Finally, I stopped at the crest of a hill, in the ruins of a fort built before the Crusades, and sitting in the shade of its crumbled columns I looked across the valley into Damascus. It was a maze, a city of negotiations and promises and unspoken agreements, a Gordian knot of alleyways and market awnings, bright with airing carpets and bedding, crowded with stone-colored blocks of houses leaning shoulder to shoulder, the better to whisper. I watched the white towers of the minarets and the golden domes of their mosques flare in the noon sun and fade to the ghosts of themselves in the distance of twilight. I walked back to my hillside through the long silence of the desert at night, under an impossibly wide sky brilliant with stars. The silence soaked into my skin until I, too, was full of silence.
As I approached my hillside at last, I saw a small fire burning. The desert at night is cold, and the color of the fire after so much night and silence woke a longing I didn't know I had. I went to the fire, past a man who sat at the edge of its light, and reached to catch its warmth in my chilled fingers. I heard him walk toward me, felt him touch my hair. When I turned, he kissed me. He smelled like the smoke of the fire, he tasted like cardamom and honey, his arms around me closed out the high, wild loneliness of the night, and I wanted the kiss never to end.
And so I stepped back. "I am a woman who can walk to Damascus," I told him, "and I don't need love."