The sun was high in the sky by the time Jasmine regained consciousness. She sat up slowly squinting while she rubbed the sand grains off her face and forearms. She looked around again, dismayed that all her hard work over the last week had been ruined by what was indeed a sandstorm. The temporary shelter she had erected was scattered everywhere, sand grains had encroached on the space she had meticulously cleared and swept and most importantly that which she had feared had come upon her.
When Jasmine had seen five horses carrying men wearing white robes with palm fronds embroidered from the neckline down the entire robe she hoped she was imagining things. She wasn’t. She had immediately recognized the signature palm frond design and involuntarily screamed then fainted. She was not sure how long she had been unconscious for, but judging from the higher position of the sun it must have been at least two hours.
One of Jasmine’s greatest fears setting off from home was for her safety. She was ready to be independent and create a new home away from home, but growing up she had heard stories from passersby about a fierce group of nomadic bandits – the Mozi tribe. They had a reputation for looting oases, taking whatever they wanted in the form of possessions and people. It was told that their wives were usually women they had captured along their journeys and forced into marriage. It was told that they burned whole families alive if they felt disrespected or rejected in any way. It was told that those the Mozi did not kill they enslaved. It was told that they did not abide by the nomadic rules of mutual respect and peace. The Mozi were considered the very worst of all desert people.
Wake Me Up When the Nightmare Ends
Now those same fearless, reckless, thieving, wicked bandits were sat a few feet away from her. They were sprawled out on the large woven carpet she had excitedly laid out the day she arrived. They did not seem to notice that Jasmine had regained consciousness. They were too engrossed with talking, eating and laughing loudly.
Jasmine hesitated and then stood up. She noticed a crumpled blanket on the floor where her head had been. Someone must have put it there while she was unconscious. Her stomach churned. She nervously ran her hands down the length of her body and she smoothed her scarfs and skirt. She squinted, as if that would help her look backwards in time to see if any harm had befallen her while she was unconscious. Had these heartless men violated her in any way? She was not sure, but she felt strangely fine.
‘Besides,’ her mind chided, ‘if they had, wouldn’t I have woken up? Wouldn’t my clothes have been torn? Wouldn’t my body have been displaced from where I had initially fallen?’
She knew deep down she had not been assaulted in any way, though she found it hard to believe – after all these men were Mozi, in the flesh. Jasmine took a timid step towards the gathering. She confirmed, there were 5 men in total. There was no way she could fight back or overpower even the smallest of them. So instead she began to think of what she had been taught about entertaining all guests – including emitting the same level of warmth and respect to both friend and potential foe. She tried to prepare herself for what knew she was supposed to say. She knew the words but they were buried beneath the lump in her throat. As she walked closer towards the group of men dressed in white robes with the palm frond designs , she tried to steady her breathing.
“Gree–tings,” she tentatively offered as her voice cracked.
“Greetings, fair one,” the biggest and tallest of the group responded. “Are you stronger now?”
“Yes, many thanks,” Jasmine responded. “Apologies for the delayed hospitality. You are most welcome to my oasis.”
Jasmine tried to hide her embarrassment. She knew she was supposed to offer them five things – shade, food, drink, supplies and the option of a place to sleep. However as they had already helped themselves to food, drink and shade she was not sure how to proceed. In fact it looked like one of them was even falling asleep. She wondered what poor luck had befallen her that her very first guests, if she could call them that, would be the Mozi. Most nomads went a lifetime without encountering them. They were more of an urban legend than an actual threat. Yet, here they were…
Right Before Her Very Eyes
And why of all days would they arrive in the wake of a sandstorm when her oasis looked the worst it ever had? She got so caught up in her thoughts that she forgot she had initiated a conversation. The awkward silence hung thick in the air, the other four Mozi members turned their attention back towards their food. Or her food, Jasmine thought with annoyance, which they had helped themselves to. She looked around helplessly frozen mid-step.
The one who had initially spoken got up and closed the gap between them. “Sorry about your lapse in health. Would you like some water or food? We have a great supply and I noticed there is not much in your food baskets.” He offered kindly.
Jasmine was taken aback. “Are you Mozi?” she blurted out. Realizing the implications of what she was saying and her accusatory tone she quickly followed with “I am sorry. What I meant to inquire was…”
He cut her off with a deep throaty laugh. “Actually I am Mikhal, but yes, we all belong to the Mozi tribe.”
