At the Taba land crossing she sat with her friend on the benches outside the once brightly painted, now sun-bleached breeze block building in the shimmering heat, waiting to have her papers stamped, officiously, by the official. In her knickers was lodged a large head of sin semilla – potent female cannabis, without seed - and despite her careful wrapping of it, in plastic and fabric, little twigs were poking through to her gentlest parts. It was awkward and made her remember the boat-like sanitary pads her mother had once safety-pinned in her knickers, bow and aft; the awkwardness of movement, the worry of being pricked in such a sensitive place, the anxiety of any spillage or stain and self-consciousness of smell. Better products were on the market by then, flushable adhesive-backed ones, but her family couldn’t afford them in those days.

She stood up, and glancing across to the other travellers, moved away from the huddled group. Her friend followed. She could smell the high sensi aroma wafting out in waves well beyond her mantle, that layer beyond the skin that marks the border of your personal scent-boundary. She stared mid-distance, out of focus, wiggles of lines rose upward, the road ahead a mirage against a backdrop of dusty pink-yellow rock and sand punctuated by palms. She was aware of the plotline of Midnight Express, despite not having seen it, but somehow didn’t feel the full weight of the risk she was taking. She knew well enough the Egyptians would take a hard line, but she felt wrapped in protective layers, buffered from any jarring reality. All the same, the two young women were sweating not just from the heat when they passed through, were scrutinised and stamped, albeit without incident.

All the Israelis she had met traveling in the Sinai seemed like recidivist hippies, which was why the venture seemed like a good proposition: take it on tick, sell it and come back to pay back the Egyptian. Her friend had done the same. They neither liked nor trusted him, but needs must when the devil drives; the money was all gone and she wasn’t ready to go home, there simply weren’t that many options for generating income in a remote desert tourist trap off-season. She had tried getting punters for trips to St Katharine for a percentage, teaching English to the little boy of the guy who ran the Chinese restaurant, even doing hair wraps on the beach, but the market for this was cornered by the technicolour flocks of pre-pubescent Bedu girls. They would swoop down chattering, lithe and free, wrapping you in strands of their colours, winding you into a tableau that would end all-too soon. The onset of the menarche would see them swathed only in black, and relegated to the real village behind the tourist village where foreigners never would go, iridescent mermaids and irrepressible touts no more.

On the roadside the other side of the border they spoke words and agreed to take separate paths; her friend would go to Tel Aviv, and she was called strongly to Jerusalem. They hitched together on 90 through and past Eilat, then where 40 branched off the friends hugged, kissed and parted, never to meet again.

Somewhere along the road toward evening she got hungry, and stopped at a Romanian place for goulash and small glass of red. By the time she arrived, she was in the grips of food poisoning. She bunked up at a hostel just outside Damascus gate, stashed the package under her mattress and slept.

The next day, restored by a paper plate of hot sweet knefeh, she walked in the market, and from gate to gate outside the city wall. Two young men approached, one a dark-haired dwarf, the other lanky, pale and, so he said, Israeli-Palestinian. They convinced her to come the next day on a hiking trip to a wadi: it wasn’t far, they would arrange the transport. The dark one drove, but only the other one trekked with her. They came to a cleft in the rock, he held her back and tried to kiss her; she pulled away. There was a human shit in the corner; she felt disgusted, and still queasy from the day before. They walked on and had lost sight of the other tourists ahead. As they turned the corner a waterfall tumbling into a fresh green pool revealed itself – he hung back while she went to shower in it. The water coursed over her head and body; she was exultant, ecstatic. She felt fully cleansed of all the moral grubbiness she’d been accruing. It was practically a religious experience.

She didn’t hear the gunshots, as she was under the falling water the moment they rang out. As she emerged he re-appeared, beckoning her urgently. Helicopters were whirring waspishly above, chopping the air into jagged pieces, sombre waves of fear pushed the tourists and hikers out of the wadi.

A man shot dead: at the very apogee of her bliss, a stranger had met his end.

They left, drove back to the holy city with the dark man, and she never saw either again.

The mule went to bars to sell her wares. She danced on tables, and she wondered at the prevalence of uniformed teenagers with rifles that encircled every street corner and scene of hedonism. The mule was young, naïve, and had no head for politics, history or business. She cleaned the hostel in lieu of rent, smoked all the sensi herself, or with the sullen Dutch hostel manager in his darkened room; it was strong, pure. The smoke she usually got was soapy homegrown, which had to be cleaned by rubbing the dried leaves onto the laminate card showing the fish of the red sea, tilting and shaking it as the Bedu had taught her so the seeds would separate out – take it out! - the seeds they would make you go crazy, majnun!

The mule had run from a broken heart with a year’s open return and £300. She thought she’d blown her return but went to a travel agent and discovered that it was still valid, just: for $50 she could change her return date, and if she could hitch to Cairo she would fly home in a fortnight. By this time, she had no smoke and no food money. On her way back from the travel agent she met an Israeli man who was asking her about herself; she told him the situation, and he offered her the $50 if she’s suck him off. She declined, horrified. There was always repatriation.

Before her money had completely run out, every day she’d gone to the corner shop for yoghurt, guava juice and lib, those compelling seeds toasted and salted in their shells, which were as much a pastime as sustenance. The shop was run by two Palestinian brothers; one especially she really liked, he was gentle and kind, he emanated a calm wisdom. Late that evening, as he was closing up, the door was still ajar, and he beckoned to her from the gloomy interior. She hesitated – not that again – she didn’t want to be compromised; she didn’t want to lose her good opinion of this man. Why must men do this way? Despite her misgivings, she went in. He too was taking a reputational risk in being alone with her. She knew the saying: when a man and a woman are alone together, Iblis – Satan - is the third party. Even if people were impeccably behaved, the gossips would assume they weren’t. Apprehensively, she walked over to him where he stood by the counter and was stunned into silence as he pressed $50 into her hand. How had he known? The hostel manager? She was waiting for the other foot to drop, and in truth he looked like he’d like to kiss her, but blushing and flustered he was shooing her out, and pressing his finger to his lips he told her not to mention it to anyone, especially not his brother.

So, the very next morning she returned to Dahab without a shekel for the Egyptian. She went to find out what he wanted to do about her debt and reassure him she would send it from home as soon as she could. He didn’t seem angry or upset in the slightest. He said to meet him later in the newly built, still-dark camp at the far end of the beach. He said he had fion, he invited her. She went and waited in the bare silent hut, he came in and they chased it, thick black lines worming across the thin silver paper, the sublime smell wreathing around her, settling in her clothes and hair. He offered water; she drank. Time passed. She found she couldn’t move her body. He moved his onto hers, put on a condom, she was saying No, no but he wasn’t listening, and she was paralysed. So she left her body and when she returned, he was gone.

She considered reporting it only briefly, knowing the authorities would take a dim view of the surrounding circumstances. She slept one more night under cover of the stars and meteorite showers of the mountain, away from the bites of mosquitoes, then down to the sea to bathe one last time, then left. Her violent revenge phantasies lasted 8 or 9 years. She never took drugs again, and she never had either husband or children.

Also, she never forgot the generosity and humanity of the Palestinian, for whom the return of a stranger was worth personal risk and sacrifice. So in lieu of repayment, she grew up, and educated herself in politics and history.