I believe that he was once a talkative, happy person, but the long hours of flying had taken their toll. That and something else. Perhaps that is why I wanted to draw him out. Perhaps it was our fate, either way, the die were cast and I would lose both Kai and Mantosan. They died because of me. I know this. I am sorry, but I will not tell you here why or how it happened. I cannot. Perhaps another time. Let others tell you, there are many willing to talk about that time, but know that what you hear from outsiders is rarely the whole story.

It is now my duty to carry on their work. I have told Maia that it is a burden I cannot refuse, that I actually WANT to carry it.  It is the only way I can keep at bay the acid of guilt. I know in my heart, that I would die if I did I not take up their work and follow their footsteps. Others may call me foolish, but I know what I know. It is what I must do.

It is ironic, that when I go to visit the different Moraii the people look at me as once I looked at Kai.  Now I am the exotic traveller from far away, the “lonely eagle”, the bearer of news from far away places, the bringer of messages, privileged to speak with the elders until late into the night. The  novelty of such ‘privilege’ has worn off long ago. I just smile and do my best; smile, play with the children and always watch the elders and especially the older women.

I made the mistake once of ignoring the old women, when I first arrived in the Westernmost Morai. I was young, I looked to the men. To be sure, I was successful with some of them, I am attractive, but then the older women spoke subtly against me and I was not welcome in that Morai for many revolutions, not until those old ones had moved on. Now I always look to the old women first. If that door is not open, I know that I will not  be able to achieve much in that place.


“Kai and Mantosan, you are in my heart every day.   I will carry on your work until my last breath until my wings rest forever in the sand, or go up in the holy flames”.

Until now, I have only ever told Maia why I feel this way about you both.

My life was originally planned quite differently, before I met Kai, but I am happy with what I have now.  I love the life I’ve had, yes, even truth be told the endless hours riding the currents, soaring the hot billows, always searching for the next one and the next one to carry me on and on, knowing that death is just a broken wing away, just one small ‘insignificant little mistake’ away. Death is ever looking over my shoulder. And “yes”, I do cry at night that the voice of children is never for me, yet still, I love this life !

Who in this world does not pay a price ?

And who never feels that the price is too high ?

Last week I was welcomed by old Oi of the rocks, who dwells by a hidden spring so small it can only support him and his family. Lavender grows very well in the dry and sandy soil there and Oi’s people love it and use it, making medicines and oils they sell far and wide. The smell of lavender is still in my clothes.

Oi has an innate understanding of the human body, he is a mender. Oi asked about the weakness in my right side. Somehow he knew it was there. I remember the first time he gently touched that place of pain, he stepped back, smiling but would not look at me. I waited until he met my eyes, “Oi, my friend – I  know !”

He shook his head with tears in his eyes.

“Oi, there is little that I do not already know, but your silence tells me most clearly”.

Then Oi the shy one, embraced me.

Thank you old friend.

Oi receives very few visitors, he does not trust anyone easily. Living away from the protection of the larger Moraii this is natural. His hidden location is his only real defence. A single family such as his, could never stand long against a full attack from the air. I think he has access to underground passages in the rock, left by the ancients before the sea of sand, but it is only a hunch.

I cannot write of where Oi lives, not even of the direction. I do not want to carry the weight of yet another’s work.  I have already heaped upon myself enough for one lifetime. Let me finish this work well and I will be content with my life. It is all I ask now. Ha ha…, I have become modest, or is it realistic ? – after all these years.

Yet I am proud that Oi finally trusted me.


“Who is it that speaks to you ? Let me first tell you what I look like, that is easiest. My hair is long, tied back tightly down my spine in the style of all windriders. I am simply being honest when I describe myself as beautiful. I have a strong well proportioned body, I am kind hearted and children naturally come to play with me. For those reasons more than any others, I know I must win over the older women first. Pardon me if I speak plainly, but if  I were a man, I too would be attracted to a woman such as I. However I know this path is not for me. It is too late now for me. Inside I feel too old. My debt to Kai and Mantosan have been my work, and my family.  I know what I must do. I can do more as I am now, than by trying to force myself into a task I am not suited to and in which I would be as clumsy and ill-suited as a bird walking in the sand.

