Azim’s shoulders sagged and he laid the comb back on its shelf.
“Tomorrow, Flower.” He had named her himself. Flower or Flower of the Desert he was to call her.
The next day, Azim bolted his breakfast, splashed water on his face and got through morning prayers with one eye on the door. The moment they were done, he ran out the door, two green apples bulging in his pockets.
He ran for the barn and carefully unwound the rope tie and ran to his horse. Sal-gal was slowly munching again. Azim could see that Mohammad had already been in the barn and left a small wooden stool there with oats on the top. Sal was eating the oats.
Azim grabbed the comb again and started on her tail. It was a worse mess than her mane, if that was possible. Sal ignored him and only kicked lightly once when he pulled an obnoxious burr out. Azim murmured to her and she flicked her tail and turned to look at him once. Then, she went back to her oats like he wasn’t there.
Azim just could not bear to leave her so he stayed, puttering about. Later, Salim also showed up. During the day, various people from the village, curious about the new arrival, showed up to see. Salim became the unofficial tour guide and told the story over and over again about how the pony had been found in the desert by his father, close to the railway tracks.
They all wanted to know about the rider of the pony. There were many long looks and shakings of the heads.
Azim’s mother and sister’s tended the soldier night and day for nearly a weak. The young man was very, very sick.
By the third day, Azim kept after his father that Flower needed fresh air and exercise. It was a buoyant Azim and Salim who, after Mohammad fitted the bit back in Sal’s mouth, were allowed to lead her around the village. People came out to look at her and admire. She was such a beauty.
After she had been cleaned thoroughly with water, Mohammad got out some of his special oils.
“These are from my horse who died. You remember him don’t you, Salim?” Mohammad asked his son. Salim nodded. “Yeah, I miss him, every day.”
The man gazed into the distance, remembering. He allowed the boys to brush the oils into her coat and hooves. Now, clean and with a lightly oiled sheen, Sal-gal gleamed in all her chestnut glory. The mane was clean as well as her tail.
Azim’s sisters got into the act and got some wildflowers to put in the horse’s mane. He thought it was silly, but they insisted.
“It’s a girl,” they said to him. “Girls wear flowers.” He grimaced but allowed it.
Each morning, mother had allowed him two hard apples for Flower and then, to his amazement, a couple of carrots were added. Ali raced to the barn and fed Flower by hand stroking her forelock and murmuring to her. #
On the fourth day, mother came out of the bedroom and spoke to his father.
“The fever has broken. I think he will be alright now. He is young and healthy.”
Omar nodded to her and went out to find Mohammad. The two men met and walked to the edge of the village.
“He’s a soldier,” Omar told his friend.
“Yes, from the military camp,” Mohammad replied. “French?”
“No, English, I think. He was muttering in English,” Omar said.
The two men nodded.
“We have to take him back.” They both nodded. “And the horse.” Omar glanced sideways at his friend knowing full well the man’s love of horses.
There was a pause.
“I am sorry, Omar, the boy…”
“The boy will live. There will be other horses,” Omar picked his words carefully.
“Well, yes.” Mohammad thought about his own ancient animal, recently deceased. “Of course, other horses …” He paused thinking. “You will tell him?”
“Yes, we can go to the camp together? Take the boys?”
“Yes, I think they would like that,” Mohammad sounded resigned.
Sadly, Omar returned home. He would have to talk to his son. #
That evening, Omar left the barn. Azim was inside crying. Omar decided to leave the boy for a while. There was nothing else to be done.
He got home. Fatima looked at him. “He’ll be okay,” he told her. “He just needs some time.”
Fatima took a bowl of soup from the kitchen and walked it back to the bedroom. The soldier could almost sit up by himself now. She would feed him a little soup.
Later that evening, Omar and Fatima walked quietly to the barn. Omar opened the door and they peeked in. Azim was asleep, curled up in the straw next to his horse. Sal-gal stood with her head down, she was close to the boy and they saw her reach over and nuzzle him once. As quietly as they came, they closed the door and left. #
The next day, early, Omar, Mohammad, Azim, and Salim got ready for their trip. It was decided that they would all travel together to the military compound. The expensive leather saddle had been cleaned, oiled and scrubbed until it shone. The silver buckles and points gleamed in the early morning sun.
Mohammad, who was considered the best rider in the village, had the honor of riding Sal-gal/Flower. Azim would ride in the saddle behind him. Omar and Salim would follow, each on the smaller village donkeys. Azim’s mother and sisters had prepared food for the trip. Leather flasks of water were filled up. Dates and raisins were in little pouches, falafel and goat cheese were in another pouch.
One would think they would be gone three days. In truth, the compound was only about twenty miles away. The men were sure they would be there before late afternoon. Sal-gal responded to her new rider like the champ she was and obeyed commands that Mohammad fearfully gave her. The two got used to each other after a few miles. Soon, it wasn’t just Azim who regretted this trip, Mohammad was having second thoughts about giving this excellent pony back to the British.
