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Sudha madhuri dash is a published author of many novels. Along with photography she loves horse riding and practices odissi dance.

The early nereids


Man drove them to the sea

I was young then and inexperienced, eager to make a mark for myself in the world of archaeology. I knew the competition to excel and make a mark for myself was difficult until and unless I discovered something new and exciting that would draw the world’s attention. My name is Jade Bowers and I come from a family that lives, breathes and dream of fossils, digs and discoveries. My father Ronald Bowers, though not as renowned as Stephen Hawkins, could hold his ground among the others. My mother-I know not of her, as she had left after I was born...why? I know not. My father is still very much madly in love with her. His face lights up like a thousand glowing bulbs whenever he speaks of her. Wish my father had named me after her...Rose that is what he called her...just Rose. The old faded photo did little justice to his description of her.

I have come a long way from the cold sea coast of Vancouver, where I live and work. I hope it was going to be worth it...all this for an old diary that I had found in the attic of Aunt Maggie’s house. Her death had been sudden. Aunt Maggie had always kept to herself; I was surprised to read her will in which she had left her musty old house to me. My father’s behaviour had changed when I had shown him the diary.

At the airport, “Jade your mother loved to scribble.”

“She often accompanied me to the digs...she had a good imagination.” I had never heard him speak thus before.

I hate planes and the twelve hours had been excruciatingly painful for me. My hotel had not been comfortable either. I was thankful to leave on this trip-my guide Crazy Habib was driving while I went through my notes. The hand drawn map in the diary, though faded, was quite accurate and we were heading deep into the Egyptian desert; infact Crazy Habib had looked extremely surprised when I had shown him the map and pointed out to where I wanted to go.

“From where did you get that?”

“Must be from some musty old library, eh! That river marked in the map, existed during the reign of the pharaohs.” I gave no reply, the less he knew the better.

“That place will cost you more,” he said.

Greedy bastard...but I had no choice here.

He was the only guide who had agreed to go on this trip. The last three days I had received many strange reactions from the other local guides and drivers. Such as ‘Go to Crazy Habib- he might agree to take you there’, one them had said. Finding Crazy Habib had been very easy; the man was a lunatic. The big sound boxes, fixed onto the roof of the Jonga belted out Elvis Presley numbers. Strange...was my journey in the vast desert that was unfolding itself in the most unforgiving ways. Elvis Presley’s husky voice belting out sexy numbers did little to numb the merciless glare of the afternoon sun. Crazy Habib in his white sequin- studded jacket seemed the least affected by the soaring temperatures, while I felt as if I was on fire.

“Blondes feel the heat more, than the brunettes of our country.” I could feel his eyes straying to my breasts that were now more evident under the sweat-laden cotton tee. He was staring at me, and smiling at my discomfort. The setting sun brought in a leg cramping cold.

“I am not sharing a tent with you,” I glared.

“I hardly sleep, you will be safer.”

“Really?” I looked at him with one eyebrow raised like a bow.

“From what?” I now glared back.

I spooned into my can of peas, which would have tasted better if heated. “It is freezing.”

“I can warm you up.” I gave no reply to that as I watched him stroll away into the even darkness. I stank like a skunk and with no water to wash with, used wipes. The minty wipes meant to cool during the heat of the day made me shiver; my bottoms felt frozen. I shivered in my sleeping bag. The flimsy cover of the tent hardly kept out the cold. Suddenly, it was warm and I snuggled was good to dream-the sun-kissed lawns...warm fireplaces. I slept, basking in the warmth. I snuggled into the crook of a warm arm. Crazy Habib smiled, he was enjoying this task.

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“You slept well, you do not snore,” Crazy Habib again had that stupid grin on his face. I hated the man and even more so now. He was looking at me, while I lay sprawled, out on his chest.

“Really was I purring?”

“Most of my women snore.”

“And how many is that?” My voice had a silky smooth tone to it. He just laughed shaking his head. In the cover of the fading night, we had moved away. The sun was just but a faint glow in the distant horizon and I could see anxiety writ all over his face. His eyes kept darting at the rear-view mirror.

“Not playing your songs today?” Sarcasm dripped like honey from my tongue.

“We are being followed.”

I turned and looked-a vast emptiness lay behind us. He stopped but once; kneeling, he touched the sand and the closing his eyes, he seemed to be listening. I could see nothing, nor hear anything.

“Will you stop for a second?” I could no longer hold it any more.

“You want to pee or...” the man was incorrigible. The sand was the same everywhere; Crazy Habib drove on glancing at the compass that was stuck to the dashboard. We stopped not, until he reached a small patch of thorny scrub.

“Are we still being followed?”

“There are eyes everywhere,” he said no more. I watched him set up camp.

“Just peas...cold peas.”

“You are still alive to eat them.”

The night was clear, so clear that I had seen nothing like it. The deep ash-grey sky was studded with diamond-tipped stars...sleep was difficult to come by. Crazy Habib had asked me to sleep fully dressed. My army boots were not a very comfortable fit at that moment.

“Quick! They are here!” the bastard had odd timings, just as I was thinking of taking a pee.

“Who? What?”

About six men dressed in flowing robes stood next to their camels. One them said something to Crazy Habib...I understood not a word.

