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The shadow of Sheikh al-Kaatib's private jet raced over the desert sands, heading west into the blaze of the afternoon sun.
Inside the plane seven passengers sat in silence. They had exhausted their conversation days ago. Besides, there was much to think about. Three closed their eyes, deliberated and slept. Another three opened notebooks and tapped busily. The seventh passenger tilted back his seat and looked out the window.
A hundred years ago we crossed this desert on camels, Ilias Aboud mused. He could almost see the sway of a camel caravan. Its men would have measured time by the sun and stars and the distance to the next oasis. They would have lived by rules forced on them by the harsh landscape: hospitality to the stranger, loyalty to one's kin.
War had been brief. A raid, not a sustained campaign. The desert lacked the resources to sustain an army. Men tended their livestock and their trade. Violence flared and died in the face of the overwhelming task of surviving. You counted your wealth in camels and children, and thanked God.
But that was before the strangers and their discovery of oil. Suddenly there was money enough to indulge in the foolishness of war. Vehicles shrank the desert, and people let go of its ways to embrace city life.
And city life was pleasant.
Ilias smiled. His wife and two-year-old son awaited him in Istanbul. He would take a taxi from the airport and be home in time for the evening meal. He would kiss his son and answer his questions. Since little Yusef had learned the word why he used it continuously. Why must he eat carrot? Why didn't the cat have to eat carrot? Why didn't he have a tail like the cat?
It would be good to be home. After Yusef went to bed, he and Salwa would talk a little about the meeting and a lot about family news and local gossip. Then they too would retire and find comfort in reunion. Joy, peace, love. His family kept him sane.
"More fruit juice, sir? Or coffee? There is baklava."
Startled from his thoughts, Ilias glanced at the steward and the glistening jug of juice the man held. Ice cubes tinkled.
"No. Nothing, thank you."
The steward nodded and whisked away Ilias's empty glass. He walked on to the next passenger. "Sir, would you"
The engines cut out. No warning, just an eerie silence with the impact of a bomb. The steward's eyes went wide and he ran for the cockpit. Fruit juice sloshed and spilled, falling sticky on the cream carpet.
Ilias clenched his hands, counting. One, two, three...the engines remained silent.
There was still a chance. They wouldn't make Istanbul but the plane would glide for a short while. Could the pilot land it in the desert without engines? Sheikh al-Kaatib would employ the best pilots.
"God, into your care I consign my family and myself."
Wind tore at the plane, a violent downdraft that shoved the nose down. A man screamed. Terror of imminent death drained the blood from Ilias's plump face. He would return to the desert, after all. Violently.