“If we just made the soldier disappear, who would know? I could keep this beautiful horse. I need to speak to Omar again.” Mohammad’s thoughts whirled like angry animals through his head.
Midday, the group rested, and Azim led Flower to the watering hole and stroked her neck. He murmured to her and picked tiny bits out of her mane. She nuzzled him and he held onto her head. Silent tears began to run down his cheeks. Omar came over and put an arm on his son’s shoulders. One little tear fell down his cheek too. Azim laid down close to his pony and closed his eyes.
He was awakened by the sound of arguing. He looked over and saw his father and Mohammad having a heated discussion several yards away. Mohammad was waving his arms and gesturing toward Flower. His father, arms crossed over his chest just kept shaking his head no. Finally, Mohammad walked away, clearly fuming with his arms stuck akimbo on his hips. Azim closed his eyes again. #
By late afternoon, the odd group were entering the gates of the military compound. A British guard on duty sent for the Arabic interpreter. The soldiers at the gate were instantly suspicious of village people bringing in what was obviously a pony belonging to one of their junior officers.
Much rapid-fire conversation commenced and one of the guards silently took the reins of Sal-gal from Omar. Azim still stayed glued to the horses’ side.
“We need to take this to the commander, toute suite,” the one guard said to the other.
The entire group, Sal-gal, donkeys, et. al, proceeded through the camp to a small whitewashed building at the far side of the gate.
Mohammad thought to himself, Maybe they’ll be so grateful for what we have done, they’ll give us the horse as a reward! He was to be disappointed.
The interpreter went with one of the soldiers and the others stood outside. When the village men started to climb the steps, the soldier put his hand out to stop them.
“Wait here,” he told them.
The two men and the two boys waited. There was the sound of conversation inside. In a few moments, a big man, dressed a lot like the soldier in Fatima’s bedroom came out. He had dark hair and a thin mustache. He was imposing and looked very no-nonsense. A younger man, in the same dress, was with him.
“What’s all this?” His eyebrows went up.
More rapid-fire conversation.
“I believe they are Bedouin’s sir. From a local village. They found a soldier.”
“Lt. Nelson, you think?” The older man asked.
His aide de camp nodded.
“He’s been missing for days.”
“Looks like he fell ill, sir.” The aide told the commander in a low voice. “They found him unconscious.”
“They did, did they?” Was the commander’s reply. He began walking down the steps followed closely by his aide de camp.
The men understood nothing the commander said to them. The interpreter began babbling to them. At this point, the villagers all nodded their collective heads up and down rapidly.
“Ah,” the Commander commented and walked over to Sal-gal.
He walked around the pony, looking at her face, picking up her feet, looking at those. He circled the pony entirely and patted her on the neck.
“And you took care of his horse, too?”
More interpreting, much more nodding of the heads.
“Well,” the commander looked back at his assistant, “she looks to be in pretty good shape. Better, actually,” he laughed. “Better I think than when Nelson was taking care of her. Ha!” He smoothed his mustache.
“And you still have him? Nelson, I mean?” The commander asked.
More translating and more nodding of heads.
“Well then,” the commander turned and looked at his aide, “I guess we’ll have to go get him.” The aide nodded.
“But,” the Commander looked at the sky, “getting late. And, it seems to me these gentlemen have rendered a service to the British Army. Not in a case of conflict, of course, but in rescuing both a junior officer and his,” he stopped to give Sal-gal a little pat, “his very valuable Army property. Tom, let’s invite these men in for some food and drink and start this trip tomorrow morning.”
The aide de camp talked to the interpreter who gave the message to the villagers who looked uncertainly around. With some deal of coaxing, the men ascended the steps and were led to the mess hall in the same building.
Tom, the aide de camp came over to his boss and whispered, “The boy wants to go with the horse.”
“The boy,” Tom pointed, “wants to go with the horse.”
“Ah, I see.” The commander looked over at the skinny kid standing next to Sal-gal’s reins. He could easily read the forlorn look. “Okay, Tom, tell the stable master I said it was okay. Take the kid a plate of something.”
Tom nodded to Azim and waved for the boy to follow him. Tom handed the reins to the kid who clutched them in his fist. The two walked silently to the stables. #
Later, dinner was served, and the villagers took off their shoes and left them at the door. There were snickers and asides from the men who came into eat. They received the parental glare from their chief. In a few moments, the aide de camp clinked his glass with a spoon. The commander stood up.
“Ah, yes. I would like to say, men, that my guests,” he cast a gimlet eye on the assembled troops, “my guests, here are from the local village a few miles from here. It appears a few days ago, from what I understand, Lt. Nelson, out on patrol was struck with some kind of fever, fell from his horse, and was rescued by these men.” He waved in their direction. “He has been taken to their village and nursed back to health. For these things, we need to thank them.” The commander began to applaud, and his troops quickly joined in.
