She had graduated 12 years earlier near the top of her class at the university where she studied third-world economics and English.
Her name was Alala, which means the lost one. A large firm in the capital had offered a fine position, but she returned to the village where she was born because she was needed there.
She married Jelani, which means mighty one, and he was an officer in the village bank. There were two children, Jamar, which means handsome, age 8, and Fatima, which means weaned, though that was not quite the case.
Fatima was six months old. She was fat and happy with round black eyes.
The family made payments on a new condo on the village’s outskirts, part of a government project called Hope.
They drove a Ford Fiesta and entertained friends on weekends when Alala would serve groundnut soup, waakye and grilled antelope strips.
That was how it had been, but today was different. Alala was near death afoot with no family on the pitiless sands of the Majarani Desert.
* * * *
It had started the day robed men raided the village atop fast camels, sweating horses and dirty Nissan pickups painted black and tan.
They carried long knives and rifles, and they killed scores the first day as Alala and Jelani crouched in their condo closet with Jamar and Fatima who would scarcely keep quiet.
At nightfall, the raiders bunched on the plaza, lit into the hooch, and howled around bonfires. Alala heard terrified screams from young girls and women who had been corralled there for abuse.
* * * *
On the second night, they collected food from the kitchen, as much as they could gather, which was not a lot because they had to carry Fatima. At 1:15 a.m., they walked out into the dark desert.
Destination: the frontier with Darkeen, over 140 kilometers distant.
They were not alone. Other families were doing the same. Alala spotted them in the near and far distances above and between the endless dunes in the moonlight. Gradually, they all vanished into the vastness of the Majarani.
* * * *
The family trekked cool nights and rested hot days under the occasional date palm or behind shade cast by soaring dunes. The food did not last long, and neither did Fatima. It was a horror.
Then, on the fourth day, Jelani died without warning. Alala could do nothing, near blind with grief and pain.
She and Jamar kept walking. The boy cried, and Alala despaired. Thirty-two hours later, Jamar too died, and it was then that Alala saw the winged Bedouins in black robes sail through the moonlight on albino camels.
This story had come down the centuries among desert tribes, but she had never believed it. She had a university degree and spoke two tongues.
The winged Bedouins in black robes had always been so much poppycock till now, flying above her so plainly.
She was faint from hunger, weak and dizzy. On the seventh day, nighttime really, she was lying beneath a date palm. There should have been water, but there was none. Water had appeared now and then, but nothing that anyone could eat.
* * * *
There was a sound, and Alala opened her eyes. The moon shone atop a distant dune and there, directly before her, were two winged Bedouins in black astride snow-white camels, standing on the sand.
Come with us, they said, smiling. We have your family, and they are waiting.
Jelani has grown mighty. Jamar is so handsome. And you must wean Fatima who is fat and happy again with the round black eyes of a desert angel.
Alala rose and went with them, surprised that she could fly.