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Echoes in the desert - short stories online
Short stories online - Echoes in the desert
The place was strewn with skulls and bones. A strong wind was blowing and the fine desert sand was filling the mouth of a skull that was still above the rest. The place seemed eerie and a creepy feeling came over the travellers who had turned that way and found themselves in the land of death. The Land in which death reigned and proudly strutted around in unashamed splendor. The death of the soul waited at every corner, with traps and thrills which seemed so good, that even the most careful sometimes fell in and tumbled deep into the crevices never to be seen again.
“My lady we ought not have ventured so deep into these parts, you should have listen to your abba”, said the old man, looking at the young girl, bubbling with the freshness of youth and innocence. “This is no place for innocent young ones as you, we need to get you out of here, now!” he finished on a hurried note.
“Oh abba”, (meaning father; a respectful term for an elderly man) said the girl maybe about fourteen or fifteen years of age, “I am so happy that I have now come out and seen these things, I would have died like a nun in a cloistered monastery, who never had the chance to look beyond the walls of her convent.”
The old man looked at her compassionately, Alisha was dressed in a soft white flowing pantaloons and black blouse beautifully sequined in white, a pale pink rose bud that had once been fresh and beautiful, now, limply hung above her ears, the desert wind spares no one, he thought.
“Child, it is time to go back, go back to the safe arms of your mother, this is no place for a flower like you.”
Not waiting for an answer, he grabbed the young girl by the arm and placed her on the waiting camel, gently nudging the animal and making some gruff noises for it to get up. The camel lazily rocked itself up into position. The bobbing girl seemed to be comfortable on the camel and proceeded to cover her face with the thick, red shawl, most of her face was covered, only her eyes could be seen. Those kohl rimmed eyes were magnetic, they could hypnotise the one who looked into them, and yet they were strangely innocent.
Haider followed her in another camel. The old man was caught up in his thoughts, the young woman looked at him a few times hoping to make a conversation, but she could not penetrate the barrier of his thoughts. His thoughts were of her, Alisha like any other girl of the East was brought up in the confines of her palatial home, she was taught to be all that a woman of the East should be. Alisha was a contradiction of sorts. She was a free spirit, though she seemed restrained, she could act as tough as the grouchy old camels, who wanted to have their own way. She was gentle and yet wild, soft and tender and yet wayward as a little boy. She resented the freedom that her brothers had had, to run around boisterously and play, while she had to be restrained in even in the way she walked and talked. She hated the fact that she was a girl, who had to live within the boundaries of unspoken laws that women had to live by. She wanted to be free, these excursions with abba as she called her manservant and chaperon were the only escapades from the crushing reality of a life bounded by traditions, and yet she was one of the more privileged women to go out of her home at least a few times in a week.
Haider knew that he would be severely punished if his master came to know that his daughter had ventured into the land of the dead. He would lose his job and be sent into exile, yet he loved his mistress so much, that he cared not about his life, as much as he cared about her happiness.
“Abba,abba,” she called out in a high-pitched voice that sounded faint against the whistling wind.
“What is it little one, what do you want now?” asked Haider knowing what such urgent appeals meant. “The day is drawing to an end and we soon must be at home, do not delay child, let us go home,” he said.
“Abba, look at that cactus flower, how can you not see it? Wait .. I must see it or I shall die with regrets!” she said dramatically.
“My child, you have had enough for the day, We need to go now,” said Haider firmly.
“Abba please” she said petulantly, pouting like a little stubborn child. Tears like diamonds, sparkled under the golden rays of the evening sun, from the corner of her eyes, threatening to break free anytime.
Haider almost gave in, but better sense prevailed. “No, mistress, not today. I shall bring you here another time, now, let us go.” It was hard to say those words, she was his life, her tears ripped his heart, he could not bear to say those words, but her safety was more important to him.
Alisha looked at him, those grimly set lips and demeanour meant that his response was final, and she could not make him change his mind. They did not speak until they reached the house a good hour and a half later. She did not even turn back to thank him as she always did, as she ran into the house.
Haider waited for her a day passed by and yet there was no call from his mistress, he has not been summoned to take her on her pilgrimages across the desert. He was sad, his old heart was filled with longing to see the face of his young mistress. Haider had often imagined that if ever, he had a granddaughter she would have looked and behaved like Alisha.
Haider could not go to that part of the house where the women lived, he sent Alisha small offerings in the form of flowers and stones which she loved to collect. It had been three days, and she had still had not called for him or come out to see him. Haider waited all day, that night the wind was howling mercilessly. It was bitterly cold, even the animals shivered under their rough blankets. Haider could not sleep, he was restless, his thoughts travelled to his young mistress again and again, he was sad, deeply distressed.
Taking a huge blanket he wrapped it over the one he already wore and as sat on his camel nudging it.
“Abba where are you going?” asked the stable hand, “This is a unkind night, maybe even a cruel one, whatever you want to do can wait until morning.” The stable-hand had noticed that the man was not himself these last few days. He was a pale shadow of himself. He had not boasted of his long travels, his skill in divining the night skies and his exploits around the dessert. He was lost in thought, a sadness seem to engulf him.
Haider heeded no one, he was his own man. He melted into the shadows of the night.
The bitter wind that was blowing and howling all night would not let Alisha sleep. It was as if she could hear her name being called out aloud again and again and the sound echoed in the desert. Her spirit was troubled, she had wanted to put her arms around Haider and tell him he was forgiven, but she could not bring herself to do it. She decided that she would go to him in the morning and surprise him with her appearance.
Alisha had been waiting for the first rays of the sun. She leaped out of bed, dressed herself in a beautiful peach colored, long sleeved, gold embroidered blouse and ballooning pants in a deeper hue which looked more like a skirt. She quietly went into the stables. The camels were lazily lying there munching the dry hay, but Haider’s camel was standing aside, outside the tent. His saddle was still on the animal, which meant that he had been out somewhere. Alisha ran outside even though she knew it was not lady like to do so, she wanted to see abba. She spotted a ragged form on the dirt a little further, a closer look revealed it was Haider. she ran towards him crying, “Abba”. It appeared as though he had fallen off the camel and was dragged in the dust and sand, his clothes were tattered and his body bleeding with torment. In his hands was cupped a beautiful white cactus flower with a golden center, he had held it carefully until his last breath, for his mistress, which now lay at her feet.
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