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We, as lovers of the sun, devoured by moonlight

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You are waving on my heart

like the flag

in the liberated lands

Abboud al Jabiri

i.

At the far origin of the light - the white-hot sun of noon - an undefined detail in the waves of heat had slowly merged into a vision of black. Lawrence hoped it was just another hallucination the desert had tricked him into as the air rapidly grew thick and hot with tension.

The foreign Bedouin took Tafas' life within the blink of an eye, measured and naturally, like it was a necessity to equilibrate the eternal course which Tafas had violated by drinking water from the Masturah well.

Dust whirled up when his feet touched the ground while the black attire of his camel still swung in rhythm of its movements. With a glance in great indifference over the body he made sure that Tafas was indeed dead. Lawrence’s lips turned pale with pressure.

He was an impressive figure, arrayed in shades of black and with an all-consuming proud and leonine presence. As he unwound the dark keffiyeh and his obsidian eyes ultimately focused on him, Lawrence’s white anger was momentarily washed away. The stranger’s choice of words was simple, as seemed the imputation, but his smart rhetoric promised a sophisticated eloquence in his native tongue.

“I am Ali ibn El Kharish,” he introduced himself then, confident that the English officer would recognize his name.

Lawrence felt himself drawn into an act of mutual incomprehension, a matter of move-countermove, a subconscious game of chess deliberately building a stark contrast that could only originate in a set of differing morals. The Sherif defended his position in a raw elegance and hauteur of a man who knew his own mind and left Lawrence feeling more British than ever before.

"Sherif Ali. So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people; a silly people; greedy, barbarous, and cruel, as you are.” 

Unperturbed by Lawrence’s bold anger, the Bedouin’s honest interest seemed to make him generous and yet Lawrence knew he was playing with a raging fire.

“Have you no fear, English?”

It was a raw provocation, an unrefusable challenge the Sherif proposed after he had given the compass back. Impromptu, Lawrence's blood began to flow again, rushing hot to the surface of his skin, sending sharp tendrils of life prickling into his fingers and toes.

“My fear is my concern.”

He left as he came, solivagant in a cloud of dust and the melody of his voice lingered in Lawrence’s mind longer than he had preferred. 

_________

In Faisal’s tent, Lawrence crossed the Rubicon in one breath and took Ali with him in a single wave while the colours of the British flag rapidly faded away. But the storm in Ali’s eyes broke not once. Hostile and dark, his eyes lingered on him and yet Lawrence could feel an unwilling fascination vibrating from his skin that made him a fortiori secure of his audacious strategy.

“You are mad,” Ali stated, “the Nefud cannot be crossed.”

And Lawrence had nothing else to rebut this than to bury his fingers in Ali’s arm and to promise him the horizon. 

_________

The desert presented itself in high cliffs above sparkling white sand that was hard and firm under the camels' hoofs. The Arab flags fluttered in the warm wind and when Lawrence looked around, his small army of riders was swallowed in concentration on their mission that lied in torridity ahead of them.

"You do dream impossible things." Ali stated, voice carefully low.

A cheeky smile curled on Lawrence lips, as he detected a hint of horror and unwilling respect in the other man’s voice.

"Not at night, Sherif Ali."

"I see." Ali said, sardonically polite and suspicious nonetheless. His focus on him was systematic and insistent, like Lawrence needed to be watched.

About the fact of his presence Lawrence refrained from commenting.

_________

The small oasis was a shocking circle of blue and its glittering tepid water felt cool against Lawrence’s heated skin. An illusion of peace that he indulged in as he dabbled his toes in the small waves and tried to get lost in his book.

By now, he had gotten used to Ali's eyes on him. The Sherif lounged in close to his seat at the waterside, statuesque yet agitated. Like a predator, Ali never stopped watching. Trying to decipher and to define him, to catch the detail that brings the prey to its feast; alerted and jealous of everyone who foreshadowed a rivalry.

And blasphemy it was, maybe even worse than any worship, the thoughts that seethed underneath the surface and Ali twitched as so often his whip in return.  

_________

“There is the railway... and that is the desert. From here until the other side; no water but what we carry: for the camels; no water at all. If the camels die, we die. And in twenty days they will start to die.”

Ali triumphed over him, waiting for any reluctance forming in his face. But Lawrence’s bright eyes only reflected the limitless vista of the Nefud’s shining sand. He took in the view like he could detect in the blurred horizon the soft and foamy waves of the Gulf of Aqaba.

