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27 Postcards

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1. Go easy for the first few weeks. A bad start is difficult to atone for, and the Arabs form their judgments on externals that we ignore.

Wadi Safra cast its shade from the sun and Ali was grateful to Allah for it. The carved wood of his new revolver pushed against his belly as Ziyade, his camel, swayed her walk across the sand. Her steps wrote the story that Allah willed for him.

High above some stray breeze knocked a stone from its perch. It tumbled and bounced and disappeared from view. Ali's thought were on other sorts of falling stones.

Words in crumbling lumps: little, silly, barbarous, and cruel.

Surrounded by narrow brown canyons that kept away the high breeze, his thoughts blew west to the clustered buildings of Cairo. People stacked themselves against the muddy Nile until all that was left was to sleep in the cemeteries.

Not for the English, of course, with their tea and plates. They lived in wide white arcades. Ali had schooled in Cairo. In his years there, he'd heard other words in other English voices.

Then above the stone, he heard a hawk's cry. He looked up and saw its brief shape pass overhead. He smiled at its passage.

He held out his hand and let words slip through his fingers like so much dust.

2. Learn all you can about your Ashraf and Bedu... Do all this by listening and by indirect inquiry. Do not ask questions... Until you can understand their allusions, avoid getting deep into conversation or you will drop bricks. Be a little stiff at first.

Daud noticed Aurens before Farraj did.

Farraj picked sand out of a piece of bread. "That is not true. I noticed him the moment he appeared. He has blue eyes."

This proved nothing, but Daud shrugged. It did not matter. He crouched at the edge of camp and looked at the black tents that shuddered against the hot wind. These were the tents of men with fathers.

Daud threw a rock. It hit nothing and no one. "He had no cigarettes."

Farraj popped a piece of gristled lamb into his mouth. It was meat left over after the men who had a tribe had their fill. He grinned around the gristle. "Lord Aurens will get some."

Daud wasn't sure how Aurens had become a lord, but he was English, so he may as well be a Lord. It would be good to be in the service of a Lord or an English or an anything.

Daud fell back on the dirt and rocks. He stared up at what was written in the sky. He imagined what it would be like to be an Ageyl. He would be valued for his skills with camels and not a buzzing fly on the edge of the plate.

That would be a good thing.

3. Win and keep the confidence of your leader. Strengthen his prestige at your expense before others when you can.

It was an unspoken thing in Aurens' words that Ali should ride out with him into the Nefud desert with fifty of his best men without another word.

It was an unspoken thing that Ali would pray five times a day. It was an unspoken thing that he would keep the fast of Ramadan. It needed no words to know that before he would go to the Nefud, he would first go to Prince Faisal of the Banu Hashim, the son of the Emir of Mecca.

It required no words to know that he should go when Prince Faisal was with his horses. That he would go when his Lord was surrounded by arching necks and liquid eyes.

That he would say, "The Englishman wants me to take fifty of my men and go with him to Aqaba." Neither of them said who the Englishman was, although there were others in camp. Neither said why a Bedu should wish to ride to Aqaba for one might as well say that a body floats in the Dead Sea.

Prince Faisal looked upon him some long time while his hands busied with his horse's mane. "Is it in your mind to go with him?"

Ali nodded. "It is." He stroked a silken neck and received a horsey kiss in search of sugar. He murmured, "He has a compass."

His prince nodded. He offered no warnings. They were unspoken in the way he curried his mare, whose blood lines went back to the horses of the Prophet. It was in the placement of the tents of the camp. The empty spaces between that pointed to the old road to Yenbo on the sea. The spaces that pointed to the trackless way to Aqaba's port that could only be sailed by the ships of the desert, an ocean in which no oar is dipped. Ali received another sugar-seeking kiss and wondered what wake they would leave.

4. Remain in touch with your leader as constantly and unobtrusively as you can. Formal visits to give advice are not so good as the constant dropping of ideas in casual talk.

They borrowed the Corporal's camel. It was not theft for they were going to be the servants of Lord Aurens, who was higher in rank than the Corporal and they were both English besides.

But mostly they took it because the Corporal had attempted a trick on them and it was good to return two for one. Daud bowed to Farraj. "Allah blesses the generous."

Farraj bowed to Daud. "Allah's blessings upon you." Then they untied the line and got on their master's camel. She had a sweet temper and they each apologized for hurting her before.

