In the library there was a rug. Big red rugs in libraries always reminded Ahmed of stories he’d read as a boy. He loved this rug. It had galloping horses around the outside and this was the item he cleaned most carefully.
He came twice a week to this big house and he never met anyone except the wife, who was taking care of her ill husband. Once he’d got a peek at him, and saw that the husband was way younger than the wife. It was weird.
What are you dying of? He wanted to ask him. But that would be quite a rude question, and he was used to keeping his head down.
One morning he got his bucket and mop and cleaning things from the cupboard in the little hall off the grand hall. The wife had said she was going out to the shops. All to the good. It gave him more time to look at the rug.
The rug was simply beautiful. The more he stared at it, the more it seemed the horses were alive, the riders colourful and shouting, the horses ears pricked forward with excitement. He wondered what festival or parade was happening in the rug. He put his little toe on one corner, and that was when he felt the rug begin to move. It was the most sensuous feeling he had ever experienced, and it made him afraid.
He scuttled backwards with surprise. Then he sat awhile, thinking.
At the foot of the bed, the young cleaner appeared to the dying man.
What are you dying of? The young man said.
Heartbreak, replied the husband. He shifted, pitifully, and there was a clanking sound. The cleaner moved forward.
What was that?
My chains, said the husband. And sure enough, under the blanket, the husband’s feet were chained to the foot of the bed.
The cleaner was so horrified that he ran outside. Then he came back in, with the tool box which also lived in the cupboard with the cleaning supplies. He hacked and smashed at the chains. The husband was moaning.
Outside the wife was at the door. Ahmed, she trilled. Have you finished?
Ahmed lifted the husband in his arms and ran for the library. He ran past the shocked and white face of the wife, as fast as he could. He heard her thundering footsteps chasing them, but he was single-minded. He slammed the library door in her face with his foot, and then he went to the rug.
In his arms, the husband was looking at him with such hope and love that all his terror vanished. He put one bare foot on the rug, and then the other one.
Thank-you, whispered the husband, as they vanished.