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She walked barefoot over the hot desert sand. Stretching far and wide was just sand drifting into constantly changing sand dunes. Above her, the sun hung like a flaming ball, emitting a heat testing her every breath. Even the wind, continually blowing in the desert, simply acted as a hair dryer on it’s highest power setting exacerbating her discomfort rather than providing any relief.

She had lost the feeling in her feet a long time ago. Almost at the beginning of her journey she had lost her shoes, and the shreds that she had wrapped around her feet had fallen off some time ago. As numb as her feet were, so was the rest of her body and her mind. But this was not important, not really.

Weeks ago she had ceased to complain, to lament, even to ask. The ability to care had been lost like her shoes. The only thing of importance remaining was the certainty that she had to continue her trek with a little grain of hope that .... She even had forgotten this.

If someone had asked her for how long she had been walking, she would just have shrugged her shoulders. A few months? Maybe, but possibly a longer time or maybe less. She just did not know. Time had lost any meaning for her, without points of reference.

Initially, she had been counting the days, but as time progressed it became too much. She just labouriously placed one foot in front of the other.

Worst of all, was the complete lack of noise apart from her gasps for air. Although, sometimes, it seemed as if there was music. She savoured it, it made her feel less lonely. She could cope with being alone, she had got used to it, but not with the loneliness: it was enticing her mind into an empty void. But, during the course of time, this would probably would become routine as everything else. Like so many other things.

After a while she thought there might be some thing, straight ahead, but too far away to be sure yet. It interrupted the monotony of the landscape. She did not stop walking to make sure, too often she had believed she had seen something which, in fact, was just a mirage, or even worse than that. But she removed the dusty and sweaty hair away from her eyes to see better.

She had to stop, her movement had pushed one of the straps of her rucksack onto an already sore patch. Although it didn’t contain more then a little water and a dusty, dry piece of bread, it still scratched and rubbed her emaciated shoulders and ribs.

Despite her best intentions not to put any hopes into the unknown object, she could not help herself but to be curious: It was darker and its form was slightly more angular compared to the sandlewood coloured dunes surrounding her; and unlike the mirages it did not vanish under her scrutiny. Not that this meant a lot. She had got used to her mind and eyes playing tricks on her. Something that was becoming far too common.

She told herself sternly that she would see what it was, if and when she got there. She had discovered a long time ago that it was better not to fully occupy her thoughts with hopes and expectations. She had no wish to build sandcastles on water.

She came closer and closer to the object and neither did it dissolve, melting into thin air, nor change into a sand dune. Her mind began, reluctantly, to imagine, to worry and to hope. She could not help it, so she just accepted it.

Probably, again, it was nothing except a dead camel, or a tent whose inhabitants were little more than a pile of dust, just like in all of the tents she had seen before.

Earlier, at the beginning of this harebrained trip into the desert, before forbidding herself to think, she had begun to talk to herself. There was nobody else. At first she had real discussions with herself, to remind her why she was on this trek, and because she hoped it would prevent her drifting into a state of madness. But it was not very helpful and, she had lost the knowledge, who was she, where she was going? Nothing reminded of “before”; the incessant heat during the day, the bone deep cold at night, the dust, the loneliness and all the corpses, had eaten her up bit by bit, unti there was nothing left of the person she once had been. That person had lived, laughed and dreamt. Now, there was only a skeleton left, which marched through the desert. Like a soldier who had not heard the order to retreat.

She was past the state of rebellion. There was nothing of importance left - apart from one: walking, step by step. Where to...? She did not know. It was all of dwindling relevance, something she had to do, nothing more. Just further. She had ceased to wonder what the unknown object was, entwined in her thoughts as she was. When she looked up again, it was closer, and looked similar to all the tents she had seen before, although smaller. Anyway, she would see it soon. Maybe.

The sun descended slowly behind her. She had begun her walk at first daylight. Suddenly, she came to a standstill, almost tripping over her feet. The act of volition, which she now had to perform, at the end of the day, just to put one foot in front of the other, had finally made her forget the object completely. Now she had almost unseeingly stumbled over it.

In the uncertain light she could hardly be sure as to what it was. It’s height was approximately the height of her hips and almost conical in shape. She touched it. Sand, lots of sand - and underneath cloth, or maybe leather? She did not know. She walked round the object - it really was a tent, as she had supposed earlier. But it was tiny - maybe twice as big as a hut suited for a German shepherd.

In her mind's eye all of sudden another, similar tent appeared. She had played in it with her friends as a child. If it was really a tent, then it should have an aperture somewhere, she thought aloud and searched for it with her hands. There it was! With stiff fingers - even these were burned by the sun and sore like everything else - she opened the strings which held the tent’s opening closed.

She crept through the narrow slit and in the last light of day tried to see inside. It took awhile for her to become accustomed to darkness and stifling heat, and before the dust, she had whirled up, settled once more. She could hear gasps for breath, not her own. Somebody was lying in this tent, and still alive! Just, by the sound of those gasps.

“Alive, something alive...”, she murmured incessantly. With both hands she ripped the opening further and she saw something dark, wrapped in fur lying on the floor. She went nearer the person or animal - whatever it was - carefully, always prepared to flee. The almost lifeless person or whatever it was, did not move. She went even closer and noticed that the fur wasn’t just a coat. A dog, a bear... or maybe a wolf! “What on earth is a wolf doing in the middle of the desert - in a tent?”, she asked herself. But then the memory triggered and a name came back:”Brownie? Brownie!” [...]

Copyright, Sybille Sterk 2002, 2003
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