At the well, men were tying a teenage boy around Mouheini’s age onto a rope. The girls drew nearer to watch as the boy was lowered into the bowels of the earth; he was being sent into the well to dig the bottom deeper, in the hope that more water would seep through. The process seemed interminable, and Mouheini felt badly for the boy. “If it’s hot up here,” she told herself, “I can only imagine what the heat must be like so deep into the earth!” Just the thought of it made her shudder. They watched and waited, but nothing happened for quite some time. So, they returned to their mat beside the acacia tree, to snack on their food.
After a while, the men holding the rope felt tugging from the bottom; it was a signal for them to lug the boy back up. Several men began pulling on the rope, when suddenly the one nearest the well yelled frantically, “Pull harder, pull harder, the rope is being dragged back in. Pull harder!” Five more men joined, but all were being drawn into the well. One man hollered “keep pulling!” while another screamed, “the well is caving in!” The girls watched this dreadful scene in horror.
Ten minutes later, the men were still desperately trying to retrieve the boy, but it was too late. The boy had been buried alive. “How could this be possible?” Mouheini asked herself. Less than a half hour earlier, the boy had been standing in front of them. He could not just be gone!
After much effort to heave the boy out of the well, the men finally accepted that the earth had won the battle. The only way of retrieving the boy now was to send another man in to recover his body. Cries of anguish rang out around them. Takat and Raichatou sobbed while Mouheini pulled them together into a group embrace. “It’s ok, my little ones. It’s ok. We must go so we can get to the next well before dark”.
“The next well?” Raichatou asked, incredulous.
Mouheini asked the old woman if she knew of a well that might have water. “About 17 km north there is a well. I heard that it is still operating. You should try there.” She explained as best she could the path to take, while the three girls listened intently but with increasing discouragement. On the other hand, this was not the first time that they would have traveled to several wells before finding water. It was, however, the first time that they had ever seen a boy die in a well.
Takat placed their mat back on her donkey, and the trio somberly headed north. Walking wordlessly, they had no heart to sing or tell stories. Mouheini could not get the image of the boy’s face out of her mind. The thought of the dead boy repeatedly reminded her of baby Tahir. “Don’t die little brother!” she prayed to herself.