“There's no time to waste, then, is there?”

Ali wasted no single second and commanded the raiders out from the high cliff and rocks into the open desert where they melted into a sandy whirl of dust. 

_________

Lawrence lost and regained his focus in rhythm of his camel's rocking movements, somewhere in the great length of the desert, unable to bring a detail out of the waves of heat while sand corns scratched painfully between his clothes and skin. For a first time, the icy cold touch of death revealed itself in the burning air of the Al Houl and in the actual vastness of the desert and its deceiving skies.

For days now, shadows were expanding and contracting, like a desperate ocean kissing a non-existent shore.

A dust devil danced restlessly inbetween the washed up blue sky and the raw featureless wasteland. A strange alluring hypnosis sandblasted by hot winds. The world was burning, shimmering with furious heat, but he could feel it fading, fading out.  A sudden sharp pain shot through his left leg shades of guilt washed immediately over his eyes.

“I was thinking.”

He knew that Ali could not be fooled by that.

“You were drifting.” Ali stated with a mocking moué, the triumph written all over his face.

“Yes. It will not happen again.”

There was a jolt as energy passed between them, flowing enticingly back and forth – but the flicker of affection in Ali's eyes was gone again before Lawrence could think about it.

 “Be warned! You were drifting.”

_________

Over the horizon, invisible, the desert was an unknown, unknowable entity, not empty but a natural force itself.  Lawrence breathed the vastness and everything inside him had expanded along with it, the sweet dry scent lingering pleasantly in his lunges. As he adored the spectacular sceneries from under his fatigued, half lidded eyes, he could not imagine that his lunges and his mind would ever retract to its former size again. Faisal was right, Lawrence decided, he was one of these desert loving English.

When Lawrence looked around for Ali, he usually had already caught his eyes like Lawrence’s thoughts were written in the black night sky and Ali just had to read them. The silence between them that stemmed from uncertainty faded quickly into a different sort of quiet, into a heavy, thick silence that was intense, almost violent, still - most clearly - a battle for dominance.

The only guarantees the desert gave him were the remorseless heat, thirst and Ali always right next to him. If their arms or their legs, accidentally brushed while they were riding side by side, it did not bear thinking about. And yet, for days, Lawrence thought about little else.

They were a mass of paradoxes.

_________

“Gasim's time is come, Aurens. It is written.”

Ali’s outrage was deeper in colour than a blood-red sunset and Lawrence bathed in its inferno.

“Nothing is written!”

He would never succumb to such barbarity and leave Gasim behind.

“Go back, then! What did you bring us here for with your blasphemous conceit! Hey? English blasphemer! Aqaba? Was it Aqaba? You will not be at Aqaba, English! Go back, blasphemer, but you will not be at Aqaba!”

Ali’s venom poured into every word and his composure fell apart like the sand corns after an abated sand whirl. And it came all down to this, their worlds clashing and tearing at each other, cracking up the careful built walls and steering towards a turning point.

 “I shall be at Aqaba; that is written...in here.”

The sounds of his surroundings were amplified under an impetuous satisfaction, like the deep, bass beat of his heart was a warning.

“English! English!”

In Ali’s voice he thought to have imagined a soft entreaty - another mad fancy - but his eyes did not leave the horizon as he let the desert swallow him whole.

_________

The Nefud spit him out again.

Gasim clung weakly at his back, as a sea of excited Bedu swirled from the high banks of sand into their direction, helpful hands and noise everywhere. Ali was inbetween, parting them like Moses the sea, striding towards him. His eyes reflected an incredulous proudness and apprehensiveness.  A silent happy defeat written in a half smile. His focus felt familiarly intense and its surge was too strong to resist as Lawrence could break the eye contact. He was drinking up his sight like the thirsty man he was.  The men stopped the camel for it to lie down and Ali was lost in the crowd momentarily. When his eyes caught him again, Ali was even more radiant than before.

Lawrence waited for a verdict, but Ali only handed him silently the leathern water bottle. So, Lawrence spoke it, dry on his lips and his voice rough with disuse.

“Nothing is written. “

The water felt unnatural even though every cell in his body was aching for it.

_________

He chose Ali’s bed, like any other offer was a meaningless sleep driven vision. But then, he never truly had another choice.

