“When I was a kid,” I’d told Rufus the week before, “I used to daydream about meeting someone in the desert…”
“Why a desert?” Rufus asked.
“Sometimes it was a wood,” I said, to cover the fact that I did not know.
“All right. What kind of people would you meet in this wood?”
“It was always one person,” I said. “I would be going one way, and find him collapsed by the side of the road. Or on a dune, if it was the desert.”
“Was he asleep?” Rufus asked.
“No,” I said. I had never told this story to anyone before, and I think I only realized the full import of this fantasy as I said the next words. “He would be starving. He would have gotten lost, or kidnapped, and would have been wandering alone by himself for days. And I read once that if you get lost in the desert and don’t have any water, you can lose a pound a day. So he’d be too weak to walk, and hardly able to see from sand blindness, and I’d take him in and he’d be so hungry—”
“Now I know why it was the desert!” Rufus hooted. “It was to soften him up for you!”
“Yes— I mean—” I would have stopped there, embarrassed and miserable, but Rufus wanted to know more.
“What would you feed him?”
“Camel milk,” I said immediately. I wasn’t even sure if you could drink that kind of milk, but that’s what it always was in my dreams.
“Would he get sick?”
“No, I’d be very careful and only give it to him a little at a time. And after a while of being carried around in the caravan, he’d get less weak, and better hydrated, and be able to eat more.”
“And then,” said Rufus, “you’d realize he was still underweight. So you’d feed him sticky figs and baklava every day until his belly poked out, wouldn’t you?” Rufus drew in a deep breath, and I felt him push out his stomach muscles, lifting me up slightly.
“Yes!” I squeaked, pushing my own tummy against his.