THE camel eyed Tom with a weary fatigue Tom recognised, the same expression Tom had seen in the mirror every morning for the past two months before he quit his job and embarked on this year-long journey to the Sahara and Africa. The camel’s lashes lowered and Tom thought he detected the glimmer of a teardrop in one corner of its large eyes.
Yusof, the guide, nudged Tom forward.
Tom climbed atop the camel and settled on the cushioned seat and sighed at the beauty in front. In the distance, the orange glow of the sky painted the desert a warm hue. Sand dunes outlined the canvass with layered seductive curves, like women sunbathing on their sides in the nude. Sparse tree silhouettes stuck out intermittently, ogling like lonely men. Tom imagined himself to be looking at a landscape painting by Vietnamese artist Phan The Trang, whose stipple painting of brightly coloured orange landscape were amongst his favourites. He took out his phone to snap a few photos, then frowned. The captured images were disappointingly bland, the colours unlike the monotonous rich hues presented in front.
The sun was setting in an hour and he looked forward to experiencing his first sunset in the desert.
Amy had called him a romantic for this reason that he had always loved sunrises and sunsets. Together, they had watched sunrises and sunsets in different continents of the world – either alone by the beach in San Diego, high up freezing cold in Mount Kinabalu in Borneo Island or jostling with other tourists at the holy Fort Sirigiri in Sri Lanka. He smiled at the memories. The most incredible sunrise had been at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, where they sat with other groups of tourists, in rows of makeshift chairs arranged in theatre setting and watched as the sun rose like a superstar behind the temple ruins in brilliant techno-colours, with the action being replayed simultaneously in the still reflection of the moat surrounding the temple. So spectacular was the show that there was a round of applause at the end. Amy had turned to him, shaking her head in awe at the experience. She would have loved watching this too.
Yusof gave the rope attached to the camel’s mouth a hard tug. The camel’s head twisted at the unexpected force. Jerkily, the camel straightened to its front knees, throwing Tom backward, before heaving its heavy bottom up to stand on all four legs. It stumbled forward then backward, the hind legs unsteady with the weight of Tom. Tom swayed and grabbed the metal bar of his saddle, surprised by how he was being thrown off balance, for he had always been confident and steady.