“Ouch!” Umar stirred on the bed when he felt something cold upon his face. His elongated eyelashes fluttered as they tried to adjust to the colourful stream of warm sunlight that poured in abundance, into his room. His head throbbed like he had been hit with a rock. Umar felt a burning feeling within his chest and his temple felt warm.
“Oh no…” he groaned and slipped out of bed. He prayed that he had no contacted any animal disease. His job came with a lot of risks from undue exposure but he loved it nevertheless.
Umar’s bedroom was embellished in kingly fashion. Well, he owned a goldmine, one couldn’t expect less. The walls glistered like their lights powered the midnight moon. The floors were made of jasper and decorated with pieces of topaz. There was a huge table carved out of rock and bronze; it was on that table that Umar did all of his studying about animals and the disease that plagued them.
“You have slept for too long. I feared that you were dead. This is the reason I poured you water.” A soothing voice came from behind. When Umar looked around, he found his cousin Iman. She was hiding behind him.
“You silly girl! What have you done?” Umar chuckled as he noticed that his clothes were wet.

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Iman fell to her knees, “I beg of you. Do not be angry with me. I was only worried about your safety. I have never seen you like this…” she gestured with her hands.
Umar was ashamed of himself when he heard this.
“You are right, you have never seen me like this. A man’s heart was broken last night, sister. And I found succour in the arms of alcohol and a beautiful woman…” Umar quickly rose to his feet as he tried to recall the events that had taken place at the Cattle Song bar. His eyes almost popped out of their sockets when he couldn’t remember a thing.
“Are you alright cousin?” Little Iman stared intently at his face.
Umar pressed his lips together, “I don’t know if I will be.” He remembered Aisha’s pretty face clearly; he remembered talking to her but he couldn’t remember what exactly he had told her. He hoped that everything had ended at the bar. Umar was a modest man. He wasn’t the type to take a woman to his bed without proper plan for the future. All his life, he had only been with two women who had broken his heart. They had all come for his gold. The only woman that cared less about his riches was Fatima. A sharp pain pierced his heart as he thought about her.
“I will be. Prepare my bathwater, I have some cases of cattle disease to handle.”
Iman scurried out of the room like a scared rabbit without question leaving Umar to his warring thoughts. When the girl was gone, Umar moved towards the thick and silky saffron curtains. Gently, he pulled them apart and welcomed the rain of morning sunlight. The powerful rays of the Israrn sun fell upon his hairy chest, the droplets of gold clashed with his lovely eyes. Umar was a vision. Little wonder why all the unmarried women in Israr were after him.
His head was bowed as he muttered some words of prayer. He was praying for his fragile heart and the grace to move on after Fatima’s rejection. Umar had made up his mind about many things and top on that list was ever asking or hoping for Fatima’s love. Obviously, she didn’t know exactly what she wanted. He couldn’t build his dreams around a woman who felt nothing for him.
“I have to move on…”
Slowly, he peeled himself from the window after enjoying the warmth of the mild morning sun. Umar was going to have a busy day and he had prepared himself for it. He needed to head to the Israr Forest where he would collect some herbs. There was a cure he was working on for some cattle diseases. Once he returned, he would go around town to check for his clients.
From where she stood, she had caught sight of his beautiful body. Tears welled up in Fatima’s eyes as he moved away from the window. It seemed that something had been covering her eyes, she had not realized how handsome Umar was, until now. Well, she didn’t regret her actions. All Umar would ever be was her best friend. There were too many women around him and she hated to fight for love.
Fatima pulled in a deep breath and adjusted the rein on the horse. She had wanted to ride to the valley where it was quiet. She had wanted to go there and lick her wounds; but somehow she had found herself on Umar’s property. Something had drawn her towards Umar’s house. She missed him. She missed him badly. Fatima knew that she had hurt Umar by rejecting his proposal but she didn’t know if it was right to ask for forgiveness.
She felt slightly jealous as she remembered how the men had spoken of Tanko’s sister, Aisha. They praised the woman for her great beauty which was unrivalled. This made her feel jealous and relegated to the background. Fatima rubbed a hand on her scarf and wondered what Umar thought of this Aisha woman. Although she had not seen her yet, Fatima didn’t like a thing about her. Tanko was not an upright man, how could his sister be different? Unknown to Fatima, Umar had spotted a grey horse and a female rider. His heart raced when he took a closer look and discovered that it was Fatima. Umar abandoned his bathwater and stepped out of the house in a flowing garment.
“Fati!” He called excitedly. Although she had caused him so much pain, he couldn’t stay away from her; he could never push her away or keep any grudge against her.
Fatima’s heart skipped when she heard him call her name. If she had not been on his property, the wave of anxiety that hit her would’ve caused her to fall from the horse. She held her breath as she watched him walk towards her. How could her sisters even suggest that she marry Umar to save the ranch? He would lose respect for her and see her as a gold digger.
“Umar,” she called in a soft voice as he reached where she stood.
“You have been standing under the sun, why didn’t you come into my house?” Umar’s thick brows knotted together as he stared at her.
Fatima felt uneasy as his brooding eyes searched hers. She found it difficult to look at them. She ran a tongue over her lips and played with her fingers.
“Um, I just….I was just enjoying the fresh air!” She forced a laugh which sounded out of place because nothing was amusing.
Umar could read this woman like a book. He knew when she was lying and when she was being evasive. Fatima wasn’t lying this time, she was just being evasive. Something was bothering her and she had come to share it with him; only that she didn’t know how.
“Are you alright?” He walked closer and touched her wrist lightly.
Fatima blinked away the pool of tears in her eyes.
“I think I am.”
Though she fought to hide her tears, Umar had seen them.
“I am sorry that I proposed marriage yesterday. I had no right to assume that you loved me. Being friends with someone isn’t the same as being in love with them. I am sorry for putting you in a bad position. I will never do it again. I promise to cherish what we have, our friendship is beautiful and enough for me.” Umar had thought that these words would brighten her mood.
Fatima didn’t feel better when Umar was finished. She knew she was supposed to feel relieved considering the fact that she didn’t share in his feelings. She was confused about her feelings. And this made her wonder for the first time if she had truly made the right decision by pushing him away.
“It’s no problem…” she faked a smile instead.
Umar sensed that all wasn’t right just by looking into her eyes.
“Are you sure?” He placed a hand on the horse’s back as he moved closer to her.
Fatima blinked away the tears that had gathered in her eyes. She couldn’t talk to anyone at home about what she truly felt. Laila wasn’t ready to listen to her. She was more concerned about the image of their family.

To be continued…

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