Speaking like this you may think I am already an old woman and indeed in spirit I feel so already.  I am told that I am now in the ‘full bloom of maturity’, though I do not feel it. Many a young man in search of a helpmate has looked at me and wondered if he could win me, or seduce me, or even force me.

Forsooth only one ever tried to force me, and he will wear the scars for the rest of his life. But for that last instant of pity I would have taken out not only one but both his eyes. It is his burden to carry, not something to lay at my feet !  No one in that Morai stood against me, no one defended him, though I do not visit there anymore.

I have no compunction about what I did and would do so again. You do not challenge an eagle unscathed !  Windriders do not often speak of this, but each of us has weapons to draw upon in times of utmost need.   I have never hesitated to use them.

Then there were a few who sought to win me openly, though now I no longer enjoy or encourage this game, I have become tired of it and in this respect I fear I am too old as well. Now I quickly stifle any hopeful questions and probing.  Word has spread and these days I rarely have to quell a hopeful young lad.  The old women know why.

My manner is direct but I am not hurtful, at least that is what I tell myself. I have no patience for the games of those who play with power and control. Games such as these will kill a windrider faster than anything else. Umijaabour does not play games,  perhaps because she is the ‘great game’. The sand, the sun and the wind don’t play stupid games, they are honest, not sentimental nor spiteful. They do not bear a grudge, they deal with you instantly. The windrider who wants to ride for months between the Moraii needs to earn her passage by being honest. Play games with the wind and you will find yourself caught in your own web ! In the early days many windriders were caught just so, lost in the sands and discovered years later, a white and dry tangle of bones and struts in the shifting sands. This is a fate any of us might one day face, but then who in this world does not face death in one form or another every day ?

I know of no one who has ever recorded the full extent of Umijaabour, the sea of sand or Umi-retish, the sea of water. I fly a path between five Moraii and each complete circuit takes the time of one revolution about the sun. To the north it is too cold to fly and the land is dead and sterile, the ground there is hard and brittle from the heat of a thousand suns which the ancients released in anger.

We do not know who destroyed the Great Southern Morai.

Tears burn me every time the image of those charred black remains comes to mind. I saw it many months after the event. Not a soul, not a body was left. The wind had carried strange omens for months before. Something dreadful had happened there. I never put down, never set foot on the ground.  Everything I needed to see, I saw from my glider.

I miss sensible Maia so much, I can still hear her voice quietly telling me her thoughts. “Maia, I hope you can hear me, I feel you are still with me, when I call you.  High up on a clear night, when all is silent, only the rush of wind around me, I can hear your answers, dear Maia”.

For myself, I love the dusk most of all, the air is gentle in a way it is not at any other time. The strong power of the dawn with its hopeful innocent strength is so different from the mellow, silky feel of the coming evening.  I am a dusk person. Kai used to say it meant I would do my greatest work when I was old. I doubt it, in that case I should have done it already.

The feeling of soaring on the wind, as she gently brushes my face and caresses my body is, beautiful.  Space stretching out below me, I soar above the world. That feeling alone makes everything worth while. I have no words to convey this to those who have not experienced it.  The power of the wind as she lifts me and carries me, pushing me, sometimes letting me glide dreamily and at other times jolting me roughly is sensual, like that of a lover, though you will not find many windriders say so openly. And the wind is more patient than a human lover, she surely carries you across the crest eventually. At those times I wonder how those thin wings of cloth, metal and wood can hold me high above the world, bending, swaying, hissing gently.

I can see in the eyes of the young ones, the way they look at me, those who love the wind and would be windriders. The elders ask me who in their Morai will soar the winds and I laugh at them and tell them to open their eyes and look around at this and that child in the corner, quietly gazing at me with silent longing or sitting on my lap, in rapt attention, lost in the stories of flying like an eagle. “Why do you ask ME ?” I tell them.  “See what the childrens’ faces tell you !”  These days I can speak to them in this manner, they know me.

Most of all I love flying in the deepest darkest hours of the night.  Only up high, soaring over the sands, hunting for isolated warm air pockets, the icy crystal clear sky above, do I feel free. In those times my feelings expand in all directions and I feel part of the wind, the sand, the moon, the star patterns above. I feel safe, being a part, a tiny part of it all.  Then I feel that the world is mine and I am held up by more than air and wind. I love the soft breeze, the endless space in all directions. Sometimes it helps me to forget my longings and other times I feel them stronger than ever, dropping tears on the sand.

