Recai Osman awoke slowly, flickering in and out of consciousness, the sun scorching his bruised and exhausted body.
Where am I?
His foggy mind struggled to remember the last twenty-four hours.
Gritty particles shifted in sympathy as he rolled to his side. Sunlight assaulted his closed lids shooting pain through his head. Sand clung to his long lashes and hair. When the disorientation passed, Recai wiped his eyes with sand-infested hands, only adding to what clung to his fingers, pressing the grains deeper into his dry eyes, abrading them. Recai was covered in particles so fine they filled his shoes and ground into his scalp between each follicle of hair.
Recai pushed his hands into the warm sand, lifting himself to a sitting position and looked around. The night before was still a blur. He remembered the bar at Bozooğulları Hotel and sharing a drink with a Kurdish woman who reminded him of his mother. Women who lived in Elih knew better than to be seen in a public bar, but the hotel staff looked the other way; money could buy many freedoms. Her eyes had been deep-set and so dark they may have genuinely been black. Their mischievous glint and the sound of his mother’s language had drawn him in. A thin veil tight around her hairline, she’d caught his attention with the modern style of having it pulled back and away from her shoulders, allowing him to clearly see the neckline of her dress.
His head spun from last night’s drink and a dull throb built within his skull. Recai swallowed; his dry tongue thick from dehydration. Usually a soft bed and a forgiving shower greeted him upon waking. How had he gotten out here, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but sand? He hoped the dunes he saw were the ones that resided to the south of the city and not a feature of some farther, larger wasteland.
He didn’t remember leaving the bar, or traveling anywhere. How much had he drunk? Surely not more than any other night out, but his memory was hazy as he attempted to peer into the past. There were rumors of nomads kidnapping, robbing and abandoning the bodies of affluent Turks in the desert, but he would remember if he’d been kidnapped, wouldn’t he? Instead, all he remembered was drinking bourbon while admiring the curve of the mysterious woman’s collarbone peeking seductively above her blouse.
The dunes just outside of Elih, Turkey, were not large. The expanse of emptiness made it easy to become disoriented and lost in amongst the shifting terrain. If he was lucky, he’d have awoken at night and followed the light of the city toward home. But now, with the blazing sun above him, luck was something he simply didn’t have.
Men didn’t last long in the dunes without water and supplies. Recai was resourceful; his conscription in the Turkish military had been short but very educational. If he’d had a canteen and some salt tablets, he’d be capable of surviving without food or shelter for a few days. But not like this…
He shook his head, and streams of sand fell to the ground around him. Negativity wasn’t going to help him get home.
Recai blinked back the encroaching fog in his mind. The sun and lack of water already affected his focus, and the temperature was still rising. Recai took off his shoes and socks, knowing that despite the burning sand this terrain was best traversed the way his ancestors had. He needed to feel the earth below him, listen to the sand as it fell away from his steps.
He undid his belt and jacket and made them into a satchel to carry what few possessions he had. Searching his pockets he found them empty. He was as penniless as a wandering Roma seeking his next fortune. Soon he had his designer button-up shirt tied up on his head like a Jain turban, and his worldly possessions hanging from his belt over his shoulder.
The scruff of his untrimmed beard protected his face from the sun, and the turban kept him somewhat shaded. Recai took in his surroundings and the placement of the sun and set off in the direction he hoped was north.
Recai walked for what seemed like miles, resisting the instinct to second-guess his direction. The sand moved between his toes but soon he found his footing, and his body responded to the landscape as if from some genetic memory. He remembered his father’s words from a trip he took to the Oman desert as a child: Never take your shoes off; the sand will eat away at your feet. Recai had done it anyway, then and now, feeling more in control with that connection to the ground, its movements speaking to his flesh directly.
His father had always been full of surprises: one moment the strict disciplinarian, the next, he would wake Recai in the middle of the night to see a falling star. Recai had never had the chance to get to know him as an adult. Instead, he lived with the enigmatic memory of a great man lost.
Recai stood in the middle of the desert—every direction would eventually lead to Elih or one of the smaller villages scattered around the city. But who would take in a stranger? A stranger with a Hugo Boss turban and a bruised and bloodied face? In’shallah, he would be delivered to safety.
The sun hung high overhead, beating down so no living thing dared venture into the desert. If Recai had a tarp or blanket, or anything at all, he would have dug himself a hole and conserved his strength until night. Instead, at the crest of the next dune he sat on his bundle to keep his body away from the sand, refusing to allow it to siphon the remaining moisture from his system. He stared out at the expanse of desert before him. Emptiness had never been so tangible to him, nor solitude so deafening.
From his vantage point he saw the crescent shape of the wind-carved dune. Recai’s face was wind-burned, his shoulders screamed from the assault of the sun’s rays. The city remained out of range; all human life seemed to lie well beyond the line of the horizon.
As he stood, the ground shifted softly beneath him. It reminded Recai of when he’d been a child on his father’s yacht. He used to love going out on the water, taking the helm when they reached the open sea. The city of Elih was landlocked. It was the place where his father had made his fortune and helped establish a sophisticated Arab beacon for the rest of the Middle East, a place where Turks and Kurds co-existed peacefully. When his family needed to escape from the day to day running of the Osman Corporation, a private jet would fly him and his parents out to Iskandarūn where they docked the boat.
Reaci walked on with his thoughts. He hadn’t been to Iskandarūn in years. Not since he’d witnessed his mother jump without warning from the helm of the yacht. Her thin hijab blew in the evening breeze before she leapt. It had been blue and Recai remembered the way it seemed to float in the air when she took that final step. Not long after that his father disappeared, leaving paperwork that named Recai the heir to the multi-billion-dollar empire he ran. Recai had been only eight years old. Since then, Elih had fallen into the hands of Mayor Mahmet Yılmaz and his RTK henchmen—terrorists hiding behind the thin veil of faith. It made Recai sick to his stomach, the way the city was falling apart, devolving into crime and ignorance, but there was nothing he could do. He simply was not his father.
Walking along the crest of the dune, hoping to find a way to the flat area below that didn’t involve sliding down the great sand wall, Recai felt a rumble in his chest. A vibration surrounded him, calling to him from the air itself. A deep roar rose from the earth. The pitch rose as the noise intensified, now a screaming growl like the Jinn’s song.
The dunes were collapsing.
Recai ran, hoping to keep ahead of the avalanche. The awesome physics of the phenomenon would have been breathtaking were it not so deadly. Dropping the satchel that held the last remnants of his modern life, Recai scrambled across the crest, unable to get ahead of the avalanche. The dune song reached a crescendo and Recai screamed back at the spectacle of Mother Nature’s power. He lost his balance and fell to his hands and knees just as the top of the dune swept out from beneath him, sending him rolling, swimming in the sea of sand, which enveloped him then whisked him away.