Myrrh

November 4, 2010
Pulling her hood further forward to shadow her eyes, Farah stepped into the dusty hot marketplace. Chickens squawked as a man with a turban and a generous grey beard argued with another, younger man over the price of the birds. Ostriches poked their silly faces from their latticework cages to stare at her, then tried to pull their heads back in, to no avail.

The sun beat down, hot on her black robe that concealed a precious thing. Farah smelled manure and carefully looked around for the telltale horse or cow. A spindly-thin boy of about nine ambled away with an old cow on a rope, her speckled brown body closely resembling that of the boy’s.

Shouting voices crowded her protesting ears as the young Arabian woman made her way to the food stands. Smell after smell demanded her attention, and she got an ache in her head from jerking it from side to side so often. Wilting vegetables sat, dry in the parched heat; thick, fatty meat sizzled on a cast-iron skillet over a makeshift flame under one of the many brightly striped cotton booths. The fabric shuddered when humans passed, trying to make up for the nonexistent breeze. She smelled souring goats’ milk and oilpaper and fermenting fruit. Sweat and smoke and herbed rice.

Farah made her way to the spice booth, where her favorites like yellow saffron and ground nutmeg waited, beckoning her with their doubly strong scents after baking in the Arabian sun. She searched inside for the person in charge. It smelled dark and heavily spiced under the thick, colored canvas, like when Madya would make tardka dal soup with curried lentils, garlic, and other spices – when it was bubbling in the copper pot over the fire.

Behind her, a tent of textiles hid quietly, heavy rugs draped on rods and racks. A girl, with golden skin in an olive-green sari embroidered with silver threads, sat patiently as the shopkeeper mended a tear in her rug. If Farah had chosen to look more carefully, she might have noticed that the woman was watching her.





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