It was a good start. Sharif Ali and his men slipped away from the black tents.

Daud and Farraj slipped after them. High rocks and narrow turns were their friends that gave way to rolling sand dunes.

Lord Aurens had given them a word beneath a dead bush. It was not as precise a sign as a burning one. Still, they would follow him to it.

5. Allusion is more effective than logical exposition: they dislike concise expression. Their minds work just as ours do, but on different premises. There is nothing unreasonable, incomprehensible, or inscrutable in the Arab.

It was not entirely true to say that there was no land road to Aqaba, but it was a silk road last used by caravans when there was a Christian kingdom in Jerusalem. It was more a road of memory and shimmering heat as the horizon danced its edge and the camels walked toward it.

Majid wondered at Sharif Ali for choosing to do this mad thing. He wondered at himself for madly doing it also, but he was a Harith. When Sharif Ali said that he was going with fifty men to fight the Turks, Majid would be one of that fifty.

He wondered at the Englishman, who was so fresh to the desert that he marveled at it. The desert did not seem overly clean to Majid, but then he was not English.

There was time for wondering as they made their way. The sound of the camel's footsteps in the sand. The motion of fabric in the hot still air. The whirlwind in the distance. They all made a rhythm to thought. The song of the Bedu.

6. Be shy of too close relations with the subordinates of the expedition.

Daud had a song that played in his head. It went, "One shilling a week." He and Farraj rode on their camel among the other men. They had a place behind Aurens.

The rocks here were green as the grass that grew around a pool of an oasis. These green rocks were small and sharp. Daud kept careful watch so that no stone would injure their camel's feet. He was an Ageyl now and must be careful of such things.

Sharif Ali pulled back and rode next to them. He said, "He used water to shave with."

Daud did not look up from the sharp green stones. "He is English."

Farraj said, "It rains every day in England. I have heard that the King there times it with a clock."

Sharif Ali growled some wordless thing under his breath and urged his camel forward.

Daud smiled. They were almost through the stones to the soft sand beyond.

7. Treat the sub-chiefs of your force quite easily and lightly. In this way you hold yourself above their level... Precedence is a serious matter among the Arabs, and you must attain it.

The sand rippled waves of heat up as the sun baked down from above. Majid listened as Sharif Ali blistered his curses under his breath.

One of Aurens' new servants clenched his hands; he was little more than a boy really. "Aurens is not an idiot." Majid had a brother that age.

Majid looked back at the baked flat. Eyes narrowed against the fierce burn on the illusion of water. He shook his head at the foolishness of going back into the Sun's Anvil. Now two would die in place of one.

The other servant boy said, "I think he's brave, too."

Sharif Ali swallowed more words and turned back to look at the direction in which they were going.

Majid's cracked lips longed for water. But even having crossed the Sun's Anvil, it was a long way to the next well.

8. Your ideal position is when you are present and not noticed... To do your work you must be above jealousies, and you lose prestige if you are associated with a tribe or clan, and its inevitable feuds...

Past the simple stone circle of the well, lit red and yellow in the firelight, Ali listened to Gasim tell the story of his rescue. In each retelling, the tale grew in scope. Now Aurens faced five djinns, who offered him the world in exchange for Gasim's life, but to each he said, "No," and spat in his hand.

Daud and Farrij appeared from where they had washed Aurens clothes in the shallow pools pulled from the well.

Daud strung up a line between two dead bushes. "I told you he could do it."

By the firelight, the camp felt alive to Ali. Insects buzzed and fell into the flames. Camels moaned and stamped their hooves longing in sleep for the water's edge. Bats flew low overhead scooping up what they could.

Even to fire dazzled eyes, the white stars above spilled their cool answer to the hot deeds of day.

"I never said he could not." Ali didn't even know why he was talking to these boys.

Farraj tossed a tiny stone into the dark. It fell unseen, as across the fire Gassim droned on the embroidery of his rescue. Almost lost in that buzz, Farraj whispered, "He makes me feel like I could do anything."

Daud nodded as if he and Farraj's heads were connected by single thread.

Ali would not nod. But when Aurens' clothes were dry enough, he set them to the fire. In their place, he set aside for Aurens the white robes of a Sharif.

He wanted to stay awake and listen to the camp. There was no time for that. Sleep was precious on such a journey. So he slept and dreamed of water that dripped from the wind's fingers.