Riding the wind at night means finding the last rising air currents to take me as high as possible, so that I won’t have to put down and wait in the sands until early morning.  But when I choose the wrong direction, I have to spend the night on the ground. But this does not happened often.

Kai and Mantosan always loved to fly the ‘night sun’, as they liked to call the moon. Mantosan developed the broad night rider’s wings. He taught me the way of ‘wake-sleep’. If the wind was kind, we used his way to fly for days on end without stopping.  Now I often stay aloft for seven days before I am forced to put down in the sand. I have become known as the fastest rider between the Moraii, though that is not what I sought to do. I do not care for this distinction. I fly to be alone, to be at peace, just to fly.  I don’t want to stop. I don’t want the interruptions.

Wherever I visit a Morai, then I know that in the deep night hours those who cannot sleep will come to my room to share their thoughts with me, things they cannot share with any one of their own.  I sleep lightly and my sleep on solid ground is not much different from sleep in the air. I can often hear their footsteps before they come to my door. Some hesitate, standing quietly before my door for a time.

Tian was one of those, I knew she stood there silently for a very very long time. I walked to the door and opened it, there was a child sitting on the floor looking up at me, her wet eyes glittered in the dim light. I was surprised, I had never had a nocturnal visitor so young.

Others came, purposefully, knocking urgently. Their manner of approach already tells me much. I do little, I mostly listen.  Most choices in our lives are in truth already set.

By this time, I have collected so many secrets I feel I have already lived many lifetimes; perhaps that too makes me feel old. I understand Kai better now, I too am changing from who I used to be.  My friends tell me so.

Some ask me to ‘see’ for them.  They have heard that I have talent and the old women have taught me how to shine a light some little way into the myriad of possible paths the future holds for each of us. I have looked at the paths of many people.  Sometimes the choices are few, and narrow, other times a few broad roads are interspersed with many fine lines as a spider web.  I cannot always speak of what I see, some things are forbidden and others are hidden from me.  However I prefer not to ‘see’ this way.  A quiet chat in the deepest night hours brings them more peace.

Early on, I was cautioned not to shine the light onto my own path. Twelve moons past, just before I met Oi, I felt I really needed to look. I was shown that which I wished not to see and which I cannot now forget. I understand now why it is better not to look.


I have written for one other reason.  Tomorrow I will leave on my last journey. I know it will be my last, though I do not know why it should be so, I feel it will be. When I look back over these past thirteen moons I see many small signs and I have come to see that without realizing it, that I have finished many small things.

At first I thought of it simply as my desire for a simple life, but looking back I can see how I have prepared myself for this day. I have fulfilled my promises, paid what I owe, I have spoken plainly of my feelings to all my close friends in every Morai.

Perhaps that is why I feel so much for little Tian. Now she is still too young to understand. I cannot speak to her as to my other older friends. I know she looks to me as her older sister, her hero. Perhaps when she is older one day she will read this and understand.

“Little Tian, one day you too will be a windrider. I miss you already, why are you still so young ?”


When I look back over the years, I remember only glimpses through the windows. I am envied for my freedom to come and go, to fly away, but they do not know the price of this freedom.

Yet I regret nothing !

Not even the hardest and most painful part of my life: always and all the time, leaving people behind, a new acquaintance or an old friend.  When next we meet again a whole cycle of the sun will have passed, thirteen moons and the young ones are older and different people – we meet again almost as strangers.  Yet still I look forward to those meetings.

Do those who stay in one place know how good it feels to be welcomed by their smiling faces after many weeks riding the wind, living high in the air, sleeping while flying, sleeping in the sand ?

When I arrive, I have good food and my own room, and that is a great comfort. But do they know that their open arms mean even more to me ? – that being part of their circle is what keeps me alive ?  Some do, the very old ones do.

And yet Arda has told me of the price of staying. She has told me of the pain of being left behind and how she envied me every time she saw me climb to the top of her Morai. Everyone watching me, wishing me well, weaving their love and care around me before I left. She said she envied me the knowledge of the wind, how I  teased out the wind, until a strong current carried me away and out of her life for who knows how long.

