Just Another Prophet In No Man’s Sand (I)
Shycunt was beginning to worry about her husband’s fate. He had left six years ago and his dinner had gotten cold at first but now was certainly rotten as the corpse of a Pharaoh. She busied herself doing tasks around the house. She swept the earth floor that was perpetually covered with a layer of sand that reached her ankles. The dust blowing from the desert slipped continually through the cracked dry mud walls of their tiny one-room house. She fed the two chickens and one sick retarded son that constituted all the household and were also the family’s only wealth.
Her husband Mouthmad never had achieved a great deal in his multiple professional pursuits. He tried farming tomatoes but the sand dunes were too dry for tomatoes and besides tomatoes hadn’t been discovered yet. It took him six years to realize this when he spoke to a merchant in the bazaar and asked him about the wholesale price for tomatoes and the merchant told him tomatoes didn’t exist. Mouthmad was perplexed by this revelation because he was sure he had heard somebody speaking him about tomatoes, and he was positive he saw a tomato once. It was like a big red fruit covered with sharp spikes and it could be used to play ball or as sex toy. Was he seeing things that didn’t exist, he wondered. Maybe he had seen a tomato in a dream and mistook later the dream for a memory. He decided farming was not a good option in the desert, because plants needed water and water was scarce. Mouthmad had a brilliant inspiration: to plant something that didn’t need water. He carried and planted an expansive field with boulders confident that they would grow to become bricks that could be sold in the market. He was sorely disappointed the next year when the crop failed and all the boulders had sunk in the sand. Another business venture that failed.
But Mouthmad wasn’t the kind of man that gave up easily. He decided to try his luck in show business. He always had liked the rare occasions when people paid attention to him and public performances were a good way to get paid for it. He purchased a second-hand cobra and a flute that were on offer in a market stall and began his career as snake charmer. His career lasted one performance when he placed the flute inside his rattan basket and tried to blow the snake’s tail. The cobra bit his testicles and the basket was stolen in the confusion with the flute still inside. He got very sick and his balls swelled to the size of watermelons. He had to walk with his legs arched for months afterwards and he certainly got the attention and laughter of his neighbors, although they found pertinent to enjoy the show for free. But still he didn’t give up and had another brilliant idea: the problem with snakes was that they bite. To bypass that inconvenience he should do the show with something harmless, like a boulder.
He decided to become the greatest boulder charmer of the known world that comprised his own town and the neighboring town whose inhabitants everybody hated. He spent one year training the most promising boulder he could find but in spite of its potential the stone seemed interested only in laying under the sun watching the sandy landscape. Mouthmad spoke to the boulder for hours every day and the boulder listened and pondered never expressing neither agreement or disagreement, which kept Mouthmad’s hope he would eventually persuade it to work for him. He would have liked to persuade people to do things for him, so he wouldn’t have to do them himself but to the date only his wife listened to him and did his bidding. Sometimes at night he spied the boulder in the yard through the window. He had made his wife build a little sack to protect his stony pupil from the rain, in spite of the fact that the temperature never dropped bellow forty degrees and last time their lands had seen rain the dinosaurs were caught under it without umbrellas. Although Mouthmad didn’t know those things because he lived in the sixth century and never heard of degrees, either Celsius or Fahrenheit, and the only dinosaur he would ever know was his wife. Sometimes during his nights of vigil he thought he saw the boulder chasing around a rabbit or jumping a fence, but it never performed for him any useful trick until one day he woke up and the boulder had run away.
He decided to invest his savings hidden under a stone to buy half a dozen of pigs in the market place. He had his wife build a pigsty in one side of the house. This time around things went better and soon the pigs had little piglets and he could make a profit by selling them for the tribesmen’s barbecues. He went to the bazaar and before nightfall he had sold all his stock and his purse was full of coins. He went to the tavern to celebrate with some prejudiced villagers who until then had treated him like a leper just because his father had been a leper. They drank and laughed and made up stories until past midnight. He enjoyed the company of people that listened to his nonsensical tales as long as he paid the drinks. He got very drunk and when he arrived home he made love to his wife in the dark and fell sleep. Next day he woke up to find himself sleeping in the pigsty, his arms around the naked waist of his fattest pig. His scream of horror was heard in town and the pigs ran away in panic never to be seen again. Mouthmad was so horrified by his hideous act that took an oath never to drink a drop of alcohol and developed a superstitious terror towards swine. Since that fateful night he couldn’t see a pig without climbing to the closest tree, although usually he had to run many miles in the desert to find one and was too tired to climb it when he got there.
