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Desert Idyll

It was during the First World War that the events I am going to relate happened.

I was attached to the eighth division of the Indian Army fighting the Turks in the deserts of Mesopotamia. It was an unhappy day for us. The Turks had surprised us and we were on the retreat. There were miles and miles of desert terrain we had to cross before we could reach safety. The Turks were determined to finish us off and it became a grim struggle for survival for us.

One night we were camping and most of the boys were dozing. Then through the still air of the night came the sound of firing and a bullet hit my right arm. I tried to collect myself and run for my life. We had to get out of the camp as quick as possible. My comrades stood by me binding up my wound which had started bleeding profusely.

I implored them to leave me and get away before the Turks came, but they wouldn’t listen. At last after much persuasion and when it seemed clear that there wasn’t much hope for my survival, they listened to my entreaties and shoved off. Before long I saw through my half closed eyes the Turks marching past in columns in pursuit of my comrades.

When I woke up the desert air was again still and calm. The place was lifeless except for the remnants of our camp strewn around me. I had apparently been the only one to get the bullet.

I gathered enough strength to move and started crawling aimlessly. My arm was still bleeding and it was only a question of hours before I should bleed to death. The sun was hot and I was thirsty, but I continued my bitter struggle for survival goaded on by the hope of finding some one some where who would come to my rescue.

My thoughts went back to my home and my mother, who was so kind and loving who wouldn’t let a fly sit on me. If she only knew my condition, by some divine power she would fly to me and nurse me.

I thought of ‘her’ who almost cried herself to death when we had to part. We were to have been married pretty soon when the war intervened and I joined the Army. She promised that never a day would pass without her praying to her favorite God for my safe return to her.

I had covered quite a distance, despite the fact that my life was ebbing little by little. I still wonder what kept me hoping that I would survive. Then lo! It was there right in front of me.

An oasis green with date palms and other desert foliage. I made a final struggle to reach it and made it before I fell in a faint.

She was standing there right in front of me. A picture of beauty and innocence. I tried to get up but she came to me and insisted that I should not move. She supported my head on her slender arms and fed me with a cupful of coconut juice. I felt greatly relieved but I was still in a bad state. I had an unbearable pain in my right arm which was newly bandaged.

She was fanning me and looking at me with the affection of a mother and the devotion of a wife. I asked her who she was and how it happened that I am under her care. She said that she was the only inhabitant of the oasis, the rest of the population of about two hundred having been completely wiped out by the Turks. She was fortunate enough in hiding from the eyes of the Turks who after looting every thing that came their way had left the little oasis in ruins.

She was sitting on the banks of the little lake the previous evening when she heard the thud of a man falling down. When she rushed to see who it was, she found me unconscious. She took me to her little hut and nursed me. She was not sure of my regaining consciousness but her prayers were answered when I opened my eyes.

It took nearly a month for me to recover completely and all the time she was like an angel attending to even the smallest things I wanted. Needless to say affection between us developed and eventually we found that we were in love. She preferred that we should stay in the oasis for the rest of our lives but I wanted to take her to India.

Then it happened one evening. We spotted a caravan approaching the oasis and I went mad with joy at the prospect of returning home. We prepared a right royal welcome for the visitors. They came, a party of twelve merchants. They were very friendly and promised to take us away from our desert habitation. We were to start early the next morning. So we gathered all our belongings which were very few indeed.

The caravan was on its way next morning and Ayesha (that was her name) and I were perched atop a camel, happy in the thought that before long we should be back to civilization with the prospect of a happy life together ahead.

Then the thing came. A dust storm started and raged for hours. We took shelter under the camel but the storm continued with no sign of subsiding. Apparently the patience of the camel gave out. Anyway all of a sudden our camel got up and ran off helter skelter.

We were exposed to the full, blinding fury of the dust storm. The fierce wind dragged us along, stumbling and blinded and choking. I lost the handclasp with which I was holding my dear Ayesha and once lost I never found her again.

Hours later the storm subsided but there was no sign of Ayesha. The merchants of the caravan helped me but we searched in vain. She had disappeared just as she had appeared before me in that little house of hers in the oasis. She had been swallowed by the desert whose progeny she was.

I should have listened to her when she wished to stay in the oasis for the rest of our lives.

This story is the result of a dream I saw one night which was so overpowering emotionally to me that the next day I wrote it down and sent it down to a prominent English weekly MYSINDIA, Bangalore which published it in its issue dated May 30, 1954
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