The air conditioning didn’t work. It was 10.00 in the morning and 38 degrees already. The sun, climbing pitiless and immense beat down on her legs, already stuck to the vinyl of the car seat while she put the folded map in the footwell. He told her they wouldn’t need it. She looked for her sunglasses, purposely slow, to pace herself. Surprisingly, the radio still worked in the clunker of a car, borrowed from his cousin. “It’s going to be great”, he said, turning up Amr Diab and tapping the steering wheel for effect. She smiled and settled in. They travelled up the hilly uneven back roads stopping after a while for gas and cold drinks. They drove through the town and looking high up spotted flat roof houses, clinging to the edge of the valley, dotted with little mister men, who came from Egypt to work the land. Passing biblical towns signposted, Nazareth and Bethlehem, names from catechism and school in another time. “We will live here one day”, she reminded him, “and drink tea under our own peach tree”. Remembering, all the days back in Dublin, him, homesick for this.
They continued south, racing the dust devils spinning up from the Wadi Rum, along the King’s Highway. They passed through towns, gas-stops really, pulling over at one point to buy goat’s cheese in a Bedouin tent. He chatted in the language and she felt a belonging in that place.
They ate the cheese while driving, not wanting to lose time, and he told her stories of the tribes and of his tribe, the name she took. They slowed once again, behind a trailer carrying lazy camels looking back through her camera, passing the big cargo trucks driving to Aqaba, enjoying clear stretches of road, with Petra behind them and the soldiers on the border further over.
Talk faded as they drove, content and full, from the food and she thought of reaching the water. Arriving sooner than planned, they didn’t go straight to their hotel, instead parking up on an embankment. They changed their clothes in the car, relieved to shed the dust and baking heat and holding their shoes, they walked barefoot. The hard sand turned muddy, salty, thick and healing as their feet dragged through. Reaching the edge, they waded in. Floating, warm, suspended by the salt, like astronauts in training. Elevated and still, she was careful to shield her eyes with her hands so that the salt would not drop in. The desert sun had followed them, now red and low and showed them Eilat across the sea, while they spoke in whispers of never leaving.
She – Mother – Traveller – Writer