Tuesday, October 09, 2012

100TWC - Day 74: Midnight

Even at this hour the air was still warm. Not the blisteringly unbearable heat of the day, and still warmer than the summer days he'd spent at university in England, but a comfortable, blanket-soft, enveloping warmth. A warmth that was tangible on the skin if one was to wave one's hand in the air.

He waved his hand to test the thought. Yes, he was right. A camel grunted from across the oasis. He folded his hand back under his cloak. A wisp of smoke from the dying camp fire curled across his face, bringing the pungent odour of goat's meat and spices mixed in with the dark, dry, powdery smell of the charcoal. He stared into the fire, watching the embers flash and sparkle, the last flames chasing their lost companions across the glowing redness of the remaining wood into the grey ash beneath.

His belly was still full from the meal, still keeping him awake with its grumbling. He didn't mind. This was one of his favourite times, and one of his favourite places. The palm fronds above him cast a black-on-black shadow across the sky, though as a sometime artist he knew the sky wasn't absolutely black. Not the black of his bisht. It was more of an exceedingly deep purple. He stared at it now, through the palms. It was like an enormous soft billowing pincushion. Countless pins had been stuck in the cushion in random patterns and groups which men through the ages had tried to understand or interpret. Or tried to impose on them meanings that they couldn't possibly have. An educated man like himself knew that even stars that appeared to be close neighbours could be separated by huge distances in space and time, the light from one taking millions of years longer to reach his eyes than that from the very next.

Across this blackest of nights, across his poetically imagined pincushion, the great maker had spilled a jug of milk. The pale luminescence of its trail washed from one horizon to the other, a path of light for the gods to tread. There was no distracting moon to dim the beauty of the heavens with its flaring reflected sunlight tonight. All was calm, serene, dark and comforting. As he stared and his eyes completed their adaptation from the fiery glow of the camp fire, more stars and yet more seemed to appear out of nowhere. The canopy was ablaze with pinpoints. So many stars. So much time.

The vastness overwhelmed him. The billions of visible stars in the celestial path of his own galaxy, and the billions more points of light that were really other galaxies, each containing their own billions. On how many planets, circling how many stars, was a man lying on a desert floor staring back at him across the light years and the millennia, wondering if he existed?

A shooting star flashed across the dark above him, its brightness searing a white streak in his dark-adapted eyes. As soon as it appeared it was gone, a fleeting scintilla of conflagration. A beautiful destruction. A chaotic and inevitable death for a random piece of the universe trapped in the Earth's gravity well. Sometimes, he thought ruefully, a scientific education could be a barrier to an artist's appreciation of the world's glamour. Any other tribesman would simply have made a wish, or made the sign of the Hamsa to ward off any evil.

No comments: