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Sunday, 30 April 2017

A Journey through the Desert

(First posted in Portuguese, in March 2016)

For Julia
The Princess with the Green Slippers

'Julia! Bernardo!' shouted the Grand Master

'Julia! Julia! Bernardo! Where are you,' shouted several people at the same time.

'Juuuuliaaaah!...Julia, honey, tell us where you are!' Cried Mother Galia in her own language. She was so worried! Nobody had seen Julia since the sandstorm two days earlier. Julia was her only child. Her heart felt very heavy in her chest for she knew the caravan could not wait any longer.

A bell rings, breaking the silence of the desert. Dling-dlong-dling! It was the Grand Master calling all the workers to make a statement. Dling-dlong! It doesn't take long for a circle to be formed with all the acrobats, jugglers, dancers, clowns, the lion tamer, the fire eater, the bullet man, the fortune teller and many other circus workers.

'Very well, then, everybody's here. We can start. Despite our efforts, we have not yet been able to find Monkey Bernardo or Camela Julia. Unfortunately, we cannot delay our departure any longer. We have a three-day-journey to get to our next destination and we cannot stay here in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the desert, otherwise we might run out of supplies, water and food for us and our animals. Let's load up the camels and the wagons...We leave in two hours.

Mother Galia's eyes filled with tears. She knew she could not do anything about it. She would have to follow the rest of the caravan. But Mother Galia was a strong and sensible person, so she decided there and then that if they did not find Camel Julia on the way, she would return to fetch her calf and, with a bit of luck, her little friend, Monkey Bernardo.

Two hours later the caravan of the Fantastic Circus was on its way.

A few metres away from where the caravan had stood, two dunes seemed to come to life. Suddenly they got taller and began to jingle from side to side. No, they were not dunes. It was not sand. It was a small camel that, after waking up, noticed that she was completely covered with sand.

She got up, looked around, and recalled what had happened. Two sleeps ago, she had got up in the middle of the night to go and do a wee-wee behind a sand hill and, without any warning, the wind had sprung up, becoming angrier and angrier by the minute. As soon as she had finished doing what she had gone there to do, she saw that she was completely buried under the sand and that she could not get out on her own. She remembered calling out to her mother.

'Mother Galia! Mother Galia!' but the wind was so strong that it carried the words away in the opposite direction of where the caravan and her mother were.

At first Camel Julia was scared and she even cried a little, until she finally fell asleep and slept the longest sleep she had ever slept. She had opened her eyes a bit more than once. One of those times must have been during the day, since she had been able to see the pale sand around her nose; the other time had surely been night time, because she had not been able to see even the tip of her nose. Then she had fallen asleep once again.

She slept until the very moment in this story when the two dunes seemed to come to life. It was Camel Julia who had grown tired of lying under the sand and began to force her legs to get up. Perhaps the people at the circus and Mother Galia had not seen her, for in the desert the two humps could easily be mistaken for two little dunes.

Well, where were we? Ah, yes, Camel Julia got up, shook herself hard, and walked towards where she remembered she had left the circus caravan.

'Oh no! Mother Gaaaaaaaaaalia! Where is everyone?' cried the little camel as loud as she could.

There was nothing she could do. There was no one in sight.

Now boys and girls just come out and say it, come on. You must be thinking that Camela Julia was so desperate that she threw herself on the ground crying and screaming and kicking her legs. You're expecting that, aren't you? Well, then, I must tell you that none of this happened.

Camel Julia was a strong and smart little camel and she remembered well what her mother had taught her, 'Never despair. There is always a way out. Pay good attention to what is going on around you and learn from what the elders say.'

'That's it!' thought Camel Julia. 'The Grand Master said we were going East; that was where the small town was; that is where we'd be setting up the circus tent next…And the sun always rises on our right, in the East, and it sets on our left, in the West, she also remembered hearing someone say one day.

'The sun rose a few hours ago, so if I go towards the sun, I must be heading in the right direction.' she said.

'Julia!' shouted Monkey Bernardo out of nowhere.

'Ahhhhhhhh! What a fright!' said Camela Julia jumping backwards.

'I'm sorry my friend. I didn't mean to scare you, but I was so glad to see you that it didn't occur to me that you'd get a fright. Tell me, where's the rest of the gang?'

'Bernardo! I'm so glad to see you. I don't know where everyone is either. Two nights ago there was such a frightful gale that I was trapped under the sand. You can't imagine how hard it was to shake it off. And you? What are you doing here all by yourself?'

