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متن انگلیسی کتاب

Water in the Desert

The desert was dark pink, the sky was baby blue; the whole thing looked good enough to eat. The road from Santa Fe made its way like a black snake through the red and pink landscape. Through the hot air the tall man standing at the side of the road could see the sharp mountain peaks of the Rockies in the distance.

At last a truck came. The first thing he heard was the distant sound of an engine. Sweetest sound in the whole world when you’ve been out in the desert sun for two hours and you’re beginning to think you might die there. Real sweet. He blinked at the road and looked ahead, listening. Yeah, it was a truck alright.

He ran up through the bushes at the side of the road and stood right there staring into the distance, so that he could see the truck as soon it came into view. Then he saw it, a bright piece of silver, with sunlight bouncing off it in all directions. A great silver insect crawling across the stillness of the desert floor of New Mexico.

As the truck got nearer he tried to make out the driver. Looked like a woman. A woman with dark red hair and sunglasses, those kind of shades that the sun bounces off too. Well, that was that, he thought. No way was a woman alone going to stop for a guy hitchhiking in the middle of nowhere. He turned away. The truck just rolled on, just like he knew it would.

But then he heard the sound of brakes as the truck came to a stop about two hundred meters further on. He turned around again and looked at the clouds of dust the truck had thrown up. After a minute or so the dust settled, the door of the driver’s cab swung open and a pair of blue jeans came down from the cab. The woman appeared, wearing a white ‘cowgirl’ shirt and western boots to go with the jeans. She still had her sunglasses on. The man wondered whether her eyes were green. He always did like green eyes.

He walked slowly towards the truck. ‘Can I help you, ma’am?’ he asked, trying to see her eyes behind the shades.

She looked at him long and hard, like she was trying to work out if he was dangerous. The man did his best to look harmless.

‘Yeah, well… looks like my brakes froze up,’ she said. ‘… a rock must have cut the brake pipe.’ She paused, and must have decided that he seemed OK because she said, ‘You any good with tape?’

‘You got any?’ he asked.

‘There’s some in the back of the cab,’ she said. ‘I’ll get it.’

She got back into the cab and came back a few minutes later with the tape. He took it and crawled under the truck.

‘How’s it going?’ she shouted after a few minutes.

‘Hot as hell!’ he shouted back.

About ten minutes later he found the place where the airline had been cut. ‘Here it is!’ he shouted. ‘A big fat hole the size of Texas.’ He set to work taping it, and crawled back out some time later, hot and dirty. The woman was still standing there in the full heat of the sun.

‘That should do it,’ the man said to her. ‘How far you gonna go?’

‘Denver,’ she said, moving towards the cab.

‘Denver? Me too. But I guess…’

She looked at him again, up and down. ‘Get in,’ she said slowly. ‘You look pretty harmless to me and I guess I owe you something.’

‘Hey,’ he said, ‘thanks.’

‘Yeah,’ she said. They both got into the driver’s cab. Even with the air conditioning off, it was cool, at least a hell of a lot cooler than outside.

‘Have some water,’ she said. ‘What ya doing out here anyway? You crazy?’ She passed him a water bottle and he drank. The water was sweet and cool. He drank thirstily, letting it run down the sides of his mouth and onto his neck. He didn’t answer her.

‘So?’ she asked again.

‘Well, it’s a long story…’ he said.

She pushed up her glasses to take a proper look and flashed a smile at him. She had the whitest teeth he’d ever seen. And she did have the prettiest green eyes. ‘Yeah, well save it for later; it’s going to be a long trip,’ she said, still smiling. And with that she put her glasses down and started the engine up again.

The truck continued its journey through the high flat desert that makes up most of I-25, the main highway from New Mexico to Colorado. As she drove, the man looked at her hands on the wheel. Small, strong hands. He couldn’t stop looking at the New Mexican turquoise ring she was wearing. The colour was so beautiful. Kind of held your attention. After a while the ring and the endlessness of the desert made him feel light-headed. Perhaps he’d been out in the sun for too long.

‘You got anything to eat in here?’ he asked her. ‘All that work made me kinda hungry.’

‘Sure.’ She smiled at him, a flash of green eyes. ‘Have a look in the cooler.’ He opened it, found a piece of bread and some cheese and ate hungrily. They rode along in silence for a while. He stared out of the window at the desert.

‘You got a name?’ she asked suddenly.

