Drawing Our Realities

The Four unnamed heavily-clad in black desert women

The child grabbed the pencil and notebook and drew with an urgency and agitation that told his spectators the picture had to be recorded down on paper, before it was erased from the mind’s eye…

The desert was calm on that day. Hot and dry, but calm. the sand revealed previous travelers, not long ago, possibly yesterday. Their tracks told of horses, about four in number, but they were weak. There was one on foot. He had big feet, so the child made him a man. Their imprints were light and not well defined. The dark yellow in the crevasse of the imprints contrasted with the stark bright grainy dirty yellow of the sand around it that constituted the dunes of the Sahara and its desert.

As the new travelers walked through the same landscape, they heard the desert’s story of yesterday’s visitors, and told their story about their visit today, and they both melted in the smoke their horses hoofs created with each step in the sand.

The drawing started incorporating a figure dressed in a long black heavy garment. Odd color for the desert, black. But the boy drew on and later he decided it was a Bedouin woman, covered in a black cloth for modesty, yet the cloth was wrapped so tightly around her, you could clearly make out the feminine full curvatures, and the wind teased it in all the possible risqué directions, demanding her to give him back the cloth. She held on to it tighter, and the wind, angrily, blew harder.

But this time the wind told the travelers they shall be attacked soon.

The child found itself having to concentrate the pencil’s direction and drawing to the borders of the women, as he heard a voice out of somewhere that told him the women’s borders should be very well defined. The voice also said that it was up to their male keeper to make sure the women did not get “out of line,” or else he would have to punish them and hurt them in order to save them and put them back in the confines of their well-defined lines. The child could not control his pencil, as the voice made him draw what it spoke, and the child wanted to draw them getting ready and preparing themselves for the attack. But the voice wouldn’t let the child draw anything other than what it wanted.

Then the child started drawing the profile of the male, which it was told it has to be in a step or stairs format, with the bump of the nose down to the mouth constituting a step, and so on with the rest of the face. Only the male had his face turned sideways, checking the perimeters and the horizon for signs of any danger, for he was their protector.

There were hardly any colors, except, as the borders grew more detailed, the child could make out little glimpses of purple and orange, blue and green, red and yellow, all appearing faintly from under the women’s heavy black cloths. Their fabric shone as if silk when the sun caught it at a particular angle and bent. The child also drew what appeared to be bracelets dangling from the suntanned wrists of the women, which was the only flesh you could see, as they had to hold the black cloth around them in place. Their hands had designs on them. They were drawings of beautifully shaped flowers and leaves all along the palms and out to the fingers and back of the hand, finishing at the wrist, encircling them, as if another type of bangles or chains. The child thought it would decide later.

Suddenly, it looked as if all hell broke loose. An army of men attacked the new travelers, and suddenly all the men were fighting this one man, their protector. The keeper was fighting bravely, and it did not take him seconds to pull his dagger from his waist belt and two seconds later the keeper had killed two men. He was very outnumbered however, and due to the panic, little children started coming out from under the women’s garments and ran in all directions wailing and weeping. The women quickly gathered them back again and sent an older teenage girl with them to hide in a cave between two mountains not far from where they were.

The women then turned around but you could still not see their faces, for everything except their eyes was again covered in black cloth attached to their head wrap which covered their hair. Anyhow, that is not what struck the child, but the fact that the women two pulled daggers from their waist belts and started fighting the enemy. They had a different strategy however, for all the men had their backs to them, as one after another lined up to fight their keeper, so the women attacked the enemy from the back.

Stab after bloody stab, they accomplished their mission, except two men were left who had surrendered towards the end, when it became obvious the new travelers could defend themselves. The two men were prisoners now and according to tradition, the winners had to take one live prisoner back to prove their victory and establish a warning to the attackers and a reminder for everyone else who was thinking of attack.

The women started gathering the camels towards them, as they had drifted and waited at the entrance of the cave where the children hid. The children slipped back in the women’s black wrap. They checked their provisions and supplies and gave the camels water.

Now they had to decided which prisoner to take back. The women suggested it should be the weaker one of the two, so he would not give them trouble along the way, and would not take much of their share of provisions and supplies, as they still had another fourteen days of desert travel ahead of them. You could tell that the two men were scared, as if they read their minds. They knew one of them was to die immediately, and the other was going to suffer a long and painful death, back to the tribe’s camp.

