The hot sun lay low, bronzed fire burning across the Arabian sands, casting angular shadows from the square buildings in the streets of Baghdad. Abdul tugged the reins, insisting the camel forget the small tuft of grass emerging from the dusty roadside, withered to brown beneath the foregone noonday heat, thirsting vainly for water so he might persist for a moment more. The camel, not without his due struggling, relented, and they carried onwards, passing through the empty streets, nearer to the murmur of the bazaar, their shores of quietude eroding slowly into the loud and busy sea of cries, shouts, and laughter as Abdul rounded a corner and entered into the marketplace.
Many colored rugs and carpets hung throughout, brightening the tan buildings and street, the aroma of roasting meat warring with the odors of camels and labor permeating the square, and in the center of the buildings and stalls, a tapestry of men oscillated, their voices rising and wavering, dominating and being buried by their rivals, the sounds of movement laying a bustling harmony underneath, all lit by the embered orange of the desert evening.
Abdul led the camel through the thronging crowd towards a corner of the bazaar, where two buildings met one another, angling off in either direction, and tethered the reins to a wooden post, removing from the ladened animal a small cloth purse, the cord of which he tied about his wrist, before turning again into the crowd, passing to the different vendors in turn.
“Fresh spices from the coasts of India!” “The best frankincense you will find in the desert!” “The greatest jars for the lowest prices!” “The finest cloth in all Arabia!”
Abdul paused before a vendor proffering many fruits, exchanging golden coins for a bright red pomegranate, which he cut with a knife, eating the crimson raindrops within, each one crushing beneath his teeth, the sweet fluid enamoring his tongue.
“Now what was I here for again?” Abdul muttered to himself, “Ah, yes,” he said, a stall massing with sheep and goats capturing his attention. He crossed to the vendor said,
“Good evening sir. Would you happen to have a flagon of goat milk?”
“Certainly,” the man replied, producing a brown skin. “One dinar please.” Abdul placed a coin in the man’s hand, accepting the flagon, heavy with moving weight. Abdul thanked the man, and turned towards the camel, when a flourishing shimmer touched the peripheral of his eyes. A young maiden, covered entirely in colorful garments glimmering with bright stones ornamenting the hems of her dress, passed through the concourse, the cloths failing to conceal her elegant and slender figure, a small partition upon her face revealing dark skin, smooth and lovely, the color of olives, beset with eyes of polished dravite gems beneath an ambered sun against the desert sands. Abdul’s gaze was entranced, and his path altered towards her, her eyes gleaming with the light of a smiling face. A sudden force collided with his shoulder, and he relinquished the flagon, thick liquid slowly flowing from the mouth in small rivers across the sandy earth. Abdul turned with furrowing eyebrows towards the one who struck him, discovering rather a form in a shadowed cloak, his hand lifted, a pale finger of bone directed towards Abdul’s palloring countenance. From his trembling hands the halves of the pomegranate fell into the milk, red veins mingling with the whiteness.
Without a word, Abdul turned and ran, stumbling over himself, rising swiftly from the dust, running through the streets, ignorant of the maiden, who was behind him before a word could drip from her lips, forgetting the camel, forgetting his errand, remissent of breath until he stood before a low wooden door in a stucco facade. The wood trembled under his fist, thrown hastily open by an elder man with weathered skin and purple robes who, upon beholding the breathless and frantic individual before him, cried,
“My dear Abdul, whatever is the matter? and where is my milk? and my camel?”
“Master Baktash…please Master Baktash,” Abdul managed between gasps, “You must help me.”
“Help you? Dear boy, how can I help you if I do not know your quandary?”
“In the market…I saw…I saw Death. He…pointed at me. Please master, I am afraid. Please…help me flee.” Master Baktash retained an impassive guise, though his face lost a hue of shade, and he replied,
“Go, take my horse, ride from here as far as you are able this night.”
“Thank you master, oh thank you,” Abdul said, kissing his master’s hand. “I will ride north and wait for you in Samarra. I will have all the goat milk in the city waiting when you arrive.” Mastar Baktash smiled,
“Leave,” he said. “There will be time enough for celebration, but now, time is not yet on your side.” Abdul released his master’s hand, and ran down the street towards the stables, disappearing into the darkening city. Master Baktash likewise set off through the streets, turning his way towards the market square.
The sun was touching the horizon when he arrived, and the long shadows of moving people flickered the sunlight like the emanation of a candle flame. Seeing the camel standing dully in the corner where Abdul had tied him, Master Baktash crossed the bazaar to retrieve his animal, turning then to depart from the square, though he perceived upon the eaves of his sight the Shadow of Death, and facing the dark figure said,
“You are Death, I presume?”
“It is the few who see I am near, but for those who do not tremble, indeed, my name is Death.”
“What cause had you to threaten my servant today and frighten him so?” Baktash continued.
“I did not threaten him; there was no need.”
“You gestured to him.”
“It was a gesture of surprise.”
“Verily. I was surprised to encounter him here in Baghdad, for you see, I have an appointment with him tonight, in Samarra.”