by Michelle L Brown
“Come on, Ara, hurry!” Basil said, climbing on his donkey. “I am so hungry I could eat you!”
“EEEYAW!” Ara brayed.
Basil gave the dusty donkey a pat. “It was a joke!” But his hunger was not. He and Ara had delivered the last basket from his mother’s market stall in the souk. She was already at home helping his sister prepare supper.
Basil checked the goatskin moneybag tied to his belt. “Be careful with that money,” his mother had warned. “We need every last dirham.” Suddenly Basil smelled something sweet and yeasty. He followed the aroma through the narrow streets. Basil hopped off Ara in front of the baker’s door.
“Anise bread,” he whispered in Ara’s ear. “Like mother makes.” He could almost taste the chewy cornmeal crust. Would it really be wrong to spend two little dirham? He could earn it back tomorrow.
Ara nudged Basil with her nose. The boy sighed. “I know, I know. You are hungry too. And the baker does not sell hay!”
Basil closed his eyes and sniffed one last whiff. When he opened them, there was the baker!
“What are you doing?” demanded the big man.
“I... I was smelling your bread.”
“That will be one dirham.” The baker opened his pudgy palm.
“But I did not buy anything!”
“No, you stole it!” The baker lunged at Basil. Basil turned and ran... right into the muhtasib!
“Young Basil?” said the muhtasib as he straightened his turban. “What is your hurry?”
Basil relaxed. The muhtasib was in charge of selling in the souk. He made certain everyone traded fairly. He knew Basil was no thief.
“This boy,” said the baker, “stole from me and will not pay.”