by Jonathan Pinnock
The robed figure seemed to appear from nowhere.
“Good afternoon,” he said. “A hot day, is it not?”
Henderson-Smythe wiped the sweat from his brow. “I should say so, old man. Christ, am I glad to see you.”
The figure smiled. “The pleasure is all mine. It is always good to meet visitors to our country.” He looked concerned. “You have a problem with your vehicle?”
“You could say that again. Think the crankshaft’s knackered. Trouble is, we’re a bit off the main route for the rally — old Gubby there in the navigator’s seat’s ballsed it up good and proper — and I’m buggered if I can get a signal on the mobile. We’re supposed to have brought flares, but I think I forgot to pack them. Bit of a pig’s ear, really.”
“So you are with the rally?”
“Er, yes. Look, old man, I don’t suppose you’ve got any water, have you? We seem to have sort of run out, and I’m a bit parched, if you know what I mean. Gubby there’s been out for the count for the last half hour. Think he’s in a bit of a bad way. We’ve been reduced to drinking the stuff out of the radiator for most of the day, and it tastes awful.”
“Ah, this is most difficult. I am merely an itinerant Tuareg, and I carry no water or tools with me. Perhaps you should have made better preparations before you chose to drive your gas-guzzling monster across our land. A somewhat unfriendly approach to tourism, I must say.”
Henderson-Smythe looked a little sheepish. “Well, I dare say you may have a point, old man, but... Look, are you sure there’s nothing you can do to help us out? I mean, this may be a bit of a backwater here, but surely ...?”
The Tuareg bridled at this. “A backwater? Do you know nothing of our culture, sir?”
“My country is anything but a backwater, I assure you. Are you not aware of our thriving music scene? Do you know nothing of the griots? Have you not heard of the Festival in the Desert?”
Henderson-Smythe was temporarily nonplussed by this. “But what can we do?” he said.
“Well,” said the stranger. “Perhaps you could start with Salif Keita and Ali Farka Touré and then move on to Tinariwen when you are ready?”
“Sorry? No, I meant about our vehicle.”
“Ah. I suggest that you pray to your God. And avoid drinking anti-freeze. I hear that it can screw up your brain something terrible.”
The desert wind blew up a flurry of sand. Henderson-Smythe blinked. When he opened his eyes again, the man had vanished.
Copyright © 2009 by Jonathan Pinnock