One of the things that’s always struck me as, to be honest, quite funny about travel is the bizarre approaches people have to cultural their experience in the unfamiliar. I’ve seen gap year Hippies growing out their manky dreads while Buddhist monks play StarCraft opposite the residence of the Dalai Lama and I’ve seen red faced French ex-pats listening to the strains of traditional Oud music and buying up djellabas while local youths kick it to Hip Hop in their knock off Adidas. It can be hard to tell who’s desperately trying to find some cultural meaning and who’s just earnestly found some. Beyond that though there is something deeper. Not theft or appropriation, too strong an accusation on an individual level I think, but certainly some discomfort around the process of staking claims. Anyway…

They’d never harmed the beast or taken anything that wasn’t otherwise wasted. Tamouz was certain of that. They had no reason for guilt, no reason for shame and no reason to recoil from what they did. When they’d found it the creature had been half made and half blind, driven to agony by the infanticide it hadn’t even realised it had committed. Still leaking life though, unwitting as it drained off into dry sand. If they’d fed greedily was that a reason to look upon themselves with disdain? It wasn’t them who’d culled the infant calves after all. That was an old crime undertaken by lesser nomads. Neither Tamouz nor the others would offer any defence of that, a fact to shout out as salve for any awkward pangs of uncertainty.

They’d fed, to be sure, gorging themselves amidst the bleached bones, gulping down their fill, at first solely to survive. No sin, no fault. And if they drank on thereafter? If they stayed to gain weight and bulk out stick thin frames? So what. The corpses around them had no need for anything, carrion claimed no rights. And the creature said nothing, did nothing, saw nothing. Eyes cataracted over by mourning, whatever it dreamt of behind the milky white shroud was undisturbed by the arrival of the nomads. Perhaps, Tamouz hoped, there was even the sustenance of memories in there, better thoughts rekindled by their tired and cracked bearer.

They’d dwelt there for years before things changed. Tamouz, once emaciated by desert drought had grown plump and happy. Feet bloodied by hot sands had healed and but for the stray doubts, easily suppressed by contentment, life had grown soft. The arrival of the calf changed that though. Circling warily it had become a novelty at first. A face soft with youth peering into Tamouz’s circle, straying only close enough to the nomad’s chatter to spook itself. A curio but no nuisance, a breed alike to the beast itself but no true kin they all agreed.

Some moved to drive it off, others to ensnare it, eyes on a maturity where it could feed them just as well as the other. Tamouz did neither, he could see more than the others, his eyes still sharp as fat as he’d grown. The calf was growing, moving ever closer and for all the docility his brethren saw there was accusation in it’s eyes. Wise to their indulgent consumption or not it sought a due they couldn’t comprehend. There was greed there too, glowing in it’s wary blue eyes, a greed for sustenance made for it’s lips, for it’s bones and stolen by usurpers. It wouldn’t leave until they drove it off, or killed it, or trapped it for their own. And perhaps it would be nothing to do that, weightless acts. The others at least talked as if it were a mere act of survival. To protect their own, to chain afresh the new source of the ambrosia of life. But Tamouz felt the guilt looming. To do more, to take more, would be to step into sin, to fight no matter the outcome would be fresh defeat.

The night the others set out to hunt he walked away. He had fed, well, the desert held no fear for him.

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