As I look down between my dangling feet, between the dusty suede of my boots, I can see the courtyard twelve floors below, still cloaked in the darkness of a hot desert night. The inky black and morbid brown draws my attention and I stare for long minutes as my imagination wanders, twisting the ever graying shadows as they begin to merge with the sickly yellow of the street lights like dirty high flying clouds on a windy day. The acrid smoke of a neglected cigarette, dangling from the corner of my lip jerks me from my reverie and I blink once, twice, but not a third time. With a quick and sucking breath the cherry tip of my camel brand habit stick glows a hypnotizing red. For a brief moment I wonder why the same smoke that burned my eyes, would feel so satisfying as it was pulled into my lungs. My attention to the curiosity is fleeting though. My mind, tortured by long hours of wakefulness and dullard activity, operates in an illusory state of acuteness that can’t be maintained for very long.
It really doesn’t seem worth contemplating by the next time I take a deep lung full of the Turkish and Domestic Blend. I’ve just come from a 24 hour guard rotation and after guard change, equipment sign over, a truck ride back to Eskon Village and a lengthy de-briefing it’s been closer to thirty hours since my day began. In that strange, nearly lucid place between exhausted and false alertness I found I could not sleep. I felt like a mothen Icarus, drawn to the fire of slumber that I couldn’t reach. My roommate, whom I thought safely embraced by the warm wings of rest that so maddeningly eluded myself, became irritatingly awake when I attempted to light my cig in bed. His emasculated nagging concerning a recreation he loathed and I so clearly needed to capture solace drove me from my bed in search of peace and quiet. It was nearly dawn I reckoned, and climbing to the roof of our Bedouin abandoned tower to watch the sun stalk the moon seemed like the perfect compliment to my etude of vice.
The roof door had been locked and barred my way for only a brief minute as I popped open the fire escape window and ascended the building’s exterior facade with the bravery that so often accompanies drunks and addicts when they don’t stop to think of the consequences of their actions. It hadn’t occurred to me for several minutes that I had traveled all this way to involve myself in a war, only to risk my life needlessly to watch the bloody fingers of dawn dig furrows into the flat Saudi horizon dragging the husk of daylight into the sky. Nothing had happened though. I had not fallen. I had not slipped.
It seemed like no great matter then to accept the honor post of greatest vantage upon the roof, and I dangled my feet over the building’s courtyard and perched upon the edge. A dry rattle from the mostly crushed cardboard box reminded me that I only had three or four camels left, which was disappointing for several reasons. I would need to save one to bolster my failing courage for the descent from my perch, additionally; this was my last pack of camels. After I smoked my false courage I would have to resort to lesser brands until I could wrangle a bus ride into Riyadh for more cartons of legal suicide.
I shook the box near my ear again and it briefly reminded me of shaman, dancing and dashing his rattle against his thigh, calling upon his gods to provide rain, or buffalo, or that really hot squaw that belonged to someone else. The image was fleeting though and the rattle held treasures I needed. There were only two left now and the day, perhaps hearing my need to hurry along this solitary moment of natural beauty, began the fireworks show at the precise moment I lit up.
Sunrises are beautiful to behold, but they grace the skies of dirty lands with a lustful display that seems like natures gambit to amend the scars of man and lend wistful beauty to otherwise loathsome nations. While the vistas of remote and unsullied wild lands are indeed a pleasure to witness, their skies are free of the grimy particulates that aid in refraction and make the termination displays of Sol so orange and vivid. Saudi Arabia is a filthy stink hole, a far cry from the jewel of Arabia that it claims to have been, once, so long ago. There is little in the way of environmental control or responsibility and so the sunrise that peeked from beneath the flat desert so far away was of a splendor I had rarely seen before, or since. I had been facing the exact launch point the sun chose that day, so as I struck my disposable bic behind my cupped hand; it seemed that the pale morning sky had blazed to fiery life on my command, perched ridiculously on the cancer shaft stuck to the dry skin of my wind parched lips.
I was dumb struck with what my bic had wrought across the canvas of the stratosphere and it took several minutes of blinking to remove the negative image of Ra’s gaze from the under side of my gritty eyelids. That something could be so ravishingly, simply… pretty… in such a festering wound of a city; it spoke to me, made me think. Not the kind of haphazard thinking I had been doing in my zombie daze of restlessness, but rather the kind of thinking that produced honest and tempered results.
It wasn’t long before the sun had risen far enough along Phaeton’s path to make me uncomfortably warm. I stood and shook the mangled box again, listening to the faint sound within. One camel left, my courage camel. Closing the box, I set it down on the ledge I had previously occupied, and left it, along with its tempting contents to sit where I sat and watch as many sunrises as it could before the dry desert wind found some other occupation for it.
My ascent had been without thought for my safety, or indeed, a return. There seemed no safe path for descent to the black fire escape below, so I jumped. My cavalier attitude of personal consequences had evaporated before the blistering epiphany of the dawn. It was replaced with an intoxicating awareness of my fragile mortality that was far superior, and my heart raced with the potential of my necessary actions.
One wild, hyper aware second of wind rushing in my ears and stinging my eyes more than the soothing smoke of my now forgotten cigarette, and then it was over. I impacted the steel grating and was presented with the groaning screech of tortured steel and chalky stone. I thought that perhaps the old metal would not bear the brunt of my hasty descent, but it refused to budge, although it complained noisily enough to startle my new sense of lucidity. And yet, I had none of the fear and stomach twisting nausea that is normally associated with risk of life and limb. I was now somewhere between the thoughtless and the thoughtful, aware of the consequences, but not afraid to accept the responsibility of my actions.
That seemed like a good thing, and dusting off my pants, I returned to my bed and I slept.