Maga brought the wooden flute to her mouth and blew.
There was dust on the mouthpiece. Dust and sweat, sticking to her lips. As she waited for the flute’s cry to die away, her leg ached again. She wanted to go home.
She didn’t know why he wouldn’t do it himself. He squatted next to her, on one knee, a worm-hunting hook in each hand.
He scraped them through the dust rhythmically, scratch-scratch, scratch-scratch, the same way a female worm would with her tail if she was with eggs.
Maga could only see his eyes. The rest was obscured by the shawl that wrapped around his head – green cloth, the same as her own.
“Again, Maga,” he said.
“But my feet hurt, papai,” Maga whispered.
“That’s part of the hunt. A hunter must be patient.”
“But I’m tired. I’m thirsty. Can I drink, papai?”
“No. Not now. The worm might be close. Blow the flute.”
She blew the flute again. But this time, the desert answered like an echo.
“Papai! I hear it, papai!”
Papai looked at her with a twinkle in his eye and laid his finger over his lips.
Moments passed. Then the cry was back – closer. From behind a rocky ridge came the shuffling of stones.
Her papai tensed.
“Hook!” papai shouted. “Hook, Maga! Now!”
Maga bolted forwards, jumping from stone to stone. Just as the worm surfaced, she was there. She swung the hook: it caught on something hard.
The worm cried out. She could feel it pull, digging down. The haft of the hook chafed her palms, but she dug in her ankles and held.
The worm fought, but the hook had bitten. The blade slid further in – between two thick scales, through the skin.
“Twist!” papai shouted. “Twist, Maga!”
Maga twisted the haft. The hook caught under a scale – and then it was loose. Maga fell backwards. The hook flew out of her hands: the scale, as large as her hand, landed on her lap.
Papai leapt over her. His dagger went into the hole she made, and in a moment, the worm was still.
Papai panted and pulled his shawl off his mouth. Underneath, he grinned. “Ah, glukisma moi!” he said, picking her off the ground. “A good hunt. Come.” He offered his dagger. “Take what is yours.
She nodded, and took the knife. She didn’t want her Papai to see her hesitate. She worked the tip of the knife into one of the worm’s eyesockets.
The eye came out easier than she’d imagined, and it was soft, leathery. A hunter’s prize. Without thinking too much about it, she then put it in her mouth.
She had to chew a few times before it burst. It tasted of salt. It tasted of dust.
Papai put his hands on her shoulders. “Now, the hunt is truly over,” papai said. “The next one we lure, you’ll kill on your own.”