“What makes the desert beautiful,” said the little prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well…” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
We made a pit stop at a farm as we were driving across the United Arab
Emirates. It had been the best holiday so far. Dubai was the most
luxurious place you could set your eyes on – authentic restaurants, gold
souks, rug stores, extensive landscaping and so much more. The desert
dunes across the Emirates were magnificent. And I think it’s time to tell
you that we made the pit stop because we were.. lost. So you wouldn’t
find that farm if you were on the right path. My companions and I had
a very bad sense of direction.
The farm and its surroundings looked like the countryside. I was a little
more at ease here than the city. I sat on the hood of my car and
watched. I spotted an old man walking around – cleaning, tending to
the animals and crops. He hadn’t noticed us. We waved to get his
attention and he waved back. We walked over to him. I wasn’t sure
about being able to communicate with him but the man was fluent in
Arabic and Persian and even spoke English. It was enough to make conversation. He introduced himself as Ibrahim and offered us refreshments. He invited us inside his home. Soon, we got talking. Ibrahim had been looking after the farm for years now. He couldn’t give an exact number. He claimed that his people didn’t have
calendars. They kept track of time by events – wars, earthquakes and others. He had left his country to earn enough money to repay all the debts incurred by his family. He hadn’t visited ever since.
He had grown attached to the country and he was grateful for it. The desert has its own way of telling you things, he said suddenly. He looked at us. Our faces wore the same confused expressions. Was he talking about mirages? Were they significant? I couldn’t think of the arid lands conveying any other meaning. Ibrahim was silent for a while before he started narrating, “My first job in this country was as a night security guard for the private beach of a resort. I took the post because of the pay. Nobody wanted to be anywhere near the beach at night. I soon found out why. There were eerie noises. It wasn’t the wind talking. And there were footsteps in the dark but no people. Usually, the owner-less shadows and voices got the better of most people and they quit within days. I stayed put, though. I needed the money. One moonless night, the sounds were different. It was laughter and giggling. Thinking that some naughty children had sneaked past their bedtime without the knowledge of their parents, I set out right away. The night tides are synonymous with accidents. I had been running and gasping for breath when I finally saw them. My family. At least, it easily could have been my wife and children. They all looked so familiar – the woman wore a headscarf and was sitting cross-legged on the sand like my wife, the boy was thin and had very little hair on his head and the girl was slightly taller than him. I walked slowly towards them. I kept telling myself to be careful. I’d never seen a mirage before, this was probably it. I don’t how I tripped and fell face down on the sand despite being so careful. But when I looked up, they were gone. I was alone and shivering uncontrollably.
The next morning, I was restless. I tried calling home. Nobody answered. In a moment of panic, I contacted my neighbor. She seemed too disturbed to talk to me and called her husband instead. I heard him take deep breaths before he began talking. A few hours before I’d called, my neighbors had found the door to our house wide open.
There was a big mess and nobody inside. They had all disappeared. He assured me that there was nothing to worry, they would probably be back in a while. Nobody had any clue as to where they could possibly go at that hour. I was feeling more dejected by the minute.
I resigned from my post the next day and started walking. I had walked
for miles without any food or water. For a long time, I was in between jobs. I did a lot of odd jobs – for the sake of food and shelter. Also, I needed money to contact people back home. Sometimes, I’d go for days without either. After one such tiring day, I remember collapsing due to fatigue and dehydration. The desert was ruthless at times. The next thing I know is waking up in the house of a merchant who wanted to help me out. He asked if I could get this farm working. I took on the job. By that time, I had stopped calling home. That was years ago. I still have disturbing dreams about silhouettes in the desert.”
Ibrahim had finished his story. A lot of people came looking for the fabled miracles of the desert..a handful of them experienced it. According to Ibrahim, the desert is all about survival. There was a saying among the people of the desert – a desert is a place without expectation. It may be arid, lonely and silent but it never disappoints.
I was lost in my thoughts when I realized that Ibrahim was guiding by companions to our destination, Fujairah. We all stood up, thanked him, wished him well and left momentarily after. There are so many sides to a story. Back at the resort, people seemed confused when we talked about the farm. Nobody had heard of it before. I was just starting to wonder if it was our first mirage when I noticed that there was no one guarding the beach at night. The staff just shrugged and said that the hours were inconvenient, so nobody was ready to take up the post despite the wages.
If you ever visit, I wouldn’t recommend getting lost on purpose. There’s not a farm at the end of every road. And there’s definitely no story waiting to be told.