‘Sure, my name’s Ted,’ he said. ‘How about you?’

‘Lee,’ she said.

‘That’s a pretty name,’ he said. ‘Pleased to meet you.’

There was another half-hour of silence as the truck made its way across the desert floor.

‘I can’t help but notice that you ain’t got any luggage Ted,’ she said suddenly.

‘That’s right,’ he said. ‘I left it in Denver with some friends. I’m gonna pick it up when I get there. ‘Have you been driving trucks long?’ he asked.

‘Yeah, well, a couple of years,’ she said.

‘Like it?’

‘It’s a living.’ She smiled that smile again and added, ‘I love the scenery.’ She nodded towards the window.

As the man followed her glance out into the bright sunlight he saw a sign coming towards them at the side of the road. ‘Do not pick up hitchhikers,’ said the sign. He glanced at her. If she had seen it she wasn’t going to say anything. That was just fine by him, he thought.

‘Yeah, it is pretty,’ he said.

He closed his eyes. Very soon he fell asleep. He woke up to the truck coming to a stop outside a gas station. The noise of the brakes and the sudden movement made him jump.

‘Hey,’ said Lee, laughing. ‘Coming back to life, eh?’

He rubbed his eyes and looked around. The sun had lost some of its fierceness. He guessed it was around five. There were two other trucks parked at the gas station and in the diner next to it he could see the drivers drinking coffee and eating hamburgers.

‘I’m just going to freshen up,’ she said.

She picked up her wash bag, went off to the drivers’ rest room and came back a few minutes later. She’d combed her hair and looked really nice. ‘You gonna get something to drink, Ted?’ she asked.

‘Ah no,’ he said. ‘I’m fine. I’ll wait for you.’

‘I’ll just pick up a cola and a burger,’ she said. ‘Sure you don’t want anything?’

‘Well… that sounds good,’ he said, changing his mind.

She came back a few minutes later with the drinks and burgers. Then she parked the truck round the back of the diner and they settled down to eat. The desert air was still hot and the ice-cold cola tasted great.

‘So what did you do before you started driving trucks?’ he asked her, between mouthfuls of burger.

‘Oh, this and that,’ she said. ‘I worked as a ski instructor up in Aspen for a couple of years.’

‘Hey!’ he said, ‘that must have been a great job. Did you meet lots of famous people?’

She laughed. ‘Well yeah,’ she said, ‘lots… and it was a great job.’

‘So why did you stop?’ he asked.

‘I had an accident,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘One day I was skiing downhill, really fast. The snow was great, the sun was wonderful. Everything was just fine, then bang! I fell and the next thing I knew I was in hospital.’

‘It sounds bad,’ he said.

‘Well, could have been worse,’ she continued. ‘I ended up with just a broken leg and some bruised ribs but it took a few months to recover. When I was well, I decided that it was time for a change, time to do something new. You know what I mean?’

‘Well, yeah, sometimes you just have to make changes,’ he said, hardly knowing what he meant. There was something about this woman that made you want to talk to her, tell her about the secret places in your mind.

‘Wow! Look at that!’ she said suddenly, pointing towards the mountains in the distance. The huge sky had turned orange with the light from the dying sun; it looked like someone had lit a huge fire behind the mountains. Nature was giving them the full display and it was beautiful.

‘That’s what I mean,’ she said. ‘The scenery’s just to die for. Worth more than all the money in the world.’

They finished their colas and left, heading out towards the state border between New Mexico and Colorado.

‘Truth is,’ she started almost as soon as they started off again, ‘I was trying to get away from a guy. I mean… that’s why I got out of Aspen.’

‘Oh really?’

‘Yeah,’ she said, laughing nervously. ‘Well, he was my husband in fact. I’d been trying for years to get away from him. But I couldn’t… Then I had this accident and I thought it was a good chance to disappear.’ There was a pause. ‘You don’t mind me telling you all this, do you, Ted?’

‘No, I don’t,’ he replied kindly. ‘No way. But tell me, how you get mixed up with him in the first place… if you don’t mind me asking.’

She looked at him and sighed. ‘Well… I met him when I was eighteen. He was twenty-one. That was back in my home town, Pueblo, Colorado. God, what a place that is! Ever been there?’

He shook his head.

