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April 2016, vol 12 no 1

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Isabella David McCaffrey

Nomads in Zerzura


Almost until flat, rosy dawn rises over the desert, we exchange steaming chafing dishes, bus dirty plates. Backpackers in catering-black, picking up quick cash, waiting on richer tourists for a night. What did we Swedes and Brits, Aussies and Americans know of the tawny ksar and the sirocco, the fig trees full of bitter milk and the oases like emeralds buried in the treasure map of the Sahara? Luckily, no one cops to the ruse; we’re all too busy even to speak our pidgin tongues, scrambling for a few shekels. After dessert, a handful of us slip away with some of the soldiers protecting the guests, palming little dishes of olives and honey, unleavened bread flavored with aniseed, hummus, and a radio.

Scramble over one golden dune and the lit-up farce is erased, swallowed by the universal tunes of the Steve Miller Band and a huge starry night. Someone pilfers an elaborate hookah and an ounce of apple tobacco wrapped in a bit of paper. We smoke, and a boy-soldier I’ll never see again slips his callused paw in mine, whispers a line, “I will never forget your smile.”

blood moon your face behind my eyelids


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