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Open Features: The Lottery

...“Special delivery,” repeated Mohammed to his son. “They do that to make sure it arrives safely. It could be an armed guard, you know, security boxes, code names, all that sort of thing. It must be very valuable indeed.”...

Mohammed, a trader living in a Persian village, has won the lottery. Will the prize change his life?

Brian Lockett presents a modern fable.

To read more of Brian's first-class stories please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=Brian+Lockett

“Allah is great! Allah is great!”

The shout rang out in the still early morning air. The scorching sun had not yet begun its day, but the air, the dust, the sand and the few small scattered buildings patiently awaited its attention in the Persian village of Zafir.

Mohamed Bin Amek rushed out of his house shouting and addressing the sky.

“Allah is great! Allah is great!”

He collapsed on to his knees on the pebble-strewn track outside his tiny cream-washed house and wept with joy, waving his arms and sobbing. His son, Ahmed, slowly emerged rubbing his eyes.

“What is it, father? Why are you making all this noise? Are you ill?”

“My son, Allah has smiled on us. He is returning our love.”

“Right, father,” said Ahmed. “Calm down and tell me what this is all about.”

The young man assisted his father to his feet and steered him back into the house.

“We have won, we have won.”

“What have we won, father?”

“The lottery! We have won the lottery!”

“Ah, yes, the lottery. Malek’s lottery. I’ve warned you about Malek, but you keep on buying his tickets. Well, what have you won?”

“I don’t know yet. He sent his son to tell me that I have won and that the prize will be delivered later this morning. Can you believe it!”

“All right, all right. Just how much have we won?”

“Why aren’t you excited like me, Ahmed? Do you know what this means? No more taking our stuff to market twice a week to try and make enough money to live on. No more having nothing to eat some days. This is our big day. If your mother were alive she would be so happy like I am happy, because at long last I can look after my family properly, give you the things you deserve, show the neighbours that I am better than they are, stop them laughing at me … ”

It was some time before Ahmed was able to get any sense out of his father. A young lad had arrived from the city, sent by Malek to tell Mohammed his good fortune. Mohammed was to make sure he was at home for the midday meal because it was then that the lottery prize would arrive by ‘special delivery’.

“‘Special delivery,” repeated Mohammed to his son. “They do that to make sure it arrives safely. It could be an armed guard, you know, security boxes, code names, all that sort of thing. It must be very valuable indeed.”

“Well,” said his son, “don’t get too excited. I know Malek. Let’s wait and see.”

When the sun was at its highest there was a commotion in the street. Mohammed had dropped off to sleep in the heat and Ahmed went out.

A young lad of about fifteen was standing on the doorstep.

“Yes?” asked Ahmed.

“This is the right house, isn’t it?”

“For what? Right for what?”

“The lottery prize.”

“Yes, this is the right house.”

“Good. I can go home now.”

“What have you brought?”

“It’s round the back of your house.”

“What is it?”

“Go and have a look.”

The boy turned to go, but Ahmed grabbed him.

“Show me,” he said dragging him round the corner of the house.

“There,” said the boy, pointing. “Can I go now?”

In front of them stood a camel.

“Right,” said Ahmed, “help me unload.”

“There is nothing to unload,” said the boy. “The prize is the camel.” He then wrenched himself from Ahmed’s grasp and ran off.

Mohammed appeared by his son’s elbow. They looked at each other.

It was some time before Ahmed was able to calm his father down. His father did not want a camel, he wanted a large sum of money. That was his right, his due. What was he going to do with a camel? Camels had to be fed, looked after. Malek was a liar, a cheat, a swindler. He would report him to the police. Mohammed paid good money every week to take part in the lottery. He had worked hard over many years to keep his wife and son and himself. Then his wife had died and now he had the responsibility of looking after not only his son but this huge, stupid, money-consuming beast. He would take it straight back to Malek and force him to …

Ahmed had heard diatribes like this from his father before. Not particularly about Malek, but about others who had taken advantage of him in some way.

He interrupted.

“Make the camel earn his keep.”

“What do you mean?”

“We take our stuff to the market twice a week. How do we get there?”

