"Olives! Oil cured olives!"
"Figs! Finest you will find!"
"Fresh herbs! Dried fruit!"
Anatha ducked around a cart laden with cured meats, avoiding the grasp of the watchful merchant. She didn't dare stop to see if the officer was still following her. Clutching the stolen hunk of bread in her right hand, she elbowed her way through the horde and pressed on, unsure of her destination, but certain she couldn't outrun her pursuer much longer.
Darting around a corner, Anatha's bare feet padded along the scorched pavement, her breath coming in short gasps. She slowed her steps for a moment, but broke into a renewed run when she heard the shouts behind her.
"Stop that urchin!"
Over her shoulder she caught a glimpse of Sikari. His black mustache drooped in the heat, casting a shadow over his cruel sneer. He squinted in the harsh light, searching the crowds for his prey. Suddenly with a triumphant shout, he pointed at Anatha. Pulling her scarf over her head, she scoured her mental map of her nightly wanderings, searching for a place to hide.
Heart thumping, Anatha caught a glimpse of an alley to her left and pushed her way through the throng. Diving into the gloom of the side street, Anatha hunkered down behind a rubbish bin and tucked herself into a ball, willing her breathing to quiet. Hiding among the detritus she heard Sikari thunder past, still spewing threats. In the quiet moments that followed, Anatha felt sweat trickle down her back and her tunic clung to her bony frame. Using her crippled left hand, she wiped sweat from her face. All this for a bite of bread? She shook as a wave of grief rolled over her. She was so hungry. So tired. So alone.
Anatha looked up, her grimy face streaked with tears. Peering into the shadows, she caught a glimpse of a face at the end of the alley. "Follow me," whispered the voice, before disappearing from sight.
Swallowing hard, Anatha glanced back toward the busy street before treading carefully down the darkened passageway. The mysterious figure slipped over a crumbling wall and Anatha scurried after him. As her bare feet landed on the cool stones, she peered up at the towering moss-covered walls that surrounded the hidden courtyard. It was as though she had stepped into another world.
Anatha spun around clutching the bread to her chest and found herself face-to-face with a small group of children. They, too, wore rags and all were barefoot, but their smiles were warm and one held a out bowlful of grapes. A tentative smile stole over her face as the oldest girl limped forward and said in a gentle voice, "My name is Dosta. You will be safe here with us."
Extending her crumpled hand, Anatha found a welcome embrace. And a family.
|Image courtesy of Unsplash.|
“Go oft to the house of thy friend, for weeds choke the unused path.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Five-hundred words inspired by the picture and quote above. A little fun with names: Anātha is Hindi for orphan, Dōsta for friend and Śikārī for hunter.