In his dreams, Muammar imagined himself leading great armies out of the desert like the Prophet, conquering all the feuding tribes of man, even the Europeans, barbarians when his people were civilized, and placing them under the dominion of Allah. He didn't know how he was going to do this yet, but felt it was his destiny. First, somehow, he was going to have to become the leader of his country, which he felt he could do by following the example of Gamel Abdul Nasser, president of Egypt. He would join his country's army, become an officer, organize his own revolutionary cells, and success would surely follow for him too, Allah willing. Then, together with his hero, they would unite the Arab world and create an Islamic socialist revolution that would sweep everything before it and once again his people would be on top as they had been a thousand years ago. Wasn't it inevitable? Didn't history move in such cycles? But impatient as he was for all that to start happening, Muammar knew he was going to have to wait until he was a little older and more experienced. He didn't even have any followers yet, associates he could trust with his vision, but that day would come. Until then, he supposed he could content himself with this John Wayne business, trivial as it was.
It was his uncle. After Miss Loren's departure, Muammar had tried to duck out the back way without saying goodbye, but wasn't quick enough.
His uncle leaned on the bar with both elbows and regarded him favorably. "Who was that beautiful young woman you were with? And why was she disguised as an old man? In my establishment, such subterfuge is not necessary."
"She's with the movie company. Why she was dressed as an old man is her business."
"If you say. Is she your girlfriend? If so, I approve, and frankly am quite jealous."
"She is not my girlfriend."
"Too bad. It would be nice to have a woman like that, for the cold desert nights, eh?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"Sure you do." His uncle leered and made suggestive movements as if he was riding a camel.
"Is that all you think about, uncle, besides money?" Muammar knew that he was being baited by the evil old man, but could not resist.
"What else is there?"
"You know very well."
"What? Enlighten your elder."
"Allah. And politics. The Arab cause!"
"Worthy interests. But there is more to life than that, much more. When I was a young lad---"
"I've got to go," said Muammar, darting out the back doorway before he could be trapped into listening to the old man's implausible stories of a misspent, blackmarket youth chasing the local maidens, always one step ahead of an enraged father, brother, husband, or the local authorities. He'd had the misfortune to hear all the stories before and they were all equally disgusting and unbelievable, though Muammar supposed there had to be some truth to them.
The night was already quite cold. Muammar went to the front of his uncle's establishment hoping to see Miss Loren with the idea of following her as she followed John Wayne, but she was nowhere to be seen. Muammar looked around. There weren't too many places they could have gone.
Muammar headed out into the desert. If they had gone this way, they wouldn't have wandered too far away from town. To him it was nothing since he'd lived here all of his life and often walked across miles of open desert to go to school or visit relatvies. It was a lot harder to get lost in this desert than one would think, even at night, but foreigners wouldn't know that.
Muammar found himself thinking about Miss Loren. She was a very beautiful woman. Perhaps that was why he had agreed to help her in the first place and was looking for her even now, not out of some sense of duty or curiousity, but because he found her attractive in the way his uncle had so crudely indicated. Muammar was certain that he was going to be a great man some day, at the very least the ruler of his country, and so would need a wife, probably more than one. He supposed Miss Loren would do as one of his selections, though she was an Italian, not an Arab. She would have to learn his customs and become a Muslim. He wondered what her religion was now, if any. Weren't all Italians Christians? That would have to change, unless Miss Loren didn't marry him and just became his mistress, which he understood was the right of great men to have. Perhaps that would be a better arrangement. Of course, it was a little early to be worrying about any of this yet, but it was always pleasant to think of such things in advance.
Something landed next to Muammar with a thud, making him jump. An empty liquor bottle settled by his foot. He touched it with a toe. It had to be the American, John Wayne, somewhere nearby in the darkness. Muammar heard a loud voice and moved in that direction.
He hadn't gone far when he picked out the tall, broad figure of a man silhouetted against the starry desert horizon. Muammar ducked down behind a bush. He didn't see Miss Loren anywhere. Was she hiding somewhere too, watching?
"Hey, Big Guy, what's going on?" Muammar wondered who this John Wayne was talking to. Allah? If so, then he would have to give the American some respect. More than once he himself had gone out in the desert to talk to Allah in this manner, such behavior was not unusual. The American lowered his bulk and sat down heavily, making a cry of pain and almost tipping over. Muammar wondered if John Wayne was going to sleep now, again not that peculiar at night in the desert if you had a good blanket to wrap yourself in, but the American stayed upright.
Muammar grew impatient waiting for something to happen. He didn't really know who John Wayne was except that he was someone important, a movie star, though Muammar had never seen a movie in his life and only knew secondhand from his uncle, who else, that they were moving pictures of real people and places projected onto a blank screen, usually accompanied by sound, an explanation which sounded suspiciously to Muammar like just another one of his uncle's stories. He wondered if John Wayne was really something other than a movie star: perhaps he was a spy of some kind. Why else would he meet with those two military officers and the other American at his uncle's? Perhaps they were all involved in a plot to overthrow King Idris, one heard rumors about that all the time since the King was a weak ruler who had never wanted the job in the first place. If that was the case, should he care? Muammar had little use for the King himself, since not only was the King a weak ruler he was corrupt as well, reminding Muammar much in character of his uncle in that regard, but if the King was overthrown, wouldn't that make his country even more subservient to foreign interests? And how would that affect his own plans for the future? Muammar didn't think it would be to his advantage if someone overthrew the King besides him, but he was in no position to do that yet.
"Lord, why are there Commies?" Muammar wondered if this was part of the plot, assuming there was one, John Wayne going into the desert and pretending to talk to Allah to deflect attention from himself as a conspirator. Whatever the explanation, Muammar thought John Wayne had asked an interesting question. Why were there Communists? They did not believe in God, and had no religion except their own political ideology. How could Allah permit such an abomination, since he controlled all things? His ways were not subject to question, but still. Perhaps Communisim was just another test of the faithful, to strengthen their resolve.
"Lord, is that you? Lord?" Muammar strained his eyes, but could not see who the American was talking to, no surprise if this was a dialogue with Allah. He crept out from behind his bush to get a better view, also hoping he might bump into Miss Loren, then froze when John Wayne stood up. Had he been seen? No, the American was still talking to his God.
"Lord?" John Wayne started to get down on his knees, then stopped. "Lord, is that you?" Muammar tried to see who or what the American was staring at, transfixed, but there was nothing there except the desert and the night, which made Muammar envious that he was not the one having this vision, then he started to feel waves of heat as if the doors of an unholy furnace had just been thrown open. Was this the presence of Allah? Muammar prostrated himself.
He waited to hear God's voice, but didn't. Face pressed to the ground, he thought he heard a faint rumble, then nothing. The sensation of heat disappeared as suddenly as it had arisen. Cautiously, heart pounding, Muammar looked up. Around him the desert night was unchanged, except for the absence of the American. John Wayne was gone.
Muammar got up, brushing himself off. Had he experienced the presence of Allah, or was it something he had only imagined because of the strange behavior of the American? There was no way of knowing.
He wondered where Miss Loren was. Hadn't she followed John Wayne? Maybe she had gone back to the hotel instead. That didn't seem likely, but it was the only alternative that Muammar could think of. What sort of game were these foreigners playing? He headed back to town hoping to find out, kicking the empty liquor bottle out of his way and sending it spinning into the darkness.