At first, he thought they were bees. Angry bees, amassing in the glare, feeding off each other until they became laden with fury, could stand it no longer, and so swarmed at the camel’s head. Fearful, he had carried out an inspection at the end of the day: underneath a cake of dust and above a glimmer of contempt in the wide brown pupils lay an unconcerned camel’s face. The camel, at least, seemed unfazed by the bees.
The next day, the camel placed one enormous pad in front of the other, the bees swarmed, and he sweated and gazed at the dunes in dumb wonder. From time to time, he lamented the barren landscape until, overcome by his own stupidity, he announced: ‘And what do the bees eat?’
Laughing aloud, he slapped the camel on the hump. ‘They can’t eat you, can they, old dear? My flower of the desert, you attract flies, not bees! What kind of flower are you?’
The camel ignored him.
Later, another thought occurred to him, and he wondered: ‘But what do the flies eat?’
And he paid close attention until, sick with horror, he reigned the camel to a halt and dismounted. Weeping sores – open wounds rubbed into the camel’s hide by his saddle – were thick with crawling black flies. Maggots sparkled beneath.
‘Oh, my flower of the desert,’ he said, ‘they ARE eating you.’
And he sat in the sand and wept.