‘Sure you don’t want a ride?’
We’d been walking for weeks and he hadn’t said a word until now.
‘Nah, but thanks kindly.’
I wanted a ride, but it just felt weird, especially since he’d just started talking out of the blue like that. Maybe if he hadn’t done that, I could have given it some thought. I might have asked for a ride, if he hadn’t spoken.
He looked at me out of the corner of his large right eye. The sun glinted off the brown iris, accusing me of not accepting the gesture. ‘I mean, I wouldn’t mind. You’d be doing me a favor.’
I glanced back, out of my left eye, and tried to mirror his expression. ‘How would I be doing you a favor?’
With a head shake and nod, he answered, ‘Giving rides eases my pain.’
We walked in silence for about a half mile and then I asked, ‘Is that a metaphor or do you mean it for real?’
He snorted. ‘Nah, it’s not a metaphor. I mean it for real.’
I wasn’t sure what to do with that information, so I kept quiet for the next mile. The air felt chilly and the change of atmosphere afforded me the opportunity to shift the subject from such an esoteric one. ‘You feel that? Bets it’s a well.’
‘It’s an oasis up ahead.’
I should have thought before opening my mouth. ‘How much you wanna bet?’
He showed his teeth. ‘Bet you one of your water bulbs.’
I breathed out. I could afford that. ‘Okay.’ I didn’t counter the bet. I already knew he didn’t have anything to give. Except maybe that ride he’d offered.
We walked and the air around us continued to cool, until I had gooseflesh on my arms. I could feel moisture, light and refreshing, on my face after so many hours in the heat. I took the water bulb out of my pack and held it out. He shook his head and pointed with his chin. ‘Let’s check it out.’
Half a dozen paces, over a small dune, down a gully, and we were there. Surrounded by lush palms, the oasis was a welcomed sight to both my companion and I. He picked his way through the low bushes, eased around trees, and lowered his head to the clear water. His face swallowed itself in the reflection.
I put my pack under some palm leaves, took off my boots, and ran. At the water’s edge, I jumped into the air and hit the water. I broke the surface and opened my eyes in time to catch him, shaking off the wet that had sprayed his face.
‘I wish I could to that.’ There was envy in his voice.
We looked at each other in that moment. I realized we had walked for a very long time, but I had no idea what his name was. I had told him mine about three seconds after we’d happened upon each other in that ghost town.
Our meeting had happened by the water, the first working well pump and trough in about fifty miles that I had found. ‘Nice to meet you,’ I’d said as I pumped water for the both of us. ‘I’m Steve,’ I’d blurted.
I’d watched him drink. I was grateful for more than just the water. It had been many days, many ghost towns, since I’d seen another living soul. And the last one I had seen had been one I needed to avoid.
‘You know,’ I said as I tried to sound casual as I climbed from the pristine pool, ‘We first met over water. But anyway, I just realized that I need to apologize.’
He squinted at me. ‘Apologize? What for?’
We’d crossed enough desert that I considered him a friend, which was a luxury to have in this world.
‘We’ve been together for a while and I’ve never asked you anything. I just assumed … and talked for both of us. If I’d known, I would have asked your name, anyway, a long time ago.’
And water as clear as what filled the oasis pool before us ran from his eyes. ‘I’ve traveled far and with a few fellas now and again. They never talked, just took.
‘But you were different from the start. You talked and never took.’
He walked over to me and leaned down so we were nearly eye-to-eye. ‘I’ve never talked to those others. I took a chance and talked to you.’ He stood to his full height, magnificently regal as the hot sun dappled through the palm fronds and onto his quivering flesh.
‘My name is Dewey.’
We gathered our things. My pack was one water bulb lighter because I kept my word. Gratefully, I took Dewey’s offer for a ride and we left the oasis to continue our journey.
Here’s the thing: I woke up one morning, having dreamed about America’s hit song, A Horse with No Name. It was written by Dewey Bunnell. In case you need a refresher, here it is. Let me know what you think about this short missive that I offer as a response to a tune that I’ve enjoyed since the 1970s.
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