Life is like playing a violin in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.
A woman in the distance, approaching. She wades carefree through the desert sand. She looks back towards the sun. She is barefoot, her sandals clutched by the heels, dangling in one hand. Her other hand holds the hem of her white cotton robe. Each step trails a fine stream of sand, caught in the hot wind and blown towards the Nile. The sun backlights her figure through the cotton, catches a glint of silver and ebony on her bracelet...
A camel appears from nowhere, blocking the view. Everything swirls into the art on a package of cigarettes.
A boy lies on his bedroom floor. He is twelve, perhaps thirteen years old. He is drawing, with painstakingly accuracy, the art from a pack of Camels. The arabesque curves of the serifs on the A. The ellipsed E. Three palm trees, two pyramids, one camel with its skinny legs. The pyramids tucked under the camel's sagging belly. The boy is careful, coloring the camel's visible eye a brilliant blue.
The camel turns his head and grins.
Why so sad, Master Zephyr?
The boy frowns.
Death? Yes yes, death hovers nears us all. And it is sad that it makes us sad. But I know a story.
There once was a camel whose days begin in the shade of a palm on a nameless wadi, somewhere to the east of here. In the Sunai.
By the age of ten, the camel is a veteran of the trading routes from Alexandria to Tripoli. At twenty he walks to rich Aswan run, kneeling politely as nervous Japanese women climb aboard to have their pictures taken. At thirty he is done working, his knees worn thin. At forty, his days as a camel come to a peaceful end. Eyeing younger things in the Birqash market.
He is gutted and skinned. For seven days he feeds his owner, his owner's family, his owner's cousins, his owner's neighbors. His hide is sold for a good and fair price in the bazaar, to a maker of furniture who knows a good many buttocks would sit on such a fine and worthy leather.
Was there anything before his days as a camel you ask? Yes yes, Master Zephyr. The camel was a man. As you will be. Successful, well fed, loved by a clever and honest and beautiful woman. Happy they lived. Simply as husband and wife. Without extravagance, just off the high road between Suez and Aqaba.
The man misses his wife everyday. Even now, as a camel in your drawing, as a comfortable chair under a large rump. But he sees her every day. He watches her sleep.
Why, you ask? There is no why, Master Zephyr. It is just as story. Life goes on. Death goes on. Love goes on. It is all simple as that.
Years from now, even you will return. Perhaps as the ochre that colors an artist's brush. Or a kindly stray cat in a small park in London. And you will love the birds you chase.
And then the camel winked, and disappeared in a puff of sand.
* An excerpt from one of my most cherished books, The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson that I thought was best to share.
That's all for now, ciao.