They trudged forward through the sand. Just enough food and water to last them a little while longer. They were wordless, for they had no breath left; no strength to speak.
Their tired, burning legs struggled upward. As they crested the dune they saw a tent down below.
Perhaps…perhaps here was help. But they were too tired, too dispirited to be glad – to rush forward. So they trudged down, approaching the tent.
There were no pack-animals, which was strange. Their dim eyes did not even register this.
A man came out of the tent. Not unfriendly yet unsmilingly he watched them, waiting for them.
He lifted the flap of the tent and indicated with a hand for them to enter the coolness. Trustingly the child went forward and ducked inside. The father and sister hesitated, giving the man appraising looks before following the child.
The mother shifted the pack on her shoulder and looked a challenge at the stranger. She was grateful for the respite for her family, but she wasn’t going to submit to this man.
He smiled at the challenge, indicating again with his hand for her to enter.
She lifted her chin, reinforcing the challenge.
The man still smiled as he softly took her by the arm to usher her inside.
Defiantly she shook off the hand.
Annoyance and puzzlement flashed across the stranger’s face. He took a firmer grip on the sunburnt arm. She tried to shake it off more violently.
This time the man’s face registered anger. Taking both her arms he tried to push her into the tent. But she fought.
Wordlessly they wrestled. Silently the woman refused to give in. Hour upon hour the struggle went on. The man was obviously stronger than she was, but trying not to hurt her too much. Powerfully he wrestled her to her knees.
At no point did the man seem to enjoy the struggle. There was no cruelty in his face. His determination to bring her into the sanctuary of the tent was stronger than her spirit of doubt.
The sun was behind the horizon when at last she lay exhausted and spent in the dust. The tears that had been flowing from her eyes all the while making mud on her face.
She lay there. Panting, weeping; sobbing. At last submitting.
The man bent down and gently picked her up like a child. For a moment held her close. And carried her into the refuge of the tent.