“It has got to be here somewhere.” Tareeq whispered in frustration as he scanned through the leather map in front of him, riding his camel up a heap of fine desert sand. Upon reaching the top of the dune, the weary traveller sighed in relief, as his three-day journey was about to end. Smack in the middle of a depression surrounded by sand dunes was the Oasis of Adrua. It was nice to see vibrant life again after days in the drab landscape of the desert. The harsh sunlight, gusts of wind and the choking smell of arid air had not been nice either. He was tired, his camel was thirsty, and he had not taken a bath in forever. With newly found energy that was reciprocated in his beast, he rode faster down the dune.
At levelled ground, he alighted, took his camel by the reins and strolled towards the small town ahead of him.
“And what is an handsome foreigner like you doing in our town?” Tareeq heard a voice behind him.
“Good day ma’am. I was invited to see the council. Something about a recent robbery.” He said as he turned around.
“Oh! You must be a seer?” The old woman said wide-eyed.
“Unfortunately not, I just track things. Can you please point me towards Chief Awan’s house?”
“No problem boy, I live around there. We can stroll together.” She adjusted her shawl, and they both started walking into town.
Unlike the environment outside, Adrua had vegetation scattered all over the town. There wasn’t much of a wall around it, and houses were made of clay with some woodwork. People went about in robes and leather sandals. The women wore shawls, like the old woman.
The lake itself was in the middle of town. It was fairly large, and the water was surprisingly clear. Date palms and desert blooms flourished around it. The town was well structured to ensure equal access to water. Women and children were fetching water from all ends. Chief Awan’s house was among the houses in the inner circle around the lake. From the looks of the houses, Tareeq deduced that the elders and the rich lived in them. So much for equal access, he thought to himself.
“Thanks for your help ma’am.” Tareeq said and bowed.
“No problem. I hope you find what you are here for.” She said joyfully and went her way.
“I hope so.” he said, and walked towards the door of the chief’s house. After a couple of knocks, the door got opened.
“Good day, who are you?” A young lad came out the door.
“I am Tareeq Al’duin, the tracker from Giza. I am here to see the council.” He said, taking a glance at the house. It was nice, and had princely furnishing. He then studied the lad at the door, who from his appearance, as well as the brand on his collar bone, was one of the servants of the chief. The servant then led Tareeq towards the meeting place.
The council meeting was being held in what looked like a palace. It tent-like, with vibrant colors, and an impressive interior. In the room, seven elders were seated on cushions in a semicircle. The elder in the middle sat in a big chair made of fine wood. He also wore a white turban with gold strips. The servant bowed, and signalled to the chief at the right, closest to the head chief. The chief stood up and introduced Tareeq to the council, as well as his mission.
“Have you been given any explanation as to why you are here?” The head asked.
“No, my Lord. In the parcel I received, I was only told that something precious was missing.”
“Yes. Precious indeed. Infact, necessary for survival.” Chief Awan added. He pulled out a jewelry box made of blackwood. Inside it was a beautiful golden necklace. However, Tareeq noticed that the middlepiece of the jewelry was missing.
“What was it?”
“A pearl. And a very important one at that.” Awan said as he came to the middle of the tent.
“A long time ago, the pearl was given to this town as a gift from a mysterious gentleman who enjoyed our hospitality. He said it could solve the major problem of every desert settlement: our water problem.” He pulled out a golden bowl and showed it to Tareeq, who was intrigued by the claim.
“He instructed us to place the pearl in a bowl of water, and place the bowl on the ground. Every since, each time we did that ritual, rain fell in the oasis. When we had enough water, we would remove the pearl and hide it in the necklace you see in this box. It never failed. Not once! And that is why this oasis is one of the lushest in the desert.”
Tareeq listened attentively to what the chief was saying while studying the people present.
“My family has been entrusted with this box for ten generations. A week ago it was stolen from my home. The next day, we found the box outside the town, but the rain pearl was missing. Since then, no rain has fallen and the lake might soon start to dry!”
