Home of Sword and Soul
“This is the wrong direction,” Sonnai commented.
“No it’s not,” Omari replied.
“Yes it is,” Sonnai argued. “It’s not like this is my first time to Zanabar. I know this city.”
“But you don’t know it like I do. Just be quiet and follow me. You won’t regret it.”
They reached the hostel district, rows of stone building that served as respite for visiting merchants. The buildings were separated by walls and designated by origin, with each merchant folk claiming their own section. They passed through the hostel district to the free lodging, an area set aside for those with no particular origin or profession. It was a rundown district, an area where one would not wish to be alone day or night. But it was the next district which was Omari’s destination. It was called the Hole, and area where ‘if one fell in, he did not return.’ Sonnai and his men stopped following Omari.
“No,” Sonnai said. “We’re not going in there.”
Omari shrugged. “Suit yourself. I have a bath waiting for me.”
He walked on alone. Sonnai and his men fidgeted, looking at each other as they silently debated whether to follow him.
“I promise you, Omari, if I get killed I’ll never forgive you!”
Sonnai and the others ran and caught up to him.
They could feel eyes upon them, but Omari was familiar with those eyes. Long ago his were among them, another beggar boy preying on the helpless and naïve. His face and his reputation was his passport through the dangerous streets and anyone with him was allowed safe passage. He continued until they reached a battered looking building at the end of an alley, the only redeeming quality a beautifully carved door accented with gold and precious gems.
Omari turned to his friends, his arms spread wide.”
“Bwanas, welcome to paradise,” he announced.
He approached the doors, which swung wide before he could knock. An elderly man appeared with a smile on his wrinkled face.
“Omari Ket,” he said, his voice almost a whisper. “They said you were dead.”
“They always say that until I return.”
The old man laughed silently. “There are quite a few that will be disappointed that you’re not.”
“Nothing has changed then. Bilal, these are my friends. We require food and baths.”
Bilal held out his hand. Omari took a gold pouch from his belt. He gazed at it longingly, kissed it then tossed it to Bilal.
The old man caught it then tossed it up again, testing the weight again. His eyes widened.
“I know this pains you greatly,” he said.
“Yes it does,” Omari said. “Please, put it away before I change my mind.”
Bilal tucked the bag away then opened the doors.
“Bwanas, you may enter. But I warn you, you may never wish to leave.”
The interior of Paradise lived up to its name. A wide corridor extended before them, the floor covered with luxurious rugs from Asanteman. Lovely figures of men and women decorated the marble walls, each shaped carved into the stone by skilled hands. Two guards stood by the entrance, their stoic faces and broad blades making their purpose clear. Omari and the others followed Bilal down the corridor to a wide rotunda. In the center was a towering statue of the Creator raising his celestial axe, about to deliver the blow that defined Ki Khanga. Omari wiped a tear from his eye as he gazed upon the magnificent sculpture.
“Are you crying?” Sonnai asked.
“No! Of course not!” Omari replied.
“I wonder about you sometimes,” Sonnai said.
On the opposite side of the rotunda were twelve doors.
“Bwanas, choose a door and enter. It does not matte which you choose, for in Paradise all is equally satisfying.”
Omari walked to the door in the center and entered the room. The porcelain bath resting on squat gilded legs rested before him, herbed mist rising from inside. A man and woman stood on either side of the bath. Omari stripped then eased into the warm water, his tension dissipating with each inch of his body submerged. By the time he was completely immersed he was asleep, a relaxed smile on his face. He was awakened by another person entering his bath. He opened his eyes to the woman. Her male companion was gone.
“I didn’t pay for this,” Omar said with a grin.
The woman smiled. “No one will know if you don’t tell.”
“My lips are sealed,” Omari said.
The others waited for him when he emerged from the room. They all looked refreshed, clean and happy. Sonnai sported a wide grin which gradually faded as Omari came closer.
“You didn’t!” he said.
Omari smirked. “What can I say? I’m irresistible.”
“Damn it to the Cleave! You were to take us to Matalai Shamsi!”
“I will, I will,” Omari assured them. “There is no way I can come to Zanabar and not visit the Jewel. Come, we waste time.”
A pair of wagons waited for them when they exited the bath house.
“My compliments,” Bilal said. “It is not often that our patrons make our staff as happy as we make them.”
Bilal and Omari winked at each other. The Mikijen climbed in then were on their way to the Jewel. The city district which held the pleasure house was the complete opposite of the Hole. Tall white washed villas with elegant verandas lined the wide paved streets. Lush fruit gardens divide the villas, the trees pregnant with bananas, oranges and other sweet fruits. Matalai Shamsi rested on the corner of the wide avenue, a tall arch heralding the entrance. Omari was barely out of the wagon when he heard a squeal.
A beautiful pair ran to him, a woman with a cloud of hair bouncing over her head and a man with tight red beaded braids. They hugged him like a long lost brother, which in some ways he was.
“Isabis, Iridisi, it is good to see you!”
“Come, come,” they said in unison. “Makadisa will be so happy to see you!”
They dragged Omari through the arch and the lush veranda to the gilded doors. The guards opened the doors, winking and smiling at Omari and his companions. The Matalai Shamsi foyer teemed with men and women, the patrons indistinguishable from the servers.
“Everyone look!” Iridisi shouted. “Omari Ket is here!”
All heads turned to the entrance and Omari struck a victorious pose. The foyer erupted in a cheer; somewhere a chorus of drums fell into a vigorous rhythm and everyone broke into dance.
“Now this is a homecoming!” Sonnai shouted.
“Yes it is!” Omari replied.
A vision of beauty emerged from the opposite side of the foyer. The celebrants paused momentarily as she sauntered by, acknowledging her with a slight nod before continuing to dance. Omari waited patiently as she made her way to him. She halted before him, her flawless ebony skin and amber eyes glittering with anticipation.
“Welcome home, Omari,” she said.
“My beautiful Shamsi,” Omari whispered.
“Come, we have much to share.” She extended her jeweled hand. Omari took it, his smile radiating his anticipation.
“How many days do we have before departure?” he asked Sonnai without taking his eyes off Shamsi.
He looked at his friend then grinned. “I’ll see you in three days.”