Tracking camels is an inexact science. In theory there are toe marks and droppings to follow. Suleyman, a seasoned professional, could tell by examining the tracks the sex of a camel, when it had last been watered and whether it had a rider. If the markings showed the impression of loose skin, he knew it had come from the sands. If smooth, it had come from gravel, which made the pads hard.
To me the marks looked like splodges. They ran around and over each other in ever-decreasing circles.
‘It’s easy,’ said Samir. ‘Look, they’re over there!’
I scanned the horizon and saw an ocean of camel shapes. Dunes looked like standing camels. Swaying branches were camel tails. Rocks were sitting camels. In the sky, fluffy beige camel clouds floated against humpy, yellow camel-shaped ridges.
Suleyman seemed to know where he was going, so I followed him. We hid behind a bush.
‘Shush!’ he said, really loudly.
Immediately, five naughty school-children camels glanced up.
Samir, who had approached from the other side, crept quietly towards Usem, the ringleader, but Usem and Agizul, the two bulls were close allies. So adept were they at avoiding retrieval, I could swear they were in league, conferring in their deep, gutteral voices so as to make it as difficult as possible.
Winaruz, the young buck, edged a little forward. From the look in his eye he seemed to be playing with us.
Samir reached Usem with the rope. Usem, knowing that old trick, dropped his head, but as Samir made a grab for his ear, he moved off.
Suleyman managed to slip a rope around his leg, then made another attempt to grab Usem’s ear. Almost immediately he was forced to let go again. Winaruz turned away and suddenly Samir was left suspended between the two animals, one arm bent backwards.
Twenty minutes later we were back in camp and the camels were contentedly eating jujube leaves for breakfast.
Suleyman clattered around, unearthing kitchen utensils for ours. He shoveled sugar into a tin pot. ‘When it comes to catching camels,’ he said conspiratorially, ‘you need the tactics of a chameleon stalking an insect.’
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Feabag. I could swear she was smiling.