Omar the Peddler by Jose Diaz

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SUMMARY: A teenager walks the streets of ancient Timbuctu.

Long, long ago and far, far away, the fabled city of Timbuctu prospered; and among the masses crowding the city's bustling streets, Omar sold his trinkets.

Ever since he could remember he had provided for his sick old mother. Day in and day out, he left at dawn and returned at dusk bringing home bags full of the market's bounty; and every evening without fail, his mother painfully limped her way to the front door to shower him with rosaries of kisses and blessings. Omar couldn't think of a better wage for his labor.

He was only sixteen and had been a peddler for more than half those years; but sometimes he felt like he had walked the streets and alleys of the great city for a hundred years.

As he went he showed his goods and sang his selling pitch at the top of his lungs: "Pretty beads! Beautiful stones! For your loved ones! For your own!"

Beggars lined the dusty streets, their cupped hands extended vying for the occasional coin that came their way.

Omar looked at them, wishing that he could place a coin or two in every cupped hand.

But, he hadn't much himself. Business had been slow lately, almost dead today. Perhaps it would be just a matter of time before he joined their ranks.

Then he came by the market place and decided to go in it to sell his trinkets; except, he couldn't afford to pay the dues, so he would need to use cunning to show his goods.

He wore them and looked like a young sheik in rags. Five rings adorned each finger and thumb, dozens of bracelets dangled from each arm; heaps of chains and necklaces looped around his neck, and scores of brooches and charms crowded his chest. But, earrings he could only wear on each ear one. So he hung one on the one, then another and another, until the chains of earrings reached to the ground.

And again he sang his selling pitch; but now, not as loud.

The market supervisor was keen and spotted Omar making a sale. He gave chase and Omar ran like a rush of air. City police joined the hunt.

Now Omar climbed to the roof tops. He flew from one to the other as if on winged feet. But the police were many and he was soon boxed in.

He looked every which way for a means of escape. He spotted an open skylight and, without giving it a second thought, dropped through it. He landed on his feet and immediately got up and moved away from under the bright sun pouring into the empty room. From a corner of the room, he looked up and was relieved to see that the city cops were nowhere to be seen.

He scanned his surroundings, seeking a way out. There were no windows. Only a narrow door disturbed the white smoothness of the four walls. Omar had to exit through it, otherwise he was a prisoner. He pushed the door. The ancient hinges protested with a creaking sound, and then the door swung open.

In the semidarkness he could make out an impossibly long hallway that seemed to stretch out for miles. It must be an optical illusion, Omar thought, and started walking towards a point of light in the distance. He soon realized that the corridor was for real.

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