His body capitulated then, and he fell into a deep dreamless sleep.

Hours later, he woke in golden light to the strong scent of Arab coffee in his nose. Ali’s hot glare had softened into a mellow glow. The dates were fire-warmed and sweet as he pressed them to his mouth.

“El Aurens, truly, for some men nothing is written unless they write it.”

It was a true capitulation, subtle and elegant, without being layered with envy and deceit.

“Not El Aurens. Just Lawrence.”

“EI Aurens is better.”

“True.”

"Your father - just Mr. Lawrence?"

"My father is Sir Thomas Chapman."

"Is that a lord?"

"A kind of lord."

"Then when he dies, you too will be a lord."

"No." 

 He found that his secrets fell before Ali like the walls of Jericho.

“He didn't marry my mother.”

Ali's gaze melted, confusion ebbing away to pity, sadness and sympathy.

“I see.”

“I'm sorry.”

“It seems to me that you are free to choose your own name, then.” 

Ali was magnanimous, and it was the catalyst of something bigger, something unknown; an indirect affair, but the contrivances between them faded away.

“Yes, I suppose I am.” 

Ali’s body was the colour of sunlight, an aggregate of gold, candour and real moral generosity.

“El Aurens is best.”

“All right, I'll settle for El Aurens.”

A heavy sweet feeling dripped through the heat layered air and a surge of gratitude settled in Aurens. Fragile and delicate and new, it felt hopeful and almost dangerous and it was most definitely much, all too much and so he turned to feign fatigue only to feel Ali's fingers linger on his side and burn a mark through his clothing on his skin.

Ali let his uniform go up in flames and clothed him in his flowing white robes of a Beni Wejh sherif under the morning sun. Aurens glowed as if illuminated from within from things said in the dark that cannot be spoken of in the light – like a beacon against the endless sand.

 ________

Auda abu Tayi of the Huwaytat was one of his kind, cut from marble with war sizzling in his blood and a cunning, mesmerizing character. His acumen was instinctive, based on hereditary knowledge only a desert demands from its inhabitants, and his clearly devised tactics had them to give up any simple scheme.

They won him over in the end – with something that was more courtship than a diplomatic act.

The feast left the men sated and in high spirits and Aurens watched with joy the cheerful dancers for a while that were soon joined by laughing children. The air was light with Yasmine and full of rhythmic melodies. 

Ali had not left his side during the course of evening and when Aurens grew restless with ennui as the fires had died down to softly glowing embers he wordlessly guided him back to their tent.

On the outskirt of the camp, the voices had faded away into a distant sound and the air was clean and dry.

Ali broke the silence, carefully worded with insecure tension underneath.

“Now, I can the see the dreams in your eyes.”

Aurens stopped abruptly and laughed kind-heartedly.

“Ali, you saw it all along. You would have turned the world around and inside out to stop me, if otherwise.”

Ali smiled openly at him.

“True. But it became vivid, I can feel it alive in my heart.”

Affection bloomed warm in Aurens’ chest. Red-hot energy burned underneath his skin and filled him up from within, a whole ocean of feeling that was almost too much to be contained, and this time, he did not try to flee from its intensity. Instead, he took Ali’s hand in his, slipped their fingers together and held their combined hands as a fist up into the dark night. Ali’s eyes were full of life and pathos – he was buzzing with it, the energy of the night, like it was crackling through the air. Tension fizzled between them like a hymn of resurrection – and when Aurens found his voice again, it that had gone raspy in his throat.

"Soon, we have set the desert on fire. The colour of riot already lurks within the white sand."

_________

His lips were honey and his mouth the salty ocean and the searing heat of the Nefud anvil combined. Feathery cool touches on overheated skin that languorously took him apart under the blue light of the desert moon. And peradventure, in the end it was just another dream at the edge of night and day; melted into the second when the sun parts the horizon.

_________

In the lunar mountains of Aqaba, high above the sleeping city that laid bare at their feet, a strange energy was buzzing in Aurens' veins.  Ali's warmth caressed his skin, a wordless prayer at the thin line of present and future and Aurens dared to press a finger against Ali’s hand behind the cover of the rock formation. Like kings, they looked over their rightful land that was unaware of the danger hidden by the dim light of the half moon.

Ali reached out then, like he wanted to touch Aurens’ cheek, and Aurens could almost feel fingertips traveling along his dry skin, but instead Ali formed his hand into a fist.

