1. Ozymandias story

When you're standing in the sand, with the golden sun scratching into your back like the paw of a dog, and the percussive aneurysm of thousands upon thousands of pickaxes hitting the ground, thinking is difficult. One has to move away from everyone else and be silent under the soft linen of a tent to make any progress.

     See, there's this man. He wants to find something. He knows  it's out there – everyone does. The blood of the Pharaohs lurk beneath that yellow carpet, they say.

So we're digging. Digging and digging, waiting for the gods beneath to offer something up.

They all say we're looking for the ark. The man says that this is where it was lost, somewhere south of Hasna and north Nekhel, but what does he know. He's a crazy old man with a lust for fame, and he wants everyone to know his name but no one does cause no one loves him. And I'm stuck in the desert digging like a pig for truffles that just aren't there.

The mountains are confusing me. I think they're staring.  Always varnished with this half hue, between that of a cow or a chestnut- somewhere just between a sharp hot white, and a earthy grey, they silently stare out at us, like children stilled by the sharp rhythm of the desert's heat. The sun makes everything a bit strange when it's always there. It blurs the colour, removes the darkness, drains the world like rice through a  sieve.

I paw at the sand in the tent, and it rolls over my hand like waves, crashing and colliding into the beach of my skin. Everything is coarse – my palms are tough and chapped from all this infernal digging.

The man is always gabbling about results. He grabs me by the scruff of my neck and shouts, shouts, shouts for hours. Why haven't you got any gold yet?! Why hasn't anyone found anything? Why are we all going to die, you stupid mad Egyptian and I don't know what to say, because we haven't got any gold and we haven't found anything except the statue an and we are all going to die. God, I wish the sun would stop shining and we could all relax a bit.

When I leave the tent in a minute I will have to walk in and out of the trenches and ask everyone I see if they have found anything yet and they will all say no we've found nothing Mr Sarkis because the ground is cursed and we'll disturb the Pharaohs and then I'll have to say work men, you'll all get paid when the cash comes in.

It's all a lie. The clever ones like me have noticed. We're never going to find anything cause there's nothing there and the manhe just wants to be remembered like the rest of us. I should tell him about that statue we found. See this one day, a man named Nasser is digging in one of the west trenches. He's swinging his shovel into the dirt and he  hits something. At first, he's surprised. He digs into the soil a little, and he feels this strange circular object made from stone and he tunnels around it , then realizes he's found the head of a statue. He calls out , but the guard hears him, and tells him to shut up and keep digging. But Nasser found something.

The guards are always behind us when we're working. Even at night, they're always close. All are brutes, but some are stupid brutes and others are cruel brutes and some are vindictive brutes but underneath they all are built from the same brutish blocks.

They point their long metal branches at us if we stop digging, even for a drink, and we live in fear . I'm resting now, but in time they'll put me in a trench and shout and kick and everything is just so hot. We haven't had a casualty in weeks. I guess it's cause we're all working very hard to find something and get out of this place and go home, but the guards won't let us. They say it's all our fault.

My eyes are tired from the sun, and the burn on my legs is getting steadily worse. The man would know what to do– he knows everything about everything and can heal all ailments. I remember when a man named Maloof didn't work hard enough he got hit in the back by the guard but the man said that it would all be OK and the man took Maloof to his tent and we heard a lot of screaming and groaning but Maloof managed to get home. At least, that's what the man said.

The guards give us a little food and water if we work well. It's enough to get by, but occasionally people don't dig hard enough in the trenches and they have to go back. The guards take them out into the desert where their lift will come and we all know to look away cause then we hear a big bang and a flash and perhaps even a scream. The man says that that's just the sound that planes make when they take off, but I don't know. The man is hard to trust.

A few days ago, something happened. It was late in the evening, and we were huddled like cows around the dim flicker of a fire. It was intensely cold, and the salty African silence gripped the desert like the skin of a shark. The man said nothing. His eyes searched the distant sand for a solitary breath, but the darkness revealed a great absence of life

Then he spoke.

I've worked it out, he said. They're killing us. One by one, they're picking us off, breaking us down


They want to wipe us all out, he said. That's their purpose. There is nothing in the sand. No ark. We're here to die.

He fell silent. The sky was soft with stars, and not a cloud smudged the dark canopy that hung above our heads. Then the man awoke.

Do you not understand? We're cattle in a slaughterhouse, deer in a cull, men before the gallows! This desert is our abattoir!

The man stood and screamed into the night, his neck tense with veins. Again and again, his voice resounded like the call of a drum through the dense black.

Killers! Killers! Killers! Killers! Killers!

His back was bent double and his head raised like the muzzle of a wolf.

The guards were coming for him. He screamed and yelled, his neck twisted like a wilted weed. As juggernauts, they heaved their metallic bodies across the sand.

You're next! We'll be forgotten! All of us!

They dragged him across the cold sand. . We watched from the trench, and we were all silent. For a second, everything was still. Then they let go of the man, and he knelt, almost praying, his knees sinking into the sand like knives through butter. He didn't protest.

I'll see you at home, he cried. Then they shot him.


The sun echoes through the coarse fabric , and my outstretched hand projects a leopard skin of shadow across the sand. I lie down, and the melisma of my shoulders is caressed by the warm earth. I feel the grains of settled rock knead my skin, and above me the bawl of a bird extends through the thoughtless sky. My eyes close and I am falling away into the soft rhythm of the axes and the comforting hush of the breezeless air . I am lost among the stones and the silence.

I can just remember the shape of a woman, shimmering in the annals of my memory like a ghost . Everything has changed now, and I am almost alone, drifting through these trenches like a phantom. How odd it is to finally find isolation, finally find relief when the grip of death crawls so close.

There is no conclusion to this journey. The man was right. I am here to die. Goodnight, oh desert dark. Goodnight, oh stretching sand.  

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