The Party in the Square was beginning. Out of the strange two-story condominiums of the South Compound emerged the husbands and wives and the children, walking through doorways set in walls two feet thick. Bougainvillea blossoms perfumed sweet night desert air, banana palms rustling, lanterns flickering around the huge sweetwater fountain in the center. Everyone talked in low murmurs. The djebel loomed, and obscured the vast desert half-moon. Tables of food and cake and cookies were surrounded by happy aliens, European survivors of the American Frontier now soaking up the thrumming spiritual power from the rock and sand of Arabia. No one was safe from dreaming. In the day, the Sun Itself burned everything with a passion, a fury unknown, nothing existing on earth that could withstand it and look upon its raging face — life hid. Life waited. In the red dusk, and then the deep blue crescent, all would shake off the gauze and breath in the sweetest air, the air of the Moon.
Marjorie Miller wore flowered culottes and a red top. She and Cindy Boston were playing Chinese jump-rope with a giant elastic band. Mr. Boston and his wife talked with other parents; Ron Scott and Herman Persanoswki chatted about the deep desert wonderlands, soon to be lost, and seen only with the mighty Land Rovers of 1965. By 1980, the mysteries would be gone forever, paved over, discarded; but on this night, Arabia still breathed savage and romantic dreams into the heart of every man, woman, and especially child. Herman's Saluki trotted around, begging scraps, and very successfully at that. The novelty of the Desert Dog had not worn off. Burt Bacharach played on the HiFi, chaise lounges dragged outside into the Square — everything else from a 60's James Bond movie set, but not a drop of alcohol. Herman had once given my father a pound of hashish, grown locally, as a gift; he threw it away, because he had no idea what it was, and it smelled strangely. Alcohol was penalized by expulsion from the country. Hashish was frowned upon, but plentiful.
The lanterns waved in a sudden rush of breath from the Desert. Everyone at the Party turned to feel it wash over their senses. After a day of hiding under rocks, and inside air-conditioned concrete, the smell of a breeze that had travelled from the Red Sea over the Rub' al Khali, touching nothing living, purified by six hundred miles of uninhabitable deep desert, an empty sea of giant sand dunes, would catch the soul of even the most jaded of world-travellers; and there were many such here tonight. The breeze that washed over them brought a feeling of destiny, an unutterably romantic sense of impending fulfillment, as it would soon reach the pounding shores of the Persian Gulf, and become again what wind likes to be best — a sea-breeze. It was the cleanest and most dramatic air one would ever breathe. Intoxicating. Everyone stopped to feel it, silence deepening until the children grew bored and began to play again.
Marjorie and Cindy invited me to play the elastic jump-rope ritual we had become so expert at, having learned it from the Austrian kids at the American Embassy school, the birthplace of learning for twenty nationalities, of which Americans were the scarce minority. After five or six rotations, I took a break and headed for the lemonade table. Lemons were plentiful; no meat, no milk, rare sweet chocolate — but citrus was grown at oases all over the area. The lemonade was British-style, less sweet but fresher and more heady than Southern lemonade. I gulped down two paper cups, and petted the Saluki. Ron Scott was talking about Africa; my father was listening intently, just then forming the kernel of an idea that would take his family a year later on a dangerous voyage from Egypt to Mombassa, Sri Lanka to India, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and home. They would all nearly die a hundred times, and indeed one companion family would be consumed by fate in India, but on this evening, the words fell from Ron Scott's tanned lips like water-cherries into the waiting gourd of my father's soul.
I looked up. The Moon was nearly free of the djebel, but still failed to dim the effect of night on earth in the deep desert. No large cities. No millions of streetlights. Desert wind, cold lemonade, romance, and the sky a bowl of stars, deep and miraculous.