Yes, Aqaba. Tomorrow, we will go and get it.”

“Do you think we shall?”

“If you're right about the guns.”

A shot went off in the dust laden camp behind them and Aurens’ answer was caught on his tongue.

_________

He bent the logic of sharia, he bent it to the edge of snapping, to the point of no return and let it rebound to its nature again. Gasim had to die.

“It was execution, Aurens: no shame in that. Besides, it was necessary. You gave life and you took it. The writing is still yours.“

The mountains provided a strange solace that night.  Ali followed him back to the outlook, ghostlike and silent, but his shadow revealed his presence.

Words were meaningless, so Aurens let waves of emotion roll off him instead. He breathed in the salty breeze from the sea, and if it wasn’t for Ali’s hand that pressed tentatively against the back of his, the tension in his chest might have imploded.

 

ii.

The bride of the red sea was overwhelmed in a day long gunfight, the Turks heavily outnumbered, and quickly overpowered. Aqaba was taken back by a flow after an endless ebb.

In the afterglow, an atmosphere of incredible grandeur had settled along the sunset and the Gulf of Aqaba was bathed in golden sunlight.  The sinking sun was weaving streaks of orange and coral along the loom of the horizon.

Aurens thought about the ocean, its tides surging in and out beholden to the tug of the moon, its vast, endless churning and how very much a like and different it was to the desert. His robe was still stained by dust and blood.

His attention was suddenly drawn to a bright red string of flowers that flew along his side and landed in the foamy waves. He turned and found Ali right behind him and Aurens was sure that he would find him anywhere.

“The miracle is accomplished. Garlands for the conqueror.”

“Oh.”  He felt like the burning sunlight had crept under his skin and lightened him up warmly from within.

Ali’s happiness written all over his face was all Aurens needed to snap out of the lingering thoughtfulness and he jumped from his camel into the warm water, fishing for the flowers. Ali’s delightful laugh was rewarding enough.

“Tribute for the prince; flowers for the man.”

Aurens pressed the wet flowers to his heart.

“I'm none of those things, Ali.” 

“What, then?”

Aurens felt that they were drifting backwards and forwards in the water like the red flowers did in the waves.

“Don't know. Thanks. My God, I love this country.”

The sound of a shot sent cold chills creeping down his spine.

_________

The sun slanted through the streets and touched Ali with its paintbrush dipped in gold, but dark shadows had crept over his eyes.

Seeing Ali’s face, Aurens reached out to his cheek. The act itself would condemn them both to whatever awaited them in the beyond. He allowed his hand to enclose the cross straps over Ali’s heart and gently tugged, each movement so slow and precise. His words were soft and sincere.

“They'll be alright with me. Look, Ali. If any of your Bedouin arrived in Cairo and said, 'We've taken Aqaba', the generals would laugh.”

It should be godawful small affair. Crossing Sinai, informing Allenby and re-joining as quick as possible. 

“I see. In Cairo you will put off these funny clothes. You will wear trousers and tell stories of our quaintness and barbarity, and then, they will believe you.”

Ali was full of frustrated bitterness and a depth of emotion washed over his eyes that Aurens made tense with unspoken words.

“You're an ignorant man.”

_________

And Aurens returned; with British strength at his back but Arab robes still on his body and a melody in his blood.

Ali re-joined his side soon after, as the sun was setting like molasses in the sky and the air was heavy from the heat of the day. Their camp - framed by stunted desert trees - was bathed in warm light and a feeling of tranquillity infiltrated Aurens' inner restlessness.

When Ali spoke, because Aurens' thoughts could not be stopped from running and his hands would not hold still from scribbling down plans, his voice was soft with an omniscient seriousness as if he was afraid of breaking the spell between them.

"You are vibrating with the churning of time, it's the singing of your immortality. You ought to be careful."

Aurens paused, then looked up to him. For a while, he just took in the sight of Ali. Sunlight weaved into his hair and the softness in his eyes made them appear almost mahogany in the warm light. There was a kindness that radiated pure, absolute devotion.

"Come, I've got something for you."

"Something?" Ali’s curiosity was sparked, and he followed him at once.

"Your future, if you want so." Aurens said as he rummaged in a linen bag on the craquelure ground and then handed Ali a worn-out book with one of his rare, true smiles.