I feel for her….

I think she should become a windrider, she is tall and heavy but she loves the wind.

I remember a poem I read in an old book once:

Think not that dreams appear to the dreamer only at night:

the dream of this world of pain appears to us even by day[1].

I like to sing it to myself high up in the air, in the deep quiet of the night, when the wind is calm and carries me gently.


This is the last night, it is time to fold away these papers, and join the old women, Aldi, Arda and Marly. They will have last words for me to carry to the other Moraii, and as always, they will ask me to carry more than I should. And for once, for the very first time, I will refuse. When they finally understand I will long be gone.

Tomorrow … tomorrow I must leave everything.

I will not see any of my friends again.

I cannot tell them.

Even if I wanted to speak, what would I say ? …and even should I know what to say, what good would it do ?

Would they even believe me ?

I think not.

I look at them with a new intensity, deeply drinking in this last night.

And they do not know. If I seem strange and absent to them, it is the lot of all windriders…

Tian, I have asked for a small present to be made for you, two pure white pearls, encased in silver to wear in your ears, in the manner of the old ones. One day you will understand what they really mean and that I meant them as a farewell gift. Then you will understand that I loved you when I left.  They are in the bottom of your bag, along with the other things you asked me to bring you. You will find them when I am far away I pray.

“Oh breath of Umijaabour, you who carry my life in your hand every moment, I ask you to whisper to my little sister Tian, whisper to her of my love when she is alone, when she is crying because I have not returned. Please whisper to her these words of mine.

‘Be strong when I am gone. Grow up and be strong and learn all you can my little Tian. I will not be  there to hold you again. I am so sorry …. I will be there to ease your pain… on the wind, that is where you will feel my love, I will be there for you always, even after I have left this world, will I be watching you.’

Oh, Tian, you have your family, your sister and brother, but I will always think of you as the daughter I never had.

….when I leave tomorrow morning, you will smile, wave and call to me. You will not guess, why I cannot look back at you even once, because if I did, I would never leave. I would stay in this Morai for the rest of my life.

You will look for me in thirteen moons, but I will not be there. Perhaps I am wrong and we will meet again, but in my heart I know it is not so. When we meet again, it will not be in this world.

“And Tian wide eyed little one that you are…. forgive me when I do not come back”.


Tian found her gift, she became a windrider.

She never forgot her ‘older sister’.

Pearls are the most precious gift in a world of sand without water.

When she was an old woman, Tian passed the pearls set in silver on to her daughter Ngagimi.

The original letter was found in Tian’s belongings when she died and is now in my library.

This letter became well known throughout the Moraii, it was her greatest work. Many copied it and read it to each other, even making plays of it.  Some said it was just a story, that it was not a true story.



“But the fruit holds immortality,” said the miner.

“Come with me,” said the Traveller.

Beaton followed him back to the village and then to a particular hut. There, on the floor of the main living quarters lay an old emaciated woman, gasping for breath. Two young women sat by her side, holding her thin hands, the webs now cracked and brittle.

“But she’s dying,” said Beaton to the Traveller.

“No, she is changing,” he said. “The white fruit from the seed of your friend  disallows change”.

“But she is physically dying then” said Beaton.

“I understand what you mean,” said the Traveller.

“I wasn’t sure at first. This word ‘death’ is a difficult idea. If you want to reach the land where there is no death, you must travel a twelve season journey. I will show you the path, but I will not go with you.”

“Then I haven’t reached paradise ? said Beaton.

“What is paradise ?” asked the Traveller. “that white fruit is an unchanging dream. It is death, as you call it. Now I must take it back to the world of those like you. We cannot have it here.”

“The Physiognomy”, Jeffery Ford, Ch 19 pp155, Avon Books, Harper Collins, 1997.


[1] (Yoru bakari Miru mono nari to Omou-nayo!

Hiru saë yumé no Ukiyo nari-kéri.)

OLD JAPANESE POEM.- Translated  by Lafcadio Hearn, from his book: “In Ghostly Japan”, 1899.



February 10, 2009


– the outpost

…’tis not the darkness thou fear’st my friend

but the blinding light of day,

should’st thine fears be taken away

revealing life without end….