‘Lucky you!’ she said. ‘Home of the living dead, I swear. It’s the kind of place you have to escape from. Anyway, he was the best-looking guy in Pueblo, though that’s not saying much.’ She laughed. ‘No, he was really cute, really nice. We got married when I was nineteen.’

‘That sure is young,’ he said.

‘I guess I didn’t know any better,’ she carried on. ‘And anything was better than living at home, let me tell you. Anyway, it was the same old story. Before we got married he was the sweetest guy in the world. Brought me flowers, presents. Treated me nice, you know. I’d never met a man who could be that nice. But then things changed.’

‘Changed?’

‘Yeah, well he changed practically overnight,’ she said. ‘Soon after we got married he started drinking a lot, going out with his friends. He never took me out any more.’

‘And?’

‘Well, I would do something small, something kinda insignificant like making too much noise, but it would be enough to make him get violent,’ she said. ‘You know, it was like an excuse…’

‘He hit you?’ he asked.

‘He did, and I got the scars to prove it!’ she replied.

‘When he drank he just couldn’t control himself. And he drank a lot. A real whiskey drinker. Then he started gambling and going with other women.’

‘And that was as soon as you got married?’ he asked.

‘Yeah, and it got worse,’ she answered. ‘My friends told me he had other women, but I knew that - it was obvious. There were nights when he just didn’t come home. When he finally turned up in the morning you could smell the whiskey and the women on him.’

‘So…?’

‘Why did he want to stay with me?’ She asked the question for him. ‘He just couldn’t live without me. Oh, he had his women, but he always came back. He needed someone to push around, to make him feel like a man.’ She shook her head. ‘I used to pray that he’d drop dead or find someone else and stay away from me. I swear I had seven years of hell!’

‘Seven years?’ he said, shocked. ‘You put up with that for seven years?’

‘Oh, it’s not like I didn’t try to get out,’ she said. ‘Almost every single day, believe me. But it was like being in jail. No matter how sweet the grass smells outside your cell, you just can’t get free.’

‘Er… yeah,’ he said.

‘I tried everything,’ she continued. ‘Left in the middle of the night, changed states, changed my name. Somehow he always found me! That’s why I decided to leave Aspen after the accident. I knew that it was only a matter of time before he found me again.’ She shivered, remembering the fear.

Lee stopped talking for a moment as she struggled with her feelings. They both listened to the silence of the desert, only broken by the comforting noise of the engine. Then she spoke again, this time in a softer voice.

‘I’d loved him, you know, I mean in the beginning.’ she said. ‘Yeah, loved him. But then it all changed for me. I started to hate him.’ Then she added seriously, ‘Matter of fact, that’s the worse thing about it all. You learn about hate; you discover that you can hate somebody that much. You lose your innocence, you know?’

He nodded. He knew what she meant.

‘I was a kid when I met him,’ she continued. ‘I was so full of dreams. I thought the world was full of love. That I was full of love… He taught me a lesson alright, taught me how to hate, just like everyone else.’ She took a deep breath. ‘It takes time to get over that,’ she said. ‘It takes time to find love again. Even to find it in your own heart.’ She sighed and went quiet. Her face looked kind of sad.

‘So what happened?’ he asked after a few minutes. ‘I mean, where is he now?’

‘Ha!’ she said loudly. ‘He finally got it! Finally got what he deserved! Got killed in a bar one night in Taos.’

‘In Taos?’

‘Yeah, got into a fight with some guy,’ she answered. ‘Over a woman, of course. Anyway, the guy shot him, cool as you like. The police called in the middle of the night to tell me the bad news. I swear, Ted, I could hardly keep the smile off my face. First thought that came into my head was, “I’m free! I’ve been in jail and now I’m free!” I just went away and tried to forget.’ She smiled now, remembering it all. ‘Don’t know why I’m telling you all this,’ she added.

There was silence for a while, apart from the soft murmur of the engine. They were about an hour from the border with Colorado. It was evening now; the softening light wrapped around them like a blanket.

After about twenty minutes, she said, ‘Let’s get over Raton Pass and into Colorado, then we can catch some sleep.’

‘Great idea,’ he said. They were still another seven hours or so from Denver.

‘Mind if I turn on the radio?’ she asked.

‘Er… no,’ he said, ‘how about a music channel?’

‘Sure,’ she said and turned it on. It was Anita Baker singing ‘Giving you the best that I’ve got.’