It did not take one of the men much time to decide, and he started speaking. He was divulging to this tribe his enemy tribe’s secrets in attack strategies and potential dates. The words were almost falling out of his mouth, which was so dry from thirst, you could see his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth from dryness, and hear the clucking sound as he struggled to pull it back, in order to speak. His breathing was shallow and as he inhaled you could see him sucking in trickles of his sweat which by now had completely wet and covered his face. His clothes were baggy, another galabeya, but as the wind blew, the galabeya cloth stuck to his legs, and you could tell they were drenched in sweat. As he exhaled and spoke, sweat and saliva flew out of his mouth, as he was struggling to control his flow of words and their coherence, in order to buy himself time to try to escape to save his life. His information also revealed that the other prisoner was one of the strongest battle strategists in the army and hence was extremely valuable to the tribe.

As he finished that sentence, they heard a muffled sound coming from the other prisoner who was now on all fours bending down as if looking for something and as if in agony. Only one bright spot of red hit the sand then the prisoner fell on his side gasping for air, his facial features expressing agony. Bloody saliva tricked from the corner of his mouth and as he inhaled again he chocked on his saliva and on his blood and went still from that moment onwards. The child drew him dead but with eyes still wide open as he thought it was more dramatic that way.

So the choice was decided and the other prisoner’s hands were tied and the rope was wrapped around the camel’s neck very tightly and the procession moved on towards their camp. The camel dragging the prisoner was first in line, in defense from other attackers and their keeper was last in line, in defense from other attackers from that direction. Only the sides were unprotected and the four women alternated the opposite sides of the camels they were dragging so that in the line, the first and the third were on the left and the second and the last were to the right. Things worked that way in their tribe.

Up in the distance, they noticed a valley bordered by two very rocky and very high mountains. The valley’s shade attracted them to hide for the last few hours of the sun’s rays and at night its groove would protect them from the angry wind slaps.

As they approached the entrance of the valley, they noticed a wooden object lying still on the side of the mountain. It grew clearer in shape as an old scratched and split in half wooden travel box as they advanced towards it.

When they got to it they saw it was open and out of it lay a number of silk cloths in the brightest colors of blue, green, red, purple, yellow and orange. On the side of the wooden box as well was a number of beaded necklaces, earrings and bangles — or chains, for the child had not yet decided — in matching color to the cloth lying there.

The women’s keeper grabbed the box and opened it wide using one side of it as a table on which to spread the cloth and accompanying jewelry out for exhibit to the women.

They in turn grabbed at the cloth and each woman picked out her favorite color with its matching jewelry, but they were only momentarily satisfied for as each woman eyes the other’s cloth and jewelry she desired to own it for herself and use it to wrap around her and flaunt it to her neighbors and others in the tribe. The desire was so fierce they started bargaining with one another. There were some who wanted the cloth but not the matching jewelry, so they swapped cloth only for another piece of cloth or matching ornament until more or less their desires were temporarily satiated.

During the next fourteen days the women swapped and swapped again cloth and jewelry and their keeper encouraged them to continue as he liked the way certain colors reflected off of their skin and onto the sand. The women swapped until eventually each one ended up with her first choice in cloth and jewelry.

On the fourteenth day, the sun was exceptionally bright and the wind was very dry. Unfortunately they had forgotten about their prisoner and woke up in the morning to find him dead. It didn’t worry them though for his dead body was evidence enough. Things worked that way in their tribe.

They were about a day away from camp and their keeper thought the weather would probably add another day to their journey and became assured of that as the sand grew softer beneath their footsteps and they sank deeper with each step.

As soon as they treaded stronger sand they set up camp for the night, planning to reach their tribe’s camp in fourteen days. They were exhausted from the day’s travelling and hungry so they ate in a hurry and slept almost immediately for dawn was only a few hours away.

The women rose first as usual and prepared the morning meal. Once finished they repacked everything and took out their cloths to wear them in preparation for their parade of victory into the tribe’s camp as well as to display their added wealth which was found right in the middle of the desert in a valley between two very rocky and very tall mountains, jumping out of an old, scratched and split in half wooden travel box.

But then they saw the cloths. It became even more obvious the brighter the sun got as they walked.

The colors were…gone.

They were not completely gone, but there were no more colors on the cloth, or the jewelry. Instead, they were a pinky fleshy color, or no color, for they had never seen that color before, except on their skin. And now their skin had absorbed the color of the cloth of each woman’s choice, all around their arms, forearms, chest, back, neck and face. Even the designs on their hands were now set in lovely hues of blue, green, red and yellow. Their keeper had taken the orange and purple ones to present as gifts to their tribe’s leader’s wife and daughter. None of the women were interested in the purple and orange anyway as they were close to their skin color and they wanted a sharp contrast, something not them.

