Grains of sand stick to his palms. His black coat is flecked with them, desert dandruff, he chuckles, saving that for later.
He’s been standing still for minutes and the winds are blowing sand over his boots such that he appears to be growing out of the ground. His eyes are protected by crimson lenses held in a black rubber frame, but he still holds his hands outstretched above his brow out of instinct. The wind is fierce, his face feels like it is being grated, his lips are dry and tingle as they are whipped by the tiny grains, he is struggling to resist the urge to lick them – he can still taste the sand from last time. It’s daytime but in these conditions it could be any time.
How long has it been? Hard to be sure, the lightness of his backpack suggests a few days but it’s hard to time meals when there’s no sunlight. It’s long enough that he struggles to remain focussed on the task at hand, but short enough that he remembers what life before was like. It’s the memory that spurs him onward, he feels unable to turn back – not out of duty, but because he’s eaten over half the food and water, meaning he doesn’t have the supplies for a return trip.
He thinks about her always.
On a certain day he hears birdsong. It’s beautiful, a sweet sound filled with loops and swirls of chirps and hoops, and he is overcome with a desire to find the source.
He allows his ears to lead him West as the sound is stronger in his left ear, and he breaks course. The wind begins to buffet him from the side, his left cheek and ear and eye takes some much needed respite but it’s worse than before on his right side – the wind pummels him with renewed vigour and after only metres he is unable to continue. He collapses on his knees in the sand, straining to hear the birdsong once again, but the howling wind has hammered his eardrum and he is disoriented, unable to discern the delicate song above the ringing in his right ear.
He reluctantly continues North. Eventually he begins to hear the birdsong again, and realises it was his imagination all along.