9. In matters of business deal only with the commander of the army, column, or party in which you serve.

Sheik Auda waved his hand in story, but it was Aurens who captured the eye. Majid sat with the fifty Harith, who had come into the camp of the Howeitat and lounged on the pillows. Harith had drunk from a Howeitat well and were fed lamb, while Aurens listened to old Auda tell his tales and gave him a word here and there to shift him in his course.

Far off in the camp, Majid could hear a camel lowing. He could hear the whicker of horses in answers. Horses that would ride with them. After silent days where tongues withered and heads floated with heat, Majid lay on thick red carpets in a tent and listened to the dash of voices.

He could almost smell the sea on the breeze that whispered across the camp.

10. ...Intertribal jealousies make it impossible for any sheikh to attain a commanding position, and the only hope of union in nomad Arabs is that the Ashraf be universally acknowledged as the ruling class...

The smell of salt and sea beckoned, all out of place in this waterless fold of hill and rocks. They stood in a grey line by moonlight as the half cup of the moon prepared to be put away.

It had taken Daud half the night, but he'd stolen back Aurens' pistol from the boys of the Howeitat.

Now he stood uncertain. Aurens lay curled upon his blanket. His eyes were open, but he didn't look like he saw Daud standing there. Farraj worried at the fire, but the crackle didn't make Aurens move.

Daud stepped forward, but Sharif Ali plucked the gun from his hands.

Daud reached up for it with a cutoff cry.

Sharif Ali shook his head. "You cannot give it to him now." He looked up at the black shape of the westward cliffs. He pressed out a long sigh. "Perhaps it is written that I have it."

Daud exhaled in answer. Farraj placed a few more sticks upon the fire as the moonlight slipped away.

11. Call your Sherif `Sidi' in public and in private. Call other people by their ordinary names, without title. In intimate conversation call a Sheikh `Abu Annad', `Akhu Alia' or some similar by-name.

The sun signaled its rise by painting the sky to its pleasure. Auda rode at Auda's pleasure. He was a river to his people and it was written that he should flow to the sea today, but first he would pray as a man should. Then he would have coffee thick enough to hold up a golden spoon.

"Do you have a golden spoon?" asked one of Aurens' servants, an impudent boy with bright eyes.

The other servant beat the white dust of their camp from his clothes. "Lord Aurens will get him one."

Neither boy called him Sheik or Lord or even Howeitat. Auda said, "I will get my own golden spoon in Aqaba."

He beat the dust from his own robes. He was not so old that he needed coffee before riding into battle.

12. Wave a Sherif in front of you like a banner and hide your own mind and person. If you succeed, you will have hundreds of miles of country and thousands of men under your orders, and for this, it is worth bartering the outward show.

It was like being in a wind storm, except they were the wind. The camels and horses kicked up a hail of sand as they raced up the final spit between the dull red rocks to the white buildings of Aqaba.

Farraj could hear the whine of bullets around him. Next to him a camel tumbled end over end as a machine gunner found a target.

But ahead of him, he could see the Turks running as they all raced to reach the blue sea. He could see Lord Aurens' white robes. Behind him, Daud fired a pistol at the gunner.

Farraj bent low and urged their camel forward so they could catch up.

13. If you wear Arab things, wear the best. Clothes are significant among the tribes, and you must wear the appropriate, and appear at ease in them.

The hot wind blasted sand into Daud's face and through his clothes. Since Aurens had lost his compass in the storm, they followed the sun's path. Daud hardly knew where sky and earth split.

But then the wind passed through them as quick as it had come.

Farraj's face was white with dust. Aurens pointed in the blinding direction of the sun to show the direction that they needed to go.

Daud creaked on his camel.

Farraj whispered, "Lord Aurens will lead us there, and we will sleep on clean sheets."

Daud creaked on his camel and picked his way through the forest of thin brown stones, tall as a man. He followed Aurens, who followed the sun.

14. Cling tight to your sense of humour...

Farraj followed the man through the great white building. Lord Aurens had gone to report. Daud had gone down. Farraj was surrounded by strangers.

The man took Farraj out back and made him wash with a bucket. Made him shake the dust from his clothes like a child. If Daud were here, they'd have dumped the bucket over the man's head. They'd have run through the kitchen and eaten fresh bread. Daud was not here. The sand had taken him and left nothing behind.

