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Authors: Hanan al-Shaykh

One Thousand and One Nights (6 page)

BOOK: One Thousand and One Nights
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“Lover, raise your cup and let us frolic

        The mezza is tasty and we are lusty

        Forget the polo stick and the grassy meadows

        I’m not yearning for the call of the sparrowhawk

        Ribald revelry fills my mind

        And the sound of lips sipping wine.”

The three ladies giggled and laughed. They had by now lost all of their inhibitions. They danced with him. Then the shopper let her hair down, and it fell to her waist; she took off her outer garment and in her slip she stepped playfully into the water, and splashed the other three. The porter followed her into the water, and so did the two other girls, and they played together, all chasing each other. The porter hugged and kissed and flirted with the three of them, and finally the shopper got out of the water with her wet slip clinging to her breasts. The porter got out, too, and she made him sit beside her on the sofa, where she slapped him and bit his ear. The doorkeeper began to fondle his hair and pull it and the mistress of the house watched him intently with her beautiful eyes, as if she was devouring him.

Then the shopper jumped on to his lap. The porter kissed her on the mouth, bit her and pulled her towards him. Pointing between her thighs, she asked him, “What is this, my love?”

“Your cunt,” said the porter.

“You have no shame, what is it?” the shopper said, pulling his ears and slapping his neck.

“Your womb, your clitoris, your hole, your well, your pussy, your slit, your egg factory.”

The shopper boxed his ears playfully and then slapped him very hard and told him, “No, no, no!”

So the porter stood, crying out, “How am I to know what it is
called when I have never met it before? I beg you, respected and good lady, to introduce me to it.”

He gazed at her pussy and said, “I am known as the porter. What is your name?”

The women laughed until they nearly fell off their chairs and the mistress of the house laughed the hardest of all.

“Pleased to meet you, porter,” the shopper answered. “My name is the basil that grows on the bridges.”

Then the doorkeeper pushed the shopper from the porter’s lap and sat down in her place. She pointed between her own thighs and asked, “What is this, my master, my love?”

“The basil that grows on the bridges,” answered the porter.

But the doorkeeper slapped him, saying, “No, no, no!”

So the porter said to her, “All right, what then is its name?”

“The husked sesame,” the doorkeeper answered.

Then the mistress of the house pushed the doorkeeper from the porter’s lap and sat there herself. She pointed between her thighs and asked him, “Oh, light of my eye, what is this?”

“The basil that grows on the bridges, the husked sesame,” answered the porter.

But the mistress of the house slapped and kicked him hard and pinched him on his cheeks, on his chest and on his arms, saying, “No, no, no!”

“What is it, then?” the porter cried out.

“It is the inn of Abu Masrur,” the mistress of the house replied.

The porter laughed. “The inn of Abu Masrur! But, my beautiful ladies, I must tell you about my friend who is dear to my heart just as you are to me now, but he is cold and shivering and he wishes to rent a room at the inn of Abu Masrur. Have you guessed my friend’s name?”

He pointed to his prick, and then he squeezed himself between
the doorkeeper and the shopper and took the mistress of the house on his lap.

The three ladies were pleased that he understood their games and that his disposition seemed to match theirs so well. They showered him with names, “The stick, the thing, the pigeon, the panther, the shish kebab, the cock.” The porter answered each time, “No, no, no!” pinching one woman, kissing another, nibbling at the third.

Finally, the three women said all at once, “All right then, you genius, what is his name?”

“His name is the smashing mule.”

The three women exclaimed, “But we haven’t heard of this name before and we bet you that no one in all of Baghdad has heard of it either. What does it mean?”

“The smashing mule is the strongest mule,” the porter answered. “The savage one, who grazes on the basil that grows on the bridges, eats the husked sesame with his huge tongue and gallops inside the inn of Abu Masrur!”

The ladies stamped their feet and fell on their backs, laughing. They couldn’t believe their luck at meeting this funny, flirtatious man. They fed him more food and gave him more to drink.

