28th March

Indian Country

You forget more than you retain, and that’s the truth. Great desert stretches of time, and memories blowing across them like tumbleweed. Or maybe the tumbleweed bumps up against an old tree, a fencepost, a ruined homestead, and that’s the memory. I’m thinking of a night in Arizona, nearly forty years ago. I don’t know why I still feel it because it was nothing really, it wasn’t the Grand Canyon or Monument Valley or any of those magnificent places, it was the very opposite of magnificent, but I do, I feel it.

I was in a sleeping-bag on hard, unforgiving clay, under some scrubby, spiky bushes and the night sky’s dome, black studded with silver. The moon glowed like a spotlight. It was high summer, but the nights were chilly. Fifty yards away was a highway, with trucks going by in both directions. In the intervals you could almost imagine yourself alone.

‘We’re not the first happy campers here,’ said Frank, six feet away. ‘There’s a collection of beer bottles by my feet.’

There were other signs too – cigarette butts, and a single, tattered, canvas gym shoe. Old-fashioned, not like a modern sports shoe. It could have been there a month, or a decade.

‘This is Indian country,’ I said.

I don’t recall, now, how we’d got there. We were miles from any town. Whoever had given us our last ride of the day must have turned off the highway, heading for a ranch or homestead. In the morning we’d walk the fifty yards and start hitching again, before the sun was high.

‘So am I supposed to panic or what?’ Frank said.

‘I’m just saying. The Navajo reservation isn’t far up the road. Some Navajo guys were probably trying to get home and stopped here for the night, same as us.’

‘So long as there’s no snakes,’ Frank said.

‘There’s bound to be snakes,’ I said. ‘Zip up tight.’

I always sympathised with the Indians in Westerns, always wanted them to win.

A truck approached, roared by, faded.

There was no give in the ground. We were both filthy from days of travel. We had no money. It felt good. That’s what I remember.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium: Kit Downes
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