Farraj followed the man up a back stair where servants climbed like donkeys loaded with English bags. The man quickly shuffled Farraj into a giant room and left him there.

It was hot, but it was cold. He stood there and looked at a space the size of Prince Faisal's tent, maybe larger. He shivered. He climbed up on top of the wide bed with its clean sheets. He climbed under them and stared at the ceiling. The bed squeaked and squished as he moved like it was full of sand.

He closed his eyes and sank into the sleep of a cool bed with clean sheets. He dreamed of ships that sailed through the sand. He woke to find the night had come and the world had turned all around.

15. While very difficult to drive, the Bedu are easy to lead, if you have the patience to bear with them. The less apparent your interferences the more your influence...

On the ninth day after the fall of Aqaba, Ali took off his boots and walked in the surf.

Auda sat on his horse and scowled at both Ali and the sea. "His mother mated with a scorpion."

Ali could hear the crinkle of Aurens' paper in Auda's robes.

The salt water stung on all the little cuts that Ali hadn't known were there. The end of his black robes floated and twisted on the white flecked waves. They tangled around his legs. When he walked out of the water, the sand clung to his feet in fine white powder and not like sand at all.

Auda growled, all he seemed to know how to do since they'd taken Aqaba was growl, "Harith, he will not return with my gold. He lied."

"I think that the man who writes his own destiny will return with gold and guns." He looked up at the sharp cliffs behind him that guarded the way back into the wide desert. "Then we may write our own story, Howeitat." He moved his foot over the wet sand, so different from the hot harsh sands of the journey, and wrote his name in flowing script. The words held, but then a wave came and washed his name away. He smiled at his own conceit and wrote the name again.

16. Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Also... your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.

Sometimes it seemed that there was a wound under Lord Aurens' ribs, and he bled sand from his mouth. Farraj felt the empty space where Daud should be, while Lord Aurens bled from the wound. Sometimes when the fat moon crawled across the sky and when they raced across the cold night below. Generally it seemed like this when Farraj hadn't slept in two days from the hard journey from here to there.

Blue Mist's wheel bucked under his hands like any animal as they roared across the flat desert. He wanted to turn and laugh to Daud that he was driving a car, a Rolls Royce, but there was only sand.

Lord Aurens sat beside him. He seemed to catch the sand with those wide pale eyes. His teeth reflected what light came through the car's armored walls. Those teeth and eyes flashed and said that Farraj could do anything and be anything. The rattle of the wheel as they drove over rocks said that he could go fast as the fleetest horse or camel.

Farraj gripped the wheel and sped up to reach the things that his sleepless mind imagined.

17. If you can, without being too lavish, forestall presents to yourself...

Auda had a golden spoon. It pleased him so much he that picked up a golden fork and knife as well from the polished wooden floor of the listing train car with its wide seats made of red velvet. He cut the cloth free with his knife. The edges were ragged, but it was good cloth. Then he climbed out the smashed window.

The tribes swarmed all along the corpse of the train. It dangled half on the tracks and half off into the shifting sand. It looked like a dead snake with a broken back.

Auda saw Aurens' servant, Farraj, and he held up the spoon and fork and knife.

Farraj called out over the scrambling voices, "I said Lord Aurens would get one for you."

Auda yelled back, "I got them for myself."

Farraj shook his head at him. On any other day, Auda would have taken insult.

Behind him though, Auda could hear the sound of the tribes yelling Aurens' name as he walked along the long top of the dead train. Aurens held his arms wide, the sun shone behind him, and he cast his long shadow across the yelling men and the yellow dunes beyond. Perhaps Aurens had a better view from up there.

All around him, the tribes yelled. There were so many tribes that Auda could not list them all. It would be like listing stars or grains of sand, and Auda had better things to do. He laughed and shrugged at Farraj.

He shoved the golden knife and fork and spoon and velvet into his robes and went into another train car.

He searched for something honorable. He would know it when he saw it. Then he would go home and his people would yell his name as he gave it all away. Auda was like a river to his people.

Aurens wanted to be a river. He did not understand that he was a fire instead, but Auda would not be the one to tell him. Auda had better things to do.

18. Wear an Arab headcloth when with a tribe...

The village of Wadi Mousa echoed with the sound of the adhan, calling the faithful to prayer.

