He was shaken into wakefulness by someone
He was shaken into wakefulness by someone. He had fallen asleep in the middle of the marketplace, and life in the plaza was about to resume.
Looking around, he sought his sheep, and then realized that he was in a new world. But instead of being saddened, he was happy. He no longer had to seek out food and water for the sheep; he could go in search of his treasure, instead. He had not a cent in his pocket, but he had faith. He had decided, the night before, that he would be as much an adventurer as the ones he had admired in books.
He walked slowly through the market. The merchants were assembling their stalls, and the boy helped a candy seller to do his. The candy seller had a smile on his face: he was happy, aware of what his life was about, and ready to begin a day’s work. His smile reminded the boy of the old man—the mysterious old king he had met. “This candy merchant isn’t making candy so that later he can travel or marry a shopkeeper’s daughter. He’s doing it because it’s what he wants to do,” thought the boy. He realized that he could do the same thing the old man had done—sense whether a person was near to or far from his destiny. Just by looking at them. It’s easy, and yet I’ve never done it before, he thought.
When the stall was assembled, the candy seller offered the boy the first sweet he had made for the day. The boy thanked him, ate it, and went on his way. When he had gone only a short distance, he realized that, while they were erecting the stall, one of them had spoken Arabic and the other Spanish.
And they had understood each other perfectly well.
There must be a language that doesn’t depend on words, the boy thought. I’ve already had that experience with my sheep, and now it’s happening with people.
He was learning a lot of new things. Some of them were things that he had already experienced, and weren’t really new, but that he had never perceived before. And he hadn’t perceived them because he had become accustomed to them. He realized: If I can learn to understand this language without words, I can learn to understand the world.
Relaxed and unhurried, he resolved that he would walk through the narrow streets of Tangier. Only in that way would he be able to read the omens. He knew it would require a lot of patience, but shepherds know all about patience. Once again he saw that, in that strange land, he was applying the same lessons he had learned with his sheep.
“All things are one,” the old man had said.
* * *
The crystal merchant awoke with the day, and felt the same anxiety that he felt every morning. He had been in the same place for thirty years: a shop at the top of a hilly street where few customers passed. Now it was too late to change anything—the only thing he had ever learned to do was to buy and sell crystal glassware. There had been a time when many people knew of his shop: Arab merchants, French and English geologists, German soldiers who were always well-heeled. In those days it had been wonderful to be selling crystal, and he had thought how he would become rich, and have beautiful women at his side as he grew older.
But, as time passed, Tangier had changed. The nearby city of Ceuta had grown faster than Tangier, and business had fallen off. Neighbors moved away, and there remained only a few small shops on the hill. And no one was going to climb the hill just to browse through a few small shops.
But the crystal merchant had no choice. He had lived thirty years of his life buying and selling crystal pieces, and now it was too late to do anything else.
He spent the entire morning observing the infrequent comings and goings in the street. He had done this for years, and knew the schedule of everyone who passed. But, just before lunchtime, a boy stopped in front of the shop. He was dressed normally, but the practiced eyes of the crystal merchant could see that the boy had no money to spend. Nevertheless, the merchant decided to delay his lunch for a few minutes until the boy moved on.
* * *
A card hanging in the doorway announced that several languages were spoken in the shop. The boy saw a man appear behind the counter.
“I can clean up those glasses in the window, if you want,” said the boy. “The way they look now, nobody is going to want to buy them.”
The man looked at him without responding.
“In exchange, you could give me something to eat.”
The man still said nothing, and the boy sensed that he was going to have to make a decision. In his pouch, he had his jacket—he certainly wasn’t going to need it in the desert. Taking the jacket out, he began to clean the glasses. In half an hour, he had cleaned all the glasses in the window, and, as he was doing so, two customers had entered the shop and bought some crystal.
When he had completed the cleaning, he asked the man for something to eat. “Let’s go and have some lunch,” said the crystal merchant.
He put a sign on the door, and they went to a small cafe nearby. As they sat down at the only table in the place, the crystal merchant laughed.
“You didn’t have to do any cleaning,” he said. “The Koran requires me to feed a hungry person.”
“Well then, why did you let me do it?” the boy asked.
“Because the crystal was dirty. And both you and I needed to cleanse our minds of negative thoughts.”
When they had eaten, the merchant turned to the boy and said, “I’d like you to work in my shop. Two customers came in today while you were working, and that’s a good omen.”
People talk a lot about omens, thought the shepherd. But they really don’t know what they’re saying. Just as I hadn’t realized that for so many years I had been speaking a language without words to my sheep.
“Do you want to go to work for me?” the merchant asked.
“I can work for the rest of today,” the boy answered. “I’ll work all night, until dawn, and I’ll clean every piece of crystal in your shop. In return, I need money to get to Egypt tomorrow.”
The merchant laughed. “Even if you cleaned my crystal for an entire year . . . even if you earned a good commission selling every piece, you would still have to borrow money to get to Egypt. There are thousands of kilometers of desert between here and there.”
There was a moment of silence so profound that it seemed the city was asleep. No sound from the bazaars, no arguments among the merchants, no men climbing to the towers to chant. No hope, no adventure, no old kings or destinies, no treasure, and no Pyramids. It was as if the world had fallen silent because the boy’s soul had. He sat there, staring blankly through the door of the cafe, wishing that he had died, and that everything would end forever at that moment.
The merchant looked anxiously at the boy. All the joy he had seen that morning had suddenly disappeared.
“I can give you the money you need to get back to your country, my son,” said the crystal merchant.
The boy said nothing. He got up, adjusted his clothing, and picked up his pouch.
“I’ll work for you,” he said.
And after another long silence, he added, “I need money to buy some sheep.”