Chapter 3: In the desert’s clutches
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From the bottom of the well, the desert seemed like a distant, inaccessible world. The sunlight was only a narrow, shining circle above my head. The walls were cold and damp, and the sound of my own breathing echoed strangely.


The desert sand, once soft and warm beneath my feet, was now a distant menace. I could feel the dampness of the earth, and the smell of stagnant water filled the air. The silence was oppressive, broken only by the drip of water and the occasional squeak of the bucket.


I felt completely cut off from the world, locked in a prison of stone and darkness. Fear and loneliness were my only companions, and each passing hour seemed like an eternity. I could only stare at the circle of light, praying that someone would come and find me, knowing deep down that I was abandoned.


Three days had passed since my fall into this cold, dark hole. The pain was almost as unbearable as the loneliness. I was content to drink water from the well to keep going, but hunger nagged at me.


Guilt gnawed at me, constantly reminding me that I had disobeyed my parents. I imagined their worry, their despair. I thought of my little sister, of her smile that I might never see again. But more than that, it was the betrayal that weighed on me. How could I have been so naive to trust Adil and his friends? Sadness and frustration overwhelmed me.


I felt alone and abandoned in the pit, my thoughts swirling in a mixture of fear and despair. Hours seemed to stretch into days, each minute an eternity of loneliness. I was beginning to lose hope, wondering if anyone would ever come and find me.


Then I heard a soft sound, almost imperceptible at first. A rustle, a slight movement in the sand near the entrance to the well. My heart leapt in my chest, and I strained my ear, hoping it was a sign of salvation.


The sound came closer, and I realized it was too light to be human. A creature was moving near the entrance, curious and cautious. I held my breath, waiting to see what would happen.


Then, a small face appeared at the entrance to the well, a gentle, curious face with big, bright eyes and big ears. It was a fennec, a desert fox, looking at me with a kind of silent understanding. Our eyes met, and I felt a connection, a bond that transcended words.


He leaned in a little closer, his eyes shining with curiosity and a certain apprehension. Despite his night vision, the darkness of the well was so deep that he could only make out my blurred silhouette. He stood there for a while, listening intently for the slightest noise.


I was surprised at first, but then a feeling of relief and gratitude came over me. In this moment of despair, this little animal had become my only link with the outside world. I spoke softly to him, thanking him for his presence.


The fennec seemed intrigued, leaning over the edge of the well, his eyes fixed on me. He made little noises, as if trying to communicate. There we were, a boy and an animal, bound together by a silent understanding and mutual compassion.


Hours passed, and the fennec stayed by my side, as if he knew I needed him. He became my friend, my companion in this ordeal. His presence comforted me, gave me the strength to keep hoping.


Then, as if he'd made up his mind, he stood up and walked away from the well. My heart sank, fearing that he would abandon me. But I sensed that he hadn't left for good. There was something in his demeanor that told me he'd be back.


He returned shortly afterwards, carrying in his mouth an insect he had been hunting. With astonishing precision, he threw it into the well. The sound of the insect hitting the bottom of the well echoed in the darkness, a faint echo of life in this abyss of solitude.


The fennec didn't stop there. He set off again, this time to return with a small fruit he had found. He also threw it into the well, adding to the meagre supply of food he had begun to accumulate for me.


It was an incredible, almost unimaginable gesture. A wild animal, itself struggling to survive in this unforgiving desert, had chosen to help a small, lost and starving human. He seemed to understand, somehow, the distress in which I found myself, and had decided to act.


At first, our communication was simple and non-verbal. The fennec looked at me with his curious, intelligent eyes, and I could feel a kind of mutual understanding between us. Every day, he would return, bringing food and sitting at the edge of the well, watching me eat.


I gave him a name, "Sahar", which means "dawn", as he had become my first ray of light in this darkness. Sahar seemed to understand his name and responded when I called him.


We established a routine, a sort of daily ritual. Sahar would come every morning with food, and I would share my thoughts and dreams with him. He would sit there, his eyes fixed on me, and I could feel a kind of compassion and camaraderie in his gaze.


This connection with Sahar became my anchor, keeping me sane in this solitude. He was more than just an animal; he was my friend, my confidant, my link to the outside world.


However, the desert was a dangerous place, even for a cunning animal like the fennec. One day, when he had just thrown another insect into the well, a distant rumble was heard. The fennec's ears perked up, his body stiffened. The hyenas were approaching.


The fennec knew that hyenas were ruthless creatures, always on the lookout for easy prey. He felt a pang of fear as the rumbling drew closer, each sound sounding like an ominous warning.


Without missing a beat, the fennec took off, his paws hitting the warm sand, his heart beating wildly. He cast a last glance behind him, seeing the shadows of the hyenas looming on the horizon, before disappearing into the desert.


