It seemed to shake loose old memories from the past, like an air-bubble rising from the depths of the ocean. I was reminded of a rhyme my father would use when he was in the army to keep him going on long marches, ‘First you step off with your left foot, your left foot, your left foot, first you step off with your left foot, and then you step off with your right foot, your right foot, etc.’
That rhyme kept me going for a couple more hours. Slamming my feet hard into the floor as more thoughts would begin to rise. Happy thoughts, aggressive thoughts, feelings of hatred mixed with the satisfaction of sunshine on your face and then a sharp memory from the past would jolt you out of the desert and into another world.
‘Shake ma hand.’ He spat into the palm of his hand and extended it towards me.
‘Go on son, shake ma hand.’ My dad was drunk out of his skull. He was sitting at the kitchen table of my Grandma’s. I had been sent in to calm him down after he had come back ‘fae the top shop’ as they would say in Scotland. Why they sent me in I don’t know. I wasn’t a trained negotiator. I had no prior experience of mediating with a drunk, six-foot, sixteen-stone Sergeant Major. I’m only eight years old, what the hell can I do? Maybe they thought I would have a calming effect on him. A bit like taking a terminally ill kid to see a dolphin.
I sat there on the chair wondering what the hell to do staring at his hung-over body. His face in his hands. ‘Would you like some water, Dad?’
He didn’t respond. ‘You know nothing, son. You know nothing.’
‘Would you like some lemonade?’ I said.
‘Sure, lemonade with whiskey.’ I ran to the cabinet to get the lemonade. Anything to keep him happy. I couldn’t find any whiskey so I popped through to the living room and whispered for the whiskey. They all waved their hands in unison and shook their heads suggesting whiskey was not such a good idea.
I ran through and grabbed the lemonade and prayed that he wouldn’t notice. He drank the lot in one go and rested his head on the table whispering to himself.
‘You know nothing. You know nothing.’ What was he referring to? His time in the army. Northern Ireland? His own childhood?
The crunch of my boots brought me back to the present moment and I was a thirty-year-old man again walking through the desert, caught between two worlds of past and present, caught between thoughts of holding on and letting go. I knew which one was the healthiest and stood up from the kitchen chair no longer a small boy. The kitchen walls behind my father slowly started to blow away like the shifting sands of the desert dunes. My father lifted his head again but this time I was bigger. Just as big as him. ‘You’ve had enough to drink now, Dad. It’s time you went to your bed.’ I grabbed him by the arms as the chair and table he sat on turned into sand. I held his crumpled self in my arms and dragged him to the nearest dune. I placed him down on the ground and put him to his bed. He mumbled again but this time all I heard was the wind passing through my ears. I was back in The Sahara once again.