Lenny is the story of a young homeless boy in the bayou, who helped by the classic tale The Little Prince, seeks to repair his broken family and save his hometown, Roseville, from destruction. Meanwhile in the Ubari Sand Sea, a pilot falls to the earth in the desert and is rescued by a young boy. The two storylines travel between Libya and Louisiana in a story of family, love, hope and the power of the imagination.
Ubari Sand Sea, 2011
In the desert, the lorry bumped along the track left by countless other journeys, sand sticking to the wheels as they sank down further with each rotation. The driver, from Ghat, cursed under his breath as the wheels stuck, the engine revving and pulling helplessly against the dunes.
‘Get down,’ he shouted to all the men and the lone pregnant woman who travelled with them, bringing her two children with her. For a moment, no one stirred, as if believing if they said nothing, did nothing, perhaps the lorry would decide to move again. After all, they had spent all morning in this stop-start pattern, each time with the driver growing more morose and emphatic in his muttering.
‘Push! Or would you rather we bake in the heat here?’ he berated them, signalling at the high sun, pushing his passengers out of the overheated lorry, far too many bodies all squeezed into one space, some faint with exhaustion, others sick with fear.
‘You said we would be there by now,’ one young man called out, pushing his shoulder to the back of the lorry along with three others, the wheels loosening a little, only to drop down even further.
‘We are lost,’ said another, a young man too – for they preferred the young to fight, finding them easier to mould, less attached to life, understanding less what they were surrendering, so letting them pass at the border with the guards paid to turn a blind eye to the shadows at night.
‘He does not know where he is going,’ said the woman, tutting under her breath, pulling the children close to her.
‘We are lost. We will die here.’
A silence fell over the group. They had already travelled thousands of miles north, crossed borders, evaded capture, and this, the final stretch should have been easy. After all, the driver had taken their money and told them it was a route he covered every week. The men looked about them. The track was faint ahead, sand blowing over the tracks of the vehicles that had gone before them, for as far as they could see – only sand.
But a madness took hold, a collective fever, and once it became clear that the lorry would not move without chains, and that they had almost run out of water, the men began to walk, covering their heads with shirts and scarves, following the track as best they could.
‘Come back, fools,’ shouted the driver, shaking his head in disbelief.
The woman stayed in the sliver of shade cast by the side of the lorry and let her children sleep on her chest.
The driver, believing she slept too, lifted his seat and took out a large container of water, sipping it carefully before hiding it once more. Then he radioed for help.
Izil, standing on the top of the ridge of dunes, saw the line of men moving like ants away from the lorry. Sometimes he would see these overloaded vehicles pass by in the distance, men hanging from the sides and back, as they crossed to the north. The men came from far away. They came in search of work – some finding it as soldiers, others as labourers on the great engineering project that sought to siphon the desert seas buried deep below the surface, tunnel the water out to the north to create a new green kingdom, a land of miracles, they said. Others returned to the south, disillusioned, broken by work or war, realising they had simply swapped one set of despairs for another.
This time, though, something had happened. Why were the men walking in the desert? With little shelter for days, they would soon die in the heat. He wondered at the strangeness of it, then he rode his camel down the bank towards the lorry, looking over his shoulder, conscious that his mother would not approve, having warned him many times before not to get close.
‘Why?’ he had asked her.
‘Because I say so,’ she replied, making him more curious about these people crossing the desert sands.
‘Where are they going?’ he persisted.
‘Somewhere else,’ was all she would say.
Izil marvelled at this: the idea that there was somewhere else that was not the desert or the edges of the desert. It was this in part which had drawn him to the fallen sky king, but Goose could tell him little of the world beyond. He began to yearn to see it for himself, to know what was beyond the edge of the sand seas, to discover worlds different to his own.
Approaching the carcass of the lorry, its tarpaulin flapping in the breeze, black smoke pouring from the front as the engine complained fiercely at its punishing treatment, he saw the woman standing at the side. She put one hand up to cover her eyes as he came near. He called out in greeting.
She gestured at him for his water bottle, and he passed it to her, watching her force open the mouths of her children, making them waken in the heat to drink before taking a drink herself, and passing it back to him, having made sure not to drink it all, even though she was faint with thirst.
In the front the driver was snoring, his belly rising and falling in the heat.
Izil lifted the woman up onto the camel, bending down so she could step up on his back, and then he helped up the two children, handing them to her, a boy and girl both mute with exhaustion. He walked alongside them, taking them back to the caravan, east of the direction from which the men had set out. The woman said nothing, only held tighter to her children, leaning against them to shade them from the sun as best she could.
Tayri and Goose, seeing Izil return, bringing these strangers with him, went out to help, lifting down the children and their mother, bringing them into the cool of the tent, Tayri giving them milk to drink. The children stared at her, at the light quick way she moved as if the heat were nothing. They stared too at Goose with his damaged leg, seeing him a stranger also.
Tayri passed a goatskin flask to the woman who drank, grateful.
‘What about the men? The driver?’
Izil, having run off to explain all he had seen to his father, asked him, wondering what it was they should do.
‘We must help them,’ said Wararni, reluctant, sensing trouble. But later when the heat dropped from the day and when the men from the caravan travelled back to where Izil said the lorry had been, they found it had disappeared and the men were gone. There was little they could do, only wait for their return.
Lenny by Laura McVeigh is published by New Island Books (18 March 2022).[/restrict]