Bander was always poor. That was simply how being a student was. He had left the little he had in his hometown, located in Yemen, to travel to Damascus through the hot Arabian desert, where he hoped to encounter the great minds that inhabited the vast city and show them his many notes that he had penned laboriously over the course of many years . Then perhaps they’d take him under their wing. The guide Bander had hired offered him a cheap price for which he also brought with him a camel for luggage. This cheap price was the only thing that made this long trip possible. They rested at dawn and travelled at night. Today, though, he had pushed him all the way to mid-day.
“Now hurry up!” the guide blasted. Bander thought it was the heat that caused the guide’s bad mood.
Bander pushed his exhausted hands to work faster. Soon, the work was done and a humble tent stood alone amidst a sea of sand, under a cloudless, arid sky and shining in the hot rays of the midsummer sun. Except it wasn’t alone. On the edge of the horizon, there were more tents – larger tents – a camp.
Of course, Bander did not spot this; his body was aching far too much. He took the handbag containing his notes from the camel and put them next to the sheet of palm tree leaves he slept on. As soon as he lay on the sheet of leaves, he rapidly descended into a deep sleep.
He was walking in an exquisite garden decorated with a rich variety of dazzling flowers. Butterflies of the most vibrant colours flapped their wings from bush to bush to bush, and birds chirped melodically. There were large trees decorated with ripe mangoes and deep turquoise ponds that accommodated large fish. The sky was a deep blue and the air was cool and breezy. The grass was a blanket of emerald green with a fine stone path running through it. He strolled down the path, absorbed in the splendid smell, not too dissimilar to that of musk, that emanated from the garden. Then, he bumped into someone. It was the guide. He gave him a look of sheer disgust and walked away.
Bander stood there for a moment, feeling eerily lighter. Then, he saw a small group of people all huddled around someone. Intrigued, he walked closer and saw that the group of men were walking away, giving their farewells to the person they were huddled around.
As he walked closer to the man, his face lit up. The man was the famous Damascun scholar he had only heard stories of. He had always wanted to meet him and show him his notes. The scholar smiled at him pleasantly, not saying a word. Bander hurriedly looked inside his bag, which he had just realised he was carrying, to search for his notes, but to his horror, he saw nothing. The birds stopped humming; a loud, menacing buzzing sound filled his ears. He reached his hand into the bag but did not find anything. The scholar’s smile turned into an unpromising stare. Bander poked his head in the bag but still saw nothing. His back was drenched in sweat as the breeze disappeared and the sun grew unbearably hot. A slow, agonising dread crept up Bander’s spine as he whirled around in a panic. There stood the guide, like a devil, looking through his notes with a face of loathing.
“It’s just notes. What a waste of time, let’s leave .”
It was the guide’s voice. Panting, he awoke from the nightmare. For a while, he sat on his piece of cloth tangled in the dream, trying to recall it. He was in a garden–yes-there was the scholar – right- and his notes. His notes! The notes had abruptly drawn his focus away from the nightmare. He swiftly turned around to check his handbag, but ,to his horror, the bag was not there. Then it dawned on him. “It’s just notes.”
For a second time Bander was enveloped in a cold dread. He rushed out of his tent but it was too late. He was surrounded by nothing but identical sand dunes. Right then, Bander spotted it. A trail of footprints that ended at a white dot in the horizon. The camp.