The lost of the pigs meant he had lost his investment and had to try a new occupation. He chose fishing and sold one of his daughters to make the down payment of a small boat. He couldn’t pay the total amount for his boat because he sold his ugliest daughter and kept the pretty one in case his financial situation worsened. He spent months in the desert sitting in his boat trying to catch some fish but only managed to fish some boulders out of the sand, probably from his failed crop that sank in the sand. Mouthmad was a very stubborn man and he still would be sitting there in his boat had not a traveler on camelback passed by and told him that fishing was done in the water and that he was wasting his time. The man went away laughing at him but still Mouthmad didn’t give up. He sold his less unappealing daughter and bought all the water that he could find. He made a big hole in the ground and filled it with his water but the liquid soaked up down the sand before he had time to drag the boat inside. He realized with despair that he was in big trouble. He still had to make the payments for the boat and he had no daughters left to sell. He had a son but he was an drooling idiot and nobody would buy one of those. According to the law of the land if a debtor couldn’t pay his debt he would be impaled upside down in a pit full of scorpions.
His only hope was to get the money from his wealthy uncle Sadandvile the merchant. He could work for him as he had done as a child when his own father had to quit his job as holes salesman because poor sales due to his leprosy. His father sent him to work for his brother Sadanvile who was balding at the time and needed an assistant. Mouthmad spent his childhood and teens following his uncle around to catch his falling locks of hair and stuff them back under his turban. It wasn’t an easy task, specially not for a child, because his uncle moved around and little Mouthmad required of a stool to put them back in his head. His uncle was stingy and mean and he slapped Mouthmad with a sick when his hair came back dusty, but now this man was his only hope to evade the stake.
Uncle Sadandvile was now completely bald and the sight of Mouthmad who had attended his sorely missed falling hair softened his heart and he hired him to help him pay his debt. Mouthmad joined his uncle’s entourage in his business trips in the position of pack mule apprentice, although he would be allowed to eat with the slaves who ate half rations. His uncle promised he would get promoted if he showed capacity to carry heavy responsibilities.
His uncle’s only trading was made with the nearby town of Melilla, because it was the only place were people were poorer and more gullible than in Ceuta. Of course Melillians hated Ceutans to the bone because they said they looked down on them, which was exactly what they did because there wasn’t anybody else around they could possibly look down on. Melillans needed the trade to buy swords because Melilla was still in the Bronze Age while Ceutans had just recently admitted into the Iron Age. Ceutan swords and spoons made of iron were of superior quality to Melillan utensils. Iron swords didn’t bend when trying to pierce somebody’s stomach in battle and baby’s teeth were not knocked down as with the heavy bronze spoons.
Mouthmad accompanied his uncle on his trips to Melilla and although he hated Melillans as much as any of his countrymen he enjoyed the visits because people there didn’t consider him an idiot yet, at least on the first trip. He progressed rapidly at his uncle’s service and quickly excelled in his performance for being the only one in the pack of mules that didn’t kicked the merchandise with his hooves, although he usually got tired faster than the other quadrupeds. He was promoted to slave and allowed to wear a cloth, and later to personal servant of his uncle ,who bought him a turban with a feather on top and a lash for his neck.
It was during one of these trips that he meet a holy man that would change his life. The caravan was camping on an oasis on a trip back from Melilla and they were exhausted of bargaining and cheating Melillans. Under the starry sky of the desert everybody was sound sleep and the encampment was silent but for the laughter of some drunk merchants raping a camel. But Mouthmad couldn’t sleep, he was worried he couldn’t master the refined art of bargaining and he was the only member of the entourage that got overpriced goods from the dumb Melillans. He wandered into the desert and away from the drunkards laughter and camel’s wailings that brought him painful memories of the crazy episode with his pig.
