Page 62 - November 2020
P. 62

November 2020           62

                                                 THE CHARCOAL GARDEN

               That was a paragraph in the book of the universe that I had been reading to my
               friend, Sharif Isma`il.  We were on our way to the Western desert in Egypt as part
               of a work project.  It was a sunny, winter day.  In the distance we could see the
               foothills extending away in the gentle light; in fact the sight  of them floating so
               gently  in  the  air  lifted  our  spirits  and  cleared  the  cobwebs  from  our  hearts.    It
               almost seemed as though the sea itself had gushed on to the sands and injected
               its refreshing breezes into the empty spaces.  Once we drew near the hills, we
               encountered  an  abrupt  transformation.    The  terrain  turned  harsh  and  angular,
               cutting into skin and limbs wherever contact occurred.

               The car in which we were traveling took us up hills and down gentle inclines.  Our
               souls gave a shudder as it sped downhill, turning into a kind of see-saw blending
               and transforming directions in space or forcing them to parallel the rays of the
               sun to the point where they seemed likely to take off for the heavens and never
               come back.

               All the while Sharif kept his eyes glued to the GPS screen which was pointing us
               in the right direction through its uplink to a satellite network, using a horizontal
               and vertical grid to show the exact spot where we were located.  It could identify
               with pinpoint accuracy every single yard we were covering, following a thin black
               line on the screen ever since we had departed from company headquarters.  We
               had made our way through the city streets and out towards the concession that
               our  company  owned,  where  they  were  digging  for  petroleum  and  gas.    Even
               though it was such a tiny machine—no larger than three fingers held together, it
               was a totally reliable guide with its own level of intelligence.

               We were on our way to take another look at an old well that had turned out to be

               dry; no petroleum had been found there.  It had been abandoned, but only after
               the opening had been sealed with a concrete slab some half-square meter in size.
               The  opening  itself  was  in  the  middle  of  a  much  larger  concrete  foundation  of
               some  four  square-meters  constructed  in  advance  so  that  the  actual  digging
               machine could be placed on top of it. To one side was a huge hole to take away
               the water which tamped down the earth brought out by the digging process.  This
               all consisted of clay deposits and chipped stones of every conceivable kind.  By
               now it had reached a depth of some four kilometers underground. Once the well
               had been abandoned, wind-blown dust and soil had covered pver the hole so that
               it blended into the desert all around it.  The top part was dry, while the inner part
               had turned into a fetid swamp that would require a long time to solidify.
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