I buy a map from a haggler who is selling maps. He is selling maps in the street of a town that has not been named. The street is dusty and brown and has many people in it. But the people are not moving and they have open eyes and I think that the people might be dead. I cover my eyes a great deal. I am close to the desert. There looks like there is water on the desert.
We don’t name these towns, the map seller says. He stands above one of the people that looks dead. He paints the skin of the person that has still eyes. You do not live here, I ask him. Of course I live here, he says and he is smiling and there are untruths and caught teeth in the door of his mouth. But he is dried and tangled in his own skin—and he is feebled and old and he is rotted and hunched over.
His name is Rubar and his head jerks back and forth. He tells me his whole name. His name is long and he sounds like a person who lives very far from where I lived when I was a child. Where is the place to dig, I ask him and the sand has begun to get into the wind and it is very uncomfortable in the street. But he does not tell me and he does not look at me and it looks then like he is looking like a man who has just seen his daughter—who would also be very old—and has gotten very excited.
But we are alone and I suppose, then, as I have begun to do quite a bit lately, that he has lost his hearing and he is ready to die. The old men do that in the desert. They walk into the desert, the old men—when they are too old. Then they do not have hearing or sight or taste and they walk into the sand dunes and fall down and they die.
But Rubar has just turned his ears into the sand. And now he squats on the sand in the street in the town. He is not ready to walk into the desert, I think.
Rubar draws an X. There, he says. And I laugh because it is actually probably very close to the time that this map seller will walk into the desert and die. Where, I ask and I am thinking that I would very much like to stop playing his game. But I cannot move and my arms feel like lead weights. There, he says and he points at the X with his bony finger. I want to tell him that he has a bony finger and that he is a crazy old man but it is hot and I have already missed three meals in the past four days—no, I have missed four meals. I realize, then, that I did not eat breakfast on the third morning of my trip.
Now it looks like I will miss another meal because Rubar smiles and continues to point at the X in the sand and now he has trouble finding his feet. Rubar flaps his arms like he is a bird and walks around the X. But he does not stand up. He is no taller than my waist when he is on the ground flailing and chirping like that. I wipe the sweat off of the back of my neck and I shake my head because I am really not sure if it is autumn or summer or, perhaps it is even winter but I know that it is really quite hot. Rubar cocks his head and cautiously comes closer.
Rubar wants to have a conversation. I shouldn’t have bought a map from such a frail old man, I think.