When Ali rose from his prayers, it was to find Aurens gone from camp, as if he had not spent the night riding and much of the day before.

Ali and Farraj trailed after him on the only way left to go. They walked through the cold pre-dawn and into the narrow canyon. The high tops above began to glow with the early light of day. They heard Aurens' laughter echo through the rocks. It was high and thin. It seemed brittle as the morning air. They did not see Aurens as they came around the bend.

What Ali saw did not make him want to laugh. He saw a great gate carved into the stone cliff walls with pillars the height of five men standing on each others' shoulders under a great arch with yet more pillars above. The stone was smooth under Ali's hand. It was cold from the lengthening nights away from the sun.

Ali stepped through the narrow carved passage and into the remnants of a dead city. But still, they saw no Aurens. They only heard his laughter.

They followed the brittle sound past long emptied homes carved from the red stone cliffs, as the rock grew brighter with the approaching sun.

When they came to the empty round of an open sky theatre, Farraj sat down. "Aurens said that he once dug up things like this. In Carchemish."

Ali knew that. They all knew that. There was no part of himself that Aurens did not spend.

Farraj tossed a small stone to the dusty stage below. "The fathers of my fathers built this."

"You do not know who the fathers of your fathers are," Ali said with the sure certainty of a man who could trace his own fathers back to Hashim ibn Abd al-Manaf.

Farraj smiled. "No." He stood up again and ran down the stone seats and onto the stage. He looked up where all around them the stone glowed with morning light. "Aurens says that nothing is written. So I will write this." He met Ali's eyes and then glanced away. "For Daud and me."

Ali glanced away himself. Prince Faisal liked to talk of the libraries of Cordoba, elegant remnants of a more civilized age, but Ali had never been to Spain. He was a Hashemite, not a Umayyad.

More laughter shattered like flaked stone against the dead city and they followed the trail of its pieces.

19. ...the less you lose your temper the greater your advantage. Also then you will not go mad yourself.

Farraj looked up at where Lord Aurens dangled from the black steel bridge over the high gulley. In winter, flashing floods of a river ran here and carried some men to their deaths. It was not yet winter.

The faltering sun beat down on them, enough to make sweat trickle down Farraj's back as he waited for Lord Aurens to place the charge and climb down.

He heard Sharif Ali say, "The Beni Atiyeh sent a request to Prince Faisal. They asked that he send them an aurens so they could blow up trains with it."

Farraj let out a breath as Aurens began the downward climb. "Lord Aurens is very good at blowing up trains."

20. Do not try to trade on what you know of fighting. The Hejaz confounds ordinary tactics. Unnumbered generations of tribal raids have taught them more about some parts of the business than we will ever know. Keep your unit small.

Aurens said they must go and they went. Sharif Ali said they must go and they went. They were Harith. Majid supposed he should consider himself Arab now.

The cold wind threw ice in Majid's face, but still their thin line of camels wound their way up the narrow goat trail toward Der'ai.

Majid looked to Sharif Ali. They were down to the first fifty men. Except not all of that fifty were still with them. The horizon did not dance with heat. Cold sleet sliced through their robes and the miserable camels picked their way up scrub covered hills. These were settled lands and not a place for a Bedu at all.

Still, Damascus lay beyond, if only they could reach it. Although for now, Majid longed for shelter. Even a bridge would do.

21. If you can wear Arab kit when with the tribes, you will acquire their trust and intimacy to a degree impossible in uniform. It is, however, dangerous and difficult... In British things... you yourself will last longer, physically and mentally, in the comfort that they mean.

Ali crouched against the meager shelter of a wall and tried to suppress a thought. Like the muddy frozen water that seeped through his boots, the thought would not be suppressed.

Aurens had wanted to be caught. Another thought did battle with it.

Aurens had wanted to walk on water. A blue eyed man with a shaven face, burnt red by the sun, walked into the City of Der'ai and danced in the puddles.

Ali crouched in the frozen mud outside the guard house of the Turkish Bey. He waited to see if Allah's patience was at an end with Aurens.

22. If you wear Arab things at all, go the whole way. Leave your English friends and customs on the coast, and fall back on Arab habits entirely.

After Aurens fled himself to Cairo, Ali had it in his mind to take up in the castle of Sultan Salah ad Din on the next rock pile, but that Sultan had been a Kurd, not an Arab. In any case, it would have been in no better repair. Instead, they all huddled around the fire as the cold wind shook the crumbling stone walls.