–  Ngagimi, “Voices of Xylantheum”


Dusk. The warm wind carried the smell of smoke, fire and food. Just three old solid stone houses, a few small palms with sharp leaves like knife blades.

He sat in his comfortable reclining chair in the shadows of the verandah looking out over the sea of sand. In all directions a vast sea of sand, sparse tufts of grass here and there sheltered by odd twisted rocks. Directly in front of him was a faint glow of lights on the horizon. It grew a little brighter and was easier to see as the darkness gathered. The wind was still warm. Stars stood out like pinpricks. The remaining unshuttered window behind him glowed a warm orange.


His clothes were old now, but well made and of good quality long ago. He sat back and let his mind rove in all directions, sweeping a huge spiral around his house including the sky above and the subterranean caves. Ever since the attack, he did this at least once every hour.

No danger, no change, just the solitary figure of Ngagimi, still walking towards this place. He sensed that she was tired, but she would reach him. Not everyone made it.  She  was strong enough.

The chime of an old-fashioned grandfather clock reached him, coming from inside the house.  It was the reminder he had set himself to scan the area, though for years now he had been playing an old game: he would set his body clock to scan just before the chime, finishing exactly when it started its tune. By now, after many years of playing this game, his body’s innate sense of timekeeping was virtually perfect, he knew exactly when it was time.

He’d seen her walking all day, he knew she was coming, he’d seen her coming in his mind’s eye before he ever saw the faint dot moving in the shimmering heat of the day. Daytime was no time to walk in this desert. That was the  time to put your tent up and sleep. But of course Ngagimi would not listen to such wisdom, ‘that was her’ he thought with a grim smile, ‘she always chose the hard way’.

It would take her another five hours to reach him.

Last time he saw her was over twenty years ago. They had not parted as friends. What brought her out here now, at a time like this, walking on her own ?  And to see him of all people ?

‘Stop!’ He pulled his thoughts back to the present. He could not afford to let himself think about that time again, he would loose himself and it might take a day to return. He would never get lost in the sands, but in his mind, there he had lost himself before, – for years. It was like resisting the itch to scratch an insect bite, hard not to kid himself that he would scratch it just that one tiny little bit, just once. He knew, once he started he would not stop.

The wind picked up the heat and the dry desiccated smell of sand and wrapped it around him, but there were pockets of cool air in it already. In an hour it would be too cold to sit out here without a jacket. He went inside to get it and checked on dinner cooking in the oven. It smelled nice.

When he sat down again, it was almost too dark to make out Ngagimi’s shape, she was barely visible, a tiny dot against the almost dark horizon. He turned around to make sure the window behind him was unshuttered. Yes, she’d see the light. As a rule he never let any light escape after dark, it had attracted too many strange refugees from the city and other places. Yes, it might look desolate and empty out there, but he had learnt the hard way.

It was said that if you died out there in the sands, it took less than a day and only your bones were left. In the beginning he thought it was a superstition to keep people in awe, huddled in their towers and subterranean wells. But since he had come here he had seen it happen often enough to know that there was more to it.

Every now and then, some raving, deranged soul would wander out of the city, out into the sands, scarcely knowing what they did.

None had been prepared for the sands or taken provisions. In the beginning he had gone to find them, to take them back or bring them here. Some he had reached in time. Others had quickly died in the heat of day, or frozen to death at night before he could reach them.

By the time he arrived nothing of their bodies remained but a clean dry skeleton. In less than a  day, sometimes after only a few hours nothing was left. There were never any footprints, nor had he ever seen birds or vultures. “The desert is hungry”, was an old saying. He had come to believe it.

In he early days he had asked discreet questions in the city. He was always told that it was either money or love that had driven them to desperation and out into the harsh vastness, seeking some kind of relief. He knew desperation, but he doubted it was the real story.


He too, left long ago, but he had planned it carefully. His first clear memory after the turmoil of leaving the city was looking back at it from a long way out. It had been an evening like this.

The shining city stood tall and solitary in a sea of sand and low bristly bushes with hard sharp needles on small twisted branches. They stood their ground in the biting cold winds of the night and the hot blinding heat of the sun.

The city, a beehive of human activity. It’s fragile butterfly beauty, humming and bustling with life and movement and yet so precariously founded on nothing but sand and the huge caverns hidden beneath it. There humans had huddled together, as a defence against the sand and bristle bushes stretching for thousands of miles in all directions. But it was more than that, it was a defence against something undefinable.

