New Home in the Desert

It was early summer, and the mid-morning sun was hot. Harry helped his mother move the potted plants from the pathway to a shady place. The full-blown African violets they just bought from the plant shop brightened up the drab corner in their new home in that island in the Middle East. Except for the cactuses and the sprawling aloe veras, the lawn was bare. Only a palm of dates stood nearby.

Harry leaned beside the gate. “This isn't cool after all!” he whined. “I don't think I will like it here. It's so hot and boring!”

Mother looked at her son with concern. “I know how you feel. Adjusting to a new place is quite hard but I'm sure everything will be just fine soon.”

It had been almost a month since Harry and his parents moved to this new country. Although it wasn't his first time to travel with them to a different place, Harry felt strangely alone in his new environment. He was upset to leave behind his old friends and to think about going to a new school where he didn't know anyone. Such big change was not always fun!

Feeling uncomfortably warm, they were about to enter the house when they saw a stranger coming toward them. Clothed in a white tob (a long, straight robe, usually white or brown, worn by Arabian men), the man also wore a getrah (a headpiece of fine, white cloth set in place with a black, ring-like cord) that hang down to his shoulders.

“I suppose you're new here,” the man said.

“Oh, yes,” Mother responded, “we just moved in.”

Tall and with a potbelly that bulged like a mound in Saar (a place in an island in the Middle East where hundreds of ancient mounds or small hills are found), the man sported a stern, bearded face and a hard, seemingly unfriendly gaze. But something in his manner was interesting.

“We're your neighbors and we'd like to welcome you here. If there's anything we can do to help, please feel free to tell us.” He spoke with a hard Arabic accent.

“Thank you,” Mother answered politely.

A little later, a lady came with a plate of spicy sweets. Her black abaya (a black robe worn by women in the Middle East) covered her head and body, while a black shal (a covering on a woman's face) partly hid her face.

“This is Narima, my wife,” the man said. “We brought you halawa , our special Arabian delicacy made from spicy sweets of nuts and grains.”

“That's very kind of you. Thank you so much,” Mother said.

“We're very pleased to know you. Would you like to come in?”

“Oh, no, thank you. Maybe, some other time,” the man said.

Then he turned to Harry. “You should meet my boy. He's about your age. I'm sure you two would enjoy doing a lot of things together.”

“Come visit us some time.” The lady's smile was visible through her veil as she waved them good-bye.

“Ah well, that's cool,” Harry remarked as he sampled a piece of the sweets. “I used to think they're rude and indifferent.”

“And now?” Mother asked.

“They look different but I think they're really nice and friendly.” Mother turned to Harry and smiled, “We don't judge people by their looks, do we?”

“Oh, yes.” He snapped his finger. “Just as we don't judge a book by its cover.”

“Right,” Mother agreed. Late in the afternoon, before sunset, the doorbell rang. Harry hurried to the door where he saw the boy whose father wanted him to meet. He had big brown eyes with thick, curly lashes that sparkled as he smiled. His hair was brown and wavy and his fairly white skin made him look quite different from Harry's friends back in his own country.

Harry greeted his guest. “Hi! Please come in. You must be…”

“Hamad. My name is Hamad,” the boy said. “I live next door.”

“I'm Harry,” he responded, extending his hand like a gentleman. “Your father told me about you.” For a while, they sat and talked like they knew each other for a long time. Sometimes they groped for common English words so they could understand each other.

“My parents wanted me to come and make friends with you,” the boy said. “C'mon, let's go for a walk in the beach.”

As Mother watched them from the porch, the boys walked past the mosque to the nearby shore. The late afternoon breeze from the waters of the calm Arabian Gulf had replaced the whiff of sultry air. The two boys skipped and laughed as they chased little waves in the shore. They waddled and played in the sand. Finally they parted ways, promising to meet each other again.

Mother knew Harry was beginning to like his new home, for now he thought any place where friendship resides would be cool.

Arts | Fiction | Short Stories

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