Around the bend – Heat, Sand and Irises
The sweat prickled on my forehead as the digital on my wrist blinked to 12:02. My eyes were shaded by the brim of my bush hat and the loathed sun-glasses but it felt like the hat was tightening around my head and the air holes did nothing to help, after all I was squatting in a desert almost two hours out of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia waiting for some wild irises to bloom.
It was spring and there had been a little rain sometime before and I was assured there were fields of these flowers outside the city that would be blooming over the next day or two. They open around 1pm, all at the same time.
My driver couldn’t speak much Arabic but my little book had got us to the place where we left the road and drove across an arid undulating landscape, around scrubby dunes and past small groups of loose camels grazing with their young. I sat in the little city car and prayed the air conditioning didn’t break down.
We found the abandoned fields with their thin scattering of the tiny flowers, as yet still closed, and squatted down to wait. My abaya wasn’t too bad, like a personal black tent, but I must have looked strange with the bush hat pulled on over my veil covered head. Some camels ambled by eyeing us with contempt and suspicion, no less than the herdsman that eventually followed them. The smell was faint, distinctive and not unpleasant to country nostrils … the camels that is.
I went over to the driver crouched in the shade of a boulder. He was a Pilipino. Like many of them working here he lived in a space about the size of his blanket, in a room with several others. He sent his money home. He was paying for his sister to become a dentist. Then she would go to Canada and then get all the family there one by one. I hoped he was right.
He guessed my need and held out my thermos. Sliding it under my niqab I sucked the tube. The water was still cool and faintly lemon. I thanked him and wandered back to my place by a little cluster of irises, where I had set up the camera and an umbrella to shade it. I should have brought one for me.
A couple of Aussies, oil workers I guessed from the little I had heard them say, had set up not far away. Now one came over and cast a large shadow across where I sat. I hoped he would stay there a while!
“I heard you speak, are you English?” he asked.
“Sort of. Transatlantic anyway. How long have you been out here?”
“Too long. Some times I get away, but the money pulls you back.”
I nodded, it was everyone’s story.
“Have you ever regretted it?” My eyes flicked between the flowers and the small 12:32 that seemed stuck.
He seemed to consider the question seriously. “Once. That really was a bugger. You remember what you were doing 20 July 69?”
I was going to deny my ability to remember anything when the date clicked. “The moon landing. Yes, I remember exactly! Why?”
“Me and some mates had got everything arranged even though we were on the job right out in no where with nothing but sand. We were going to see the moon landing. TV, rigged an antenna, beer, even got the fans working. We were right out from the base, none of the normal gear .. but we rigged it, right and tight.”
“So what happened?”
“A bloody appendix happened. Talked to the doc on the radio and he said we had to get Swenson back to base like the devil was after us or he’d be done. We each laid down a coin, the two with the newest would have to take him. I was one.” He kicked at the iron hard ground.
“Well I guess you’ve seen it many times since.” I tried to comfort him. 12:48.
“It isn’t the same.”
Just then the tiny flower nearest me seemed slightly different.
Over the next few minutes, as cameras clicked, the little flowers opened. They expanded in the intense heat, blues and purples with splashes of white and yellow. So tiny, so perfect.
The heat was temporarily forgotten.
Soon they would begin to wither.
“Well, at least I’ll have the pictures.” I said.
“It isn’t the same.” The Aussie began putting his equipment away.
“No, it isn’t.” Then I added, “But I will see them bloom again and again when I look at these pictures. The heat, the smells … it’ll all come back.”