“There is nothing to fear,” he added as her eyes visibly widened and she uttered no response. “What’s your name? How long have you been here?” he asked, taking charge of the conversation.
“Jasmine. 8 da – months actually. 8 months,” she lied.
She was scared if she made it sound like she had just arrived they would not respect her rightful claim to the oasis. Although she reasoned, this should not be a primary concern as she had heard that the Mozi were known to be nomads in the truest sense, never settling. She was not even sure what the immediate danger was. She just knew the Mozi were trouble and they were here. Jasmine felt guilty for silently and wrongly accusing them of eating her food, but she knew it was just a matter of time until they lived up to their reputation. She parked her camel train of thought and looked up at Mikhal.
She had already failed at extending an invitation to the Mozi men, so she decided to try and relax before she committed any other offences. Panicking certainly was not making things any better. Taking deep breaths she forced herself to uncross her arms and face him. Taking the opening, Mikhal strode over to where she had passed out earlier. He picked up the blanket she did not recognize and spread it on a nearby rock. Sitting down he motioned for her to join him.
“You should sit in the shade for a while,” he said authoritatively. She did.
To her surprise as they talked she found Mikhail to be patient, courteous and kind. He offered her a small share of their food supply, promised they would help her set up a slightly more resilient temporary structure since the sandstorm had destroyed hers, and complimented her weaving skills based on the carpets and poufs he had seen around the oasis.
“Your patterns are very unique,” Mikhal continued with genuine enthusiasm. “Although your finishing needs to be refined, you really do have a natural ability, fair one.”
Jasmine frowned, which he apparently took as encouragement to continue. “With more practice and better tools you could actually make and trade woven items to travelers passing by,” Mikhal said. “You might find it easier to focus on your strengths and barter for what you need instead of trying to do and make everything yourself. At least until you get more settled,” he added with a knowing smirk.
Implementing Unsolicited Advice
In the months that followed Jasmine took Mikhal’s advice and often thought fondly of her intial encounter. She was surprised by how much she had gained from an experience she thought would put an end to her oasis, her freedom, and maybe even her life. She did not know if the tales passed on about the Mozi were untrue or if they had just been uncommonly kind to her. The cryptic note Mikhal left behind when he and his band of Mozi brothers departed two days later did little to explain it.
He had simply written:
It is not our duty to determine where our help comes from. Receive graciously and give always, fair one.
Tucked away inside the parchment was a delicate but sturdy weaving hook that seemed to be crafted from the bone of an animal. It was smooth and one of the prettiest items Jasmine had ever owned. She had already begun using it, and combined with an increased attention to detail her designs and finishing were showing significant improvement. In fact she had already created more woven goods than she could possibly use. Per Mikhal’s advice she had begun to store the excess and offer it to passersby who stopped for the traditional offerings from oases dwellers: shade, food, drink, supplies and the option of a place to sleep. Now she offered them scarves, carpets and poufs as well.
On that fateful encounter a little over half a year ago, the Mozi had also replenished her food supply and built and reinforced a much more stable structure for her to live in. Mikhal had also advised Jasmine on what future labour requests to trade for her homemade tapestries and such from wandering travellers so she might develop her home even more. With
Truth Be Told…
…The Mozi had given Jasmine a whole new lease on life. She spent the majority of her days creating all sorts of woven goods. Her oasis had developed beyond the point she would have ever imagined. She had a small storehouse where she kept the items she made. She still missed her family from time to time, but she was productive and happy. There was not much she wanted that she did not get through investing time in creating her own products, then being patient enough to wait for the right passerby to visit with the skills or items she wanted.
In fact as Jasmine stood shaking with rage, the porridge she had prepared abandoned on the ground, sticking to her bare feet and oozing into the sand, she would never have guessed her business success would have led to this. Screaming at the top of her lungs she chastised the subject of her frustration.
“How dare you do this to me?? What is the meaning of this? How could you? How could you pretend to be so sincere and wonderful only to turn around and do this to me?!” she asked enraged. As tears pooled in both their eyes.
“Don’t you dare cry! You have no right. What do you even really want?! What could you have hoped to gain from all this?! I trusted you!”
Jasmine paused to catch her breath as more hot tears tumbled down her suntanned cheeks. She continued…