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By E. C. Osondu

His fingers were short, fat and round. He traced the lines in my palms and smiled. He shook his head from side to side, his cream-coloured djellaba giving him the look of an angel.

“It is all written here,” he said, tracing the lines on my palms.

“Some people die in the desert. I have heard many die and their bones litter the desert,” I said to Qaudir.

“Yes, but it is also true that many do not die. It is also true that many make the trip through the desert, they cross the sea and they get to Europe where they work

hard and become rich. Some of them still remember me. Me, this small Qaudir who helped them cross the desert in my blue truck. They remember. Some never forget and they send me money sometimes,” Qaudir said and smiled.

“I do not want to die in the hot sands,” I said.

“Some men die in the hot sand, some men die in the cold waters, some die when they are young, a few die at a ripe old age. At the end, we all die one way or another. No death is superior to the other,” Qaudir said.

I thought of how far I had travelled but even that seemed really short compared to the journey that lay ahead. It seemed my journey had just started. I still had the memory of Lulu Station but it was becoming blurry. It must have been this way because my mind was not at rest. I came to believe that the memory of Gulu Station, its dusty roads and old buildings would sharpen at my journey’s end. I made up my mind to look forward and not backwards, backwards was Gulu Station.

“The day you are born, your creator writes out how you are going to die in his big book. Some run towards their death. Some walk towards their death. Some think they are moving away from death, whereas it is coming to meet them. It is all written. It cannot be changed,” Qaudir said, still tracing lines on my hands. His cellphone rang. His ring tone was the call to prayer. He let go of my hand to dig out the phone from his pocket. He looked at the number and frowned. He answered the phone and asked the caller to call him back.

“On one of my trips we were in the middle of the desert, right in the middle of the journey. Now, the middle of the journey is the worst time for anything bad to happen to you because you cannot go forward and it is too late to go back. So, we were in the middle of the journey when I heard gunshots. Armed bandits were pursuing us in a Land Rover. These were the pirates of the desert. They knew every shrub and every mound of sand. I knew what they wanted. They would strip travellers, search them and collect everything they had. If they desired any of the women, they would take them as slaves”.

Excerpted from WHEN THE SKY IS READY THE STARS WILL APPEAR, a Novel by E. C. Osondu, published in 2021 by OUIDA Books, Lagos, Nigeria.

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