I couldn’t understand why he was nervous, that bearded stranger. Maybe he was afraid of us when we refused to let him continue his journey and invited him to stay at our farmhouse. After all, he had come marching down the track one hour before sunset, still four hours walk from the main road and weighed down with all his possessions on his back. He must surely have expected to meet people and we Berbers around here, in the Aures mountains, we’re farmers not bandits.
He stopped; we sat under the tree and talked while Ahmad finished ploughing the field and turned the horses loose. He said he’d come from Ichoukan, a ruined Numidian city up in the hills, and that this track which passed our farm was Roman and was going straight, straight, straight from Ichoukan all he way to the ruins at Timgad, some of the finest in Algeria.
He was still nervous when we fed him. My little sisters loved his yellow hair and kept feeding him more galette (bread) and omelette from the communal bowl. There wasn’t room in the house (a house built from stones of Ichoukan we teasingly – and truthfully - told him!) and he seemed happy to sleep in the barn, with the grain, the wool and the earwigs. The goats stayed in the yard.
It became clear in the morning why he had been nervous: he asked if he could give us money for the hospitality. He’d been worried about the meal and depriving the goats of their bedroom for one night. I took nothing of course, we’re farmers not inn-keepers. One has to help a stranger in need especially if he doesn’t know he’s in need. That straight, straight, straight track of his goes no further than the next ridge.