“I want to see dolphins, baba”, said the innocent Boy, innocently. So his Baba took him to the desert.
It was moonrise behind the star lit white sands. The camel huffed and puffed and walked, carrying its burden of Baba and Boy. Baba looked at wearily at the sea of sand, and tried, futilely, to navigate his ship by the stars. Boy was asleep, dreaming of dolphins, shielding his face from the sand spray in Baba’s rough tunic.
Five months three weeks and two days and still no dolphins. Baba had been told that the desert was swimming with dolphins, by his most trusted tavern buddy nonetheless. He didn’t know what they looked like, but if the stories were true, they were golden skinned, with opals for eyes and pearls for teeth and flew with no wings. Baba didn’t believe all of those stories. But at least some of them had to be true.
When he was a boy, Baba hadn’t seen dolphins. But now that Baba was a baba, he would make sure that Boy would see dolphins.
“Tree” said Boy.
He had woken and was staring at the eastern horizon. Baba looked. And saw it too. Silhouetted against a full blood moon was a single tree in the dessert. Even from such a distance Baba and Boy could feel its majesty. The thick trunk, the sturdy boughs, the crown of leaves. It was a masterpiece of nature, and revelled in its glory.
Baba knew what it meant. They had been searching for vegetation for quite some time. Where there are trees, there will be food. And where there is food, there will be dolphins. Baba felt hope rising in his heart. Their arduous journey would end in fruition of a dream.
Baba grunted and turned the camel to face the tree. It was probably a night’s journey away. It was getting colder. The desert was unforgiving, day and night. Boy huddled closer to Baba, but kept his eyes trained on the tree. He was afraid it was just another mirage. He had seen a few of them during their journey.
Baba and Boy sat rocking back and forth on their loyal camel, sure footed on the treacherous sands. The moon followed her usual nightly route across the sky, not forgetting to greet her fellow cosmic companions, the constellations and stars. They in turn tinkled and talked among themselves, and watched the man and the child on their futile journey; some laughed at them, some silently hoped for a miracle for them. The tree swayed gracefully in a desert breeze, readying herself to greet her visitors.
Baba and Boy kept pushing forward against the sand, wind, cold and weariness. They were finally progressing, each second took them closer to the tree, to dolphins. Boy had begun to grin ear to ear. Dolphins. Gold skin. Opal eyes. Pearly teeth. Dolphins.
Baba and Boy arrived at the base of a dune. The tree was just over this one. Baba urged their camel with more enthusiasm than in many months. Half way up the dune, night suddenly turned into day. There was an ear splitting roar and a blinding flash of light. Baba and Boy fell off their frightened camel, the cold sand barely cushioning them. Both of them rolled some distance, sand getting into all open pores of their bodies.
Boy got up first, and helped Baba onto his feet. Both were shaking wildly.
“Desert lightning”, Baba squeaked.
Their camel was nowhere to be seen. Unsteadily, Baba and Boy made their way up the dune. The sand kept giving away under their feet, but the two kept at it. And eventually, they reached the top.
A pile of ash greeted them. There was no tree. The desert stretched endlessly into the horizon.
Baba took his water sac and placed it around Boy’s neck.
“Look here Boy”, said Baba, “I’m a very hungry man. And to me you look like a juicy piece of kebab.” Baba leaned in close, drew his knife, held it to Boy’s throat and drew a drop of blood.
Boy took a step back, clutching his scraped throat. There was fear in his eyes.
“So Boy, what I want you to do is,” Baba took a step forward and brought his eyes level with Boy’s, “What I want you to do is – RUN!!!”
Boy lost his footing due to sheer force of Baba’s shout. He crawled a few steps backwards, clambered onto his feet and took one look at Baba. And then he ran, just as Baba had asked him to, not looking back.
Baba watched Boy run. The water would’ve lasted both of them only two days at best. And the last thing he wanted to see was his son dying before his very eyes. Pursuing an idiotic dream.
Baba turned in the opposite direction, and trudged on. Two days later he discovered an oasis.
And dolphins. Gold skin. Opal Eyes. Pearly teeth. But not flying.
Baba was surprised to find the walled city in the desert. It was interesting how the sands never failed to surprise him. In the seven yeas he had wandered, he had become the desert’s and the desert his.
For seven years, Baba had searched every nook and corner for Boy. For seven years, Baba hoped to find at least his body. For seven years, his labours went unrewarded.
A huge crowd had gathered in the middle of the city. Baba walked up to it. Thanks to the merchants with whom his paths crossed every few months at the desert, Baba hadn’t forgotten language in those seven years.
“What’s happening?” Baba asked offhandedly to no one in particular. Nothing could surprise him anymore.
A fat man standing in front of him turned and answered, “Our King, His Majesty, is passing through our city today. We’re all here to greet him.”
Baba nodded. There was a sudden flurry of activity and the crowd parted for His Majesty’s procession. First came the drummers, then the flutes, more drummers, dancers and finally His Majesty himself upon his Royal Camel. Baba shielded his eyes and looked at the young man. He was handsome, and was dressed in gold, had a pearl necklace and an opal crown. His Majesty was looking at all his subjects, and for a second His Majesty and Baba’s eyes met.
The procession stopped, His Majesty got down from his horse, walked up to Baba, and prostrated at his feet. The crowd gasped.
Baba was surprised, stunned.
“Yo…your Majesty…” Baba stuttered as His Majesty got back upon his feet.
His Majesty smiled, and hugged Baba.
“Baba…”, Boy said.