The hours passed, and the fennec, exhausted but safe, watched the sun set, tinting the sky with bright colors. He knew the hyenas were still out there, prowling the desert, but he was determined to return.


Despite the danger, the fennec returned every day, braving the risks to bring me food. Each visit was an act of courage, each departure a narrow escape.


Thanks to Sahar, who regularly brought me food, I lasted a week and a half. Then, one day, I heard a commotion outside. Human voices, footsteps, clanging metal... It was like a symphony to my ears, hungry for human contact.


The fennec, frightened by so much presence, fled, leaving me alone to face this opportunity. I mustered all my strength and started shouting, calling for help as best I could.


Finally, one of the men approached the well. I heard the squeak of the bucket's rope as he tried to lower it to drink. But the weight was too much for him alone. Another man came to help him, and together they began to pull on the rope.


With every inch the bucket gained, my heart beat faster. And finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I was hoisted out of the well. I was free. I was saved.


My eyes, accustomed to the darkness of the well, were dazzled by the sunlight. But despite the pain, I smiled. I was finally back among the living, thanks to the unexpected help of a small desert fennec.


The joy of my liberation was short-lived when I saw the surprised faces of my rescuers. They were stunned to find a child in the well that served as their water source. Looking at them, I realized they were of the same ethnic group as me. But behind them, I saw people in chains, slaves, tied to each other by the wrists and ankles. One of them was even chained to a camel-drawn caravan, despite the scorching desert heat.


Turning to my rescuers, I heard their praise for my appearance, and understood that they saw me as a valuable object. They were talking about the money I would bring them on the slave market. My heart sank at the thought. I had become an object of value, not for what I was, but for what I represented: an unrivalled allure that would attract buyers.


Before we left, a scene of unbearable cruelty unfolded before me. Sahar, my only friend in this crushing solitude, was seized by the slavers as I tried to prevent them from taking me away. One of them, eyes shining with greed, threw out: "This fur will fetch us a handsome sum at market!"


He looked at me one last time, his eyes filled with silent understanding. The slavers laughed as they raised their weapons, and without a moment's hesitation, began butchering him for his precious fur. The fennec's cry echoed through the desert, a cry that mingled with my own howl of despair. I felt part of my soul die with him, and knew that nothing would ever be the same again. They mocked my pain, my loss, their cruel laughter ringing in my ears like an echo of my own suffering. The world had collapsed around me, and all that remained was the emptiness and sadness of an abandoned child.


Then they decided to chain me up and make me walk with the other slaves. They thought my appearance would attract less attention if I were among the others. They didn't want to risk losing me by leaving me in the caravan. Every day, they forced me to walk under the scorching sun, with no regard for my health or well-being.


Every night, they locked me in the caravan with the other slaves. They thought this would protect me from desert predators. But they didn't care about the fear and humiliation I felt. They only saw my value to them.


So began my life as a slave, a life of suffering and humiliation. But despite it all, I hoped that one day I'd be free. Free from this life of slavery, free from the curse of my beauty that had caused me so much suffering.


The journey that followed was an endless descent into misery. They fed me scraps of food, often rotten and inadequate. Every mouthful was a struggle, every sip of water a rare luxury. Hunger and thirst were my constant companions, invisible torturers that kept me awake at night. Loneliness, too, was omnipresent. The other slaves avoided talking to me, for fear of the slavers' wrath. I was alone, surrounded by people, but alone.


Sadness invaded me more and more every day. I silently mourned the loss of my little fennec friend, the loss of my freedom, the loss of my life as I knew it. Every day, I wondered why this had happened to me. What had I done to deserve such a fate? I wept for the child I had been, for the innocence I had lost, for the life I should have had.


The journey across the desert was long and exhausting - three weeks had passed since I had last seen my family. The slavers, oblivious to our suffering, urged us on despite the scorching heat and lack of water. The sand dunes stretched as far as the eye could see, creating a depressingly monotonous landscape. The only thing that broke this monotony was the occasional passing caravan of merchants, who looked at us with indifference.


After several days' travel, we arrived in a town that looked like a mirage in the middle of the desert. The buildings, constructed of stone and wood, were adorned with intricate patterns and bright colors. The streets were bustling, filled with merchants and customers haggling noisily.


We were taken to a slave market, a place that sent shivers of horror down my spine. Slaves were displayed like commodities, their battered and exhausted bodies exposed to the gaze of potential buyers. The slavers lined us up and began extolling our qualities, as if they were selling precious objects.


They emphasized my charm, claiming I was a rare treasure worth its weight in gold. Potential buyers looked at me hungrily, their eyes roaming over my body as if they were appraising a valuable object. I was terrified, but I knew I had to stay strong.


As the sun began to set, two silhouettes detached themselves from the crowd. They approached slowly, their eyes fixed on me. I felt my heart clench with anguish. Who were they? What did they want from me? All I could do was wait, my heart pounding, as fate prepared to hit me hard.