_________

The Turkish train was subdued in an ungracious sand storm, a quick and thorough destruction. Godlike, Aurens strode along its roof and the desert sun morphed into a blinding halo. Perhaps, he should have known then, should have felt the drops of adrenaline at the edge before the mystery blows out. He got far too close, but everything was drowned in its heat, the only excuse he had when the wax in his wings turned soft and the feathers lost their footing.

Like Icarus, he became truer to his shadow itself that was burned into the arid desert ground. The beginning of the end found its origin here, somewhere along the Hejaz railway in the Wadi Rumm, embedded in the line of victory and defeat.

_________

The grey stallion was particularly striking; his glowing presence and exotic beauty with his glistening coat and flying mane made his entrance a memory that was not easily forgotten.

He had known there was something remarkable about him - a beacon among his own kind - like some unique artefact to be collected.

"He reminded me of you." Ali said later that day in the gathering gloom and laid a hand on Aurens shoulder. Aurens turned to look at him and gave Ali a smile that did not reach his eyes.

"A tamed animal, handled as a mere price?" Amusement slipped through his voice.

Ali's eyes hardened for a moment, then he shook his head slowly.

"He may be tamed, but he is wild at heart. Freedom boils in his blood, the call of the desert will never leave him."

_________

Time flew and time crawled and the wax kept on dripping. With the arrival of the coldness of winter, primary colours had taken over, reordered Aurens’ vision and arranged his world in contour.

The ruins of El Jamal were a grotesque hump of stone and the heat of desert had become a distant memory, the feeling of sun burning down on skin a faint sensory fantasy. The few men left were not enough - in any possible way would never be enough - but the impossible was conquerable, had been conquered against all odds before and just needed to be challenged again.

“Now, may I speak?”

“Yes.”

“Aurens. One more failure, and you will find yourself alone. I do not include myself.”

His love was seething and hopeless and his sweet warmth consumed him wholeheartedly, always haunted by the faint scent of Yasmine. The desert was clean, but Ali was pure.

The relentless wind howled, and the ice-cold snow made Aurens’ hair stand up.

"I do not include the others.”

_________

In Dar'a, he was invisible; invincible and sacrosanct.  With Ali at his side, he walked on water in a nameless airiness - the one kind that always ends in madness - and waited for the sun to bath him in rays of light again.  

They were invisible - until a Turkish soldier tapped a bony finger on his shoulder and dragged him right into hell.

The act of torture had always been a distant abstract concept, but the pain - delicate at first, sweet and nonchalant - turned into a raging monster that stripped him bare, hollowed him out until every fiber of his muscles screamed in pure agony.  Everything coalesced in the searing pain and Aurens’ residual adrenalin high spiralled into a paralyzed panic and his mind was wiped blank and beaten into a quiet lunacy.

_________

That night he begged for absolution, and the devil was present to obtain it for him.

The moon casted long shadows as Ali’s scent was suddenly all around him and his strong arms picked him up and carried him away from the doors of hell.

The long ride back to El Jamal under a hazy, night time sky was an endless blur. The others feigned sleep when they arrived at El Jamal and fully aware of their defeat ignored their presence with a quiet punishment. Aurens was thankful for that, but the pain and shame became nearly unbearable.

Ali tended wordlessly his wounds, careful and tentative as he was afraid to finish their work and to break him fully. When he settled down next to him, Ali let his fingertips travel along his scalp – a luxury, a venture and Ali’s tension was palpable. For a blessed instant everything was silent and comfortable, and Aurens could almost not even feel the cold anymore.

We only flourish in extremes, at the end of ourselves. This is how the desert loves.”, Ali’s voice was a faint whisper, harsh desperation burning underneath. The world faded out, and Aurens faded with it.

_________

He awoke in a cascade of freezing.

The glow of their campfire and the moonlight had lost their softness; it has been stripped of anything warm and comforting and turned into a low sinister and malignant light.

There was something broken deep in his eyes now, a bottomless fracture just beneath the surface and all vitality had drained from his face. The dates had become tasteless on his tongue and his vision was blurred under the greyness of morning like water gone murky and yet his decision was clear.

“I'm going, Ali.”

Over Ali’s eyes washed a black pain and the bitter realisation that he had seen this coming, that it had lurked underneath the surface for quite a while.

"Why?”

