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I stopped at the spring to fill both my belly and canteen with fresh, sweet water. I looked around for the well-known face of Kendi the African and leader of the caravan. Spotting him, I picked my way through the many people, glancing now and then at the sun on the eastern horizon.
It was four o'clock on the tenth day of the dry season, a caravan of camels, mules, and pack horses was setting out at five. It was too late to book passage on a caravan this size, but I was willing to try. As I approached Kendi my courage gave way. Kendi the African was no fool and as stubborn as a mule, if one went by rumors. I paused to strengthen my will and then proceeded toward him.
"Excuse me, but are you Kendi the African, leader of this caravan?" I knew well who he was, but it was best to use formalities.
"I am. What might your name be?" His rough voice was friendly which bolstered my courage.
"My name is Drayden, son of Praycenon."
"Well, son of Praycenon, why do you seek me? Surely you already have your own business right here in Bagdad."
"No, I just turned sixteen and my prosperous father has sent me to seek my fortune. I'll not see Bagdad for many dry seasons to come."
"Speak up, my lad. State your business; there's much to be done and I leave at five."
"I know that there's little room on this caravan for one more person," I bravely began, "but I desperately need to get to the coast. I'll work as a servant or cook. I'll travel on foot and I have my own food. You need not worry about another mouth to feed ..." At this point a friend of Kendi's named Retlen spoke swiftly in an African tongue to Kendi, who listened intently. When Retlen was finished, Kendi turned to me and said, "You are lucky. I was about to confirm your belief that there was no room, but a merchant by the name of Chanka needs a servant. If you promise to work hard and well, you may travel with him."
I promised and then asked if there was anything I needed to know or have for the long journey ahead.
"Yes, you need a scarf to tie about your head and face and a robe to keep the dust off your clothes. Go to the weaver in the market. He is the best and the cheapest. I make purchases from him myself." I thanked him and hurried to the weaver who was just opening his dilapidated and bedraggled stall. I bought the robe and scarf, rejoined the caravan, found Chanka and waited impatiently for the signal to line up. At last, after what seemed like an eternity of waiting, the call to line up was music to my ears.
Slowly a line formed and we started the long trek east to the coast. For me it was not merely travelling to the coast for trade and business, but the start of a new life: a life founded on courage, determination and support from my family. I was beginning with little, for though my father was prosperous he had the dowries of my five sisters to provide for as well as his own retirement fund.
In my small store of money I found a small disk of ivory with all my family's names carved on it, the last gift from my father. Though I had little way of knowing it, I'd be able to buy many ivory disks such as this in later years, many ivory disks and much, much more.
I turned my face eastward and left Bagdad without another look. I was no longer Drayden, son Praycenon, but just plain Drayden. n