again I see,” Elspet said. “Love the outfit.”
“It’s called a hijab. I have to fit in when I go to Arab places. All the
girls my age and older dress this way.”
“Isn’t it hot?” Elspet touched the fabric. “It’s black.”
“Not really. It’s not summer any more. It’s autumn and Yemen wasn’t too bad
at all.” Fiona recalled the blue skies of San’a.
“What did you bring us this time?” Callum jumped up.
“It was so great. I went to a place called San’a in Yemen. Burill used to be
there. It’s not any more. It was destroyed by Phelan and King Dugan. I
talked to this old man and he was some sort of psychic or something and he
was a descendant of one of the men from Burill. Anyway, we can talk about
that later. I brought you a Yemeni knife. It’s called a jambiya.” She handed
Callum the curved knife. “All the men and boys have one. They tuck it in the
front of their pants.”
“It’s all decorated with stones. This is so brilliant. Of course, I’ll have
to hide it from Murdock and my parents, but thanks, Fiona.” Callum sat next
to Elspet and handled his knife.
She handed Elspet the two resins. “What’s this?” Elspet touched the pieces.
“That one is frankincense and the other is myrrh. One of the few places in
the world where you can find that is in Yemen. I thought you’d love it.”
Fiona wasn’t sure what Elspet thought of her gift.
“Frankincense? Myrrh? I love it!” She sniffed them. “Mmm. Nice.”
“Great. Here, Elspet. Keep this. It’s for my mum. It’s some sort of spice
“I’ll go and put these things in my drawer. Did you take photos?”
Fiona handed Elspet a film. “I just put another one in. So I’ve got two
whole films. I’m off to Zanaad now. Isn’t it cool that to me I’m gone for
hours but only minutes to you? I think so.”
“See you in a few, Fiona,” Callum said, so interested in his new jambiya
that he didn’t care if she was there or not.
“Cheerio.” Fiona thought about Zanaad and closed her eyes. Once again, when
she opened them, she found herself in the Sahara Desert on top of a high
“All right. Where am I now? Let me think. Zanaad was in Libya in the desert.
That’s where I am all right. There is no city, no ruins and nothing at all
except that black tent and a bunch of goats.” She walked down the dune,
sliding in the sand. When she neared the tent a dozen children came running
towards her. They grabbed her hands. She was relieved that she could
understand what they were saying. They dragged her to the tent. A man and
woman sat on pillows, in the shade. Goats ran in and out of the tent, as did
a few dogs and cats.
“Hello. I’m Fiona. I was just walking by and thought I’d stop in and say
The man and woman stared at her in disbelief. “You were walking by, in the
middle of the Sahara Desert? Very well. You are now our guest, Fiona. I am
Ihsan and this is my wife, Gulshan. You have met our children. Let me
introduce them for you. One by one the children filed into the tent, by age.
“This is my oldest son, Muhair. He is bright, intelligent and a hard worker.
Muhair sat on the pillow next to his father. The next was a girl. “This is
Azhar. She helps her mother with the younger ones. The other girls, Fadwah,
Amira, and Durrah, help with the smaller boys, Jibran, Masud, Jalal, Nasri
and Diya. Our baby, Uzma, is our delight. She is beautiful, like her
Fiona knew she’d never remember any of their names, but smiled at the
handsome children. “It is nice to meet you all.”
“You will stay with us and eat. Children, go and tend to the goats and play.
Make Fiona a sand picture,” Ihsan said.
Amira grabbed a glass jar and the children ran off, giggling and shouting
with joy and energy.
Gulshan prepared a meal while Fiona sat with Ihsan. “Ihsan, could you tell
me if you’ve ever heard of a place called Zanaad.” She couldn’t help but see
eye contact and a frown between husband and wife.
“I have heard of it, though I do not know if I should tell you about it,”
“I know about it already. I just wanted to know if it was in ruins or what
had happened to it,” Fiona sad.
“Tell me what you know.” Ihsan lay back on his pillow.
“A long time ago King Bartolf brought his followers and family here from
Hadrumetum, which is in Tunisia. He wasn’t a good king. He had four wives
and was evil and unkind to the people in his kingdom. He had an evil wizard.
That’s all I know.” Fiona sighed. The desert heat dried out her throat.
“You indeed do know of this place.” Ihsan adjusted his head scarf. Fiona
noted it had black and white squares on it. He wore a long robe of bright
blue and tan. Gulshan, like Fiona, was dressed from head to toe in her hijab.