'As I'm quite light the wind carried me to that place over there. I was disoriented for a while, you know. Anyway, it's good to see you. But where are the others?

'I don't know.' said Camel Julia, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye. 'They must've set off again. I was just thinking about setting off myself, in that direction. Right now we must walk towards the Sun. In the afternoon, we should change direction to keep on track, I mean, to keep walking towards East.

'Yeah, you're right. There's no point staying here.

Not long after, Monkey Bernardo had already fallen behind his friend. His legs were so short that they got buried in the sand. As you can imagine, he was slowing them down. At that snail pace they would never get anywhere.

'Listen to this riddle! How do you hide a camel in the desert?' asked Monkey Bernardo, with his sense of humor back.

'Stop goofing off. I'm not in the mood for that,' replied Camel Julia.

'Ha, ha, ha! It's easy,' continued the monkey, ignoring his partner's ill-humoured temper. 'You bury him - or her - in the sand so his humps are mistaken for dunes ... Ha, ha, ha.'

'Ha-ha-ha,' chuckled Camel Julia to herself. It was actually a good hiding place. She should say.

Some time later, a gust of wind blew strong carrying the monkey through the air.

'Jump on my back, in between my humps, Bernardo. You'll be more protected.'

It took a while before Monkey Bernardo could respond to his friend's suggestion. Some sand had got into his mouth and he felt a little distressed.

'Spit, spit…Phew! I'm hungry, but sand is not what I had in mind for a meal. But now, what I really need is some water to wash my mouth and quench my thirst.' said Monkey Bernard, feeling somewhat anxious.

Camel Julia did not say anything. She was worried about her friend. She knew she could survive a long time without any food or water. After all, what use were the two humps full of good fat, if not to feed the body when it lacked food and that transparent liquid that was worth gold in desert lands? Yes, she could survive for many days without a problem, but not poor Monkey Bernardo! She did not want anything to happen to her little friend, the only one she had at the moment, for the others were in place unknown. She would have to find a cactus quickly. She could crush it with her mouth and squeeze some liquid out of it to help her friend.

Unfortunately, there were no cactuses in sight. There was only sand around them. Camel Julia was feeling really distressed and worried!

'Bernardo! Monkey Bernardo! Wake up. Look over there. Can you see that? There are two huge cactuses over there. Hang on just a bit longer, they're only a few metres away.' As soon as they reached the cactuses, Camel Julia turned her neck round, grabbed her friend by the collar - yes, Bernardo Monkey wore a shirt with collars for he was a chic monkey who danced in the show to the sound of his owner's accordion - and dropped him gently on the floor in front of her.

As she was opening her mouth to tear off a piece of the cactus, she heard a strange, squeaky voice.

'Oh dear! What are you doing? You're going to get prickly spikes stuck in your mouth, girl!'

But Camela Julia had no time to lose. She had to squeeze some cactus liquid into Monkey Bernardo's mouth before something bad happened to him. And this is what happened. Squish! Fssst! And a gush of water went straight into the monkey's dried mouth.

'Hummm...It tastes so good! Thank you Julia. If it hadn't been for you, I'd probably have died of thirst.' said Monkey Bernardo gratefully. 'But who is this...?'

'Hello. I'm Mayra, a desert lizard. Your friend is a little crazy, you know? She tore that huge piece of cactus with her mouth!'

'Hello, I'm Monkey Bernardo and this is my friend and savior, Camel Julia.'

'Sorry if I didn't speak to you sooner, but my friend was in trouble and I had to help him as soon as possible. And don't worry, can you see inside my mouth?' said Camela Júlia, opening her mouth wide, as if she were at the dentist.

'Okay,' answered Lizard Mayra, tentatively, not sure what she should be examining.

'Do you see how thick the skin in my mouth is? It's so thick, that the spines of cactuses cannot prick me. In fact, cactuses are part of my staple diet. My mother says they are good for us...'

'...and where is your mother?' interrupted Lizard Mayra. But she soon regretted asking the question when she saw Camel Julia's three strange eyelids shutting down slowly with sadness: the first one, then the other and finally the last one. How strange, she thought and then added, 'Oh, sorry, I didn't want to make you sad.
'Do you remember the sandstorm two days ago?' asked Macaco Bernardo. 'Because of it Camel Julia and I were separated from our group. We're heading East to try and find them.em.

"Well, my friends. You'll find them for sure. The important thing is not to lose hope...Okay, now I'm going to continue hunting for my dinner,' said Lizard Mayra. She turned away and went in search of some scorpion or snake to take home for dinner.