“They want to see the diary.”

“How do they know about it?”

“You told them”, I could have killed Crazy Habib.

“They will kill you and then flay my it to them.”

The tall man, who was extremely willowy in built, prised it off from my reluctant fingers.

Minutes seemed like hours. They checked and rechecked. Then one of them lit a flint...

“Please no!” I cried. At that moment, I could have fought off the devil himself for this precious memory of hers. One of them drew out his pistol and pointed it straight at me, as I lunged at the man with the lighted flint. I struggled to free myself from Crazy Habib.

“Calm down,” he whispered into my ears.

The man held the lighted flint close to the cover of the diary...the whole surface of the diary lit up like a glowing orb.

“Please do not burn it...I will kill you, sons of bastards,” I heard myself scream repeatedly. Crazy Habib’s arms were like steel bands around my waist, not letting go even for a second. The tall willowy man came very close...I knew he would kill me. His eyes glowed in the dark. Crazy Habib’s arms relaxed and I lunged. The man was quick and avoided my punch. I was wild with rage and the anger that was boiling up within me was like a forest fire.

“Stop it! Will you?” Crazy Habib shouted into my face, I could feel a spray of spit wet my face.

“Just look, will you?”

The tall willowy man again held a glowing splint close to the cover of the diary...the surface lit up and I could see a reticulate mesh of lines and dots...

“This is a map,” Crazy Habib said.

“Map to what?”

I found myself seated behind Crazy Habib. I had never ridden a cycle, let alone a camel. The perch was precarious and even with the best of my efforts I kept sliding forwards.

“Hold onto me, you will not fall.”

I tried pushing myself away but the camel had picked up a fast tread. Grinding my teeth, I held on. Without his sequined jacket the cotton of his shirt was crisp and he smelt good...very manly. I felt a bit queer as I clung onto the wide expanse of his chest. I shifted my hands thinking it would be a bit more proper but encircling his narrow waist was a mistake for he immediately responded by leaning onto me. I felt myself growing ears seemed to be buzzing; I had never felt like this least not with a wild man of the desert.

“I like clingy women,” he turned around and whispered.

“I dislike men like you...with braids,” I threw back.

“I can always cut them...anything for you,” he smiled. At that moment, the men stopped a while and then we moved on. I was offered water and sweet dates. Their behaviour had changed to courteous and calm.

“What is this all about?”

“You know them?”

“Why do they not want to kill you anymore?”

“Who are these people?”

“So many questions?” Crazy Habib was all smiles. I hated his golden teeth.

“I am as clueless as you,” he said.

“Oh! Really?” I very much doubted the bastard. Liar.

The men in their billowing dark robes were as silent as the night. The desert would have been beautiful... alluring even, but for my companions. They knew where to go and the camels picked up speed...having never ridden one, the swaying motion was really getting at me and I clung on to Crazy Habib. The farts of the camels were all that shattered the stillness of the night.

“We have reached,” Crazy Habib said.

“Reached where?” I could see nothing that would have pointed out to some kind of a cave or even a rock of any consequential shape.

I clutched the diary to my chest, glad to have it back. The men left as swiftly and silently as they had come.

“An hour’s walk from your water, the midday sun can kill.”

Crazy Habib moved swiftly. Burdened by my heavy backpack I struggled to keep up. The desert rolled on, how Habib knew which way to go? I absolutely had no idea. Suddenly the wall of sand fell sharply, giving way to a huge wasteland of night-black granite rocks and scrub jungle. Walking was difficult as there was no way between the sharp-tipped thorns and the huge boulders, often the size of a mini bus. The mid-day sun was now boiling upon our heads. Crazy Habib would stop as if looking for signs and landmarks and then we would move on, until...

The loud sound of water gurgling was unmistakable. The sun must be buzzing in my ears when Crazy Habib moved swiftly towards an oblongshaped obelix that stood a sentinel...

“This is hand-carved,” I said.

Crazy Habib pushed against the rock...the pushing thing he tried for sometime then panting, he turned towards me, “I fear we are lost...this is the land of death.”

“Keep pushing, will you?” I gasped. My mouth felt like sandpaper. The gurgling sound of underground water was making it worse.

“Do something,” I whispered.

“Show me your diary.”

“This flint thing will not work during the day,” I suppose that is what he said.

“I have just one left, let’s wait for night fall.”

“We need to find some shade,” I said.

“Your milky white skin is wilting under our sun,” even at that miserable moment the man could still smile and crack jokes. Asshole, I thought. I followed him as he found a way through the impenetrable jungle of rocks...

“There! Let’s take a break here.” The mouth of the cave was dark.

“I am not going in there,” I said.

“This land is as barren as a bald woman’s head...I have not seen even a single lizard...have you?” There again, went that stupid grin.

My saying “Why not bald men, aren’t you bald?” wiped off the grin from his face.

The cave smelt musty and as we sat there wispy pieces of fine white thread floated past. In the light of my torch, I could see the cave was wide and headed down deep into the ground.

“Shall we?” Crazy Habib looked at me but once before moving on.

Cave paintings...the earliest ever hand drawn


Learning to hunt


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 sudha madhuri dash

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