Besides, his team was the largest, and although he didnt often do search-and-rescue, he knew the desert better than most. Hed practically grown up in the desert. His uncle Samir had raised him, and Samir kept foreign friends: scholars, scientists, men who came to study the Red Sea, the birds and the fish, or the Bedouin way of life. Nayir spent summers chipping dirt on archaeological digs for rich Europeans who sought the tomb of Abraham or the remains of the gold that the Jews had carried from Egypt. He spent winters clutching the rear humps of camels, clattering through the sand with tin pots and canteens. He became an archer, a falconer, a survivalist of sorts who could find his way home from remote locations needing only a headscarf, water, and the sky. He wasnt a Bedouin by blood, but he felt like one.
Hed never failed to find a lost traveler. If Nouf had run away, he had to assume that she didnt want to be found. For ten days they scoured the dunes in Rovers, on camels, from airplanes and choppers, and frequently they found each other, which caused some relief, hard as it was to find anything living in all of that sand. But they did not find Nouf, and finally the reports that Nayirs men placed before him began to suggest alternative theories in which shed taken an overnight bus to Muscat or boarded an airplane for Amman.
He cursed the situation. Maybe shed spent a night in the wild and decided it was too uncomfortable, too dirty, and shed moved on. Yet Nayir feared that she had stayed, and now it was too late. It only took two days for a man to die in the desert. For a young girl from a wealthy family, a girl who had probably never left the comfort of an air-conditioned room, it would take less time than that.
The sunset showered the landscape in a warm orange light, and a stiff sirocco troubled the air. It stirred a sharp longing that reached beyond his concerns for Nouf. Lately hed been overcome by thoughts of what was missing in his life. Irrationally, he felt that it wasnt only Nouf hed lost, it was the possibility of finding any woman. Closing his eyes, he asked Allah once again: What is Your plan for me? I trust in Your plan, but Im impatient. Please reveal Your design.
Behind him came a shout. Quickly stuffing the picture back in his pocket, he stood up and saw one of his men at the bottom of the hill, pointing at a pair of headlights in the distance. Nayir grabbed his rug and canteen and scrambled down the dune. Someone was coming, and a desperate foreboding told him that it was bad news. He jogged along the bottom of the dune and waited as the Rover drove into camp. It stopped beside the largest tent.
Nayir didnt recognize the young man at the wheel. He looked like a Bedouin with his sharp features and dark skin. He was wearing a leather bomber jacket over his dusty white robe, and when he stepped out of the car, he regarded Nayir with apprehension. Nayir welcomed the guest and extended his hand. He knew he was too big and imposing to put anyone at ease, but he tried. Nervously, the boy introduced himself as Ibrahim Suleiman, a son of one of the Shrawi servants. The men gathered around, waiting for the news, but Ibrahim stood quietly, and Nayir realized that he wanted to speak in private.
He led the boy into the tent, praying that the men hadnt been drinking after all. There was no worse way to disgrace oneself than to lead a man into a tent that smelled like alcohol. But the tent doors were open and the wind blew in, along with a generous spray of sand.
Inside, Nayir lit a lamp, offered his guest a floor cushion, and began preparing tea. He refrained from asking questions, but he hurried through the tea because he was eager to hear the news. Once it was ready, Nayir sat cross-legged beside his guest and waited for him to drink first.
Excerpted from Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferraris Copyright © 2008 by Zoë Ferraris. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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