“You know very well. We try to get a lift from Aziz, in his van. When we can. He doesn’t always want us and he keeps complaining about how much room we take up.”

“So. Forget Aziz. You now have a camel. You can get a lot of stuff on a camel, can’t you?”

Mohammed calmed down slightly. It was true Aziz was never completely reliable. And he was forever complaining and saying how grateful they ought to be for his help - even though he always took advantage of the trip to market to conduct some business of his own.

The two men stared at the camel. The camel stared back, snorting and moving its lower jaw. Then Mohammed said:

“Son, get Anwar to look the camel over. He knows something about them. What sort of condition is it in?”

Anwar came along that evening, prodded, peered, peeled back floppy skin, looked in ears, mouth and eyes, bent legs and squeezed joints.

“Old,” he said. “Not in very good condition. Doesn’t breathe well. Listen to that chest. Look at those sores. And arthritis, too, I think. Might last you half a year, but not much more.”

Mohammed turned to his son.

“I am not going to be cheated out of what is mine,” he said. “This camel will carry our goods to the market. Malek thinks he has got the better of me. He is wrong. I will prove it. This camel will work.”

Ahmed hesitated. He and his father were quite different characters and each knew that neither would change.

“Don’t you think it would be better for us all if we had the camel put down?” he said. “It’s not up to work. And we can’t afford to feed it.”

“Cut the beast’s throat, you mean? No, my son, that is the easy way out. Malek would have won if we did that.” His eyes narrowed as he looked at the young man. “Animals were put on this earth for our benefit. Do not forget that. They do not have feelings. If we cannot eat them, we teach them how to work for us until they die. That is the natural order of things. Allah knew that. You young people grow away from the old, the true religion and you are lost. Animals are not people. We are their masters. This camel will serve us. That will give me justice from the cheating Malek.”

And so the camel was put to work. As the days and weeks went by, however, the animal moved more and more slowly and, much to Ahmed’s sorrow, was beaten and jabbed by Mohammed whenever it failed to respond quickly to an order. It was fed no more than adequately, but its sores worsened and spread and its breathing became more and more laboured, particularly under the heavy burdens loaded on to it on market day.

Early one Tuesday morning Ahmed faced his father in the shed attached to the house where they stored their trading stock. Wisps of straw littered the dusty ground and Ahmed was wiping his face with a handful.

“This is the end, father,” he said.

“Why are you weeping, my son?”

“The camel is dead, father. You have killed our camel.”

Mohammed took his son by the arm and shook him. Ahmed dragged himself free.
Scarcely able to speak, he stepped closer to his father and, through his tears, shouted “Do you know what you have done? You have murdered a living creature. Your greed and your pride have done this. Look, I will show you.”

He hurried his father into the small yard where the camel lay on its side. Shattered pots lay all round, some underneath the misshapen body.

“Its back is broken. I was packing straw round your precious merchandise when he gave a great moan and fell down.”

Mohammed looked aghast at his ruined artefacts.

“This is terrible. It will cost me money to replace all this. Why did you let this happen? How are we going to get to market now? Who is going to clean all this up?” He shook his son roughly. “Ahmed, you are a grown man, not a baby. You should be ashamed to be crying, just because an animal is dead. This is the natural order of life. Animals are not important. They die all the time. Do not waste your tears. You have to think of us and how we are going to survive.” He suddenly looked frightened. “First your mother dies, then Malek cheats me and now my only son is crying like a baby. What is happening in this world.” He suddenly sank to his knees and began to beat his chest and raise his arms to the hot sky. “Allah is great!”, he shouted flinging his upper body to and fro. “Allah is great!”

*

I do not know in detail what happened after that. I do know that Ahmed left his father shortly afterwards and set himself the task of writing down everything I have set out here. He kept the handful of packing straw with which he had wiped away those first early tears and eventually dyed it red with a mixture of betel and cochineal juice. I have one of those straws with evidence of its origin, including Ahmed’s account of this turning point in his life. The straw has been accepted as a lot at a Sotheby’s charity auction, the proceeds of the sale to be sent to the Iranian Camel Charity Fund which provides medical treatment and homes for aged camels. I expect that there will be keen bidding for ownership of The Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back.

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