The naked man had not moved, save the jostlings of the cart over the rough terrain. It would be difficult to tell that he were alive if it weren´t for sporadic labored breaths. Makmood had taken a sheet off of a basket of apricots to cover the man so he would not suffer any more burns from the sun than he already had.
The cart dustily rolled its way into town and made its way to the first of a series of military checkpoints. The driver bowed his head to the soldiers as he slowed to cart to a stop.
“Good morning gentlemen” the driver said.
Makmood, without taking his glance off of his new friend offered a hand in the air and a “Hello”.
Four soldiers flanked the cart, as per protocol. “What do you have in the cart?” the tallest of the soldiers asked.
“My usual, apricots and nuts for the market. And a beggar!” he said with a chuckle as he amused himself.
“And who is that?” the tall soldier said with a horrified look on his face.
“Who?” the driver asked, puzzled by the question. He had forgot about their earlier heroics.
“Is that man dead? Uncover his face at once, beggar!” The soldier ordered Makmood.
As Makmood pulled back the sheet there was a loud gasp from all four of the soldiers.
“You two are under arrest!” the tall soldier declared.
“For what?” the driver asked with a cold feeling in his stomach. His mind was scanning for reasons for this declaration. He had paid duties on the apricots. The nuts were from a new vendor. Could they be contraband? Makmood had a cool calm to him. It´s hard to rile a man who has nothing to lose.
One of the soldiers, dumbfounded, with a single tear rolling down his eye gasped “Sheik Masoud, what have they done to you?”
Makmood realized what was going on and piped up “Gentlemen, we found him on the road many miles back. We saved his life! He was unconscious in the sand. He would have baked in the sun. We just gave him a lift. In fact, we had no idea who he was. It was our honor to help this man, be him a sheik or be him a lowly beggar such as myself”
The tall soldier, who appeared to be the leader of the squad, seemed to buy Makmood´s story, at least momentarily. But there was protocol to follow.
“Beggar, I would like to believe you but there are rules to follow. We will have to take you to the magistrate to see if your story checks out and to record all of these happenings” the soldier said.
“Will there be lunch?” Makmood asked.
“If everything checks out, sure” the soldier said.
“Great” Makmood said.
“No! Not great!” said the driver of the cart. “I´ll lose a day at the market! My family will go hungry!”
“Easy, man, you have apricots and nuts. They surely will not spoil. You´ll have tomorrow” the soldier said.
The driver shuffled, dejected, towards the magistrate building with his cart in tow. Makmood rode upon the cart elated knowing where at least one of his meals was coming from.