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Rated: E · Short Story · Cultural · #2317314
A desert bandit seeks access to water for his men.
The Wager

Ali Ben Ekhta wrote with his finger in the dust. The word “jewelry” emerged. He looked up at Rakhat. The Kazakh bandit nodded then turned to his ragged band of followers.

“He wants jewels,” he explained. “Go have a look in our takings from the last caravan.”

The men turned and wandered off, clearly doubting their chances of success. Rakhat watched them go, then turned back to Ekhta, still squatting with finger ready to write. Rakhat shook his head.

“Not now, Sheikh. I am thirsty and hospitality demands that we take tea in your tent today. Then we’ll see how deaf you are and whether you can speak at all.”

The old man smiled, then heaved himself upward and made a hand signal to his attendant guards. They turned and started marching to their camp, the Sheikh and Rakhat following.

It was a short distance to the camp, a collection of tents like mushrooms clustered around a well with a few dehydrated trees drooping over it. Ekhta led the way to the largest tent and entered. He and Rakhat sat cross legged while awaiting their tea.

“Jewels to water at your well, hey?” asked Rakhat. Ekhta smiled back wordlessly.

The bandit hunched forward purposefully. “Tell you what old man, if I can answer a riddle, will you let us pass for nothing?”

Ekhta, clearly a betting man, could not hide his interest. He nodded his assent.

“So, if I can tell you where you learned to speak English, you will allow us to the water and free passage?”

Again the old man nodded.

“America,” said Rakhat and the Sheikh’s jaw dropped.

Later, when the bandits had watered their horses and were well on their way, they asked how Rakhat had known.

He laughed. “American spelling,” he said.

Word count: 297
For Daily Flash Fiction Challenge, 04.02.24
Prompt: Write a story that includes the words: jewelry, mushroom, tea.
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