As with so much of my writing, a chance remark, a question, a comment, often sets me off and before I know it, usually out comes a poem, sometimes a rant, sometimes a story.
And that’s how I came to write Desert Flower.
I had just started working at the Chronicle Herald, we were based in Dartmouth at the time, when I was surrounded by some colleagues all mildly intrigued by me. I guess I was something of a curiosity. The fact that I was “from away” in itself was strange. India, they had all heard of. But, Bahrain! “Where on earth was that?”
Some colleagues told me they couldn’t comprehend the heat I was talking about. And there I was, in the throes of trying to wrap my mind, my arms and my shawl (worn over my sweater, further fortified by stockings on my feet) around how cold it was and that was the middle of May.
“So, how hot does it really get?” One colleague asked me.
I started to explain it to him and then I thought. ‘I’m a writer. Why don’t I write it down for him.’ So that day over lunch, I started to write. And before I knew it, this romance story, jumped on me, like a devil on my back and every lunch hour for the next two weeks I simply had to bash out this story. Until it was done.
By then it was June. The story had gone galloping off in its own direction, so of course the colleague who’d asked the question never saw this. But I did share it with some of my other colleagues who thoroughly enjoyed it. It was too long to be a short story and too short to be a novella so it lay with me until I returned to Bahrain and shared it with some of my young Bahraini colleagues.
“You have to publish it”, they insisted.
“How do you know about so many of our old traditions? Like the ‘mashata, the dallal…”
“These are being forgotten…”
Finally, I was able to publish it. But that’s why, the opening lines are…
How can I explain that sort of heat to you?
Dry. The air so hot you can hardly breathe. The sun: a high, burning, intense fire in the heavens. You can’t look up to see it. It is shrouded in a heat haze, so that although one is aware of a single heat source, the entire dome above seems like a pulsating radiator reflecting that relentless heat back to the baking earth below.
In such a land nothing lives, save a few daring palms that would cheat the heat, and not let it extract their moisture by thickening their trunks and shredding their leaves, or scrub trees, those tenacious acacias – gnarled and thorny, husbanding their water and sap, even their chlorophyll into the tiniest imaginable leaflets – extracting from the unforgiving environment more cleverly than Shylock, life. In this inexorably cruel environment, is it any wonder that trust is a precious commodity, almost as valuable as water?
And love? It is a rare jewel. It lives as the cactus flower, bright, showy and flamboyant, but only for a brief while. It is a thumbing of the nose, from that plump succulent stem with its spiny leaves, at the heat and wasteland around it.
Such was the love that I had found so very long ago on a tiny island, just east of Saudi Arabia, called Bahr’ein, because of its two seas, the salty one that flowed around it and the sweet water sea that lay hidden both underground and beneath the seabed. So much like us, we who call ourselves Bahraini, with our salty and crusty exteriors hiding the sweet softness beneath.”
You can read the rest at any of the links provided at my publisher’s page here: http://www.ex-l-ence.com/Desert-Flower.php
As for the pen name? Ah, that’s another story.