No doubt that was what people were saying as they watched me climbing up Mount Sinai. And they were right, after all, what the devil was I doing in this nightmare of a place? I felt so alone. So I walked, and as if to punish myself, I set myself challenges. What was I hoping? That the physical suffering inflicted would calm that caused by my dying morale? That my despair would be drowned in the Egyptian desert? I did not believe any of that but I kept climbing. Painfully.
I was not very fit. Plus I did not have suitable footwear as I was wearing a pair of trainers I had had since school and that I had never been able to bring myself to throw away. Silly dumbo! Why did I have to be so sentimental? My choice of equipment was certainly not dictated by common sense. They were a bit tight for me and my toes were agony.
Everything was dry. The landscape was dry, so dry that I could see no beauty in it. Even the air was dry. I could feel it in my throat, but I had to save my water. The only trace of moisture for miles all around was the sweat I could feel pearling on my cheeks and running down my back. At the slightest breath of wind, equally arid, the dust wasted no time in sticking to my skin. I felt increasingly dirty.
The expression ‘blazing sun’ had never made so much sense to me as it did in those moments. It was scorching and the heat felt as if it was crushing me with a weight ten times my own. The sun is said to beat down. There again, I had never really grasped the meaning of those words before. But yes, the blazing sun was indeed beating down. And it felt like each of its rays left a burning wound.
Even in the middle of the desert there were people about. People riding camels, who unceremoniously overtook me. A few traders in dates or trinkets, who greeted me with theatrical gestures. Tourists noisily exclaiming. The crowd was incredible. My solitude in the middle of that crowd was also incredible.
I kept going up. I looked at my trainers, which were sulking, rather like I was. They were unfit too. I could feel their stiffness from years spent in my bedroom cupboard. They were damp too and attracting dust. Pastel in color, they were turning to a miserable shade of brown. They were also suffering from the heat. The soles seemed about to melt in some places.
As my crazy climb continued, I noticed that the crowd was thinning; meeting someone soon became a rare event. When I reached the summit I was all alone. Almost distraught, I made my way to a rock (there were plenty to choose from, Mount Sinai is made of nothing but loose stones) and dropped onto it heavily. Without thinking too much about it, I put down my bag and began to take off my footwear till my feet were bare. Only then did I look up.
The sun, my daytime enemy, was just beginning the last part of its descent and seemed to be sending its oblique rays towards me, as if to blind me. Nevertheless, despite their intensity, I did not look away, nor did I even squint. It could challenge me as much as it liked, I would not blink. I watched it slowly disappear in the distance, behind other mountains whose names I did not know. The elements were growing kinder and softer. I was still feeling overwhelmed by loneliness. Perhaps even more so.
Then this thought came to me, that is easier to feel than to write down: how many of us were all watching that same sun go to sleep? It was an absolute certainty. Others, like me, were accompanying the final waking moments of the star around which the world turns. Suddenly I was no longer alone. Then, under this glimmer of hope, I felt the ice in my heart melting and the water from it rising up to flow from my eyes. I cried softly and the tears fell one by one onto my shoes.
Those were the last rays, which came with one last caress to dry the tears on my cheeks and on my trainers.
Translated by Wendy Cross