The sand dune towered above us into the hot sky and I gazed up in awe. The lower part was criss-crossed with tyre tracks left by Emirati men, who love the adrenalin-rush of shooting the dunes.
We began to climb, puffing and panting. I paused to get my breath and gazed around me, pretending to admire the view.
I struggled higher, reminded of the song ‘One step forward, two steps back’, only this was more like one step forward, ten steps back. My friend *Cassie, who regularly picnicked here, overtook me effortlessly, carrying the water bottle with her up the steep incline.
My legs set up an ominous trembling as I battled the shifting sand. The afternoon sun beat hotly against my back and my throat felt as dry as the desert around me. I gazed longingly at the water bottle out of reach on the dune's ridge.
Cassie shouted encouragement from the summit. I gritted my teeth and scrambled a couple of paces before collapsing yet again in the sand.
Eventually I landed beside Cassie, shaking but triumphant, on the triangular sandy ridge and reached for the water bottle. I closed my eyes and sighed, enjoying the cool wetness trickling down my parched throat.
Before us lay the white oasis city of Al Ain; behind us, the sun cast lengthening shadows across the undulating desert dunes.
Our friend *Edward had only made it half way up the dune and was sitting with his back to us. He appeared to be watching a large, black 4x4 whose driver was trying to get as far up the dune as he could before power-sliding back down. Cassie and I watched too, laughing and chatting from our sandy perch.
The driver spotted us and redoubled his efforts. He tried to build as much power as possible before roaring up the side of the dune. I could not believe how high he managed to get this time, much further than on previous attempts. He was almost at the top before the engine lost momentum and he went into a powerful sideward slide. He waved at us and flashed his lights.
We laughed and waved back, before suddenly realising with horror that the vehicle was on a direct collision course with Edward, sat alone and defenceless in the sand. I leapt to my feet and covered my mouth with my hands, my eyes staring with horror at the nightmare scene unfolding in front of me. There was nothing we could do, Edward could not move out of the way in time. Time seemed to slow down. My heart thumped and I squeezed my eyes tightly shut. I was afraid to open them; I did not want to see the bloody, mangled body of my friend below me on the sand.
What had started as a fun picnic in the dunes was turning into a terrible tragedy.
This adventure actually happened to me a few years ago on a work trip to the United Arab Emirates. Thankfully, no one got hurt :)
*Names changed to protect identities.
Mandy Baker Johnson is a private medical secretary and freelance writer. She enjoys blogging and has recently co-authored her first book, Drawn from Words. She volunteers with a Christian charity working with women in the sex industry.