He looked back, on the beehive, the tall pyramid shaped buildings lit up from within. Between two large  buildings on the city’s edge bright purple and red light came streaming from the ground and flooded the docks. Cargo Zeppelins were tied to them, like giant balloons in the breeze pointing out the direction of the wind. It looked beautiful from this distance.

These specks of brightly shimmering light looked alive in the monotonous pastel colours of sand. Sand stretching as far as the eye could see in every direction. The colours in the city drew the eye like a magnet, like jewels around a woman’s neck. Better not think like that.

He remembered the desire to go back to the city, like a magnet it drew him, pulled at him, gently but relentlessly. Just as relentlessly he had walked on and on until he arrived at this small cluster of houses half buried in the sand. He had retreated here before, when life in the city seemed ALL there was and human problems swamped his mind. The place had nothing, except a tiny little well, in deep old caves, yet having that, it had the most important thing in this world.  An old couple had lived there at the time.

But that time he had come to stay. The first thing he did on arrival was to plant pine trees from the few precious seeds he had brought with him. Three of them had survived, their roots had found the water below and they thrived. But he kept them pruned low, out of sight.

Some claimed this had been the first settlement, before the present city even. But such  debates did not interest him. So what if it had been or not ? Did it matter to anyone now ?

He stopped himself thinking about ‘her’ and what had brought him here. It was dangerous enough to think of his beginning time here.  He must not scratch he itch, else he could not stop.

He loved the simplicity of life here. There was no clutter, just the clean smell of the sand, wind, time and age. The smell of century after century… of thousands of years… of time herself… and he a passing speck. But it was lonely here and her coming here disturbed his loneliness.

In the city he had been successful, but felt he had felt insignificant, a nothing. He smiled as he thought about this. He had tried to become and succeeded in being a ‘big’ man, impressing everyone except Ngagimi and Sari the only ones he really cared about. Chuckling to himself he remembered Sari, her disfigured face looking at him with those strange Aesciine eyes of hers. She had tried to teach him in many subtle ways, but he had never heard her. Not until he came here did he understand what she had tried to tell him.  But then, she too had learnt the hard way, her face bore the traces. And after all these years, she still came to see him.

Out here he enjoyed feeling small, like an ant before the enormity of time. He felt small in the endless sea of sand, small and tiny before the blue vast sky…

In the city, others had ceased to be human, they had become only been obstacles to fight. He had lost his bearings, lost them with her who was out there now, coming to see him after all this time.

He shivered, not because of the cool breeze but because he knew that Ngagimi would not come here without good reason and he could not imagine what that might be. It had been over twenty years, yet it seemed like yesterday. Time was really just a dream.

He cast his mind out towards Ngagimi.  It would still take her a few hours to reach him. He walked back into his house and down a long spiral staircase descending far below the surface. The only sound his echoing footsteps as he descended into the cavernous depth, – that and the occasional ‘plop’ of water into a pool.

Placing his candle in precisely the same spot he had used for two decades, he lit a single stick of incense and knelt before the golden image, asking for a blessing for the one coming to see him.


He came back to the present with a jolt. The candle was almost at its end. He had fallen into a deep trance. Like someone waking up and waying from side to side, he made his way back up.

Outside it was almost totally dark only the faint light of the night sky provided finer shades of gray. The wind blew warm from the north. The lights of the city glowed faintly on the far horizon and the starlight of distant suns opened up vast spaces above him. He always thought of the light of day as a door that shut out the vast expanse of the Universe above him. Now that door was open, and he again felt part of that immense space. He saw himself sitting  on the surface of this planet, the starlight emitted millions of years ago reaching him now at this time. He knew this was but one of countless worlds in an endless river of time.  He had no words to express what he felt then, but those were the feelings that had brought him out here and still kept him here.

It was what he had always missed in the city, though he did not know it until he left for the first time as a young man. Then he suddenly understood what it meant to breathe freely. And yet his fellow travellers had been terrified. After that first time he used every excuse to leave the city. And he had met others, strange ones like himself who also felt the need to touch that freedom.

