By Nate Garozzo

Hi, my name is Sijen and I will tell you why I traveled on a caravan along the Silk Road from Chang’an in China to India.

November 10, 9 CE.

I had just finished my chores. My family was the poorest of the poor. I went out for a walk around Chang’an and, when I was about to head home, my sharp grey eyes spotted a baby camel. I rushed over and looked around for its mother. When I finally found her, I took the baby camel over but she nudged him away. The mother did not want him anymore and the baby was growing weaker and weaker and my heart got the best of me and I took him home. My parents threw a fit about having a baby camel in our house but I persuaded my parents that I would get many jobs to take care of him. Then I noticed that his eyes were a bright red. “Drago,” I whispered.

November 10, 12 CE

“What is this garbage?” the cook yelled as I looked at my bean paste buns. “You cannot sell this food!  You are fired!”

I looked down at the dirt in shame. Drago would not live if I could not make money. When I got home, I walked to Drago’s pen and celebrated that it had been three years since I found him. I had been fired from all the jobs in town now and I was getting worried. “I got you some special grain,” I said. I had used all of my “in-case” money to buy him grain for the celebration. I looked at those sweet red eyes and wondered what do.

November 13, 12 CE

I woke up with an idea. I would travel on a caravan with Drago and he would get all the food and water he needed to have a decent life. Tears of happiness rolled down my cheeks and I lay down in bed again.

November 16, 12 CE

It was Drago’s first day on the caravan and my first day as animal handler. I wondered how I would manage to get to Kashgar. I glanced at Drago and found him talking happily with another camel. I was tired. All I was doing was walking. No friend to talk to and nothing to see besides the everlasting dunes of sand. “We still have many miles to go!” the caravan master shouted from a distance. I started missing Chang’an more and more but there was no turning back.

December 6, 12 CE

“Lanzhou!” somebody shouted. My eyes were swollen so I could only see a blurry shape in the distance. The shape got darker and darker. Then I heard another call “SANDSTORM!!!” I grabbed a blanket and got on the ground. The wind was too strong--the blanket flew away and everything turned black.

December 8, 12 CE

I awoke to a powerful smell. “You are far from your caravan” I heard an old man say. I took in my surroundings and saw many woven baskets with herbs and assumed I was with an herbalist, but before I could ask him questions, I saw Drago sprawled on the floor. “Drago!” I quickly jumped up but fell back down to find my arms and legs aching. I slid across the floor to where he was lying. Tears dropped from my eyes as I looked at him.

December 25, 12 CE

I was finally healed and mounted on Drago. The friendly herbalist handed me enough water and food for two weeks. I thanked him and headed off.

January 9, 13 CE

All of my food and water had run out and so had Drago’s. I was sweating from the heat, my limbs were numb from not being able to ride Drago because he was tired, and worst of all, I saw no villages. I was just about to take a rest when I saw a shadow. “Not another sandstorm,” I thought. This shadow was small. I got closer and closer and broke into smiles. It was another caravan!

January 13, 13 CE

I looked at the new caravan’s maps. They were going to INDIA! I wanted to head to Kashgar. I looked at the maps in disbelief.

January 21, 13 CE

“Dunhuang! Dunhuang! Dunhuang!” Calls echoed down the line. As we reached the city gate, excitement filled my body. I looked around and saw small houses surrounded by trees. I could see mountains in the distance. The food here was good and I stuffed it in my mouth. I lay down and rested on the ground.

February 1, 13 CE

We sold silk and bought water and food to get ready to journey to the next city. I gave Drago some food and he let out a burp. We started walking and soon Dunhuang looked like a small sand dune.

February 10, 13 CE

It was nighttime and we were sleeping when a clatter awoke me. I jumped up and saw men taking silk off of our camels. I wiped my eyes and realized who they were. “BANDITS!” I shouted. The guards were facing the other way and did not hear me. I shouted again and this time they spun around but the bandits had gone, leaving enough silk so you couldn’t tell what they had stolen. One of the guards thought I had lied about bandits and was walking to tell the caravan master what I had done. I tried to stop him but he wouldn’t listen. Soon I heard a voice saying “You will be flogged tomorrow.”

