The sun shines and the birds sing and dance in the trees. There is little wind, and for once the sky is blue. The dust and sand that so often fill the sky and turn it brown are gone. They lie upon the land, and like the dreams of former years are trodden under foot. The air is cool. The thermometer reads eighteen degrees, but for a moment in the shadows I shiver. It is a cold eighteen degrees, and only in the sun can I feel warmth. Only when the light shines on my face or back can I feel the cool dispelled.
The birds enjoy this moment in the year. There is colour to be seen. The flowers are still bright and the leaves show a green that has yet to be burnt dark under the heavy sun of summer. In this short season, a window is opened onto another kind of Riyadh. I am no longer alone in my walk to work. In town, people seem to dally on the streets for just a little longer than they did in summer. The sun, for once, is something to linger beneath, not scurry away from.
Yet no observation, interpretation or reaction in Riyadh is a simple one. I do not believe it is possible to have a one-dimensional relationship with this land. Everything is complicated, and in every moment there is a conflict amongst thoughts. I relish in this season of life, but I know it is short. I enjoy the coolness of the air, but oddly miss the burning heat of August. I look to the peacefulness of my surroundings, the stillness of of the desert, and yet cannot shake from my thoughts the headlines from the Arab News. High politics, death and intrigue seem to whirl around me as if I exist, for now, in the eye of a storm. But storms move, and one cannot live within the eye for ever.
I am haunted by the words of Wilfred Thesiger. There is no need to repeat them here, for like so much in this city, context is everything. The passages themselves contain a harsh beauty, but when layered upon experience, they reach down to ones core and yank at ones roots.
But I am haunted by other words too. As I think about the shifting desert sands and the dreams they may have buried, what other richer dusts lie there concealed? As I think about time, I know that there will always be time yet, here, for a hundred indecisions, and for a hundred visions and revisions. The complexity of relationships with this country, the way life out here demands a nuanced view, bleeds certainty. Everything is ups and downs. In the vastness of the land and in the midst of this plague of uncertainty and bad news, where each additional news article is just another locust in the rampaging storm, one is left to feel very small.
In the late afternoon and early evening when I leave the office, the sun is already low in the sky. It is huge and orange, for once a welcoming, warming colour, quite unlike the scorching dazzling yellow-white of its summer cousin.
But it is a winter sun. It may be of a warming colour, but I do not feel it warm my spirit.
Shadows elongate along the dusty ground and merge into the penumbra of early dusk. The colours of the flowers, the freshness of the greens; all begin to leach away and fade as another day is done.