Zinder was a case, always, of unrequited love.
     Desire was fed on glimpses and surmises, on bits of knowledge baffled and withdrawn. The wind that blows down across the Sahara during the winter months is the same wind that in France is called the mistral, in Italy the scirocco. From North Africa it sweeps across the desert and on southward to the coast where it funnels into the Bight of Benin, spending itself at last in the Gulf of Guinea. South of the Mediterranean this wind is sometimes called the harmattan and in Zinder fills the air with flying sand so pure that for a time everything is seen through a mist. You could be walking along a stretch of sand. In the distance, a shape, a shadow. At first, it is only that. Then something can be seen bubbling up from the surface of the horizon, a dark tangle rising to a narrow twist, like a cyclone, before erupting anew in some fever of impulse and delight. Where have you seen this before? Surely no place on earth. Then there it is, the great silver baobab, its roots exposed to the air and sky, its trunk flung wide in a spray of leaf and branch.
     Or this: a caravan of Tuaregs moves through the center of town, camels emerging one by one, ragged knees adrift. And there, lofty in his saddle, bare feet riding a white swaying neck, is a man in an indigo turban, his mouth covered, his eyes looking down into yours. The caravan passes, it disappears in the yellow air, gone, the sloping back of the last beast moving into obscurity.

     In a dream, you see the birds screaming over one dimpled place in the water, then the spray, the jet of mist, followed by the back rising from the deep, the creature emerging from the waves, up, up, until even the great blind face is bared dripping in the sun. The sense of having known it all from the begin- ning, from the other side of the womb.
     Would I have fallen so hard if Zinder at first sight had appeared less monotonous, less grim? Something more than a windy scrap of sand where the heat made a nightmare of each new day and for relief the eye fell on a twist of thorny branch, a vulture hunched on a wall?
     The streets were open stretches of sand, deserted during the long middle hours of the day except for an occasional donkey huddled against a wall for shade. By noon the sky had become a flat dim surface, an expanse of emptiness so dazzling the gaze reeled backward and away. Nor were we strangers to Africa and its sun. Both Zara and Lizzy had been born on the coast of Nigeria, a place where steam rises visibly from a rain-soaked forest and where faces stream with sweat. But this was a different sun. In Zinder it blotted up every drop of moisture as soon as it hit the air: you had to drink, never forget to drink, if you didn't want to become ill with dehydration. Or take salt pills. There was no help for it; the sun absorbed sweat before you could lift a hand to wipe it away. What's more, sand settled in ears and nostrils, lips cracked and bled. At noon flies clustered on the bite of food lifting to your mouth, giant cockroaches scuttled at night. Nor did any of this change. On the contrary, there was more to come: toads in the shower, dysentery, scorpions.
     Yet it was on Zinder, floating the seeds of life and death indifferently, that desire fastened. Little by little the outlines of a face emerged, maddening in its elusiveness. Impossible to summon at will, desired beyond reason, it would disappear for days, then swim suddenly into view. Visible at first only from a distance, it fascinated by its air of extreme mystery. But gradually, and much more dangerously, it startled at mid- day, rising from beneath a swarm of flies. Without the least warning, it would be staring out through the empty sockets of the skull of a goat half-buried in the sand.
     It was then you were reminded of the beginnings of passion: the terrible jolt of recognition, the bleak notice that what you had thought commonplace, even undesirable, has become as necessary to you as your breath and that without it you will die.

     The lover never has any history, any past: no mother, no father, not to mention husband or wife. Not a single child. Nothing that will serve as identification or credential. Nothing by which anyone can say, "Didn't I see you once, a year ago, in the station waiting for a train?" No, all of that is spurned, rejected. It is the unleashed self, released from time and history, the lover offers in cupped hands. All the rest is an embarrassment, a source of confusion and lies. The child playing alone at twilight, the fifteen-year-old wandering in the rain, only these are of any use from the past. And in some sense, at least, the lover, waiting to be snatched wide and set adrift, is right: any attachment at all would only encumber and restrain, provide an intolerable impediment. The whole point is to stand again on the brink, to return to that moment before choice bound one to a slowly turning wheel of days; to fling oneself once and for all into eternity.
     The traveler, rushing blindly to an assignation, is the same. Bag packed, everything left behind, the blaspheming hope is that one can be released from a self mired in history. Gone, the stupid face of the clock, fixed at seventeen minutes after three. Gone, the leaves yellowing on the tree outside the window. This time, if no other, myth will overtake one's own stumbling story and all the griefs and longings spilled so messily over the sad confusion of one's days will at last assume a noble shape, both tragic and anonymous: Orpheus, unable to resist the backward glance. Demeter, crying for her daughter.