Being alone, the man addressed the camel.
"It is as I feared, Camel; all are missing."
The animal lowered its rider to dismount, but the man remained seated, thinking, as if unaware of the camel's move.
There was no barking. The tiny oasis, so often the centre of welcome and relief from sun, wind and loneliness, was silent and broken. Where there had been a shelter a group of scorched poles pointed to the emptiness of the early evening sky. Dust half-covered some rags abandoned by an empty hut. The trail of dimples on the sandy track was too wind-blown to indicate the direction of travel to, or from, this group of palms. The signs confirmed absence, but provided no explanation.
"We will not take this route again," he said. The steed moved its head impatiently until the rider slid from its back and led the animal to the meagre spring.
Thirteen date palms. The man examined each whilst the camel drank. He selected the most central, on which to inscribe his mark, but hesitated, and returned the blade to the sheath at his waist.
He assessed the sky. He must build a fire, then cook and eat some food. He'd have to take the risk that events visited upon this place recently might occur again tonight; that danger could be drawn here by fire-light, and by his fate.
In the pale blue of the evening light he touched his forehead to a small rug, and with his evening prayer begged Allah's mercy and protection.
His meal done, he spoke aloud to the acquaintances he had known at the oasis.
"Friends, I am sad for what has happened here. May you find peace with Allah. I cannot offer to avenge you, and I do not know your fates; I cannot even be sure that we will not meet again, but I think not. Good people like you do not dessert such a place, such a home, and leave nothing for your sons. I thank you for the hospitality you have shown me in the past. Although I may not come this way again, I will remember you, and pray for you from time to time. Protect me as I move about the desert, I beseech you. We are all one in Allah."
His fire extinguished, the traveller lay upon the sand and passed a restless night wrapped in a thin blanket against the chill. The camel browsed the wisps of grass and slept. The patterned carpet of the stars passed overhead, whilst the tiny curve of moon failed in the west.
Camel and rider passed the final palm as the first light of dawn defined the crest of the eastern dune.
"Camel," said the traveller, "I think we should say nothing of all this."