Back in the city his world had again shrunken to the size of his desk and a room. His feelings had shrunk to frustrated outrage about the latest insult or injustice done unto him. His life had consisted of pacing the cage of work and friendships, his triumphs were made up of beating someone else in the scramble for the crumbs falling from above.

That and devouring the latest gossip about Sorio’s love live. When it all became too much, he would zone out on drugs like everyone else.

Compared to his life now, it had been like being blind and deaf, though it was not as lonely, he admitted that with a grim smile.

“You  don’t recognize old friends anymore ?”, a voice from the shadows.

He jumped  at the sound.  A dark tall woman stepped out of the shadow of the verandah on his left. Brass and silver bands were tightly wound about her upper arms and just above the elbows. She wore a stylish loose fitting dress, something that would have looked stunning at a cocktail soiree.

“Ngagimi”, a deep breath, ” – always the same, I should have known”, he smiled at her, “…been waiting long dearest ?”

“Ever since you left”, her mouth set, but curled into a tiny smile at the edges.

“and the joker still”, he replied.

“Please do sit”, he stood and gestured overtly to the wide armchair, covered in faded, once brightly coloured cushions beside him.

She remained standing, “I won’t stay long – … dearest”, she added the last word almost as an afterthought, tenderly, without the sarcasm and the bile she had usually put into that word. He could just make out a faint outline of her face in the darkness and saw her sphinx like smile.

“I came to give you this”, and she held out to him a small delicate earring, silver, encasing a tiny pure white pearl.

He recognized it but was too stunned to speak. Staring at her face he came out of his chair slowly as in a dream. When he stood before her, he held out his hand never taking his eyes off her face. With a soft clink the delicate jewelry dropped into his cupped hand.

“Good”, she said, “when you receive the other one, then you will know”.

With those words she turned and walked away from him out into the night.

Stunned he watched her go.

After a few steps he just lost sight of her in the darkness.

Then suddenly he got up and ran after her.

He stopped abruptly before a pile of clothes on the ground. Here the footprints stopped.  Her dress, shoes and silver and brass bands.

He squatted down, picked up the silky cloth as  well as her shoes and looked about from ground level. Nothing !  No one could hide in this flatness, even in this darkness a human shape would stand out against the sky. He smelt the soft cloth, it was her, but of her, there was no sign.

He sat where he was, watching, listening, for a long time.

Goosebumps rippled down his back as if he was being observed, but it was impossible to know who was watching him.  From that moment on he felt a presence that remained with him until he died.

The next day someone else set out from the city for his house. Whoever it was followed the wise desert travelers ways. They slept in the hottest part of the day, walked slowly and steadily, traveling in the ways of an experienced walker. In his regular scanning he tracked her progress, at that rate, it would take her two days to reach him.

As he had guessed, after two days, in the late afternoon, a human figure, a woman, became visible on the horizon. The shimmering heat liquefied and distorted her outline as she walked. It was someone who knew how to cover herself. Every attempt to ‘read’ her from a distance was firmly repelled. He could not find out her intent, nor who it was or why they had come.

He stopped his writing for the day, lit a candle and climbed down the spiral stairs to sit before the waters of the pool. He moved a tray so as to catch the falling drops before they hit the surface. Breathing slowly, he looked at his reflection. After a time he felt the space before him expand and melt away in all directions. It was as though he could feel the density of water, rock and air around him become thin vapour. Then images flooded his mind in quick succession.

He spent a long time in front of the pool, then climbed back to solid reality. Shivering, he shook himself like a dog coming out of water. He had not seen anything concrete, there had been much to see, but it had been deliberately veiled from him. He knew from experience that only after the events would he understand what he had seen.

Outside the weather had turned ominously quiet, tense and hazy. A sand storm was about to break. He bolted everything down.

He watched the haze in the distance become more solid, the air around him seemed to stand still, there was not the faintest breeze.

His visitor was very close, he could see she was hurrying now, it would be a race against time as to which of them reached him first.

Then a small movement, in the distance he saw the plants move suddenly, a wave of hot air racing along the ground pushing the little bushes even lower, sweeping past her.

She was running, head down and bent low. Had she been further out in the sands she would have dug a shallow trench and lain in it long ago, but she was too close to her destination.

