“How is my sister, Sara?” The Merchant of Dol Dol asked while getting on top of his camel, his ornaments jingling as he did. “Is she still with that good-for-nothing husband of hers who is always complaining as if the world owes him something?” he added. “But you turned out alright, eh, buddy?” he said and laughed.
I was still trying to make sense of it all to be offended by his japes. There were three camels in front of me. One of them had two men who wore what looked like tattered clothes, a contrast from my uncle’s flamboyance. The second camel had Beatrice and Bobobo, without the shackles I had imagined they had, and the Merchant of Dol Dol sat on the third one, the biggest and most decorated.
“Sorry buddy, you were the only one in shackles. You have to tell me how you still have so much fight in you after miles without food and water and with the desert sun burning a hole in your mental strength,” My uncle said while stretching a hand toward me. I held it reluctantly and climbed on his camel which groaned as if saying its back was meant for one, not two people.
“My name is Ayaan,” my uncle finally introduced himself while handing me water and dry bread. “Those are my comrades Barre and Hani,” he continued as I pinched some bread and tried to pass it to Beatrice and Bobobo. “Don’t bother, they have already drunk and eaten their fill,” he added.
The name Ayaan brought back memories. I remembered my mother, Sara, narrating a story to me about a bandit with a tender heart. Who would raid the homes of the rich to feed the poor.
“She made up that story to make me look good,” my uncle was now saying as if he could read my thoughts. “I used to steal from everyone and feed myself. I mean, I still do,” he said amidst laughter from Barre and Hani. “Until I was exiled into this wasteland. They probably thought I would die here but I became king of it,” he added with the slightest hint of bitterness in his tone.
“They are coming,” Beatrice shrieked as I cleared my bread and water and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. “Where am I?” she asked while trying to get off the camel. “What happened to your friend?” my uncle asked as Bobobo steadied her on the hump of the camel. “Let me guess, you came across the man eaters of Muige forest. Freaky bastards. They had one of my comrades for dinner and I took three of them as my pets. You will love them, they are in chains and every now and then I surprise them with a meal when there is a traitor in my camp.
I got cold shivers down my spine and Beatrice shrieked some more. “What’s her name?” My uncle asked. “Beatrice,” I said. “You love her, don’t you?” I remained silent but the answer was written all over my face. “When you love a woman you have to ensure she is protected; not just from danger but hunger too. You take from my side of the family, instead of your father’s. You will do well here.”
I looked at the vast expanse of sand and wondered what exactly I would do well with—The snakes or the scorpions? “What about the big one?” my uncle asked after some time passed with the only sounds being those of camels’ feet on the sand, Bobobo’s heavy breathing, and Barre sucking on a stick.
“That’s Bobobo the fool,” I said. “Why don’t you call him what he really is? Your savior. Without him, you wouldn’t have made it out of Muige forest. Would you?” I nodded in agreement as we came towards a makeshift market. Barre and Hani got off their camel and disappeared for an hour while we talked about family affairs with Uncle Ayaan, who even now appeared like something from a dream, or a story instead of a real person.
“We’ve got everything we need. Let’s get a move on,” Barre shouted. We left the market into a field of land that was sparsely populated by huts. We stopped at a homestead with a hut that dwarfed them all. Next to it were four smaller ones with a shrubbery fence around the compound. “Welcome home,” my uncle said while helping me off the camel.
We proceeded towards the main hut where a well-mannered woman welcomed us with jars of camel milk. It was then that I realized that the woman was Hani. “My love, you are going to give the boy a heart attack. She thought you were a man all along. Now he will have to say goodbye to his happy ever after with you,” Uncle Ayaan said and laughed at his own joke.
My eyes finally adjusted to the darkness in the hut. We sat on three-legged stools and there were guns, bows, arrows, and machetes leaning on the wall. There was also a loud commotion coming from behind the hut every now and then, which I imagined were the hostage man-eaters trying to break free. I sipped my camel milk silently; This was going to be a different kind of chaos from the one I had experienced with Njoro and I wouldn’t last long in it either. I realized.