Notebook One continued….
Between stone and sand
Alert to the immediate threat to his family, Karim turned his back on the field where his flock lay, still and bloodied. Desperate to find his wife, son and infant child, he rushed to find a place to run to. He remembered the ruins of an Ottoman fort, not far from the oasis. It was a ruin now, and served no purpose other than shelter. He had often driven his flock over its gravel rubble to graze on the few patches of grass that grew there. At times, he had lain prone in its stony skeleton to shelter from the wind. His sheep would find comfort huddled together and pressed close to the ground. Other times, he had crouched up against a wall to hide from the sun, and felt the hardness of stone against his back, its unforgiving nature so unlike the fluid talc of sand that slipped through his fingers and could form a soft mattress. At times of bad weather, with desert floor on the move and the gibli blowing grit and dust, he had stayed the whole night with his flock. Once, he had sheltered there under a cloud of locusts that had darkened the sky. Their flight had taken hours to pass over.
At the fort, they discovered they were not alone in their distress. Many others had found the place before them. They too were dispossessed of land and everything they owned. They were startled and confused. Though made destitute, they were not yet aware of their changed status; not ready to understand that they were now subject to the yoke of a new colonial power, whose coming had long been rumoured though never imagined – never imagined because which of them could have envisaged the scene they were now part of, their land trampled by an army of mechanical beasts and armed men whose language was strange and whose origins they could not guess at. They had been thrown together in disarray and found themeselves in the ruins of a place long-time passed and thought of only as a timely reminder of man’s witless arrogance.
The infant Amna cried as other infants did. Their small bodies were resonating with the distress of the trauma, so many mothers rocking their children to sleep hoping to counter fear with their fortitude, and yet weeping. Karim was appalled by the wailing, Amna’s cries multiplied so many times over in the enclosed space of the bounds of walls that bounced the wailing back. He had never before sensed human frailty so piercingly real. Not even in the worst of storms. The elderly were either lost in stony silence or they were cursing. They sat unconsoled and unconsolable. They sat in the dark, huddled like sheep. The cries, the soothing, the weeping, the anger – all dissonant emotions too absurd in their mix to make sense of, except as a mangled nexus of fear of the unknown. Karim felt the hurt so deeply entrenched in his own flesh and bone that he knew he would never forget the violence and injury of it.
It took some little time for the tribes to accept what had happened to them. But not to come to terms with it. That did not seem possible. It took more time to know that in and of itself the devastation was a sign of their reduced status as a subjugated people. They trusted that this could only be temporary, that Allah in his mercy would return them to their true destiny as a people free to roam.
Karim, and others like him, had been alarmed by the spectacle of their grim demise so quickly wrought on them, their traditions so easily blown apart, seemingly fragile like a fabric uncouthly ripped from the face of a bride. And then to have been deflowered of their will to go free with such gratuitous and imponderable violence was unthinkable. He had expected a swift reaction. After all, in the face of an external threat, it was custom for the tribes and clans to come together, even to put aside any feuds outstanding between them.
Perhaps their reaction was muted now because there was fear of the possible greater calamity of mass starvation. More obviously, any kind of resistance was stalled by the lack of arms.And so the tribes had seemed to fall apart, despite their craving for the return of their animals and land, for what they considered to be inviolate to them and impossible to be separate or separated from. They were like moss is to the rock, the lizard to sand or the eagle to the sky.
Karim was the first to speak out, arguing they should seek an indemnity against further atrocity. He dared not speak of other fears, fears for their own slaughter, or the theft of their women and children. This was understood like a shiver down the spine. He was angry beyond constraining anger. He could not bear the thought that he would never again find a place for his wife and child, or a tract of land he might call his own. Shepherding had been his only trade. It had been his diligence and pride that had increased his flock, and won him the reward that was his bride. His voice rang out in the wrangling of argument, raw and shrill, though his nature before had always been measured and gentle.
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