February 11, 13 CE

Today was my flogging and chills ran down my spine. An imperial guard walked up to me, grabbed me by the arms and carried me away. “Sijen” the caravan master said. “You have lied about bandits and, as punishment, you shall be flogged.”  My eyes spotted a guard picking up a large wooden stick. He kicked me to the ground, raised the stick and smashed it with all his might on me. He swung again, hitting my back. Sand filled my mouth. I was too weak to scream.

February 11, 13 CE Later that day…

I woke up from a deep sleep and saw Drago sleeping next to another camel named Tang. I looked at the twinkling stars and thought of Chang’an.

March 10, 13 CE

Today was exciting because we entered the city of Cherchen. I was walking through the markets in amazement when I tripped. I looked down and saw a small silk pouch lying on the ground. I picked it up and opened it. Money, jade, gold and gems! I hid it in my shirt. My stomach grumbled. “I need food,” I thought. I saw some wheat dumplings when I walked by a food stand. I took out the pouch, grabbed a few coins, walked up to the stand and bought as many dumplings as I wanted. That was the BEST snack that I had eaten in my life. I decided to buy something for Drago. I came back with a variety of grains that I bought for a small piece of jade. I gave them to Drago who only ate half and gave the rest to Tang. I stared with a puzzled look on my face but assumed it was nothing and spent the rest of the day buying things, useful or not -- small rugs, food, wool goods, and even a silk robe. Only a quarter of the pouch was empty! I sat under the twinkling stars that night and felt happy.

March 17, 13 CE

The happy feeling was gone. As soon as we got into the desert again, the cold lonely feeling sunk in and wouldn’t leave me. As for why I was feeling sad, I did not know. I thought about the pouch of money but that didn’t make me happy. Then something struck me. Drago seemed to be growing away from me. Whenever I went over to him, he would slide away. And whenever I was walking, he would grunt and push me. Worst of all, he was only being nice to Tang. Tonight, I was still up sitting by the fire because I was unable to sleep.

April 3, 13 CE

Khotan, the land of jade! I immediately left my caravan and went straight for the markets. One person was selling a jade boulder, the jade still encased in the rock (which I bought of course!) and I spent the rest of the day buying, buying, buying. By the end of my spree, there was only enough money left to buy a few goods in India. That night my caravan and I ate chicken and wheat noodles to celebrate that there was only one more stop to go. 

April 10, 13 CE

Today I tried to break the jade boulder against a rock in the desert. First try, nope; second try, nope. At the third try, I finally broke it and found a small piece of paper that read, “What goes around, comes around.” I stared at the piece of paper in wonder. What did that mean? I placed the strange note into my pouch. I wondered about it for several hours. But no answer came to me.

June 5, 13 CE

India! I saw buildings with many statues, people wearing strange clothes, and people playing music on instruments that I couldn’t name. I got Drago and was taking him for a walk when a very rich-looking man stopped in front of me and said that I had a very nice camel and that he would like to buy it. At these words, I frowned and was about to say “no” when I thought of my poor home in Chang’an. Drago and I had something special and I did not want to lose it. The man said that I could have another day to decide. Another day to make a life-changing decision.

June 6, 13 CE

Tears flooded from my eyes as the Indian man handed me the money for Drago. “It’s for the best,” I said to Drago. I hugged him and fell to the ground on my hands and knees. I wrapped a small piece of jade around his neck so he could remember me. As I walked away, Drago looked back in wonder. I waved until he disappeared from sight.

June 6, 13 CE Later that day…

I got back to the caravan where everyone was huddled around Tang. I pushed my way through the crowd and saw a baby camel. The baby had red eyes, just like Drago! Suddenly it all made sense why Drago had been acting so weirdly. The caravan master led the baby towards me. “He’s yours,” he said. Suddenly I did not feel so lonely anymore. Drago’s son was standing right in front of me.    

June 23, 13 CE

I was heading back to Chang’an, helping Drago (I had given the baby camel the same name as his father) when I opened up my pouch and read the fortune again: “What goes around, comes around.” All I did was smile.