DREAMS OF A WISTFUL NOMAD
By Paul Crask
Nestled on the brow of the grassy hill was a cemetery whose weathered headstones had been ground smooth by both the passage of time and the bluster of the seasonal mistral. Half encircled by a broken picket fence, once whitewashed but now flaking and sun-bleached, the cemetery looked rather like a defective carriage wheel with crooked spokes and a battered rim. In the distance beyond the hill, bright shafts of low autumnal sunlight pierced leafless birch and chestnut trees, extending unchallenged across the sprawling farmlands of the massif. A tractor and harvester were already at work in a far off field, and a lone deux cheveaux drifted silently along a meandering country lane. Golden meadows of corn and barley glistened with a light morning dew as the night frost thawed and the mist withdrew like the breath of a sleeping dragon. Standing within the perimeter of this forgotten burial ground was a figure just arrived. The nomad, a dark and lonely silhouette imprinted against an infant sky.
In dire need of rest, the nomad dropped to the ground with a thump and propped himself up against a dusty headstone, assuming the grave’s occupant would no longer mind. His clothes seemed to suit his demeanour, both dark and worn, and his unshaven face was daubed with dried mud, scratches and grime. On his feet he wore a pair of heavy leather boots, and a long canvas jacket covered faded pants and a threadbare shirt.
He was feeling decidedly off kilter and his vision was more than a little fuzzy. He had been travelling all night, this much he knew, though for some reason he could not recall whence and why. In fact trying to remember anything at all made his head pound. He smelled himself and concluded the scent was not especially pleasant. He ran his hand through a brush of matted and tousled hair sending pieces of twig and similar woodland debris falling into his lap.
What happened to me ?
The nomad leaned back against the headstone and absorbed his surroundings. The world beyond the hill seemed fresh and colourful, animated and warm. Although his eyes were heavy and slumber seemed just an instant away, he forced himself to stay awake and devour the view. So taken was he by its pastoral beauty, it felt as if his eyes were seeing the world for the very first time.
Wearily and still a little stiff and chilly from the night, he pulled a crumpled packet of cigarettes and an old brass lighter from an inside pocket, lit up and smoked. The action was habitual. He had done it before and he knew the cigarettes and lighter were there. But these facts did not register with him. When he put them back in his pocket he felt something else there, something new. A piece of paper perhaps. Pulling it out he saw that it was in fact a black and white photograph, torn in half. It was a picture of a man sitting on a bench. Behind him was a building with the letters ENZ above a large window. Around the man’s shoulder hung an arm with a delicate hand. It was the hand of a woman. The rest of her had been torn away. The nomad flipped the photograph. Hand-written on the back in small blue script was a message:
You have no memory, but don’t worry. The answers are in the town. Finding them will be difficult and perhaps dangerous, but they are there. There is someone special you must seek out – the woman on the other half of this photograph – but I cannot identify her in case you are captured. Be vigilant. Follow the windmill. Trust me. Trust yourself. Go to the town. You made a promise.
The nomad reread the note several times over another cigarette. It made his head hurt even more than before. Turning around, he scanned the scenery on the other side of the hill. It could not have been more different. Extending far into the distance was a deep, cloud-covered valley whose steep sides were cloaked with savage thickets of black sage, thorn and cypress. Yellowing dogwood trees and matted spinneys of broom and juniper filled the swales alongside an old footpath that meandered down the valley side from the cemetery gate. From time to time a window appeared in the murky veil and the nomad could make out the slate tiled rooftops and pointed spires of a town. But the curtains would soon close again and the buildings disappeared beneath an ever darkening mist.
to be continued