… We got as far south as Ouargla that day, a white shimmering vision rising out of sand. The sky was an impossible blue but the south-east wind was oppressive, a precursor to a sirocco?
I wandered dreamily around the souk and watched a vendor laying out his fruit and vegetables on a mat under his striped awning. A cloud of flies transferred their attention from a pile of camel droppings to the luscious tomatoes and succulent grapes; that fruit must be really good, I thought automatically, so many flies can’t all be wrong. A shadow fell across me and I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned and a chill descended on my heart.
The Grand Vizier was strolling in the green gardens of the Caliph’s magnificent palace in Cairo; he entered the famous maze and paced down the soft grassy alleys, lost in thought, his head full of Affairs of State. Suddenly he saw the Angel of Death at the end of a long alley, who frowned at him in a significant manner before disappearing down another corridor.
The agitated Vizier hurried back to the palace and requested an urgent audience with the Sultan. The young Sultan was grooming his favourite falcon but, having respect for the old man, he immediately granted him entry into his presence. The old man entered the room and spoke thus:
– Your Highness, I have served the Fatimid family faithfully for over fifty years, advising your revered grandfather, your illustrious father and now yourself (Allah be praised) and until now I have never ever asked you for a favour. But just now, as I was walking in your Highness’ gardens, I saw The Angel of Death and he gave me a sinister knowing look.
The Sultan stroked his black oiled moustache thoughtfully, the great ruby in his turban glittered and the falcon’s fierce eyes regarded the venerable old man haughtily:
– You have indeed served my family well Grand Vizier and because of the esteem in which we hold you, I will solve your problem. In my stables I have a magic carpet which can take you in an instance to a place on the far side of my empire and thus you will be able to escape the Angel of Death. I suggest the souk at Ouargla in the western desert.
So the Grand Vizier hastened to the stables and climbed onto the magic carpet and wished himself to Ouargla in the Western Sahara and was there in an instant. In a daze he wandered around the souk and found himself vacantly watching a fruit seller laying out his wares on a mat under his awning. Suddenly a dark shadow fell across him; he turned and a chill descended on his heart. He found himself face to face with The Angel of Death who addressed him formally:
– Your time has arrived and I have come to fetch you and gather you up into eternity.
– But … but … but I saw you only an hour ago in the maze of the Sultan’s garden on the other side of the empire and you frowned at me significantly.
– Yes I did indeed see you an hour ago in the Sultan’s garden, but the look I gave you was one of surprise and astonishment;
you see I knew that I had an appointment with you in an hour’s time here in the souk in Ouargla and I was wondering how on earth you were going to make it on time.