A large herd of goats crisscrosses the road. Traffic stops to accommodate them as they veer first one side then another. It is quite a sight. I get out to take a photo. There is a boy shepherding the goats, dressed in long shirt and trousers and a Berber hat. A dog is with them, almost an airedale to look at. I follow a few meters off the road along a sun-drenched dirt track now heaving with goats.
When I am ready to take the picture the goats are in shade, their dun colour horns and skin merging effortlessly with the earth, only some of their toggles catch the light.
The boy stands proprietorially scrutinising the herd as I watch – neither of us seeing what the other sees. I try to comment on the weather, his age, what it is the goats find to eat in the dust-bowl here; inanities all. He does not rebuff, but it is plain as the jostling backs of the animals that I am not behaving well in his world and the best way to be rid of me is to ignore me.
The boy does not register surprise when he sees me with the camera.
Do you mind? I ask not giving him a choice. The goats and the dog, he does not mind. Not today, the answer for himself and he disappears into a semi derelict, ramshackle concrete shack and rummages. He is probably ‘sin papeles’ and would not like any proof of himself to be known. Maybe there is nowhere else for him or his goats to go.
Soon he has whistled up his dog and the goats have turned so that they are all running towards me. The herd splits like brown, running water round me. An empty plastic container abandoned in the scrub is caught up with their running and the tapping of their cloven hooves on the hard earth so that the noise crescendos as if a veritable flood swirls round and threatens to wash the feet out from under me. Then they are gone, down another dirt track, with the boy in his Berber hat whistling to them.