He took a pack of Camels from his shirt pocket. I assumed they were exactly that, a brand of cigarette that I hadn't seen for a very long time.
a sip of my soya latte, and continued to aimlessly chat, anticipating
his offer of a cigarette and my refusal, but it never came. He
appeared to be having some kind of trouble with the pack. He shook
and prodded it, held it to his ear, looked into it with a bulging eye
and even whispered sweet nothings into its cardboard depths, until
finally he lost patience and gave it a firm bang on the table.
did its job and dislodged a tangled heap of tiny camels into the
overflowing ashtray. Each grunted as they struggled to rise to their
feet in the glass pit filled with its discarded cigarette tips and
smouldering ashes, and when all were able they began their ascent up
and over the craggy glass lip until they stood nose to tail in front
of their demanding master. All five took a military-style stance:
head held high, back poker straight and feet stamped firmly as their
master rolled through what I presumed were their names: Pistachio,
Date, Chickpea, Apricot and Sesame. I half expected each one to lift
a hoof and salute me.
being unbelievably tiny, they were perfectly formed, remaining me of
the toy I fought to find before my cousins in the cereal packet. The
three males had bigger feet and the females long, curly eyelashes. In
short, they were as desirable as Fabergé eggs, and somehow knew it.
blue-faced Arab sitting across from me was sweating, “If I win, you
become my seventh wife,” he said in a perfectly calm tone which
was very much at odds with his appearance.
my head, “You'll lose,” I said, “and when you do, you must once
and for all stop pestering me.” He seemed relieved that I'd agreed
so easily to his wager.
truth, I didn't really know him, but he had been trying to persuade
me to marry him since we'd met twenty years ago in Tunisia. I was a
teenager and he was the resort's bingo caller. He wasn't a very
attractive man and was a bit of a wanderer, which was why his wives
never seemed to last very long, but he had some charm and his blue
face, an unfortunate accident with permanent dye, had become a sort
of homing beacon. He often showed up just when I needed him; waltzed
into my life no matter where I was and sat across from me as he did
first it had been the normal wooing, beginning with the promise of
one hundred average-sized camels; then bribery, my parents guaranteed
a comfortable home for the rest of their lives; then came trickery,
nearly fooling me into standing in for the delayed bride at what he
told me was a rehearsal wedding, but this was a whole new, desperate
level. His proposals had never travelled this road before, and I
confess it was exciting. I could be gambling my life, as I knew it,
rummaged in the briefcase he'd brought with him and placed the bottom
half of a black edged rectangular box on the table, poured in a bag
of fine sand and smoothed it over with a minuscule rake, using this
to also create five lanes in the knuckle-deep sand. He drew the start
and finishing line with a stumpy, index finger.
tiny camels quivered with adrenalin as he fastened the even tinier
cloth-doll jockeys to their humps, the detail in every single one was
incredible with their shiny black boots, pristine white breeches, and
silk quilted jackets and hard hats in racing colours. Each camel when
equipped with their jockey took up their position behind the starting
line in the sand pit.
feeling generous,” he said throwing tumble stones between his moist
palms, “if three of the five cross the finishing line in the order
you pick, then I won't bother you again.”
about to declare my winning order of camels when a harassed woman
appeared and slapped the Arab's blue face hard, then popped Apricot
in her mouth and chewed slowly with a broad evil grin.
that is how I came to be his seventh wife.
Picture credit: The Great Camel Race by Rick Nilson. To view more of Rick's work, visit http://obxfineart.blogspot.co.uk/