After a long moment of silence, Mouheini recounted the story of the boy at the well, “He was about our age, Fada. I can’t get his face out of my mind. I can’t imagine what a terrible death that must be.” Fada waited a moment before responding. “I’ve been sent down into a well to dig like that boy,” he shared. “It’s what I imagine hell being like. So dark and hot, and no air. And you know going in how dangerous it is. You just know. Any time dirt starts falling from above, you think that your time has come.” Mouheini cringed at the idea of Fada deep in the well.
Fada changed the subject: “Aren’t you old enough to be married?” he asked. Mouheini blushed and defensively retorted, “Aren’t you?” Suddenly feeling uncomfortable, she added, “We really must hurry back home early tomorrow. My brother is sick and Mother needs water quickly. She fears he may die otherwise. The problem is, I have no idea where we are going and how far we are from home by now. I’ve never heard of your well.”
Fada felt sorry for her. “I will help you get your water quickly,” he said, “so that you can get back to your family. Your brother will be fine, I’m sure.” Mouheini appreciated his compassion.
Fada continued, “Our well is new; it’s been open since January. It was built by people from far far away, who called it a “borehole.” You should have seen them when they came with their trucks and drilling rigs. Those machines looked like gigantic monsters eating away at the earth. And when the drilling was done, I’d never seen so much water pouring out of the ground. I didn’t even know so much water existed!”
Mouheini listened in awe. She couldn’t comprehend most of what Fada was saying, but his excitement was contagious. “What is a borehole, and what is a rig?” she asked naively. Of course, she could not possibly know what all these things were — how could she? The only reason he knew himself was that he had seen the magic with his own eyes. Trying to simplify his description, he said, “A borehole is dug by a rig, and run by a pump that brings water to the surface. Not like a normal well, where donkeys have to pull water out with long ropes.”
“Ahhh,” Mouheini nodded her head, though she still did not understand what he meant. “The best thing,” Fada continued, “is that the water comes out clean. It won’t make you sick. I didn’t know before that marsh and well water could give you diarrhea. But the people explained to us that the water that we used to drink could kill people. This water gives health instead!”
Mouheini hung on to Fada’s every word. Even though they were unfamiliar, they were magical coming out of his mouth. She grew impatient to see this very special well. She was also enjoying listening to Fada in his imperfect yet melodious Tamasheq.
Despite not wanting to alarm her, Fada voiced his innermost concern: “I hope that my village hasn’t been attacked.” Sensing Mouheini’s sudden tenseness, he quickly reassured her: “No one dares hurt Cheikh Almoustapha, so I think it will be safe.” Mouheini prayed that he was right.
By this time, Raichatou and Takat had mounted onto their donkeys and fallen asleep. The animals walked slowly but did not balk. They seemed to understand that better times were close ahead. Mouheini hummed to herself. Fada joined in, thinking to himself that she had the voice of an angel. He had not yet seen her in the light of day, but she looked very beautiful to him, even in the dark. He sensed in her a purity that he had never seen before. As he followed the stars homeward, he felt proud to help her and her cousins.
After a while, Mouheini stopped thinking about her brother and the boy in the well, or the possibility of running into additional danger at Fada’s village. She even stopped questioning the confusing feelings that Fada’s presence provoked in her. She had lost herself in a walking, humming trance.
Fada’s voice brought her back to reality. “Look over there,” he exclaimed. “Do you see the light in the distance?” It took a few moments for her eyes to adjust, but she did see firelight ahead, atop what seemed to be a hill. “Do you think that it could be dangerous people?” she asked fearfully. “No,” Fada reassured her. “That’s my village. We are almost there.” Mouheini sighed with relief. She dreamt of curling up on her mat and sleeping, restfully and peacefully.