The man closed his eyes and listened to her sweet voice. It was like honey pouring into the truck. Lee started singing along to the radio.

‘Mmm… pretty voice,’ he said.

Lee didn’t say anything, but carried on singing.

The song ended. Then a man’s voice came over the radio: ‘And now it’s eight thirty and on Radio New Mexico we have some news for you, so let’s go over to the newsroom and Chucho Martinez.’

The man cleared his throat. ‘Er, why don’t we change channel and get some more music?’ he said.

‘Shh,’ said Lee. ‘In a minute. Let me hear the news.’

He kept his eyes closed. ‘Good evening, and the news tonight is that a man has escaped from the New Mexico State Prison just outside Santa Fe. The man is Jed King, doing life for killing twenty-eight-year-old Tony Garcia in a bar fight in Taos, New Mexico, four years ago. Drivers are being warned by the state police tonight not to pick up hitchhikers. And that’s particularly if you’re driving on I-25 And now on to other news…’

He still kept his eyes firmly closed.

‘Well,’ said Lee suddenly, turning off the radio, ‘we’re almost there. There’s Raton Pass just ahead of us.’

The man opened his eyes a little and looked up towards the pass. It was the time just before darkness falls; in another fifteen or twenty minutes the light would be completely gone. Right now the sky was an incredible red and purple, the day’s last light show. The truck started to climb towards the top of the pass. He closed his eyes again.

They drove along in silence as they reached the top and started down the other side of the pass. He kept his eyes shut like he was asleep, but his mind was racing. He thought back to that night in Taos. The night he killed Tony Garcia.

‘You’re him, aren’t you?’

The man jumped.

‘You’re Jed King, the man who killed Tony… the man who killed my husband,’ she said. Her voice was low. ‘You’ve escaped from jail.’

He opened his eyes a little and nodded.

‘I never went to the trial,’ she said. ‘Tell you the truth, I never thought about who killed him. I was just happy he was gone.’

He looked across at her. She looked calm, kind of peaceful somehow.

They had reached the other side of the pass and had already crossed the state border some time back. Lee turned the wheel and pulled the truck off the road. They were surrounded by darkness, parked in a rest area well away from the lights of the highway. She turned to look at him and he could just make out her face, her bright green eyes shining. Like cat’s eyes on a dark road.

‘That’s right,’ he said. ‘I killed him. But I swear it was self-defence. I didn’t mean to…’

As he said it, unbelievably, he started to cry. He hadn’t cried for a long time, maybe since he was a kid. ‘I didn’t mean to… I didn’t mean to…’ He was actually weeping, great sobs coming from his chest.

It was like some kind of wall breaking. Suddenly Jed King felt the full force of the injustice of it all, a feeling he hadn’t allowed himself to have before. He remembered the trial, with the jury who didn’t believe his story, and the ‘witnesses’, Garcia’s friends, who had lied in court. He remembered the moment when the judge had said the words, ‘You will go to jail for life.’ He cried for the four years he had been locked up in the hell of the state penitentiary because he had killed a man who otherwise would have killed him. He cried at the feeling that he would never again be really free, never be able to listen to the silence of the desert or see the sun set over the mountains without being afraid. ‘It wasn’t my fault, believe me. You have to believe me!’ he said. ‘I never wanted to…’

She leaned over towards him and put her finger on his lips. ‘Shhh,’ she said, running her fingers around his mouth. ‘I know, I know,’ she said, softly. ‘It sounds like we both escaped from a life sentence.’ Then she kissed him.

They lay on the little bed just behind the cab and looked at the night sky through the little window in the roof. It was dark blue with a pattern of stars, like something from a child’s storybook. The desert moon was so big you could see its dark and light areas. It was very cold now, in that way the desert has of suddenly showing you that it knows how to do both.

It takes time, she had said, to find love again, even to find it in your own heart. As they lay there in the stillness of the desert, he knew that they had both found a way back to love, a way back from despair. Somehow he knew that it would all come right. He would be able to prove that he had shot Garcia in self-defence. He had found hope.

But that was all for later. Right now they lay there in the moonlight. It was hard to describe the look they had on their faces as they listened to the silence. Perhaps you would call it relief. Yeah, that was it, relief. It was the look you have when you find something precious you thought you’d lost, the look you have when someone you’ve been waiting for shows up at last, the look you have when, after a long search, you find cool, sweet water in the desert.

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