The Fertile Lands
Jahmal of the Waste
A hot wind was blowing from the northwest as usual. Fortunately, today the wind, though stiflingly hot and dry, was gentle enough that only patches of sand were kicked up occasionally instead of the blinding, choking sand-walls that plagued the waste. Jahmal was lost from his caravan and he knew it was only a matter of time before the sand would reclaim him, so he was grateful for this respite from the howling winds and vicious blowing sand. Jahmal looked up from his aching feet and shielding his eyes from the blazing day star above he looked ahead to the Western Steps: their dark, sand-blasted peaks jagged and crumbling into the ground from which they arose. He knew that he would never reach them, but through the sand he trudged ever onward: a man at the end, but too stubborn to accept his fate. Through the sand his feet fell heavily: right, left, right left.
He figured the caravan was already more than two days ahead of him. Sustained by the barrels of water and dried meats they carried, they would reach shelter within the day with their supplies well stocked: especially with one fewer in their number. The journey to the mountains was a special trek for the tribe; returning to the storied ruins of their ancestors kept their culture unchanged through the ages. When they reached the decrepit caves their forefathers carved they would feast on age-old recipes made with sacred spices used once a year. Jahmal’s stomach ached at the thought of those feasts he previously enjoyed; his dry mouth gaped, hoping to be filled one more time with delicious spiced meats. Alas, as the light first touched the sand, and finally Jahmal’s back was warmed and his shivering ceased, the last drop of water fell from his horn-canteen to his cracked and bleeding lips. With his supplies exhausted, he dropped his useless horn at his feet. Still onward he propelled his feet: left, right, left.
Jahmal lifted his head again toward the mountains and he remembered the twenty feasts of his life. He thought he could hear the laughter of friends and bellowing of horns that accompanied the nightly bonfires, but it was only a swell of wind spinning sand up to dance around him: he shielded his eyes quickly but feebly. The force of the gust made him stumble and he fell to his hands and knees as the hot sand made an effort to claim him at last. But Jahmal remembered his friends, Haddad and Tahir, and forced his way onto his feet smirking and clenching his eyes shut. The waste was angered by his stubbornness and with one more powerful gust meant to bury him, but Jahmal let out a weak cackle and staggered forward into the wind and sand: left; right.
As the wind receded, the sand fell and settled back to the ground. Jahmal opened his eyes cautiously expecting to draw inspiration for his march by seeing his ancestral homeland again: instead he saw only dunes of sand, freshly made and rising to the sky before him. Heartbroken, he fell to his knees and felt the hot sand searing his aching joints. A tear surely would have welled in his eyes if he had any hydration left. Jahmal stared unflinchingly at the blazing hot sand now surrounding him. In that moment, he thought again of Haddad and Tahir; they were his brothers, if not by blood by the bond they forged through their youth and tempered through their sacred trials. All three men shared the same dark skin of their tribe, but Tahir kept his hair shaved while Jahmal and Haddad’s dark black hair was long and oft sand-filled. It was on their joint trial, when they first journeyed the waste alone to prove themselves men, that Tahir bore his naked scalp.
On the fourth night, shivering in the cold wind, Jahmal couldn’t sleep. Always the joker of the three, he unsheathed his knife and spent that night cutting off the hair of his brothers. In the morning light when they awoke, after the shock diminished, all three shared a long laugh that was swallowed up without an echo by the vast waste. By nightfall, though, his brothers’ scalps were both burned and blistered by the scorching heat of the day star. No longer laughing, Haddad, always the tallest and strongest of the three, held Jahmal while Tahir used Jahmal’s own blade to return the favor.
Jahmal lifted his hand to his head and felt the scars of his burns under his unkempt hair. Still staring into the dunes before him, he reached for that same blade: a blade he should have given to a son by now. With the last of his strength, he lifted that knife toward his head.
But before the shimmering metal made it to his shoulders, Jahmal felt a strange sensation in the hair on his neck: the hairs felt like they were standing on end trying to escape from his body. Under him, sand started to shift violently but the air stood still. Energized by the startling circumstance, Jahmal rose to his feet one final time and turned brandishing his knife. His last thought was “ghyr mumkin" (impossible) and with a thunderous sound and burst of light, Jahmal died.