Against his better judgment he slipped a sandmask over his head and ran out towards her. He used the crab-like sideways gait of experienced desert travelers.  It protected him and still allowed him move where he wanted to. She too wore a mask and ran, half walked in the same sideways motion.

This wind was a sandblaster, picking up sand and rasping every patch of exposed skin blood raw in an instant. He remembered seeing bloody bodies almost devoid of skin in the exposed parts. Some had been stripped to the bone in places. The storm was just beginning.

It was hard to see. Gray mist, dust and sand obscured his vision.

He was could not remember the direction she had gone in after he last saw her. Checking his compass he noticed he had drifted too far to the south. The wind increased its fury and he had no choice but to throw himself face forward into the sand, spreading his arms and legs as far apart as possible. His hands and feel clawed the sand, groping for a rock or a bush or anything. This storm could grow strong enough to lift him off the ground, dropping him close by or taking him far out into the deep desert where he had no hope of living longer than a day. He had better find some kind of anchor quickly.

Then something heavy, soft and white thudded onto him.

It was the visitor. Lying on top of him then sliding to the side she encircled his waist and held onto him with her right arm.

Her arm around him was powerful. He held her around the waist to cement the grip she had on him. The wind increased in speed and they had to hold tighter. A number of times he was lifted off the ground by he force of the storm.

He wondered why they were not carried away or rolled along the ground.  Then he saw that she held onto something else with her left arm. Her left arm was extended and held onto a steel cable tied to a belt around her waist. She had brought a sand anchor !

The cable was taught and hummed with the strain of holding them both, but the anchor held.

His clothes started to wear thin, in some places he felt his skin blasted away by the millions of sharp sand particles roaring past them every second.

He had heard of other places where the grains of sand were rounded and smooth, but he had only ever known this sand, like tiny pieces of broken glass, sharp and merciless at high speeds.

He tried to help her, thinking to ease the strain on her arm. She shook her head and pushed away his efforts, motioning him to hold tight around her waist.

Then came the deafening crackling and searing of a lightning flash. For an instant the smell of Ozone and the dry blasted smell of vapourized and molten sand. The static electricity made his skin crawl. Vicious flashes played about them, gradually moving away to the East.

It was some time before they were able to stand up. When they finally emerged, from underneath a blanket of sand the sky was dark and clean swept. She unhooked the cable and inserted its end into a small pear shaped device. Then she could pull the cable out of the sand easily. At its end was a small spindle, like the closed bud of a flower. The sand anchor. It had to be shot into the soft sand and there the leaves of the spindle’s bud would open wide. He smiled. He had never seen nor used one, distaining them as an aid for the careless and inexperienced.

She cleaned and stored the cable, then would it up and primed the barrel of the anchor. Only then did she turn  to him, looking at him with all black eyes that reminded him of Ngagimi.

“I am Nga-fathima, daughter of Ngagimi, daughter of Er-el-Jarhum”, she held her left hand at chest height palm out, in greeting. He matched her palm with his.

He narrowed his eyes and looked at her for a long time. Then he inclined his head towards her, “I am Er-el-Jarhum” he introduced himself. They walked to the house.

Sand was piled high, up to the windows, it would be hard work to clear it all away over the next few days. Perhaps another storm would help him ?

They entered the house. Deliberately and slowly, watching her as she sat on a cushion, he prepared Chai for her, saying nothing.  Nga-fathima sat quietly, resting.

Neither of them wanted to break the silence first.

“She never mentioned you”, he said as he put the cup of hot Chai before her.

Taking it and holding it, she looked him in the eye: “I asked her not to”,.

He looked away, went to the kitchen.

“You look like her”, he said when he returned.

Sipping the spicy tea, neither of them spoke for a long time. They looked at each other.  He noticed the ticking of the clock, the soft whispering of the breeze.  Time slowed down.

He watched her intently, “she was here three days ago”.

Her head jerked up from its cup, she searched his face,  her lips pressed together, trying to stop herself speaking.

She stood up, walked to the window and standing perfectly still looked out for a long time. Then she turned quickly with her arm held out directly in front of her, palm up. On it lay a small delicate earring, silver, encasing a tiny pure white pearl. “For you !”.

He stared at her open palm.

When he raised his eyes to meet hers, she held him with her eyes and said quietly:  “She died three days ago”.


Princes Hill, Australia,