The Whistle of the Wind in the Desert
The Whistle of the Wind in the Desert
Zafira was dancing. Dancing and laughing. Laughing and dancing. The coloured lights spun around her head in an incessant and rapturous vortex. The intense perfume of rose petals that submerged the heavy carpet upon which her feet were moving frantically dulled the senses. The persistent sound of the tambourines accompanied the exhilarating beat of her heart. Her head was thrown back making her long black hair fly in the air saturated by the opium fumes. Her young, agile hands were moving her multi coloured gown up and down her slender ankles with the touch of a provocative woman. Zafira's dancing was incited by the hand clapping of the people surrounding her who followed her movements through the rhythm of a dance improvised for the pleasure of men. A sudden light pain on the sole of her foot made her jump.
"Zafira, sleepy head! Come on, hurry up. What are you waiting for? It's time to start your work."
Zafira sprung up and sat on the thin straw mattress that was her bed. "Zaira! You hurt me!"
Zaira went on laughing and hitting Zafira's foot with the pointed end of her slipper that was hard and upturned like the insolent moustache of a well-groomed Sheik. "Lazybones, always sleeping, always dreaming. You have to earn your bread like all of us. If you don't hurry up and start sweeping I will beat you under your feet again with a little stick."
Zafira sprung to her feet and grabbed the rudimentary broom that was made of lengths of straw held together around a short crooked stick with some iron wire. "Forget the stick, look how well I am sweeping!"
"Well done! Threats always work!" Zaira, swinging her fat hips up and down, hurried away while adjusting the heavy black shawl around her head. It was the beginning of another day. Just one more day like all the others.
Zafira, keeping her head bowed, continued to sweep the floor with quick movements until with the corner of her eye she saw the heavy figure of Zaira disappear behind one of the columns that adorned the perimeter of the great hall. With a sigh of relief for having finally been left in peace and keeping the broom pressed tightly to her chest, Zafira furtively approached the window that was hidden by an ornamental wooden shutter. One of the many windows that ran along the right hand wall of the enormous hall that was subdivided into a multitude of small sections by pillars and curtains. A wall that seemed never ending but that at a certain point, down a marble staircase, led to the most intimate, dark part of the building: a basement containing a huge basin filled with water, the primitive version of a large swimming pool.
With her face pressed against the brown wooden shutter, Zafira was squinting her eyes in an effort to catch a clearer vision of what little she could manage to perceive from behind the screen that was separating her from the rest of world.
Like all of the others, this window opened onto a vast, bright courtyard. On the opposite side of Zafira's window there were other windows with similar shutters. On the left hand side of the courtyard there was a narrow, dark lane; on the right hand side a clear opening that seemed to extend to infinity. Zafira was observing this external space avidly, envisaging with her imagination any minute detail of a reality that was eluding her. Throughout her thirteen years of life Zafira could not remember ever having gone out of that enormous hall that she shared with the other women, some of whose names she didn't even know. All Zafira knew of the world was that part of the building where she was conducting her life. She knew well the shiny marble floor that she was obliged to sweep several times a day under the orders of Zaira, the woman who was in charge of her. Zaira wasn't bad. She gave out instructions without smiling but in a joyful manner. Sometimes she teased her playfully, sometimes she threatened her with terrible punishments that she never c