chapter  1
13 Pages

THE PEDLAR

STANDING in the prow of his uncle's bitumen-coated birkash, Bahalul bent leisurely to his pole; in the stern sat his twin brother, Jahalul, guiding the clumsy craft with deft strokes of his paddle. They followed a narrow water-way which twisted and turned between walls of high green reeds. From a sky a shade less blue than the still marsh water, a brilliant sun shone down on the brown bodies of the brothers, naked but for a cloak of coarse wool twisted round the waist. It bronzed the rusty paraffin tins containing the tea, coffee, spices and flaked tobacco which comprised the stock in trade of Haji Rikkan, and warmed the bones of the old pedlar himself as he sat cross-legged in the "belly" of the boat. From my place facing him I watched the changeful monotony of the marsh, the wilderness of reeds and water in which I was privileged to accompany his wanderings. A cool breeze stirred the feathery, dun-coloured

heads of the tall reeds, the water sighed and lapped among their roots, no louder sound than the ripple from Jahalul's paddle broke the intense quiet of the spring day.