10  J I M C A R R O L L Zahra, the anxious little girl sitting in front of me, was asked to repeat the times table for sevens. She was afraid of making a mistake, and she stumbled at seven times eight. She was reward- ed with a sharp rap on her hand with a wooden ruler. Crying in response to punishment was not allowed. Such was the treat- ment of those who failed at rote memorization. To occupy my mind, I concocted stories. As our desert pre- decessors had collected around the fire for a tale, my classmates gathered around me on the playground for the narration of a story. My gifts lay in stories, and the day of my return from the embarrassing attack was no different. I began, “There once was a camel who knew what was going to happen in the future. The camel was white. The white camel belonged to me, or perhaps I belonged to him. I tried to keep the camel from coming to me in the morning of my dreams, but the camel would not obey. I think he was a good camel, but he wouldn’t mind me. Sometimes I wish the camel would just go away, because the camel told me things I didn’t want to know. Is this a betrayal or a trick? The camel told me my brother was to hurt me, and the next day my brother attacked me with a knife.” Those listening had witnessed the attack, and they looked at each other. “The camel told me my father would not love me like my brother. He told me only my mother loves me.” Even then, the white camel could be cruel. “But the scariest part is that the camel told me I would search for something I wouldn’t find on my own. And that something would be the most important thing in my life. I tried to make the camel go away, but he always comes back. He tells me I’m going to be famous and that he will give me more stories to tell. I think the white camel follows me.” Some of the children looked around for the camel. One asked, “What is the most important thing?” I had no an- swer. I was not certain if anything about the story, or the camel, was real. But the camel had announced his presence, real, either