Death sentence. He could only think about that. He had run a great risk escaping, but he was aware of the punishment for stealing a horse. And by then, the horse was dead. He did it because of hunger and thirst, or maybe tiredness; maybe because of all three. The fact is that he did it in the middle of a burning desert of sand and rocks. No matter where he looked at, he could only see desolation and loneliness. The heat was intense and had already made him hallucinate several times. But the night… the night was cold as ice, the night was death itself.
He thought that he did not have to worry about death sentence anymore. The desert would finish him, sooner or later. His mouth was dried as a rock and his throat was burning. His feet, wrapped with cloth, were about to explode. He had seen mountains in the distance some days ago, but they were not close. The sun was the perfect torture device. He felt that he needed some rest, but there was not a single place with shadow in the entire surrounding area. He did not deserve that. After all, what had he done?
He was tired of living in that place. They were not his parents, as they had died very young. He was sure that the owners of the house had adopted him to work as a servant. He was not allowed to go out without asking for permission or to have friends, let alone to look at a woman. He always had tasks assigned, such as keeping an eye on the cattle, cleaning the house, washing the street, picking fruits from the trees, sowing or harvesting. From dawn to dusk, he worked twenty hours a day without a break. He preferred the desert, even with its dangers and tortures.
He stole one of the horses of the owner of the house and rode non-stop for three days. He did not realize that the animal was not ready for such a journey. And by then, he was at the mercy of the extreme heat and the freezing cold in such inhospitable place. Why hadn’t he hired someone to guide him? He could have stolen money from the owner of the house and pay a guide. Some people would have helped him; though he knew others would have not wasted the opportunity to kill him to steal the money. Adventurers were dangerous too.
He would have given everything he had, which was almost nothing, to get some help. He was walking slowly on tenterhooks. Suddenly, he began to hallucinate again. At the beginning, he thought he could control himself but then he succumbed to his wishes. He saw a big lake in the horizon, blue as the sky, with white and soft sand on the shore. He saw that clearly, he was so sure. He began to run faster and faster towards the lake. It would save his life. He was happy and he was shouting it out loud.
When he arrived, he happily sank his face in the water and then he dived in from head to toe. He noticed the water was clear, fresh and sweet. He drank as much as he could while swimming and screaming phrases of happiness. It was undeniable that he was going to recover and could keep on running away towards some city where nobody would recognize him; a place where he could start a new life free from all chains. The water encouraged him to make plans; he planned to have fun, to think about women, wine, new clothes, think about the life he always wanted to have but was forbidden.
The patrol looking for him found the suspect swinging his arms on the sand. He screamed very loud every time he took his head out of the sand and sank it again. They pulled him out of there while he was still screaming how happy he was, that the water had given his life back and that he was glad to see them. He kept on grinning from ear to ear when he was put on a horse to be taken back to the city. Once on the horse, he believed that it was the one he had stolen and he congratulated it for coming back to life.
When they arrived at the city, the owners of the stolen horse saw him laughing and shouting like a possessed man. Therefore, they required the authorities to lock him up in a lunatic asylum; a place much more terrible than death itself. They wanted him alive, surrounded by mad people and murderers in a pestilent place, instead of dead. He had stolen one of their worthiest horses and had ridden it to death, and no one had the right to do that. It was the punishment they deemed proper and the authorities allowed it.
The horse thief did not understand anything. He only came back to reality when he got locked up in the lunatic asylum. They put him there as he was, with his mouth, ears and his entire body full of sand. There were thousands of tiny cells; each was occupied by several people; dirty, sick, and disgusting people. When he came back to himself, three men who smelt really bad were examining him to know if he was carrying something valuable. But they let him alone when they realized that he had nothing.
He became conscious of the fact that he had been happy for a time that seemed never-ending and beautiful, but it was over and it ended the worst way. He understood that what he had done was crazy, but he knew that he would do it a thousand times more just to feel free again. What had happened with the horse was clumsiness, and the events at the desert were the result of bad luck and lack of orientation. His life in the asylum turned into measuring the cells, observing his partners, counting the hours left before eating time, looking at the guards coming and going or making their rounds.
He was getting ready to design a good plan, he was going to escape and everything would start over again. But he would avoid the desert; he had gathered good recommendations from his mates at the asylum, they were good people who would gladly help him. He would head towards the sea he had never seen before and he would board a vessel as a stowaway. It would worth much more than his previous runaway, because for the first time he knew what happiness felt like.
Translated by Flavia Marcos and Natalia Riera: Rima Traducciones