Nuyas, he said. Lets go.
Silence broken, Alis talk soon outpaced the mans ill-remembered language. By afternoon they were walking again mostly in silence, smiling at each other, noting familiar kinds of tree or bush, stopping to chew and to wonder aloud how much longer.
Even before they reached Abudos camp it was too dark to see, and he kept the path by following the camels silhouettes against the stars. All day the windblown sand had chafed his skin. His neck and arms and calves prickled with sunburn. His feet, which had taken a beating on the rocks, ached. He walked with a sort of double limp, so as not to put full weight on either sole. Hed grown soft in his years away, unused to walking far in sandals. Hed filleted a big toe on an acacia stump first thing, and the blood made his right sandal sticky. In the gloom that evening, he stumbled and reopened the wound. He could feel the slick fresh blood. He cursed himself for coming.
Then he heard the camp noises. Faint, windblown sounds. Clatter of pots. Wooden camel bells. Tinny voices of women and children, like old songs on the radio. He smelled wood smoke and dust and the musky odors of large animals.
As he remembered it, the camp was a collection of some twenty tents, sixty or seventy people, four or five hundred camels, and thousands of sheep and goats. It was pitched now at Toricha, a place of gnarled thorn scrub below the hills of Badda Hurri, far to the north of where theyd started. He remembered Toricha from before. The sounds and smells in the night air were all familiar. But it was not the same.
Nomads never camped in the same place twice. It was their business to move, to blow with the wind. Doubtless there would be people here he knew, who remembered him. There would be others he did not know.
And there would be those he knew, and loved, who would be gone.
Ali handed him the rope and went alone amid the tents to announce
their arrival and to find Abudos brother. They planned to sleep
at his tent.
He remained behind in the darkness. He could see the glow and glitter of small fires within the matted tents. Here and there the beam of an electric torch sliced across the blackness to the west, where the sheep and goats would be corralled. He was glad to have arrived, glad for once not to be walking. He was hungry and thirsty and, strangely, happy for the first time in months.
The figure chuckled. A man, not Ali.
Galchumi nagaya? said the voice, a whisper within the wind, offering the greeting of night. Have the camels returned peacefully?
Nagaya. Kesan nagaya? he replied.
It was Abudos brother, Elema. They stood together in the darkness and exchanged the litany of greetings for evening, words youd say to anyone: a familiar, a stranger.
Arma getani? Have you reached here?
Yagen, at geti? he answered. We have. Have you?
Elema took the camels rope, touched his arm, and led him around to the right of the tents. Elema made the camels lie on their haunches like sphinxes and left to get his wife to unload them. The front camel shook its head and snuffled and began, teeth clicking like dentures, to chew its cud.
K?t. Elema told him to follow.
At the tent door, he offered the usual greetings to those inside.
They were answered. Elemas wife was working over her fire. She did not come out. Two children tumbled from the tent to see the stranger. They were not old enough to know him. Light from the fire spilled out through the curtained door. The children, boy and girl, clung to their fathers legs and giggled. The father told them gruffly to bring a cow skin for the guest to lie on, which they did.
Excerpted from The Names of Things by John C Wood. Copyright © 2012 by John C Wood. Excerpted by permission of Ashland Creek Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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