The wind picked up in the middle of the day and carried a fine, orange dust across the flimsy white roofs of the tents, sprinkling the faces of small children carrying water bottles to their families, and diving into the lungs of the old people, drawing deep coughs from their throats. Volunteers in vests walked from tent to tent with medical kits and packaged saltines. Normally by noon, most people would try to stay within their tents to escape the dust. It was only the children and the elderly, who were outside, who were touched by it. One boy who was covered in orange, his pants and t-shirt entirely stained, picked up a handful of the dust and threw it in his water container. When his sister saw that he had contaminated their water, she picked up the container and dumped it on his head. The boy laughed.
The man was wearing white pants and a vest distinguishing him as a volunteer. He sat with his hands in his lap beside a blind man in a folding chair. The volunteer had arrived a week ago and was assigned to helping the blind of the camp, since he had experience working with visually impaired people in his home country. Since the blind man, like the volunteer, was alone, the volunteer spent more time with him than with the other families. They would often sit outside like this, in the middle of the day, and let their faces be covered with orange sand. Today, the blind man had received word from his sister in a neighboring country. The volunteer read it aloud to him, his words slightly warped by his odd accent.
“Dear brother,” he read, “I am thinking about you all of the time and hoping to see you soon. I am talking to the police- sorry, the government- and I think that maybe soon, you will come live with my family and Mama. Until then, you must continue to live where you are now.”
The blind man reclined on his chair and sighed. He had grown up blind, having lost his vision as an infant. As a result of his vision impairment, his hearing had ameliorated, and he could hear the calls of the children in the distance, the honks of the trucks on the highway adjacent to the camp, and the high-pitched noises of the planes above, all layered underneath the volunteer’s voice.
“And that’s it?” the blind man said slowly.
“She says, ‘I love you and hope to see you soon’, sir. That’s it.”
The young boy stared at the letter in his hands. He had grown up in a wealthy neighborhood in a big city and attended an old university in another big city. His parents had spoiled him with love and raised him with a sense of justice. When he learned in school about the camps on the other side of the world, he developed a fascination with volunteer work. It had been his aspiration to work in a camp for a year, and when he arrived, he felt that he was where he belonged. That feeling hadn’t gone away since he arrived. He felt purposeful as he sat with the blind man, and measured vitamins for the sick, and sang songs with the children, and dished out cornmeal in paper bowls. He felt it now.
“Sir, maybe we should go into your tent? The wind is brushing the dust into your face, and you could get a cough. Don’t you feel it on you?”
“Child, if you wish to go inside, my house is yours. But I like the feeling of the sun on my face. If a cough comes, a cough will come.”
“That’s fine with me.”
“Will you give me that letter that my sister sent?”
The volunteer placed the letter in the hand of the blind man. The two men sat very quietly for an hour. The volunteer closed his eyes and let the wind cover his face in the soft dust. To someone passing through, they would look like the statues that once populated the sad desert.
Three weeks later, the blind man would get to leave to live with his sister.
Two years after that, the volunteer would fall in love and move back home.
Twenty years after that, the children in the camp would grow up.
Seventy years after that, all that would remain of the camp is a well, the corpses of a few tents, and the orange dust that the wind carries through the air in the middle of the day.