Chapter 1: Streets of Gedarai
Where was I? Who was I? Thoughts stormed through my head, undisciplined, too random for my weakened mind to grasp. All I knew was that I lay in the muck, and that it was dark.
My eyes opened slightly, enough for me to see the dirt I was sprawled in. It got into my mouth, making me cough. The sound was eerie in the empty street.
It was early; I could still feel the night’s cold. Soon the sun would rise, and the women would go to the wells before the heat reached its peak.
I was so tired. Opening my eyes made my head hurt, and when I tried to move it, the whole world swam. It fell back on the thankfully soft dirt. The last thing I heard were faint footsteps, walking away from me.
I opened my eyes again. How long had I been out? The sun was already dawning on the streets, and I could hear the people bustling about in the houses around me. Footsteps and voices came from the houses lining the road, and my noise hurt my fragile ears.
I could lift my head a bit this time, though it did me no good. The street was empty in front of me, and there was no one to pick me up. I tried to slide my hands under my chest, push myself to my knees, but the effort left me panting, and I collapsed back on the ground. I didn’t faint though.
The voices were closer now, behind me. Fine,I thought, let them come. I didn’t have the strength to turn around anyway.
-“Grandpa! Grandpa, what’s that on the ground?”
Someone was running in the street, behind me. Judging by the shrill voice, and the light steps, it must’ve been a young girl. Slower, heavier feet followed her.
-“It’ll be some drunk, Leila. Leave him alone, the wine will stop acting soon enough.”
A shadow fell on me, blocking out the sun. I think the little girl was standing above me.
-“No grandpa, it’s a boy! He’s too young to be drunk.”
-“There’s no age to be drunk, child. Now leave him alone.”
I opened my lips, and tried to speak, but my throat was raw and dry. The effort made me gag, and coughs wracked me for a while.
The girl jumped back when I coughed, and stared at me from a few feet away. The fit left me on my side, so I had a look at her, though not a very good one. The light and dirt still made my eyes water, but I could see she was no older than ten, maybe even younger. Too young to wear a woman’s robes; and I could see her fairy-like face and hair. Her left hand clutched her scarf close to her face, but not close enough to hide her thin jaw and lips and her straight nose. She stared at me with wide, emerald green eyes, shining between the dark locks of her curly hair..
I opened my mouth, and managed to croak. She took another step back, straight into the arms of an old man. He grabbed her shoulder in his wrinkled hand, and shot me a glare. I could read revulsion in his eyes, but why?
Their eyes widened at my voice. Dry and cracked like the desert rocks, like the voice of someone who had long lost the use of words. I croaked again.
The old man glared at me even harshlier, but she shook his hand like she wanted to get away.
She shook him off and ran to me, kneeling next to my face. Her knees kicked up dirt, and I coughed again as a wisp of it got into my mouth, stifling my meager efforts at speech.
Her hands slid under my armpits, trying to help me get up, but I slipped again and fell. My shirt caught on her hand and slid down my back, exposing my shoulders.
-“Grandpa, he’s hurt!”
He was already beside her, ready to yank her off of me when he looked at my back.
I had no idea what they were talking about. I was weak, but not in pain, and I could not feel the wound they were staring at.
-“Sweet God, what have they done to him?”
He had knelt beside her, and I felt a large, calloused hand touching my back. He was surprisingly gentle.
-“Is he going to be alright, Grandpa?”
-“I have to examine him. I’ll carry him back to the shop; you go to the well and meet me back there. Oh, and tell Mahmud I need some night’s kiss, I’ll pay him for it later.”
I didn’t hear her answer, but she got back up to her feet, picked up a small urn he had left behind, and sped off.
Meanwhile he slid his hands under me, and hoisted me up between his arms. My limbs dangled, and I was too spent to move, but I got a good look at his face before passing out again. All contempt had vanished from it, and he looked genuinely concerned as he tried to jog back towards the shop.
Then the darkness took me again, and I fainted in his arms.