It was nightfall when the two desert travellers decided to call it a day. They would never find their way forward with the mere light of the stars.

Monkey Bernardo found some dry blades of grass and some sort of ants for dinner. It was not a tasty dinner at all, but enough to fool his stomach. Camel Julia had eaten the cactus a little while back, so she was fine.
'We should tuck in early so we can set off again at dawn.' said the wise camel, taking the lead of their adventure.

'Julia?' called the monkey in an embarrassed tone.


'Do you think I can cuddle against your neck? Nights in the desert can get really cold. It's so strange, during the day you can hardly walk in the sun because of the heat but…'

'Sure. I'd actually like that. I usually, well, I used to snuggle against my mother, amongst the rest of the flock, so I never used to feel cold but now…'

'A flock? Why on earth are you talking about a flock of birds now?'

'Oh, Bernardo, you're always so distracted. Don't you remember learning the collective nouns for groups of animals? A caravan or a flock is a group of camels; a troop is a group of monkeys...then there’s a pack of dogs; a herd of oxen, buffalo or elephants; a....'

'Okay, I get it, I get it.' said the monkey, on the one hand feeling slightly annoyed by the grammar lesson his friend was giving him, on the other hand, proud to have such a smart friend. 'You know, Julia, it's not that I'm not interested in learning, it's just sometimes there are so many beautiful and interesting things around us that I end up getting a tad sidetracked.'

'Brrrrr! It's really cold. I wish my mother were here with us,' said Camel Julia quietly.

'Don't be sad, Julia. You'll see, tomorrow we'll be luckier. Good night.'

'Good night, Bernardo. I'm glad you're here with me.'

'So am I. Can you imagine what would have happened to me alone in this desert? With the heat it makes during the day and the lack of water, I would have turned into a slab of salt cod by now.'

'Oh, Bernardo, you’re so silly sometimes.'

The laughter of the two friends broke the silence of the night. Monkey Bernardo was really funny. Salt cod! What a strange and hilarious image!

The next morning Camela Julia and Bernardo Macaco woke up with the first rays of sunlight. They got up slowly and stretched out their bodies in very amusing ways. Since there was nothing to eat for breakfast, they set off imediately in the direction of the sun.

Though it was really early the brightness of the sun was almost unbearable. It was way too bright. So bright that poor Monkey Bernardo had to put his neck scarf over his eyes.
'This morning light is too intense for me.' he said. 'But the sunhine doesn’t seem to affect you so much, does it, Julia?'

'Oh, Bernardo, that’s beacause I'm a desert animal. I'm just better prepared for the weather here: my skin is so hard that the spines of cacti cannot pierce it. And have you noticed the thick eyelashes I have?'

'Yes, and you have 3 sets of them, too. Why is that?'

'Both my eyelashes and my eyelids are used to prevent sand from coming into my eyes. But I also think they protect me from the sunlight.'

A few minutes later Camel Julia’s heart began to beat faster. She blinked five times in a row to be sure of what she was seeing. In the distance, she could see the silhouette of another camel. But that walk. That walk, was strangely familiar.

'Bernardo, Bernardo, quick uncover your eyes! What do you see over there.'

'Hold on. What? I can't see anything! What did you expect me to see?' asked Monkey Bernardo, slightly annoyed at having to face the sunlight again. 'Oh, wait, I think I see something too. It's big and it looks like it's running in our direction. I think it's going to attack us, run Julia, run!'
'Don't be silly, Bernardo. Calm down. I think, it's my mother,' said Camela Julia, with a shaky voice.

'Julia! Julia!'

'Mummy! Mummy! Is that really you?'

'Julia! My beautiful baby! I was so afraid I had lost you.'

'Oh Mummy, I missed you so much! I thought I'd never see you again. What happened?'
Half an hour later, Mother Galia had told them her story and so had the youngsters theirs. They were all so very happy.

'Now, let's hurry up and see if we can catch up with the rest of the caravan. It’s behind that third dune.' said Mother Galia.

'And are you sure that's really a sand dune and not a camel's hump?' asked Monkey Bernardo cheekily.
'Bernardo!' shouted Mother Galia and Camela Julia at the same time.

But everyone had a good laugh. Laughing was good to relax after the tough times they had been through.

'Moving on... said Mother Galia wisely, 'let's go and meet the rest of the caravan. I'm sure we'll all be having a party before we resume our journey to the next town. Come on, my beautiful children, all's well that ends well!'

© Paula do Amaral, March 2016

For the Portuguese version, please go to :   


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