"I've come to the end of myself, I suppose.”

It was the plain truth and a blatant lie and everything inbetween.

“And the end of the Arab revolt?”

Sorrow made Ali’s voice go harsh and tense and fraught with longing. 

“I'm not the Arab revolt, Ali. I'm not even Arab.”

At this, Aurens felt like two contradictory malignant entities occupied his soul and vied for mutual destruction.

“A man can do whatever he wants, you said.”

Aurens looked up and let his gaze map out every inch of Ali’s face. He had never known himself as well as he knew himself when he was with him. He saw it in Ali, as if looking into a curved glass.

"He can, but he can't want what he wants.”

In the back of his throat, there was a mix of bitter and sourness.

"Have you no care for them?"  

Ali’s voice was crisp to the point of breaking and the rawness of it was utterly disarming. It was a complicated thing, heavy with layers of nuance. and here’s so much in his words that has been left unsaid, except in tone. His voice echoed within the emptiness of the walls. And at the felling of those words, only heartache remained, and Aurens’ throat lifted and convulsed in a loathing so entirely wretched, that his skin felt to have torn and broken raw against him.

_________

"This was written," Ali whispered, voice quiet and silver like smoke, while his hand clenched into the silk of Aurens’ robe and his finger tapped on Aurens’ heart, "in here. And no word of yours has the power to redeem that." 

Everything felt obscured now, and all Aurens felt that remained of him was an opaque figure built by ghosts of the past. It would have been so easy to get lost right there, at that moment.  The prospect of surrendering to total exhaustion and handing over what little grasp of control he still had, was simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating.

When Ali's touch ghosted over his skin and his lips were soft and desperate against his cheek, he forced himself to think about nothing else. Ali was a symphony in himself, wild and unabashed, and their time together an œuvre d’art, created with fierceness and painted with the deep colours of the desert sun.

When the winter stars faded, and the red sun arched into the sky, he abandoned the ruins of El Jamal and while his lunges filled with ice cold air, Aurens did not dare to look back.

 

iii.

The universe gives and takes, and there was no other rule than that.

Damascus was on verge of becoming their Eden, but the apple's venomous poison was already pulsing in his veins. His intent to lay the city of Jasmine in Ali's hands had become a mere chimera and Aurens felt like he was following the cracks running through a broken vase, drowning, always sinking down, down, deeper into an obscure labyrinth.

He had returned to the desert, reborn with another constellation, and with traitor carved into his skin.

“Changed, hasn't he?” Mr. Bentley remarked as Lawrence got closer.

“No.” Ali said, with tears in his eyes, heart achingly betrayed and with grief waiting in the wings.

“Oh I’d say he had. Different man I’d say.”

_________

“God. God! God!! Aurens! Enough! Enough! Make them stop! Aurens!”

A spectacle of pandemonium and absolute chaos visualized in front of Aurens, while bright red blood dripped from his sword, staining the white of his robes and flowing into its creases, turning everything around him into a dull shade of pink.

Ali’s hand was close, so close, and would have been a soft grasp on the edges of sanity. But Ali hesitated and with him the tension between them bent, right on the edge to snap. Ali was searching in his steely, mindless face and wild, bloodshot eyes, for something, for him, but it was fruitless, hopeless and Aurens remained absorbed in his own despair.

Ali’s shadow swept across the sand as he returned to the battle field. Aurens did not see him until much later, when the blood had already dried up and turned black.

He knew Ali was next to him without even looking; Ali’s tension was practically rolling off of him in layers and the atmosphere around him buckled under his sheer presence.

“Does it surprise you, Mr Bentley? Surely, you know the Arabs are a barbarous people. Barbarous and cruel. Who but they! Who but they!”

Saying anything out loud would require an enthusiasm, a vengeance, a feeling that he was not capable of possessing anymore, because Ali was speaking the truth.

“Oh, you rotten man. Here, let me take your rotten bloody picture for the rotten bloody newspapers.“

Aurens did not move.

_________

The last outcry of the Arab revolt fainted into a damning whisper. The Arab National Council was gasoline and burned out in a blinding flame ignited by the cruel obstinacy of mankind in the pompous town hall of Damascus.

“If you answer there'll be bloodshed.” The words stumbled in his mouth, feeling heavy and empty when they got out, meaningless and useless. Ali’s muscles tensed and hardened when Aurens pressed his hand into the royal blue of his robes.

