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The sandstorm continued to rage outside as Shamali raised his eyes to the heavens. “The gods are seeing fit to overload my humble caravanserai. First the many sandstorms, this one the worst yet, and now a second pregnant lady finds her way here.”
The new arrival groaned as she fell to her knees, arms wrapped protectively around her prominent belly. Those in the cramped common room looked at each other, uncertain of what should be done.
“What were you thinking, wandering the desert alone during these sandstorms? Those could have killed you!”
The lady spoke through clenched teeth. “I have survived them before. Despite that, I had no choice. My babies have to be safe.”
“Babies? You’re having twins?” Shamali raised his arms to the roof, a look of resignation on his face. “The gods ask much. Wait here, I will find someone to help you.” He turned and began walking swiftly to the far end of the room, his booming voice carrying despite the crowded quarters. “Hikmat! To me!”
From the passage towards the spring, the fall of footsteps echoed from the doorway. Before long, a scrawny man, his grey hair as ruffled as his robe, came into the room. “I warned you, Shamali. The lady is delicate, and we must pay full attention to her. Aamina has not seen a delivery such as this, and I do not wish to leave her unaccompanied.”
“I realise that.” He turned and gestured back towards the other lady. “This lady just came in from the sandstorm, and she is pregnant with twins. From the size of her, she cannot be far from due.”
Hikmat sighed, the exhaustion written into the lines of his face. “Bring her to the tables closest to the doorway, while I go back and check on Aamina and Shadi. Once Aamina is as prepared as I can make her, I will speak with this lady.”
The man disappeared through the doorway, the speed of his footfall showing the urgency of his task. Shamali headed back to the lady, who was now sitting at one of the tables, being provided some food by the others near her.
“My dear, we have a medical man with us, but he is currently occupied. Another lady arrived on a caravan headed to Persia, also pregnant. If you follow me, we will look after you as best we can until he is able to see you.”
Shamali called to the kitchen, requesting the freshest food that was available. The attendant returned with a plate of olives, flat bread and dips, along with water and oranges. The lady accepted the food gratefully, eating while trying to not show the discomfort she was in.
“May I ask your name?”
“I am Hafthah.”
“Why are out in the storms on your own?”
She lowered her head, trying to keep her emotion under control. “I am with one of the nomadic tribes in this area. I became pregnant by the chieftain, though I am not one of his wives. The seasons have not been kind to us, and as such our animal numbers and food stores are very low. Some of the children have died from starvation, as we have tried to ration our sources. It was remarked that even one new mouth to feed would be too much of a drain on already short supplies. When I found out that I would have twins, I swore the attendant to secrecy, knowing the extra trouble it would cause. Our food supplies have further lowered, and I feared for the children’s safety.”
Shamali listened, saying nothing as spoke. “Such a situation is difficult. No one in your tribe knows where you are now?”
“No. Once they had set up their tents to avoid the worst of the storms, roughly a day away, I stole away in the night. It would not surprise me if they try to find me here, but it was my only choice.”
Hikmat returned, a reserved look on his face. Seeing Shamali and Hafthah, he came over to the table. The caravanserai owner introduced to her to the physician. The medical man politely asked if he could feel her belly, which she agreed to. He deftly moved his arms around the pronounced bump, giving slight pushes and holding his ear to it.
“I can feel their feet at the top of your belly, so they are in position. How many moon cycles are you along?”
Hafthah thought for a moment. “Eight cycles.”
The physician nodded. “With twins, it is a given they will not wait another cycle, given their lack of space. The extra tightness in your belly says as much. Please forgive me, but I must speak privately with Shamali for a moment.” He looked over to him, tilting his head towards the passageway door. The pair left the lady to her food.
Once out of sight, Hikmat eyes took on a sad look as he spoke quietly. “Shadi’s child did not survive the delivery. I will attend to Hafthah now, but it would be best if there is as much distance as possible between her room and Shadi’s, to minimise the distress for her and the twins.”
Shamali bowed his head, offering a prayer for the departed soul. “I shall speak to my wife, and see if she can go and comfort Shadi.”
Hikmat agreed. “Someone who has had a similar experience will be of some comfort. Please be as discreet as you can.”
The caravanserai owner moved to the kitchen, quietly informing his wife of the situation. She quickly handed over control of the food provision to him, and headed down the passageway. Hikmat came back to focus his full attention on Hafthah, pushing his emotions to the back of his mind.
Hafthah considered him. “How fares the other lady?”
“She is comfortable for the moment, and I will see to her in the morning. You will need your strength once your waters break, so please eat and drink as much as you can.”
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