Next to him, Majid held out his hands to the fire, for all the good it would do. "It is one thing to be led into the desert by a prophet, but this... we have been left here."

Ali pulled his robes tighter and said, very softly, "Aurens will return."

Majid almost wrapped himself around the fire. "But he cannot walk on water."

Ali had nothing to say to that. He decided that they would change castles the next day. At least that would bring them farther north.

23. Religious discussions will be frequent. Say what you like about your own side, and avoid criticism of theirs...

Aurens returned with a trunk full of golden guineas. He spread the seeds of them on the sand and men popped up. Three thousand of them stood on the slant of the golden dunes and chanted Aurens' name.

Old Auda of the Howeitat was there. He rode toward Ali through the thieves and the murderers on one of the mares that he had taken in the last campaign.

Before Auda could say a word, Ali said, "This time it's true. Aurens brought a box full of gold back with him from Cairo."

Auda looked up at the yelling men. "With this many men, he'd have been better to bring back a stick that could pull water from a rock." Then he grinned at Ali and laughed.

Ali laughed too, although he hardly knew why.

24. In spite of ordinary Arab example, avoid too free talk about women.

Auda cleaned his sword, which was long and curved, not like a Turkish saw bayonet. His sword was for slicing men in battle, not the death of women and children. His sword was honorable, but his arm was tired. Auda told himself that this was not the price of growing old for it was not so.

Sharif Ali stood near him in the heavy hazy of smoke and dust that had followed their furious ride down from the village of Tafas and into the Turkish column.

"He said the best of you brings me the most Turkish dead." Sharif Ali's voice was bitter as a youngest son's inheritance.

Auda cleaned his sword and spat on the sand. "The desert will absorb all our blood." Then he sheathed his sword. They had far yet to go in their race with their allies.

25. Be as careful of your servants as of yourself... Take with you an Ageyli or two when you go up country. They are the most efficient couriers in Arabia.

At first the streets that they had worked so long towards were empty. Ali looked at the longed for city of Damascus.

The streets had been well battered by shells that cracked the walls. The few people who stood on the corners looked in silent question at them, but the question seemed already answered. When they arrived at the town hall, they found that someone had already raised the Arab flag and written in proper script a proclamation of the Emirate of Mecca, of Prince Faisal.

They rode up and down those quiet-unquiet streets until the walls cracked open to spill out their shouting, dancing, cheering people. They flung bruised flowers at them. They poured rose water from battered house-tops. They yelled their names. They called to Sharif Ali. They called to Sheik Auda. They called to Lord Aurens. They called to Lord Aurens the most.

Ali felt the silent ghosts of the fallen. Their names were not called.

The people danced in the streets and cut themselves with swords and knives. Blood mixed with the trampled flowers. The people yelled themselves hoarse and fired guns into the air when their voices were gone.

Ali told himself it was a joyful thing, but the smell of roses simply mixed with the smoke of Tafas, and it felt all as one thing as they rode up and down the streets of battered Damascus.

26. Do not mix Bedu and Syrians, or trained men and tribesmen... (They) regard each other mutually as poor relations, and poor relations are much more objectionable than poor strangers.

The Damascus town hall echoed and rang and shook with voices. Ali could hear Syrians and Hashemite accents. Ali could hear the sound of villagers, who raised rice by the River Jordan, and he could hear Bedu, who lived with their camels from well to well.

Next to him, a man, someone he both feared and loved, hit the wooden table with the wooden end his revolver. The sound crackled through the voices, but it brought no more order than a sword can carry a cup of water.

27. Bury yourself in Arab circles, have no interests and no ideas except the work in hand, so that your brain is saturated with one thing only.

Ali watched the water as it played with the blue tile and the harsh sunlight falling down. The water reflected the sun and danced on the white walls.

Ali sat by the fountain and flipped through the pages of his British children's book about politics. Prince Faisal had come and Aurens had gone back to the green place that made him. Ali remained. Beyond Damascus, the miles of desert absorbed their deeds.

He sat, absorbed in his thoughts, not really reading his book. High above, he heard a hawk's cry. He dipped his cupped hand in the water and held it up in the light. Liquid slipped through his fingers, and the sun shone down.

He got up. He left his children's book behind for the fountain to read and went to see what Allah had written of him.