Damien rounded the pedestal of the statue a second time, like a dog hunting for a place to mark its territory. Behind him the eternal expanse of the desert met the pale blue sky. There were no clouds to get in the way of their combatting colors. There was simply a slithering landscape of darker dunes leading to the North African heavens (much bigger, older heavens than our own, I should say) and a subtlety of darker shading where the blue met the land. Damien and the sculpture were alone on the firmament.
I and the sahibs waited with the tent materials. It was not late enough to make camp but Muhammad assured me a sandstorm was on its way. I lit a pipe and wondered if our statue would be a noble protector of our party or an ill omen to be shunned. One meets both species of idols with regularity across the Channel.
Damien removed his helmet to fan himself with it, crossing back from the pedestal to my camel. He avoided its dripping mouth.
“Being an anthropologist,” he said, “I have the unsettling honor to know exactly where most things ought to be.”
“Quite,” I said. I tamped down my tobacco and relit it.
“The trunk,” he said, “is made of fossilized wood. As far as I can tell, of a type not native to the Sahara. The head and feet are marble. There’s not a marble quarry known inside the next three countries. That,” he said, pointing to the statue, “is an acrolith.”
“Rather,” I said.
Damien scowled at me. “It shouldn’t be here,” he said.
I puffed a thick cloud to cheer up the lonely sky. It drifted over Damien’s head. “Well why don’t you ask him politely to go back where he came from?”
Damien stalked off and called for the waterboy.