Nadia El Tayar
Short Story May 28th 2002
He fell. For days he had been trudging, knowing each step he took would bring him closer to his goal. But with each step, he also felt his body weaken. The sand burnt his bare, blistered feet and thirst parched his lips; water was but an illusion in such a desolate land. The throbbing pain of the scorpion sting on his left shoulder made him break out in fever; the only consolation he found in the endless sand dunes was solitude. But worst of all the insurmountable difficulties the desert had thrown at him, the mirage, the desert’s favorite mind trick, brought him to the edge of folly. The desert: a place where time and space are infinite, the desert, his eternal foe, had finally avenged itself by getting the best of him. Jeronimo Bartolome Cruz was no longer a young man, and to his eyes the desert had become an invincible obstacle. The hands, which had once been a symbol of his strength, were gaunt and wrinkled, and only deep creases were left as a mark of bygone times and the strenuous efforts that accompanied them. Brown blotches caused by the sun’s refection on the Tropic seas were engraved on his cheeks as a reminder of his adventurous and voyage-filled youth. His shirt was ripped and covered with patches that had been tainted different colors by the sun’s rays. Everything about him was old except for his cheerful and undefeated crystal-blue eyes. They still twinkled with the passion and determination that thrived inside him. But as he fell, and his eyes closed, it was as if all life inside him vanished.
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As he fell, and his subconscious took over his body, his mind propelled him into a new dimension, the past…
He was suffocating. Every breath he tried to take, filled his mouth with peppery pebbles. Realizing what was happening, he gasped. He was drowning, drowning under a sea of sand. Suddenly, footsteps, footsteps getting louder and louder, closer and closer. A shout. Someone was shouting, but he couldn’t make out the words. What were they shouting? “Jero… Jero… Jeronimo!” His name! Someone was looking for him. He tried to move, but his body, deprived of oxygen, was not responding. And as he felt sleep, the sleep of death, invade him, a hand. A powerful hand had thrust into the sand, grabbed his shirt, and pulled him out of his agony.
Déjà vu. As he stood staring at his savior, he realized with bafflement that his own hands were strong and unwrinkled, and though he could not see his face, he could feel that the distinct features that had once marked his youth had reappeared. He had rejuvenated. The tanned young man standing in front of him looked at Jeronimo with shiny blue eyes that reflected his own. Jeronimo recognized him. It was his faithful servant and friend, Samir. Jeronimo realized that his fall had taken him back in time, to the day where he had been able fervent enough to overcome the intense and unpredictable strength of the desert. As Samir handed him a water carafe to refresh him, Jeronimo looked at him with an interrogating look in his eyes. What had happened? As they sat down under a cactus to rest, Samir recounted the incident that had separated them. They had been on their way to the Valley of Illusions where the Thieves of the Desert were holding Scheherazade, the beautiful daughter of Sultan Schahriar, captive, when a sand storm hit with more might than a thousand daggers.
~ Why is he remembering all this? Jeronimo did not understand. ~
The two men stood and with their shadows always behind them, they continued on their way to the dreaded Valley of Illusions. The mysterious Valley of Illusions is a gorge situated in the center of the Sahara desert. According to the legend, any man who dares enter the gorge will find himself in a tropical paradise from which he will never emerge.
They had been walking for what seemed like endless hours when they suddenly found themselves face to face with the sinister entrance of the gorge. Samir looked at his master with an anxious yet confidant look in his eyes. As they stepped into the darkness, they heard the rustling of a waterfall. A waterfall in the desert? No it could not be. Blinded by the obscurity, they followed the noise, guided by their thirst rather than their prudence. As they approached the waterfall, the rustling became thunderous and they discerned a flamboyant light shining in the distance. They could not believe their eyes, no, it could not be true. They had arrived in the middle of the valley and found themselves surrounded by gigantic trees, a myriad of multihued flowers, an endless supply of succulent, exotic fruits, a vibrant waterfall and a multitude of strange and mystifying animals; they had come upon a paradisiacal oasis.
As they drank the river’s chilly, revitalizing water, they heard an unexpected noise behind them. They turned around and found themselves face to face with the terrorizing Thieves of the Desert. They were holding between them the young and beautiful Scheherazade. She was wearing a translucent white dress and had little subtle pink flowers in her long and curly jet-black hair.
The Valley, the thieves and all their illusions shattering behind them, Jeronimo, Scheherazade and Samir rode away into the sunset, into the distant horizon.
~And with her sweet kiss on his lips, the entrancing smell of her exotic perfume in his nostrils, and the passionate look in her shiny golden-brown eyes on his mind, old Jeronimo Bartolome Cruz smiled, one last smile, one last bow to the desert his eternal foe, his eternal friend, finally figuring out why God had taken him back in time to that particular day, and he took his last breath. ~