Driving down a desert road the other day, deep into the dunes on a four-lane ribbon of blacktop snaking into the distance, I saw two men sitting by the roadside in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Between them, standing up on its tread, was a large truck tyre. All around, as Samuel Taylor tells us, the sands were boundless and bare. They weren't really lone and level, because it was dune country, but you get the picture.
I’d gone another 100 metres before I realised that I had witnessed a first grade incongruity. What the hell were they doing there? How did they get there? Where were they going? What was with the tyre? I don’t need to emphasise that there was no accompanying truck for miles either way along the roadside.
I started making up explanations for their seemingly inexplicable presence in the middle of nowhere, just to amuse myself.
- They were travelling to deliver a tyre. They were cousins, but being naturally argumentative people, had got into one of those interminable wrangles over something small and daft, like who had fancied the village beauty first. Finally, the driver had had enough of their constant bickering and had ditched them both, then and there.
- They’d gone to sleep and had woken up to find that they’d lost a truck. All they had left was the spare tyre. Knowing that they're in big trouble, they decided to wait for the thief to bring the truck back.
- They were with Al Qaeda and were waiting to blow something up. This was the best they could manage. All they need now is an air line.
- They were members of a strange Kashmiri cargo cult and had wheeled their prize from Sharjah in order to take part in a Gnostic desert tyre-worshipping ceremony. They were consequently trying to look innocent and inconspicuous until the rest of the tyre-worshippers turned up.
Whatever my craziest, desert-drive fuelled fantasy was, it probably wasn’t a patch on the truth. And that truth, dear reader, will never be known.