wonderful it will be to go home! Will my husband be there? Perhaps he is already building the house again. He is a very good provider. We pick and dry medicinal herbs to sell on the mainland. What a good husband he is! Are you married, Excellency?â
âIt has not been Godâs will to send me a wife yet,â he replied, in the polite formula of the country folk.
â InshâAllah, it will soon please Him. When you marry, I am sure you will be good to your wife. The prophet said, A man is known by the way he treats his wife. If you are as good a husband as mine is, your wife will be very happy, and Allah will bless you with many children.â
âYour husband chose the mother of his children well,â Sharif said. âI am sure he knows it.â
They were speaking as though her husband would be found alive, and inshâAllah he would be. But whether he was alive or not, found or not, for the moment there would be no return to Solomonâs Foot, a fact Sharif had not so far explained to Farida, and he was hoping not to have to.
âYou will wish to visit at the palace with the Princess while your husband is searched for,â he remarked. âThe Sultan asked me to extend his warm welcome to the adopted family of his cherished cousin.â
Farida smiled broadly, shaking her head, and patted Shakiraâs arm. âThe Princess has her own family now, and I have mine. It is fitting that each return where we belong. I do not belong in the palace, but in my home.â
âIt will take your husband time to rebuild.â
âAnd is not my place there, helping him?â Farida countered, polite but determined.
Sharif cleared his throat uncomfortably. It hadnât occurred to any of them that the woman would turn down even a short visit to the palace.
He was aware that Shakira was watching him closely. He smiled reassuringly at her, but he was saved from the searching question he could see in her eyes by Jamila. The little girl was sitting in the seat beside his, and now she lifted her chin and looked up into his face.
âWhere is my Amina?â she asked sadly. âDo you have her?â
âWho is Amina?â Sharif dutifully enquired.
âOh, Jamila,â Farida scolded gently. âHow could His Excellency have your doll? He was not there that day! She lost her doll when they arrested my husband and took us from our home, Excellency. What a terrible day it was! And she has not forgotten. It was a doll I made her myself. I have told her, as soon as we have built the new house, I will make her another. It only needs one of my husbandâs old socks, Excellency, and some coloured wool.â
âI want my Amina!â said the child mulishly.
Sharif leaned down to her. âThere are many beautiful dolls in the city. Will you come to the bazaar with me and choose a new Amina?â
Setting her mouth in a determined negative, Jamila silently turned her head from side to side. Her soft hair brushed upagainst the high chair-back like a catâs fur, and Sharif laughed.
âDo not speak so when someone offers you a gift!â her mother admonished.
âI didnât speak,â the child protested, and they all laughed.
The plane taxied to a stop at a distance from the main terminal building, where a small marble-and-gold pavilion had been built for welcoming foreign dignitaries and VIPs out of the public eye. As they waited for the steps to be rolled into position a dozen people emerged from the building and came towards the plane.
Shakira had never seen such beautiful people. Men and women with sparkling eyes, smiling faces, flowing hair that gleamed in the hot sunshine. Their clothes were a mass of brilliant colours, and white so bright it blinded her. Even in her dreams she had not been able to imagine such a whiteness.
âWho are they?â she whispered, turning to Sharif.
âThey are your family.â A stern-looking man in a white