The old man sat by the Road contemplating its surface, not unlike the packed gravel plains in the desert, only this was a light grey colour that he could not remember seeing in the desert. Of course it looked solid, substantial, it had a slight camber ....quite pleasing.
He had been taking some camels from Ait Herbil to Fam El Hisn for grazing and had literally stumbled on the Road...he had heard about it of course, but it still came as quite a surprise...he had never seen anything quite so out of place......He pondered for a while. Not long ago you could not walk more than an hour in this desert without coming across a herd of camel, and when it rained the sand turned green with tall grass. Yes, he thought, those were the days.....quite strange, foreigners putting a grey line from one horizon to another....He should not have been surprised, he had been watching its approach for some time. But as it thundered past, the huge truck scared his camels....terrified they scattered in all directions....No problem, they would of course come back...they always did.
This was nearly fifteen years ago and it had been not long after that that things started to go really wrong for his family. The desert died, no water, no food for the camels. He had to watch them die. It was when his favourite riding camel died that he thought about moving to live by the Road.... Live by a Road, what a strange thing to do, after all what is a Road. There was some foreigners, food being given to the people on the Road......not that he liked the idea of living off foreigners food. Still he had not felt quite right about living by the Road in the first place.....Why Not.
Before the Road everything went from north to south, the way of the wells...So why had the foreigners changed all that by putting their Road east to west. But his sons said it was all right and not to be so old fashioned, so it must be OK. The milk, powdered, and the grain the foreigners trucks brought was fine and the silly things like batteries and radios were nice to have. But ohm he did miss the desert now and again he would take himself off for a few days and wonder around, like the good old days. But it was not quite the same without his favourite riding camel. And he so missed the camps, the smell of the herds, the camels rustling in the night, the silence, even the long marches....Yes, he did so much miss the desert. Maybe, he thought I could move back. But my sons would not come. They liked living by the Road. They had good lives by the Road now......
Just then the old man's daughter came out of the house, toward the lean to under which he lay on a raised dais, and passed him a bowl of milk. "Would you like tea now Father", she asked. "No later" he replied, "The sun is not yet down".
Just then a peugeot full of passengers passed by at high speed. The old man watched as it disappeared with the Road. As his daughter turned to go back into the house, he lay back down. "Yes things have changed. So much comes up the Road, but so much does down, never to come back. Yes, things are definitely changing. The Road is strong now".
Yes, the ways of Allah, he quietly thought to himself, can be quite strange sometimes.
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