Hundreds of miles from Nepal, trapped in the immeasurable sands of the Gobi desert with a prying old man and his miserable grump of a camel. Despite the situation, Johannan felt a deep sense of gratitude budding within him, but the old man and his camel seemed to be quite the characters.
The stranger pushed hard to find out who Johannan was looking for, digging hard with questions that made Johannan feel outpourings of guilt.
The old man was right about one thing, though: he did save Johannan’s life. The unbounded blaze of the atmosphere around Johannan became cold and small. He felt like he had no choice but to tell him everything. As soon as the old man heard what Johannan was searching for, he laughed so hard he nearly fell off his camel. The camel released a series of grunts that would have led you to believe he was laughing too. This was the reaction Johannan was trying to avoid.
“A blind girl and a great spirit,” the man coughed in laughter. “Listen, child, go home! That girl is going to become a widow before she’s even married.”
Johannan’s gaze dropped to the ground. He felt ashamed and very silly. He didn’t care what the stranger thought; he was still going to continue his search. The old man would probably think he was extremely stupid if he continued, though.
“Listen, whelp, I can take you back to the nearest village. There’s food and water, and you can rest until you’re ready to go home.”
Food, water, and rest sounded good to Johannan. It sounded like the right thing to do. The man displayed an ear-to-ear smile at Johannan, bouncing his eyebrows as if to prompt him to go for the idea. “Return home and have a big wedding. You and that girl could have lots and lots of children.” He released a hearty howl of laughter, “Sounds good, no?”
As Johannan heard the man say “wedding,” a vision of Ayushi appeared in his mind. It was the same one that had driven him into the desert to search for the spirit. He saw her sitting on the ground next to him. The whole village threw flowers over them; they were cheering and dancing. A red veil with golden patterns covered her head, and he could faintly see her image underneath. The drums were loud, and the children ran around with colourful strings. There was a mild smell of sweet oils and food being prepared. He turned to her and lifted the veil from over her head, his friends cheering him on. Her smile grew as she saw her young husband looking handsome in the fine clothes Mama had proudly made. But, the greatest thing of all was that his beloved Ayushi could see. Mama cried with tears of joy. She was finally proud of her boy.
“Yes, it is all I ever wanted,” whispered Johannan, breaking from the trance-like state. “I will find this Great Spirit. I know he’s out here somewhere, and somehow I get the feeling he knows I’m here too.”
“Fine!” A sharp tone of disappointment severed the atmosphere. “If you won’t take me up on my offer, then suit yourself. I’m not going to force you to come back with me. You youngsters are stubborn these days.”
He chucked another two water skins at Johannan, knocking the air out of his chest. “Here!” Johannan caught them before they dropped.
“Thanks to you, again.”
“Thanks to me?” the old traveller laughed, staring into the scenery as if to plan his journey. “You are a stubborn whelp. But it’s the least I can do if I can’t convince you to come back with me. Without help, you are going to die out here. To be honest, you’re probably going to die anyway.” The man paused and hesitated like he shouldn’t have uttered what he just said. “Go on, whelp, be careful.”
“I will. Take care, sir.”
The camel grunted and began to move in the opposite direction. “The pup tells me to take care. I’m the one that found him on the ground half dead with no water, and I’m the one he tells to take care,” Johannan overheard him say.
“Don’t worry about me, I will find him,” Johannan said, waving goodbye.
“I will remember you, whelp, you are a funny one. Don’t panic too much if you get caught up in a sandstorm; they are not as bad as they look. Just cover your entire face and don’t breathe in the air directly—otherwise you’ll end up with a mouth full of sand. With all this scorching heat, you don’t need that.” The man laughed out loud, “You’ll wish then that you took me up on my offer, you stubborn boy!”