The sun shone down with great intensity at the desert. A man and a woman stood facing each other, several hundred meters apart. Their eyes bore insurmountable hatred and anger. The woman held a short sword in each hand horizontally and parallel to the other. The swords were pointed directly at the man. At the same time, the man held up a long sword with both hands and aimed at the woman. Their swords glint in the sunlight. Coincidentally, a reflection of light was focused on the man's scar on his forehead. It was something he had carried as a reminder of his playful childhood when he fell on to jagged edges of rocks, narrowly missing more vital parts of his head. Occasionally, distant winds caused sand to swirl around them like tentacles that rose from the ground to grab hold of them but just as soon disintegrated.
The clear, cloudless sky was suddenly replaced by dense particles of sand. A sandstorm loomed in the horizon. Within minutes, sand beat and rained down upon them but they were almost unflinching. It was impossible to tell if they were actually alive were it not for their laboured breathing and narrowed blinking eyes. The man and woman appeared oblivious to the whole event. They were as still as statues, their pose unchanged. The sandstorm finally let up and moved on to devastate other lands yet the two of them did not change their stances.
Clear sky returned. A group of merchants travelling cross borders with their camels and caravans stopped and wondered what they were doing.
“I think they are having a serious fight. Each is waiting for the other to make the first strike,” one of them speculated.
“Wow, it’s looking to be one big, exciting battle!” the second merchant exclaimed.
“Forget it, guys. Look at the sand covering their bodies. They must have been like this for a long time,” the third merchant observed. “We had better get going before we get caught in another sandstorm.”
The merchants decided to wait a while more. Eager to spectate what they thought could be the battle of the century, they brought out their picnic blanket, sat down, drank and ate from their supplies. After a while, they found the sand was way too hot so they had to stand up. They talked and made fun of everything under the sun. They even guessed if the man and woman were lovers turned enemies, what could have caused this much hatred. But the merchants failed to find reasons why the two were standing in the middle of the desert. What were they waiting for? Why would they not just fight!?
The silhouette of the moon appeared in front of the sun. In ancient myths, an eclipse of the sun was a bad omen. Something catastrophic was due to happen as the moon consumed the sun. In the blink of an eye, the day had turned to night. The sun tried to fight back, evident by the fiery ring surrounding the dark disc of the moon. The sky glowed an eerie red as if ember were rising from clouds of ashes, looking for new opportunities to start a fire. Still, the man and woman stood unmoving. By now, their breathing had returned to normal.
“They must be waiting for this to happen so that they could draw the dark energy from the eclipse to resume their battle,” the first merchant said. "Just wait for it!"
Unfortunately, not a single thing happened. For all they knew, the planets in the solar system could have aligned. As the earth continued to spin and the moon had relented to allow the sun to shine again, the two human figures remained miraculously steadfast in their positions.
Disappointed that their friend the third merchant was right, that nothing was going to happen, the merchants decided to move on. Soon, they disappeared into the horizon of sand dunes. Wind and sand erased their tracks, their presence -and now, absence - was never once felt by the man and woman.
Inevitably, the sun set and nightfall arrived. The punishing heat made way for brief comfortable warmth before rapidly dropping to freezing point. Their skin, sunburnt, lips chafed, the man and woman were ready to surrender to fatigue. Although they could not move, their strong will were battered. Their unwavering minds reflected on their actions months earlier. Sadness and regret overwhelmed their anger and hatred for each other. Tears started to pour out of their eyes and their hearts wrenched with guilt.
Between them, the sands swirled although there was no wind. The sand eventually merged to form the figure of a strange, old man. Not unlike a wizard, the old man was dressed in elaborate robes minus the pointed hat and staff. His hair and brows were white as snow.
“Fools! I hope you had learnt your lessons!” the old man exclaimed.
With the snap of his fingers, the sunburnt man and woman collapsed to the ground. Millions of pins pricked their bodies as their muscles spasmed and joints creaked.
“It is well worth the wait, isn’t it?” the old man asked, a grin forming in his face. “Stubborn fools! Ha, ha, ha!”
“Habri, you love Fatima with all your heart, and Fatima, you love Habri all your life, and yet you two almost allow a small grudge fester into a lifelong hatred that could have ruined your lives! You resorted to violence as your solution!” the old man continued as he glared at them.
“I am truly sorry, Fatima. I love you. I should have been more patient and made the effort to explain the truth to you. I should never have let my pride get in the way,” Habri said weakly to the woman. He reached out to hold her hand.
“I, too, apologise, Habri. I should have trusted you were really helping a friend and not let jealousy cloud my judgement,” Fatima replied and turned to the old man, “Wise one, thank you for what you have done, for appearing in time to stop us from killing each other. Even though it hurt, you froze us so that we have time to think over. The pain was nothing compared to what we could have done if we had continued fighting.”
“Thank you for making us wait out our anger so that we could think things through, but who are you?” Habri asked.
“Let’s just say I’ve lived to regret things and I’m all alone now. I do not want you two to end up like me. Goodbye and good luck,” the old man said as he gradually dissolved into a swirl of sand. Unnoticed by both Habri and Fatima was a scar on the old man’s forehead which his wrinkles had helped to camouflage.