Prisoner


“I want to go back to Wadi Musa with you,” I said to the bus driver.

He turned and looked at me. Looked me up and down appraising me like I was a camel for sale. Then he turned back to the group of men and continued speaking Arabic. I heard one of them mention the name of the tour guide who had brought me there and then deserted me to the care of his little brother. The bus driver and other Bedouin men slurped sickly sweet mint green tea and laughed.

I stood by his side waiting for a response. He pretended I wasn’t there.

“Excuse me,” I said, “I want to go back with you.”

He turned, looked at me through lowered lids, and then turned away.

“Hello,” I said. “Will you please answer me?”

He completely ignored me as if I didn’t exist. After all, I was a woman, a fifty-year-old woman brought there by another Bedouin tour guide. I was the property of that tour guide. I was to all extents a prisoner in a Bedouin camp in the middle of the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan and I was tired of waiting. Tired of feeling at the mercy of someone whose agenda was a complete mystery to me.

His little brother came over to me apologetically.

“You want tea?”

“No,” I said. I had had my fill of tooth-achingly sweet tea.

“Rebbi is coming soon,” Aman said.

“Really?”

Rebbi had disappeared while I was climbing the rocks for a 360 degree view of Lawrence of Arabia’s favored desert spot. When I had clambered down, only his little brother remained resting in the dark goat’s hair tent owned by Sheik Abdullah.

“Rebbi go help other brother get out of ditch. He be back in 2 hours,” his little brother, Aman said.

Two hours passed, but no sign of Rebbi.

I walked along a path edged into the side of the cliff above the desert floor. In the distance two men riding camels appeared. Their heads, covered in traditional red and white-checkered Jordanian keffiyahs, bobbed up and down as they galloped rapidly toward the camp. They spotted me, pulled on the reins, and yanked the camels to a halt just below me. Throaty Arabic beckoned me. One patted the space in front of him on the camel and reached out a hand.

Dare I jump from the frying pan into the desert fire?

Just then Aman appeared beside me, uttering the formal “Salem Aleikem.”

They exchanged words and the two camel riders galloped off into the desert, plumes of tawny sand shooting out from behind them.

“You want, I take you see sunset,” the little brother said.

I nodded and he took my hand and led me to a place where we lay on a sand hill and watched the world turn crimson.

Rebbi didn’t show up that night, but the mosquitoes did. The Khasim winds blew in full force from the South. The tent shook like a belly dancer and mosquitoes swarmed in through the flapping tent door like a horde of blood-starved vampires.

By morning the fierce winds of the night had finally settled down but the air was still cloaked in a strange pinkish orange haze. Sand covered everything. It had seeped into my nose and ears. Every crevice of my body oozed tawny sand.
My inflamed mosquito bites itched.

I was an independent American woman unused to being at the mercy of men, a woman who made my own choices, acted on them, and lived at my whims. For the first time in a long time, I was boxed into a corner that held no options. I wanted out.

The bus driver walked out of the goat-hair tent. I followed him. He walked to his bus. I walked behind. Aman walked behind me. He would see to it that I wasn’t given a lift out of this place that used to be my favorite place on the planet.

In the afternoon, another of Rebbi’s brothers showed up in a jeep and took us through the spinning pink sand out to the highway where Rebbi waited in his 4x4 to take me back to Petra.

My romantic fling with a Bedouin had turned as parched as the landscape.



D Caldwell

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