As man comes to his end, the oyster of his form is laid asunder.
Whether a pearl emerges or naught, determines his true worth.
The first rays of dawn tore through the scanty clouds and lingering fog, illuminating and warming. While the soft breeze gently nudged a dew drop over the cusp of a fresh green blade and into the languid stream that gently flowed, longing for the sea.
The throes of winter had been defeated, and as its forces retreated to a distant corner of the earth, the townspeople trickled from the vistas of the inland towards the wide embrace of the harbour.
Nestled within their flowing ranks was a solitary droplet. He had no conscious direction, no charted heading, but merely surrendered himself to the current and sought to see where it would carry him.
The harbour was bustling with activity of all sorts. Dhow captains were in passionate discussion with financiers, terms were being negotiated, deals being struck, while crew members scrambled from purveyor to merchant in a hurried bid to acquire the necessary supplies.
Pearl season had arrived!
When the deluge of townspeople reached the mouth of the harbour it diffused in all directions like a delta draining into the ocean. A mother scrambled with one infant clutched to her chest and another dangling in tow, eager to reach her husband and bid him farewell one last time, before he sailed away for what would be to her, an eternity. She reached the pier just as the anchor was being raised. The man charged with raising the anchor was so absorbed by the action that he did not realise. With each tug and pull, the vessel drifted away from the pier, away from his wife and children fixed on the pier, and as the waves carried it out into open waters, he was too far to see the glistening pearls that streaked down her cheeks.
A tradesman hastened his stride despite the burgeoning weight of a basket filled with dates perched atop his head, and two more grasped in his arms. He knew that if he did not manage to sell them that day, he would not sell them for another four months, by which time they would fester and rot. If he could not sell them that day, he would give them away.
Men with heaped carts raced from this dhow to that, weighing scales rattled as they manoeuvred the uneven ground and chants of guaranteed quality and reasonable prices echoed far and wide.
A withered old father embraced his young son and in his eyes he saw his own reflection, remnants of days past and glimpses of times to come. He put his frail arms on the son’s strong shoulders as though adorning him with the mantle of provider and man of the household. He planted a kiss on each cheek and whispered ever so gently. ‘You now take your father’s place.’
The current had brought Yateem to the mouth of the harbour and abandoned him there. As the people rushed to their own preoccupations, Yateem wandered at a leisurely pace. He was the lull in the storm that surrounded him. He took a deep breath and felt the salty sea breeze permeate within.
The tradesman with his bulk of dates came closer to Yateem, his step waning, his energies dwindling. His chest heaved as his breath struggled to keep up with his pace. The bare glistening back of the man was now in front of Yateem, and the smell of the ocean breeze was eclipsed by the pungent odour of physical toil. Unable to go any further, the tradesman collapsed onto the squalid ground from sheer exhaustion, and his basket came crashing beside, showering him in a torrent of dates.
Yateem stood immediately behind the helpless man. All he had to do was extend an arm, pull him back to his feet, and maybe inquire as to his state. Yet he did no such thing. Instead, he walked around the huddled chaos and never looked behind. ‘Each man should bear his own burdens, or crumble beneath them,’ he thought.
Strolling through the harbour, he came across a man of considerable age consumed by the fervour of conversation. Streaks of grey shot across his hair and beard at random intervals and his skin had the appearance of wear. His hands swayed and made elegant gestures, and the prose of his dialogue was as though pearls rolled from the edge of his lips. The man wore an impeccable white gown that flowed effortlessly to his shins. A thick leather belt fastened around his waist seemed to divide the man in two equal halves. The lustrous white separated by a band of brown. Tucked into the belt on one side was a short dagger whose hilt shone as though it was the East from where the sun advances each morning. On the other side, a sword whose hilt glowed as though it was the west of the sun’s crimson retreat.
The heat of the sun coupled with the ardour of his debate caused the man’s forehead to shine with tiny beads of perspiration, and so he reached into his pocket, took from it a silk handkerchief, and gently ran it over his face.
Yateem could not avert his gaze, he was partially mesmerised by the man’s refined demeanour and wholly by the spectacle of his affluence.
To be continued…