This is where the child knew it had to decide whether the cloth and jewelry were chains or not.

Chains that would bind them to each other, away from each other, and from themselves and others.

Cloth that could draw them towards each other, knit them closer together, closer to themselves and each other.

The child decided it would leave them as cloth but give them the power of chains.

Soon the travelers arrived at their camp, excited by the welcome they received for seven years travel was a very long time in their tribe. As soon as the people gathered to welcome them and offer food and water, a voice called out the women’s discoloration, and as their keeper recounted their story, the gathering exploded into laughter and cries of disbelief.

Except one boy.

This boy was concentrating on a piece of green thread that was hanging in the air. It looked like it got disentangled from the piece of cloth. The boy walked curiously towards it and tentatively touched it. As he saw nothing happened, the boy pulled the thread and kept pulling and started running in order to pull it faster so he would get to the finish to find out what’s inside it. What was it wrapped around? And why so much thread?

The boy ran and ran.

The boy ran for fourteen days and he realized he was lost. He forgot when he had last seen the camp and he counted fourteen sun rises until he arrived at a valley between two very rocky, very tall mountains with an old wooden travel box that was split in half resting on its side against one of the mountains.

To his left, he glimpsed another boy from his camp who was pulling a read thread. To his right was a small girl, limping towards them whilst pulling a yellow thread, and straight ahead was another girl pulling the blue thread.

As they sat down and started to catch their breath one of the girls exclaimed that she was still very frustrated and wanted to find out what was at the end of the thread. The others all mumbled their agreement and the girl proposed the following plan: They would each take their own thread and instead of running they would wrap it and wrap it around their hands until they got to the end!

Without wasting another breath the children wrapped and wrapped until they fell asleep in their places from exhaustion with their hands wrapped in threads.

They were awoken each by a gentle nudge. It was the keeper. He had come out to look for them and he followed their footprints and threads.

“But what about your women?” asked the boy who had pulled the first thread in a very sleepy voice.

“They’re gone. They’ve all disappeared. When you pulled the first thread the rest of the children followed you not noticing that as they pulled the threads my women were spinning and spinning as if the thread were a layer of their skin which you children were peeling off. Layer by layer, my women disintegrated and their beautiful well-defined black borders were erased without a clue of their existence. In the end, all that remained from my women were their bones, which I burnt and buried in the spots where they died and on each woman’s buried ashes I grew their favorite flowers: jasmine, tulips, roses and daffodils and I buried them with their colorless cloth and jewelry.

As I’ve lost everything, I thought it was my duty to come and find you children since I was responsible for this whole event and I was their keeper. But that’s in the past now. Come on, we have to get back to camp to tell your parents and comfort your relatives that you are safe.”

The children got up, dizzy and aching from their cold uncomfortable sleep. It was not until about ten steps did the boy who pulled the first green thread remember to look back at the box in wonder as he remembered the thread was no longer wrapped around his hands or the other children’s’ hands.

He stopped dead in his tracks, speechless at what he saw.

Five steps later, one of the girls noticed he wasn’t following and called out to the keeper who yelled the boy’s name then told the girl to grab his hand and pull him. As soon as the girl walked closer to the boy however, she was also rooted in her place. Soon enough the other two children followed with their keeper patiently walking towards them, thinking this was another one of their games.

But he stopped thinking it was a game when he saw what the children were staring at: the cloths were back in their original green, blue, yellow and red colors and silky shape lying across the open wooden travel box, exactly as the keeper saw them on the first day. The difference however, was that last time he was on the other side of the valley with four women. He is now in the company of four children.

When they got back to the camp no one spoke of what had happened, for years and years, until well after the keeper and three children had died.

The boy who had pulled the first green thread had grown to a very old age and earned his living storytelling for the children who were gathered around eagerly waiting for the stories. The boy told the story of what happened that day, forever careful to emphasize that the women who picked the colors most unlike their original color were the ones who disappeared whilst the tribe’s leader’s wife and daughter were gifted with purple and orange cloths, colors close to their skin colors, and they both kept their cloths and their lives. Things worked that way in their tribe.

The child put down his pencil and looked at his drawings. They were his best ones yet, and the most colorful.