It felt like an ocean of time had passed since their eyes had met without an intention to prevaricate.

“You speak to me of bloodshed?”

The words hit Aurens like the first touch of cold water on overheated skin and he let himself swept into the night along the kaleidoscopic circus of noise and heat and confusion. The last stand of his broken world collapsed around him then and the ties that clung him to a reality that is no longer his, made him fight against the hot truth that felt too impossible, too unreal to be accepted.

_________

He became as elusive as a single played note, a vagrant gust of wind.

“You tried very hard to give us Damascus.”

The words settled like moonlit footprints in soft, clean sand, a naked appeal in Ali’s trembling voice.

“It's what I came for. And then… it would be something.”

It was a mere suggestion, a whisper with the power of an imperative. Aurens swallowed around unshed tears. The air between them charged up for a second, like maybe it would spark if you hit it just right, but then it all rolled and ebbed away.  Ali was like a mirage as a cacophony of emotions twisted his features until they’d smoothed out into nothingness.

Lawrence pretended he did not know how this ends. The distance between them grew as neither did cross the distance or give a sign to come closer. But Ali looked at him as if he had reached into Aurens’ chest through his ribcage, and it was as if he had touched his heart and lingered. Their chronologies had weaved together until they were near-inseparable, an echo from another time, sweet as rosewater and illusive as quicksand, until the resolution of one came with the dénouement of the other.

 “Yes.” Ali’s voice was choked, and Aurens closed his eyes and drowned in it.

“- much.“ It's barely there and faint as water colour.

He could listen to Ali’s heart breaking in his voice, but his was already shattered in a thousand pieces.

The silence that followed spoke a language of its own.

And it all came down to this. The moment elapsed along with his last chance to rewrite the future and he sent his soul through the invisible.

Ali disappeared into the darkness - swallowed by opaque shadows - like he once came out of pure light.

_________

Lawrence deserted Damascus with the Spirit of Ecstasy parting the desert road in front him and a camouflage army uniform clinging uncomfortably to his body. Another exodus, but this time his whole world was tipping on its axis. The cold finality pressed hard on his chest - like a hot knife driven under his rib cage and his body burned like a dying sun. His breaths were measured, and he was counting down the miles in rhythm of his shallow breathing rate. 

His muscles were hard and tense and his body, sunken into the leathern car seat, was high on alert, at the edge of surging adrenaline in his bloodstream. Awaiting the signal, a temerarious twist of fate. And Lawrence quasi expected a reason to stop the car with screeching brakes and to jump on the arenaceous ground, to bury his hands into hot desert sand and black curly hair. To hear this was written mumbled once again into his ear. But the familiar dark attire and Ali’s all overshadowing leonine charisma was not among the groups of Bedu and Lawrence was left with his fingers gripping hard into the metal of the Rolls Royce and the sandy airstream tearing relentlessly at his hair.

“Well, Sir. Going home.”

Behind him, the magnificent scenery was veiled in a maelstrom of dust.

“Home, Sir.”

_________

The verdant soft grass of the English countryside was gently embedded in rolling hills and mocking Lawrence much the same as the thick London fog he had experienced a few days prior. His beloved Brough Superior rested a few meters away, as he leaned against the trunk of an olden Lime tree. In the soft glow of sunset, everything was aflame in sepia. He glared into the sun until the bright light began to hurt and he had to close his eyes. Only at the edge of pain and pleasure, he allowed himself to indulge in the iconoclastic images in his head, pulsing vehemently to come alive behind his temples.

The desert revealed itself in shades of dust and swirls of movement, a world without an end or beginning. The ever-existing slow bleed of realisation made him translucent to the familiar rush of emotions and the impression of hot desert sand grating on his skin. The only relevant detail was a dark shadow in pale moonlight – the one he could pick out in a sea of thousands - and Lawrence could swear that the whisper of Ali's touch still burned on his skin and the melody of his voice lingered like a faint prayer in the heavy summer air.

A dog barked in the distance, deep and mournful, and then fell silent again. The only sound left, was the faint twittering of birds in the branches of the tree above him and his softlead pencil scratching on lined paper.

 

We, as lovers of the sun, devoured by moonlight

I was summoned by the depths of your eyes

As the stars painted our love in the bare nocturnal sky

And the echo of your touch burned into my yearning heart