For the first two months or so, I traveled entirely alone (save the few times the Benevolent Wanderer had chanced upon me). I must confess, it was quite lonely, having no one to speak to for days and days on end. Sometimes I would sing the familiar songs of my childhood to myself, other times I would speak to the bleakness or to some imaginary companion; often I would speak openly with God, asking for His blessings and safety. Truly I missed the human-to-human interaction that of necessity constituted my daily life at home--haggling some merchant who was charging me too much for cattle feed, laughing with my boyhood friends, conversing with the elders about the pearl and the Promised Land, seeking advice from my parents and kin. I missed that. It was a lonely time indeed.
The gap was partially filled by the love and joy I felt when I had met the Wanderer those brief, dire moments. I knew at least there was someone out here in this waste who cared about me. His bread, water, and light comforted me and at least took away the strain of survival from my mind so that I could focus on where I was going and try to make it as safely as possible. I was filled, it was true, but somehow it seemed something was missing...
Late in the afternoon one particularly hot and unpleasant day, I spied a small, dark figure far out on the dunes ahead of me. I couldn't exactly tell what it was at first; it lay motionless on the sand. As I drew closer, I realized it was a person! I ran to his side. He lay unconscious, his breathing shallow, his face bright red. As I looked him over, under his desert garb I could see he was emaciated and starving. Immediately, I slung one of the Wanderer's waterskins from my shoulder and sprinkled a few drops on his forehead and lips. His eyes moved under their weary lids, and slowly he opened his red and exhausted eyes. I was shocked--they were such piercing blue, and so familiar-looking... I gazed at him for a moment, then remembered he was dying.
"Here--I have water for you, friend," I said to him, lifting his head and tilting the skin so the water trickled down into his parched mouth. A smile cracked his lips as the pure, cool water soothed his burning throat. I gave him one of my skins, and he drank freely.
His name was Shiloh. He told me he had been traveling from a place not far from my own village for many days, looking for the pearl and the Land of Promise as well. The company with whom he had been traveling left him behind without food or water; he had been alone for three days, and finally collapsed, unable to continue any farther. I pitied him; it seemed far worse to me to have had companions and been abandoned than to have traveled solo the entire journey. He gratefully and hungrily devoured one of the loaves of the Wanderer's bread that I provided for him, telling me his story in between mouthfuls of the miraculous manna. He was grateful for the nourishment; I was grateful for the company.
As night drew on, we heard the yipping of the jackals that roamed that part of the desert. We were not afraid, for we knew they would stay away from the light of the Wanderer's Lamp. "I pity those without light or fire," Shiloh remarked. "The jackals are fearsome foes--they hunt in packs and can easily overtake the unsuspecting and unprepared." We shared stories and hopes for our journey's end for quite some time until, over the ridges of dunes that encompassed us, we heard snarling and barking and human cries of terror! My new friend and I looked at each other, grabbed the lamp and my knife, and ran toward the sound of distress. We knew it would be dangerous, but we could not sit idly by while some poor traveler was in peril.
Just as predicted, the jackals had attacked. We crested a hill of sand to find a man and (we would later find out) his wife back-to-back, trying to stave off the beasts. They had no fire or light. Shiloh and I shouted, distracting the beasts long enough for the man to club one with his walking stick. They snarled and bared their teeth at me, and closed in. I shone my light towards the black, fearsome-looking dogs, which seemed to at least startle them a bit. I brandished my knife at them, even grazing the snout of one who got too close for comfort. He yipped and retreated--that was the in we needed. Swinging the light, the knife, and the walking stick, we drove the infernal beasts out of the camp and off into the night.
"Many thanks, strangers," said the man with a sigh of relief. His wife was crying for fear, but was smiling.
"Just glad to help a fellow wanderer," I replied. "Come, why don't you two camp with us tonight? There is strength in numbers." They agreed. We all slept well, sharing our food and drink with each other.
In the morning, Jesse and Ruth, the man and his wife, departed from us. They preferred to travel alone, which we respected. I did not want them to fall victim to the predators again, so I gave them my lamp. It was not my own anyway--the Wanderer had given it to me selflessly; it was the least I could do to share my light with another who needed it more. They tearfully thanked me and headed off into the bright morning. Shiloh smiled at me. "That was a kind thing for you to do, my friend. It is a rare virtue indeed to place the needs of others before your own." As I looked at him, I again stared at those blue, blue eyes. It then struck me that this man had the same complexion and features as the Wanderer! Could it really have been...?
Just as I thought this, he smiled at me, as if he could understand my thoughts. A desert wind kicked up, and I had to cover my face. When it ceased, he was gone--nowhere to be found. I looked down at my belongings, and there was another lamp sitting on the ground, right next to my bread and water.
Could it have been...?
To be Continued...
Image from: http://www.canvas-of-light.com/2010/09/desert-ripples/
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