The caravan began to travel day and night
The caravan began to travel day and night. The hooded Bedouins reappeared more and more frequently, and the camel driver—who had become a good friend of the boy’s—explained that the war between the tribes had already begun. The caravan would be very lucky to reach the oasis.
The animals were exhausted, and the men talked among themselves less and less. The silence was the worst aspect of the night, when the mere groan of a camel—which before had been nothing but the groan of a camel—now frightened everyone, because it might signal a raid.
The camel driver, though, seemed not to be very concerned with the threat of war.
“I’m alive,” he said to the boy, as they ate a bunch of dates one night, with no fires and no moon. “When I’m eating, that’s all I think about. If I’m on the march, I just concentrate on marching. If I have to fight, it will be just as good a day to die as any other.
“Because I don’t live in either my past or my future. I’m interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. You’ll see that there is life in the desert, that there are stars in the heavens, and that tribesmen fight because they are part of the human race. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living right now.”
Two nights later, as he was getting ready to bed down, the boy looked for the star they followed every night. He thought that the horizon was a bit lower than it had been, because he seemed to see stars on the desert itself.
“It’s the oasis,” said the camel driver.
“Well, why don’t we go there right now?” the boy asked.
“Because we have to sleep.”
* * *
The boy awoke as the sun rose. There, in front of him, where the small stars had been the night before, was an endless row of date palms, stretching across the entire desert.
“We’ve done it!” said the Englishman, who had also awakened early.
But the boy was quiet. He was at home with the silence of the desert, and he was content just to look at the trees. He still had a long way to go to reach the pyramids, and someday this morning would just be a memory. But this was the present moment—the party the camel driver had mentioned—and he wanted to live it as he did the lessons of his past and his dreams of the future. Although the vision of the date palms would someday be just a memory, right now it signified shade, water, and a refuge from the war. Yesterday, the camel’s groan signaled danger, and now a row of date palms could herald a miracle.
The world speaks many languages, the boy thought.
* * *
The times rush past, and so do the caravans, thought the alchemist, as he watched the hundreds of people and animals arriving at the oasis. People were shouting at the new arrivals, dust obscured the desert sun, and the children of the oasis were bursting with excitement at the arrival of the strangers. The alchemist saw the tribal chiefs greet the leader of the caravan, and converse with him at length.
But none of that mattered to the alchemist. He had already seen many people come and go, and the desert remained as it was. He had seen kings and beggars walking the desert sands. The dunes were changed constantly by the wind, yet these were the same sands he had known since he was a child. He always enjoyed seeing the happiness that the travelers experienced when, after weeks of yellow sand and blue sky, they first saw the green of the date palms. Maybe God created the desert so that man could appreciate the date trees, he thought.
He decided to concentrate on more practical matters. He knew that in the caravan there was a man to whom he was to teach some of his secrets. The omens had told him so. He didn’t know the man yet, but his practiced eye would recognize him when he appeared. He hoped that it would be someone as capable as his previous apprentice.
I don’t know why these things have to be transmitted by word of mouth, he thought. It wasn’t exactly that they were secrets; God revealed his secrets easily to all his creatures.
He had only one explanation for this fact: things have to be transmitted this way because they were made up from the pure life, and this kind of life cannot be captured in pictures or words.
Because people become fascinated with pictures and words, and wind up forgetting the Language of the World.