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The Twin City of Babylon By Mathieu Parsy




I met my friend Hunter in downtown Toronto after his long journey through the Middle East. It was a hot day, and he looked aged beyond his years, almost unrecognizable. He shared how he got lost in the Arabian desert.

He had journeyed through Arabia on a multi-day camel tour, leaving from Wadi Rum, escorted by Bedouins. They found themselves ensnared in an unexpected sandstorm that got him separated from the group, enduring endless days and nights of relentless heat and treacherous terrain, riding his camel. His only other companions were scorpions and the implacable sun.

After four days, on the verge of death, he stumbled upon an ancient citadel concealed behind towering sandstone walls, where vibrant oases and lush gardens flourished, reminiscent of a fabled city. Veiled women, dressed in shades of crimson, welcomed him with warm smiles and led him to their palace. There, mandi brimming with spices and succulent watermelons awaited him. He luxuriated on sumptuous cushions, relishing the local cuisine's vibrant flavours, and immersed himself in fantasies of a world of pleasure while admiring the scarlet lips of the veiled women.

He reveled in the graceful dance of bare-bellied women, their bodies glistening like undulating dunes in the moonlit desert, adorned with golden bracelets and cloaked in purple silk, serving him food and wine as pure as the desert's searing heat and as rich as the reddest sin.

In the throes of festivity and euphoria, he danced with the mysterious women, his heart overflowing with love for each of them. He twirled, lost in a whirlwind of their essence, eventually embracing the most beautiful among them, their lips locking in a passionate kiss, only for her to transform into a rotting corpse, her bare skull in his hands.

The purple dancers melted away into the shadows, like serpents hissing and vanishing into the night, their venomous allure fading. The dream receded, and the hypnotic drumbeats dwindled into silence.

He closed his eyes, reopening them to a starkly different reality. The mythical city had disappeared, leaving him isolated beneath the scorching sun in a desolate desert. Moments later, Bedouins from his group rescued him.

His gaze lost in the haze of his delirious memory, he shared his tale, insisting that he had witnessed the twin city of Babylon dancing on the distant horizon.

I asked if it was a mirage, and he nodded, affirming that it was a dream, a vision borne of the desert's whims. Determined, he declared his intent to venture out there again soon; this time, he would disappear with them.

He broke free from his feverish dream, his eyes refocused on me. He then asked about me, my job and my parents as if he was back to my reality, but I was still hypnotized by his tale. I couldn't get Hunter's adventure out of my mind. I answered his questions mechanically.

The evening ended, and we parted ways. I chose to walk two extra subway stations to clear my mind in the unusual evening heat. As I arrived home, the low-light hallway of my apartment building seemed a brutal contrast to the vibrant scenes Hunter had painted with his words. The flickering fluorescent lights overhead cast a cold, sterile glow on the cracked tiles of the hallway floor, and the distant hum of the elevator's machinery only served as a reminder of the routine life I had grown accustomed to.

Inside my apartment, the silence was suffocating. The muted colours of the furniture and the unadorned walls echoed the monotony of my daily existence. My mail only consisted of a gas bill and grocery store flyers, a reminder of the banal responsibilities that tethered me to this ordinary life.

As I sank into the worn-out armchair, I couldn't help but feel the weight of my boring regimen pressing down on me. It didn't help that I felt extremely thirsty. The events of the evening had left me with a lingering sense of emptiness, as if I had been granted a glimpse into a world of wonder and mystery only to return to the dull reality of my existence.

I poured myself a glass of water and cranked up the air conditioning. Somehow, it didn't give me any relief. I searched online for vacation ideas but found them too structured and predictable. I craved something daring, where risk and reward held great promises.

I started to sketch the mirage of Hunter's distant city in a notebook. I asked myself if such a place existed and what it meant. If I found it, would I disappear in the arms of beautiful women in an everlasting bliss, or would I experience the nightmare vision Hunter described? I recalled his eyes when he told his story; there was something more complex than the dream of finding paradise in them. It was like a good or evil outcome almost didn't matter. It was the experience of it that changed him and gave him purpose. Whatever he had found in the desert was a mystery, and that's what mattered — The mystery of it all.

#

The next day, I awoke drenched in sweat, thirsty as hell, with a sense of urgency, my mind consumed by the need to reconnect with Hunter and talk to him about joining his next journey. I attempted to scour my contacts for his number in my phone, only to find out the facial recognition to unlock my phone didn't work. I tried my password to unlock my device but couldn't remember it. Frustrated, I went on my laptop to search social media and contact him, but again, I couldn't log in either — Incorrect password.

"It fucking worked last night!" I yelled out loud, my throat completely dry.

I tried to refocus and gather my thoughts, but the heat in the apartment made it impossible. I could not remember my username and password and stood in the middle of the living room, completely confused.

In my relentless pursuit to recollect my memory, I questioned the authenticity of my encounter with Hunter last night. Where did I meet him already? A pub? Doubt gnawed at the edges of my sanity. I found myself very dehydrated and dizzy.

Unable to shake the conundrum that gripped me, I figured I wasn't wide awake yet and headed to the bathroom for a shower.

As I undressed and stepped in the shower, my mind frantically searched my brain cells for my password and the details of my meeting with Hunter, but a sudden fatigue overwhelmed me. I turned on the water, and just as I felt the weight of defeat settling upon me, a splash of water jolted me awake.

#

Blinking against a blinding light, I found myself in a Bedouin tent. The air was heavy with the scent of sand and spices, and the rhythmic rustle of fabric surrounded me. Confusion etched across my face, I tried to make sense of my surroundings.

The Bedouins, their faces obscured by the folds of their garments, gathered around me. "Mr. Hunter, are you alright?" they inquired in unison. They thought my name was Hunter.

The Bedouins insisted, "Mr. Hunter, do you feel ok?" Their words hung in the air like an unanswered riddle. The revelation struck me like a bolt of lightning. I was sure of it now — I was Hunter.

My mind, now in disarray, sought to reconcile the fragments of a dream with the stark reality of the tent. The boundaries between the dreamlike mirage and the ordinary world blurred, leaving me suspended in a liminal space.

In a hurry, the Bedouins helped me drink some water. In the meantime, a Toyota Land Cruiser SUV arrived. It was a desert ambulance. The paramedics gave me an oxygen mask and administered fluids intravenously. Then, they carried me on a stretcher and loaded me into the back of the vehicle in a panicked hubbub.

As the ambulance sped through the desert, the undulating dunes outside the window echoed the rhythmic dance of the belly dancers. All I wanted to do was to venture out there again, soon, and disappear with the mirage, like the mysterious twin city of Babylon.

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