“Many centuries ago there was a great city here. It had many palaces,
arches, and towers. A wall surrounded the city and there were three gates to
enter. As you said, the king was evil. One day a great sandstorm came and it
lasted for an entire year. When it ended the city was gone. It is buried
under mountains of sand. We are sitting on top of it.”
“A sandstorm that lasted a year? That’s a long time. I was in a sandstorm in
Jordan and it only lasted a few hours. That was bad enough,” Fiona said.
“We do not speak of Zanaad, as it represents all that is evil in the world.
I do not want my children to hear of it,” Ihsan said, his bearded face
“I won’t mention it. I like it here. It’s quiet and peaceful.” Fiona looked
outside. “Your children seem happy.”
Gulshan smiled. “They are. We are all happy. We don’t have much, but we have
love in our family. That is what is important.”
“You’re right,” Fiona said.
The children came back, running into the tent. Amira handed her a glass jar.
Inside was layered sand of many colors. “Do you want another one?” Amira
grinned, her suntanned face glowing.
“I’d love three more, if that’s all right.” Fiona looked at Gulshan.
“Amira, Fadwah, Durrah, go and make Fiona three more. The rest of you come
and have something to eat.” Gulshan lifted the lid to a pot.
Fiona watched as the children took a piece of flat bread and stuffed it with
cheese and chunks of meat.
“What is that?” Fiona pointed to the meat.
“It is goat. The cheese comes from our camels and also from our goats.
Jibran, come and give Fiona some bread and cheese.” Gulshan called to one of
He handed Fiona a large round pita bread and several chunks of cheese. Fiona
took a bite. “This is delicious. I didn’t know that you could get milk from
The children laughed. Muhair, the eldest son, walked over to Fiona. “Would
you like to ride on my camel? It is great fun.”
“I’d love that. I’ve been on a camel before, but I’d love to do it again.
Thanks, Muhair.” Fiona finished eating her food. The girls came back with
three more jars of colored sand for Fiona. She put them down in a safe place
and went with Muhair to ride the camel. When she returned, she took photos
of the children, Gulshan and Ihsan and the tent. She also snapped shots of
the goats, camels and the sand.
“This has been so much fun, but I need to go home now. Thanks for your
kindness and for allowing me to ride on a camel. Thank you for the jars of
sand. I will treasure them always.” Fiona felt tears forming in the corners
of her eyes.
“Fiona, I have a question for you. It seems that you have made an impression
on my son, Muhair. He has asked me to ask you if you would be his wife.”
Ihsan took Fiona off to the side, away from the rest of the family.
“What? I’m only eleven years old. I’m way too young to get married to
anyone.” Fiona gulped in shock.
“Not here in our country. You are at the age when most girls get married. I
am currently looking for a husband for my oldest daughters.” Ihsan turned
and looked at his children.
“I am flattered. I like Muhair. He’s cute and all that, but I have some
things I have to do to save the world. I’ll think about it. How’s that?”
Fiona felt herself blush.
“Think about it. That is good. I do not know who you are, Fiona, or what you
are doing here, but please, do not forget us and come back to visit us.”
Ihsan whistled and his children ran over and hugged Fiona, squishing her
with all their bodies. Muhair kept his distance, but waved.
Fiona took the four jars and walked into the sand, away from the Bedouin
tent. She thought about Elspet and appeared in front of her friends.
“Fiona, you’re back safe and sound. What’s in your hands?” Elspet took one
of the jars. “Oh, this is cool. Sand in layers. Look at all the colors.”
“You can keep it. Here is one for you. Some little Bedouin children made
these for us. I got one for Mum too. You would not believe what happened to
me in Zanaad. Actually, Zanaad isn’t there any more. Boy, do I have
something to tell you! Come on, let’s go and have lunch. I’ll fill you in
about my trips while we eat. All I had was camel cheese and flat bread.”
“Gross,” Callum said. “I can’t wait to hear about this.”
They sat around Elspet’s kitchen table. “Tell us, Fiona. What happened?”
Elspet raided the refrigerator and they nibbled on leftover sausage rolls,
potato crisps and had a drink of Ribena.
“A boy asked me to marry him,” Fiona said, taking a bite of her sausage
“What?” Elspet nearly choked.
Fiona told them all about her travels until she looked at the clock and knew
it was time for her to go home.