The sun began to dip behind the horizon. Takat and Raichatou jumped off their donkeys; they were so eager to get home that they sang songs and chased one another, in order to pass the time. Raichatou looked back at Mouheini and Fada occasionally, unhappy that Mouheini had allowed herself to become so close to this boy. Takat, on the other hand, felt intrigued by their friendship.
Fada and the girls began crossing one of the dry marshlands near their camp when suddenly they heard men’s voices beyond the acacia trees. Before they went much further, they saw men riding atop camels. Mouheini ordered everyone to be quiet, whispering that they might have to run. “These men might be dangerous,” she warned.
As the men came closer, Mouheini recognized the loving, familiar face of her father, and bounded joyously towards him. He got off of his camel as fast as he could and welcomed her into his arms. “My dearest gazelle, we were so worried,” he declared. “Abdoul arrived late this afternoon, informing us that armed men had attacked villages and kidnapped people. Alhamdulillah, you are safe, my beautiful child!”
She held on to her father tightly. “How is Tahir, Father?” she asked. “I tried to come back as quickly as possible… I hope I am not too late.” She began crying, allowing all her pent-up apprehension to flow out of her in the safety of her father’s arms. Alhassan held her even tighter. “Come home and see for yourself my child,” he said softly.
Mouheini introduced Fada to Alhassan and Abdoul. As they all began walking home, she told them about the boy who had been asphyxiated in the well, the armed men at the second well, and described at length how Fada had helped them. She also recounted the cheikh’s generosity and described the borehole of clean flowing water.
Looking at Fada, Alhassan said, “Thank you so much for providing safety to our children, and for bringing them home to us. How can we ever repay you?” Fada knew the answer he wanted to give, but a single glance at Abdoul reminded him that he had no chance to win Mouheini’s hand. “Please, it’s nothing,” he replied. “It is I who would like to repay you for this opportunity. Look, the cheikh has sent his gift of gratitude, to help you celebrate the Tabaski feast tomorrow.”
Fada was uneasy. He did not want to return home, but he also could not bear seeing Mouheini alongside Abdoul. Hastily, he announced, “I must return home now so that I too can be with my family for the festivities.” Mouheini whipped around, facing Fada to protest, “No, you cannot leave now,” she exclaimed indignantly. “It will be dark soon. Come home with us, please. Spend the night with our family. You can leave early tomorrow morning!” Abdoul looked at Mouheini incredulously. What could explain this strange and inappropriate outburst? He decided he did not like the attention she gave to this Fulani boy.
Alhassan would not allow such an honored guest to return home in the middle of the night. He too objected, along with his daughter: “No, you must stay with us tonight and return tomorrow. We will feed you and share our mats.”
“Dear Father,” Fada responded respectfully, “you forget, I am a Fulani. Walking is my second nature, and I really do prefer to be home before morning, so that I can be with my mother during the festivities.”
“But it isn’t safe!” Mouheini challenged him. “What if the armed men are still around? No, father…” Fada gently cut off Mouheini’s words, “Thank you, kind Mouheini, for your concern. I promise I will be fine. I will leave now, and rest in a few hours under the stars.”
Alhassan insisted some more, “I do not want to let you leave like this. You saved the life of my daughter and nieces. Might you at least have dinner with us?” Abdoul stood to observe this interaction and secretly hoped Fada would say no and leave.
Fada looked over at Mouheini; their eyes caught, and both noticed the other tearing up. He looked away, determined that he needed to leave as soon as possible. He felt such anguish in his heart that he feared he would not be able to control his crying. “Again, thank you,” he said, “but I have enough food for my journey home. I will leave now. Please do come often to Cheikh Almoustapha’s village. You will always find plenty of water and a friendly welcome there!”
After filling up his plastic milk container from one of the jerry cans, he approached Mouheini and whispered, “Never forget me. Come to see me whenever you can.” She handed over the food that was left in the parcel given to them by Housseina, and whispered back, “Allah willing!” not truly believing she ever would. She looked back at him until his silhouette could no longer be distinguished from the acacia trees in the advancing twilight.