This Could Be It

We’d been warned about scorpions. That they’re everywhere in the desert. That they’re attracted to your body heat during the cold nights. That they hide in dark places so you should remember to shake out your boots before you put them on in the morning. Blah. Blah. Blah.
Flash forward a couple of months. My husband John and I are in the middle of the Sahara. Camping every night. As it turns out, crossing the Sahara is amazing and boring at the same time. Our Land Rover travels so slowly that the changes in scenery occur imperceptibly. The boredom is somewhat alleviated by the low level but constant worry about getting lost, getting sick, getting stuck, running out of petrol, running out of water.
There are lots of places to begin your drive through the desert. The Sahara is criss-crossed with routes that are nothing more than a line of tire tracks heading confidently into the distance. Four weeks ago, we picked one. But first we “registered” at the police station in some town in Algeria. The theory is that if you don’t reappear on the other side of the desert in, say, seven weeks, someone will come looking for you. If you saw the guy at the police station, if you saw the police station, if you saw the town, you understood immediately. No one was coming. We were on our own.
We find that the desert sun is strong but bearable if you cover up with long sleeves and pants and a serious sunhat. The real enemy, the thing that can wear you down until you are ready to weep, is the sand. Really, it’s more like dust, ground down through the centuries into fine particles of dirt and misery.
But then, in the midst of feeling sorry for yourself, you’ll come across an oasis of cool water with gardens laid out neatly under rustling palms. Or you’ll stick your head out the window of the Rover, do a quick 360 lookout and spot a salt caravan, maybe sixty camels in a line, undulating across low hills in the middle distance. Silent. Timeless. And for a little while you can ignore your sand irritated eyes and the grit between your molars.
The nights are reliably spectacular. The stars splash in extravagant sweeps across the inky sky as if they were thrown from a bucket amid a silence so dense it is like being wrapped in a dark blanket. And so I pretty much forget about the scorpions.
Until the morning I am sitting on the edge of my sleeping bag, putting on my boots. I stretch out my leg and put my heel on the floor of the tent so I can slide the boot onto my foot. And suddenly a sharp pain stabs my heel. Really sharp. I think I’ve been bitten by a snake. I yell. I scream. I carry on. John, already up and puttering around outside the tent, comes running. It’s soon clear to both of us that whatever has bitten me is not in the tent but under it.
John pulls up the stake that anchors one of the corners and flips up the tent floor.
“It’s a scorpion!” he yells. “Running around with its tail up in the air. You little bastard.” He stabs at it repeatedly with the pointed end of the tent stake while I lay back on my sleeping bag in the rapidly overheating tent and prepare to meet my Maker.
I don’t know exactly what the symptoms of death by scorpion might be, but I figure they include things like heart palpitations, shortness of breath, blurred vision, numbness of the extremities. Blah. Blah. Blah. And so I lay there and wait to find out if I will soon be dead.

The End

C Griffin

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