The Nomad Who Loved the Desert

There was a Nomad once, who loved the desert for all its benedictions of water and greenery, for all its harshness: the sweltering days and cold nights, they all belonged to him. He was the last of his tribe — old, shriveled, with a swarthy, sun-beaten face dominated by crinkles, crow’s feet and a genial smile that never left his lips

All his life he’d roamed the desert, wearing a thick, crimson turban and an inexplicable aura of happiness; sometimes seen upon the crest of some sand-dune talking to his faithful companion, a camel called Mani; sometimes huddled beneath the ruins that dotted the dreary landscape. He and the camel were the permanent fixtures in the ever-moving sand. Have you ever wondered how the animals you shower with love and care tend to understand you even with their incapability to speak like humans? Affection and love require no word or description. The Nomad’s camaraderie with Mani was just that unspoken, tacit bond of dependence and love. Beyond words Mani understood his human-companion better than anyone around.

While families in the nearby villages lived well-protected behind their brick and stone walls, the Nomad and the camel would brave the desert expanse in the baking heat and the frigid hours post sunset, through sandstorms and transient drops of rain that seemed to mock at the living beings of the desert.

A bell hung around Mani’s slender neck and on still days of the driest summers its tolling could be heard for miles. The villages on the outskirts of the wasteland knew the sound well. They would offer the old Nomad and his companion food, water and clothes — not out of pity but immense respect. The Nomad and his camel had saved many lives over the years, helped many stranded or stuck in storms.

The villagers wondered how he and the animal survived, how the Nomad was always smiling, always kind and generous. What could be the secret for an aged wanderer’s perpetual bliss? What he had that others didn’t — a weather-worn turban, a paltry bundle of clothing wrapped in a blanket; a gourd of water and a camel that couldn’t speak.

How could such a man, with no ties, no possessions and no roof to sleep beneath, be so satisfied? There were some villagers who believed the old-man to be magician; otherwise how could he be so healthy and happy on minimal resources? After all it was the desert where he lived and roamed, with nothing but a sea of sand, a few oases, stunted trees and cacti.

One summer afternoon, under the blazing, beating sun the Nomad appeared.

His head was bare, the shiny-white hair blowing in the wind. His clothes were smeared with sand and sweat, his walk staggering, the shouts of help hoarse. The villagers knew something was stupendously wrong for Mani, the Nomad’s constant shadow, was nowhere to be seen.

Mani lay dying a kilometer away, in the shade of a sand-dune that had advanced to blanket his limbs. By the time the Nomad returned, accompanied by the villagers, the ship-of-desert had already sunk into the depths of oblivion — Mani was long dead.

That was the first time the villagers saw the Nomad crying. His smile had been wiped-off; his face was streaked with constant runnels of tears as he dug a grave for his companion. The sand readily gave way and gobbled the animal with gusto.

The party returned to the village, along with the grief-stricken old Nomad. The people tried their best to console him but not for a moment did his tears stop; not for a second his grip on Mani’s bell slacken. Finally he fell asleep — sad, tired, on an empty stomach.

The villagers found his pallet empty the next morning. Since then, he hasn’t made any prolonged contact with the villagers. Some have seen him talking into the thin air, atop a billowing knoll of sand.

It is common knowledge that every month the Nomad returns to the western borders of the merciless desert. Probably he hasn’t been able to let go of Mani’s death, probably he is looking for his grave. But the sand is sly; it wouldn’t give up its secrets. The desert has obliterated all signs of the camel’s final resting place, with its constant shifting and turning.

On moonless summer nights when the sand is cold and stationery, one can still hear the Nomad moving around in the desert. The bell that had once adorned Mani’s neck tolls to this day. You can hear it for miles.