“How could you have been so careless with something that important?” a furious chief, siting on the left barked.
“It had never been stolen, and I kept it in a good location.” Awan said in his defense. “Besides, not many people knew that the pearl even existed, let alone that it had such power!”
“That means the thief must either be unaware of the power, or stole the pearl because of it.” Tareeq added. After asking some questions, he bowed and exited the tent.
He was escorted to an inn where he stayed the night. Tired and starving, he took a short nap and then had some flat bread and roasted hare. He woke up around midnight, and he decided to take study the town for clues. While he was ruminating over the issue, he suddenly noticed someone pass by at the edge of his eye. The figure looked suspicious, donning a hooded robe and walking hastily through the row of houses. Tareeq instinctively followed him, watching him from a safe, unnoticeable distance. The person knocked at one house, and almost immediately the resident opened the door. There was somewhat of a transaction and the hooded entity left. After about a minute, Tareeq knocked at the door.
“I thought I told you no business after midnight!” The person said, oblivious of who was at the door.
“Actually, I have some questions.”
The man tried to close the door, but Tareeq blocked the door with his leg.
“I promise you won’t get hurt if you just answer my questions.”
“What if I don’t?”
“This will be the last door you ever try to close.” Tareeq said with chilling assurance.
The man, realising his assailant was serious, invited the stranger in. Almost everywhere in the man’s living area were priced artifacts. The rain pearl however was not there.
“I am looking for a particular precious stone. Not very common around here. You seem to be a dealer of sort.”
“Well….if you say so.” He chuckled nervously, scratching his head. “I do more of black market trades.”
“Yes. That is just what I need.” Tareeq said as he examined a sculpture on the wall. “It is a pearl. Did you see any recently?”
“Well, that is oddly specific, and rarely sighted in a desert.” the dealer moved to the back. “But, I remember a person bringing a pearl for sale about a week ago. I obviously rejected it because I would never get a buyer in the desert.” Tareeq was somewhat relieved. The dealer obviously did not know how powerful the pearl was.
“Do you know who came?” Tareeq moved closer to him.
“Yes actually.” He reached for his records. “His master sent him on the errand. One of my frequent customers.”
Tareeq was shocked on seeing a seal in the records the dealer showed him. It was exactly the same one on Awan’s servant. Chief Awan himself stole the pearl!
The next day, Tareeq called the council and told them of his discovery. They were astonished and immediately sprung to action, arresting the backstabbing chief.
“Why would you do such thing, Awan?” The head chief asked as the guards were hurling him out of the large tent.
“You ask why? My family has suffered long, with no pay from the town, even though my only son died protecting this oasis from attack five years ago. No one helped me! Not one of you.” He said in rage, and spat at them.
“So why go through the stress of hiring someone to find you?” Another chief asked.
“I wanted to shift suspicion from myself. If I had known, I would have left everyone in confusion, while I bask in the money I would make from the sale!”
“So you haven’t sold it?” Tareeq added.
“Why do we even need a magic pearl to give us water? Our forefathers survived without the pearl! I just relieved us of what was deterring our innovation!” Awan shouted out as they bundled him out.
After the commotion had cleared, Tareeq was handed a bag of coins.
A day later, the rain pearl was found in Awan’s house. Tareeq, about to leave the town, watched as they placed the pearl into the golden bowl, and put it on the floor.
“You had best be on your way, or you won’t make it far out before the rain comes.” The head said as he pointed to the grumbling storm clouds that were forming. That was his cue to leave. Tareeq Al’duin mounted his camel, and rode into the horizon, feeling fulfilled.
Oluremi Daniel Ayanfeoluwa from Abeokuta in Ogun state is a young student, a classical musician in training, a Christian and a science enthusiast. He also loves dogs, fashion, photography and intellectual stuff. Hr can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org