He walked towards the dunes and saw a faint light in the distance. He walked towards the pale glare and found it was produced by a little fire inside a shallow hole in the sand. Inside the hole there was naked old man with wild white hair and a long scrawny beard covered with dust. First Mouthmad thought the man was one of the evil spirits that legends said roamed the desert at night looking for men to eat their genitals, but the man spoke to him and he realized it was only a naked dirty old man. The man explained he was a hermit who had come to the desert to speak with God. The man told him there were many other like him who came to the desert alone and lived like wild animals all their lives hoping to exchange a few words with God. For some obscure reason God seemed to prefer communicate with dirty bearded old men that lived in holes in the desert. He said it was because God was shy and He didn’t like crowds so He never went to communicate with people in town because townspeople were too busy with their work anyway and didn’t have the time to spare hearing thundering voices from the sky asking for things and complaining about their behavior. He liked better to speak to humble crazy folk that had nothing better to do and spend their lives sitting in the dust in a hole in the middle of nowhere. Although God hadn’t find suited yet to communicate with him. The hermit thought it was because he wasn’t still humble or dirty enough to be worthy, in spite of the fact that he took cinder showers every morning and followed a raw scorpion’s legs diet. Mouthmad was instantly enchanted with this lifestyle and with the idea of speaking to God. If he could speak to God he could ask Him what to do with his life and how not to be a total loser.
Back in is hometown he purchased in the bazaar a scroll with teachings about hermit techniques and practices titled Revelation For Beginners but he had to eat it for dinner because he had forgotten he was illiterate and couldn’t understand what was written on the parchment. Obstinate as always he didn’t desist and abandoned his uncle’s service to join an order of wandering holy men that walked the desert in rags and ate only goat droppings to show God about their meekness and lack of dignity, qualities God certainly valued more than anything else besides stupidity. They introduced him to the basic techniques of self-mortification and self-stultification that pleased God and make communication with Him easier. Mouthmad soon surpassed all of them with his limitless capacity for idiocy and very soon his brothers considered him a very holy man indeed. But as the man in the hole had said to him God was not only the creator of the Universe but so bashful that He only would speak to single individuals and one at a time. So Mouthmad departed to the desert to live in solitude and find his timid God and then disappeared for six years in the dunes.
His wife Shycunt waited for him all those years. She kept his husband’s missed dinner on the table until it was mummified. Other women moved by her situation came to talk to her about her hardships, although none of them offered to help doing any sort of lifting. They told her about other cases of men with unsound heads who had wandered into the desert to begin a career as hermit. The few that ever came back were always in a pitiful state and smelled like a dead horse.
That particular morning a woman with a jar in his head had stopped at Shycunt’s home to gossip about the last case of a neighbor who had spent two years in the desert. He had came back and said God had commanded him to tell the villagers they should wear a bone pierced through their noses and give him all their pocket change every Sunday. Nobody had believed him but he had been very insistent and finally he had been stoned to death by an angry mob. Not even his wife had believed him and she had been seen throwing him the biggest stones.
The woman complained about the weight of the jar in her head and told Shycunt that if his husband was ever back she would do better to agree with any nonsense he claimed to have spoken with God. It was at that precise moment that Shycunt saw a plume of dust on top of one of the dunes. Under the plume of dust was the not less dusty shape of a man dressed in rags coming towards the house. The man was in his bones and wore dirty drags. She thought the man was a leper and kneeled to pick up a rock to throw him when she noticed the man was carrying something very carefully in his arms. She couldn’t see what it was because it was hidden under a cloth. She thought the man was a salesman and picked up a bigger and sharper rock but when he was at rock throwing distance the man turned out to be her long lost husband Mouthmad.
Mouthmad looked like a disinterred corpse but he still was trying to speak and only dust came out his mouth every time he tried. He grabbed the woman’s jar and drank the water inside by introducing his head in the amphora and his neck almost got stock inside. He recovered his breath and then he said.
‘ Shycunt, open an amphora of our best water. We have a lot to celebrate. All our problems are solved. I have spoken to God, praised be His name because He got me a job, a very good one. I am His Prophet now… and He gave me something to prove it ‘ he said patting confidently his burden hidden under the black cloth.