When the lonely road through the barren desert dunes led his pick-up truck into a luscious green village, Abdel knew he had taken a wrong turn. Which wasn’t possible on a road that had always been straight.
He stopped his truck in the village square to consult his map. By the well in the centre of the square, a group of women in traditional garb interrupted their nattering to observe his arrival. He ignored them and checked his route. It wasn’t new to him, but this oasis was.
A tap on his window. He rolled it down.
“Hello. Lost your way to Al Nadah?”
“Yes,” said Abdel, “although I can’t see how.”
“Do not question fate,” the man replied and opened the driver’s door of the truck. His hands, like his face, seemed old without showing wrinkles or other signs of age. “Come, you must be thirsty.”
“I’ll admit I am.” Abdel pointed at the old well, four poles serving as a leverage system for the rope and buckets. “If you will let me fill my water bottles and point me in the right direction, I’ll be on my way.”
“Now is not the time. The source will be there when you depart. Come.” The man gestured insistently. “Come, come. My wife makes wonderful tea.”
It was poor manners to reject hospitality, and since he was in no real hurry, Abdel climbed down from the driver’s seat and followed his excited host.
The village was small, but lacked nothing. The desert dehydrated the features of those who lived in its folds, but unlike the sandy settlements he often visited, here green palm trees and flowering plants flourished. All houses were humble but well maintained and colourful, like their inhabitants. As if the dust and sand of the desert couldn’t touch them.
When they arrived on the doorstep of a house at the edge of the village, the man showed Abdel in while calling his wife. The woman who answered was of the same undetermined age as he, her eyes sparkling like the countless beads on her dress as she welcomed Abdel and gestured for him to sit down among the many cushions that had been arranged around a low table.
“Please make yourself comfortable. I will bring you tea and sweets.”
While she vanished, Abdel turned to the man. “You must not get many visitors. I never even knew this village was here, and I drive around a lot in these parts.”
“We have few needs,” the man said. “The source provides us with everything we need.”
Abdel thought of the well, and of the saturated vegetation. “Fruit and vegetables I can imagine, but the oasis is too small for cattle. You have no meat?”
“Trucks like yours pass by when needed, and we trade. Lamb, chickens. The source provides without fail.” The man nodded with reverence.
“Sounds like a sliver of paradise,” said Abdel. “I’m surprised more people do not come to live here.” As he spoke, the wife returned with small glasses, a steaming pot and a dish of baklawa.
“Not many can stand a quiet, secluded life,” she explained as she poured a small glass of spicy, fragrant tea. “Our children left long ago. So long ago that we never hear from them anymore.”
“Then you made a great sacrifice for this life of abundance,” he said as he nipped his drink.
The woman was all smiles again. “Oh, but all good things come with sacrifice. When you accept this, you are grateful to do what is necessary. But you have not come to listen to an old woman ranting. Come, drink!”
The tea was hot, but not intolerably so. Abdel drank a mouthful. The small glass was soon empty, but the wife poured him more. He drank out of politeness.
“Tastes good, doesn’t it?” the man said with a broad smile. “The source has provided.”
Abdel wanted to concur, but his tongue failed to cooperate. As did his eyes. “Dizzy,” he managed to mumble. “‘s the tea?”
“To receive blessings, indeed sacrifices must be made. The source provides, and in gratitude we provide the source.”
She refilled his glass again. Abdel’s limbs were too heavy to refuse. “Pr’vide… with what…” he slurred.
“What it needs to sustain us, it leads into our midst.” Through the growing haze, she helped him put the glass to his lips. “Now drink up. It will hurt less that way.”