The villagers practically blushed and bowed many times. The interpreter was busy telling them what was said. The men even ate some of the food offered to them.
After dinner, the commander summoned Tom over.
“Where’s that kid?”
Tom jerked his head. “He’s still in the stable, sir.”
“Hum,” the commander nodded. “Entertain our guests if you would Tom and get them a place to sleep for the night.”
Tom nodded and turned to the interpreter again.
The commander got up and walked outside. It was another starry night in the desert, the full moon had passed, and a half moon hung in the sky. A light breeze stirred the desert sand and he could smell jasmine faintly in the air. He lit a cigar.
Quietly for such a big man, he approached the stables and went in.
The stable master was in his cramped little office finishing up some paperwork.
“The boy?” the commander asked.
The master jerked his head to the back of the stable.
The commander walked back and came to the last stall and stopped. There, Sal-gal was standing, her saddle and reins were off, and she was contentedly munching hay. The skinny kid he had seen before had an old wire brush in one hand and was stroking down her side. He was talking to the pony in a low voice and occasionally she would whinny back.
The commander had his cigar in one hand and puffed on it thoughtfully. He stood there a few moments. The kid never seemed to notice him.
I wonder, he thought to himself, turned and left.
He went back to the main building and back to the camp mess. The villagers were being served tiny cups of coffee by the interpreter. Apparently, from his own private stock. They all seemed to be relaxed now and enjoying themselves.
The commander sat down a little distance away and waved to his aide. The younger man separated himself and came up.
“Ah, Tom. Um…tell the interpreter to tell the men,” he gestured loosely at the group, “that we might need the services of a water boy in the stable.”
Tom ogled at his boss a moment. “A water boy, sir? We’ve never had…”
“Tell him, Tom.” The older man puffed on his cigar.
Tom turned, went, and sat down next to the interpreter and started speaking. There commenced a great deal of conversation and waving of hands. This went on for some minutes. Tom got up and went back to his boss.
“They say it depends completely on the mother. She cannot lose her oldest son.”
“Right, tell them there is very little money involved, mostly room and board but the boy will be able to work with the horses every day. Maybe learn to ride.” The commander puffed some more.
Tom went back and conveyed the message. More conversation and waving of hands. The villagers did not look directly at the commander but confided their comments to the interpreter and Tom.
Tom came back. “They will have to go home to discuss it.”
“Understood,” the commander said. He got up and bowed. “Salaam.”
The villagers bowed to him in return, “Salaam,” they all said. #
The next day, two jeeps and several British soldiers followed the directions given to them by the interpreter and Omar, the father of Azim. As a treat, they let the kid ride in the jeep, and he helped point the way. Azim held his face into the wind and grinned the whole way home, hair whipping in his face.
On the return trip, Mohammad rode one of the donkeys. Perhaps Allah will be very good to us and the soldier will get sick again and die this time. He smiled broadly at the thought.
In a few hours, they were able to locate the village. Omar led them to Junior Officer Nelson who was now well enough to walk.
At the village, numerous thank yous were exchanged on both sides. The mother and sisters all kissed Nelson on the cheek and pressed gifts of dates, nuts, and raisins into his hands. He turned red from the attention and got stiffly into the back of the jeep.
More bowing occurred. Tom, aide de camp, separated himself from the others and dragged the interpreter into the house of Omar and Fatima. They conveyed the offer from the Commander again. Fatima looked stunned and just stared at her husband.
Tom nodded, bowed, and said. “Your decision, ma’am, of course.” With that he turned and left the tiny plaster house followed by the interpreter.
Getting back in the jeep he turned to Nelson. “Well, soldier, you have had quite the ride, sir.”
A wan Nelson, holding his side, nodded briefly. In a cloud of dust, the two jeeps drove off. #
One month later, the commander walked into the stable.
“Mr. Gleason let me present your new stable boy. This is Azim.”
Azim stepped forward timidly and bowed.
“Do he speak any English, sir?”
“Not a word, not a drop.”
“Well, sir …”
“We talked about this, Gleason. He’s a sharp lad, he’ll pick it up quick and any real problems, ask the interpreter.”
“Ah, sir …”
“Good for public relations, Gleason. You’re doing your part. Plus,” the commander turned to leave, “he is a whiz with horses.”
“Oh, well,” the older man sighed. “Okay, kid …” Gleason looked at the skinny kid in front of him, “we are going to show you the shovel. That’s s-h-o-v-e-l. Understand?”
Azim bounced on his toes and nodded his head furiously.
Gleason showed him the shovel and the bucket. Azim got to work immediately.
When Gleason shuffled back to his office, muttering, Azim, stopped, peeked around the corner and tip toed down the to last stall. There were two green apples in his pockets.
“Flower,” he said.
There was a whinny.
Finis - النهاية Read more of Courtney’s writing in: https://sites.google.com/view/webbywritercom/page-5?authuser=0