Enrique LafourcadeEnrique Lafourcade
The Unexpected (chapter)

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He took some time to make up his mind. A horse was a delicate matter. Arabs waited for foreigners anxiously and had no remorse cheating, selling them sick camels, old mules and horses. No animal offered at Harar’s market was of any value. With a fast look, Djami would give his diagnostic: twisted legs, bad teeth, bad spine formation and too many scars. It was the age of big beast markets, where one would find tracker dogs, huge black Abyssinian cats to clean the house of rats, Egyptian mules and Yemenite camels. Only once in a while, horses of good breed.

Abdo had got used to his walks trough the plains, never getting too far from the walls and armed, of course. He came back at dusk.

He knew it was necessary to invest in a good Arab horse.

One morning, five merchants showed up with a variety of horses. Djami told his master, quite excited, that he had seen the most beautiful beast of the city, an “Appaloosa”, the prophet’s favorite breed, black and white, a young and vigorous colt.

Abdo identified it before anybody had said a word. Abyssinian, white with black patches, proud under the rain, stamping and moving his sharp head frantically.

—Look here, Prince, feel his fragrance! Come near and smell this colt that has Allah’s blessing.

Yes. He could smell him. He had that spicy perfume, like the mango’s flowers, like the scent of vanilla. The scent of young barks of big and secret trees of the prairies.

The traders stayed at a nearby hotel and the horses at Rinbo’s comfortable stables, between camels and mules, with plenty of forage. Nobody stirred except Dongolo. Djami went out many times to see them. Next morning he told Abdo Rinbo that there was indeed a young colt in there.

—He is worth what they are going to ask for him, but we’ll pay them half of that.

It wasn’t easy to acquire him. Negotiations lasted for a week, with Abu Zahir, who was enjoying very much the whole affair. News extended through the whole city and adjacent villages and in the following days a crowd bending over the pens and mangers became part of the show. Every time Dongolo appeared, the crowd would shout loudly.

—There isn’t in all of your warehouses enough gold to buy him. Not even all of your riches, which are many, could be enough to buy this wonder. Do you know, my lord, how many gold coins could I obtain for this colt in Cairo?

Abu Zahir’s strategy went on like this for many days, explaining to Abdo Rinbo that with this white and black colt he would be capable of embracing the earth, of penetrating the secret lands without any suffering, going farther into the unknown.

—Dongolo knows the path to Sheba’s reign.

Abdo Rinbo was silent, as usual. His silence was his best weapon. He could see himself entering Sheba with that horse. Dongolo would stump tenderly after sniffing him; he would be his friend of silence. Besides, he wouldn’t live alone anymore. Not ever again. The world was waiting for him. Breeze, sweet like honey, Breeze-Blue Water, his Mahadmi, with whom he already dreamed. There would be another horse for Breeze and another one for Djami. Sacred cities would emerge from the sands and the old dream, the hidden valley full of flowers, was going to be discovered amongst the saffron-colored rocks. He would be in the middle of those rainy nights, amongst distant moans, with his horse and the old images that he tried hard to keep away.

It wasn’t easy to do business with the traders, astute like serpents.

—His name is Dongolo, which means The Merciful. He’ll be like your oldest brother. He is a pearl, look at his eyes! In the night his eyes shine like black pearls, he is the most perfect in this land of imperfection, Sabih...

The “most perfect” would bring his head near him. He was magnificent as the full moon that was emerging behind the sharp mountains in the horizon, lighting on and off the city of Harar.

Dongolo let Abdo caress him and he began speaking to him with an inquiring purring. The Unexpected caressed his neck for a long time and spread out his hands towards his mouth so “The Beauty” would lick them. There wasn’t a doubt about it. They were made for each other. Dongolo impatiently waited for the light to come out so then both of them, united by the wind and the race over the earth, looked like they were sinking in the plains.

—He doesn’t have a price —said Abu Zahir.

Abu Zahir was the craftiest horse seller in Africa. Everybody feared him. There were rumors that he was a fixer of old horses. In the square, in front of Abdo Rinbo’s warehouses, a small group of Abyssinians had gathered. Abu Zahir would explain to them, opening his arms, “does the air or the wind have a price?”.

He also enjoyed making an impression on his possible buyers by telling them that Dongolo was invisible. He told them that when shadows fell over, the horse disappeared completely. Abdo Rinbo needed a horse like that one. Djami asked him to wait for a couple of days. “Abu Zahir is a thief and a very wise one, master. He wants to impress you. There is no one in Harar capable of paying what he asks for it. No one except you. Just wait. Tomorrow he’ll begin to sell you his old horses”.

There was the kind of suffering that only he knew of, “before the dream” and “inside the dream”, full of sisters crying, specially two of them. He was very far apart, spreading out his arms trying to touch them and only sensing emptiness, air, his hands full of air. Then there was Dongolo in his dream too. The rain was making Abdo Rinbo sleepy, until the lightning came and Dongolo, nearby, would cry like horses do, very shyly, becoming agitated. When new lightning and thunders came, Dongolo would rise in his hindquarters and Abdo, who always had some sugar in his pockets, would give him some in his blubbered lips so he would quiet down. His horse, his brother, scared like a boy.

Abu Zahir was becoming impatient. Those days they had spoken about coffee, barley, rice, scented woods and ivory. Abu Zahir had eight brothers and they were all traders like him.

Abdo Rinbo was waiting for the price, which did not come. The trade could last weeks or months. The well-fed horse felt at home. Djami would brush him twice daily and Abdo Rinbo would feed him his portion of oats and sugar. In Harar’s cafes there were bets about the horse’s price, about the Unexpected... was he going to trade him for something? For gold coins? How many? —They wandered.

It was never known. The trade lasted for eighteen days. Abu Zahir’s caravan left towards the coast with their mules and camels loaded with many bags. Maybe coffee, salt or ivory.

Dongolo and Abdo Rinbo were seen that dawn, biding them farewell up in the walls.