The violet sky went on for miles over the yellow sand and disappeared only at the end of the horizon where the ocean lay large and welcoming. Even from such a great distance, the tired men could see the waves tumbling upon the boiling desert and they gazed occasionally when the boss wasn’t looking. They stared in resentment. All except one.
One kept his head down to the purple sky, and had never seen the waves falling upon the beach. He only stared at the sand and squinted when a breeze hit, dust-covered eyelashes doing little to protect his dry eyes. He didn’t care. Other thoughts filled his mind that distracted and occupied his day while they worked and as they marched the miles back to the room.
Thin clothes hung from a thin frame as Stephen stepped carefully through the grains of sand that threatened to invade his worn and discoloured shoes. As it does when in a tedious and meaningless job, the thought of her filled his mind’s eye and placed her in his room. Perhaps she was on one of the bunk beds – his bed maybe – ready and waiting for him to come back. It might have been that she was fetching a drink from the fountain outside and would run to Stephen as soon as he appeared in view. No matter where she was about the small shack, she would be smiling as she used to when he lived in the city.
"Thinking about your bird again?" the blond man behind asked, smiling and taking a quick step to align himself with Stephen. He had talked to the man a few times before, though never in much detail. His name badge said Cooper, but who would bother with a personal life in the desert?
The other man only nodded. If his face hadn’t been flushed red with heat, he would have blushed.
"Let her go. You’ll never see her again." The man in front of them didn’t turn. "She’s long gone."
Stephen cleared his throat to speak for the first time that day other than for roll call: "I’ll see her when I’m dead." His eyes lit up and a smile tugged at the left corner of his parched lips.
Cooper began, "How did you meet? I had this bird once, gorgeous, met at a bar in London. She didn’t want nothing to do with me after, well, this..."
"I don’t know where I met her, it was before I was caught. I was… not in the best way. But she loved me. She loves me. I’ll see her again. I know I will," he grinned, rotting teeth gleaming in the low light.
With a cry, a vulture soared above the single-file line of men like a lioness stalking a timid gazelle. The man in front didn’t turn around again nor did Cooper say any more on the matter. Deep in his heart, Stephen knew he’d be disappointed. She would not be there waiting for him, and she would not see him in Heaven because that’s not where he was going. Even so, he continued to drag his feet through the soft sand.