When night fell, the mistress of the house said to the porter, “It is time for you to leave. Go and put on your slippers and show us your beautiful back.”

The porter sighed in disbelief, saying, “Leave you? Are you asking me to leave my soul behind and die? I have an idea, why don’t the four of us turn night into day, and I promise that tomorrow morning we shall each depart to our own lives.”

“Let him stay, sister,” the shopper said to the mistress of the house. “He is so unique that even if we asked God for a man on
the sacred night, when all wishes are granted, we wouldn’t be sent one so fine as he.”

So the mistress of the house agreed, saying to the porter, “You cannot spend the night with us unless you agree that no matter what your eyes may see, your tongue must freeze and not seek explanation, even if your curiosity should become unbearable.”

The porter readily agreed, saying, “From this second I am dumb and blind.”

He closed his eyes and began to fondle their breasts, saying, “What is this that I feel—I am blind.”

The first two girls giggled, but the mistress of the house gestured to a door leading to another room, asking, “Have you read the inscription written there?”

He went over and read the words, “Speak not of what concerns you, lest you hear what does not please.”

And so the porter said solemnly to the ladies, “I pledge that I shall speak not of my concerns.”

Then the mistress of the house and the doorkeeper sat with the porter while the shopper lit candles and incense and joined them, and the four talked and drank wine and fondled one another until they heard a knocking at the door. The doorkeeper jumped up to answer it.

After a time she returned, bursting with laughter, and whispered, “Listen, there are three one-eyed dervishes at the door, with their heads shaved, and their eyebrows and beards shaved off. Each one is blind in the right eye. They claim to have arrived in Baghdad today and they’re looking for somewhere to spend the night. They are prepared to sleep in our garden or the stables.” She giggled, adding, “They look so funny, I bet you that they could pull a smile even from a new widow.”

The three women exchanged looks and then the mistress of the
house said, “Let them in, but on the same condition we made with the porter—that they become a pair of eyes and not tongues.”

“You mean one eye,” said the porter.

They all laughed. Then the doorkeeper hurried to fetch the three dervishes. They didn’t disappoint, for they were as funny as she had described them. Everybody stood to greet them.

The dervishes bowed, saying, “We thank you, for we are indebted to you for your kindness.”

They looked around them, enchanted with the beauty of the place. They sighed with admiration at the shining candles and the food on the table and pointed at the fountain in amazement. All of a sudden one of the dervishes saw the porter, who was stretched on the floor, exhausted by all the alcohol and cavorting with the girls. “He may be an Arab, but he is still a dervish like us.”

Hearing this, the porter stood up. “Stop meddling, have you forgotten the condition of entering the house? Haven’t you read the inscription on the door?”

The three dervishes read the inscription: “Speak not of what concerns you, lest you hear what does not please.”

At this the dervishes said, “We promise, and please be assured that our heads are in your hands and we ask you to forgive us.” The girls laughed and made the dervishes and the porter shake hands.

The shopper brought them food and drink and after they had eaten they thanked the ladies and asked for a tambourine, flute and Persian harp. The doorkeeper and the shopper brought out instruments and then the three dervishes tuned them and began to play and sing. The three ladies joined in with great passion until their voices rose higher than those of the dervishes and the porter.

All of a sudden they heard knocking at the door and the doorkeeper rushed to see who was there. She returned, saying, “There are
three merchants from the city of Mosul at the door. They claim that they arrived in Baghdad ten days ago and they’re staying at the best inn. A fellow merchant invited them to dine at his home, and this merchant sent for musicians and women singers. They all got very drunk and made such a racket that the police raided the house. The three merchants fled by jumping over the wall. They ran until they heard our singing. They are terrified to go back to their inn, lest they encounter the police and be thrown in jail for being so inebriated. So they ask whether they can seek refuge here. They look very rich and dignified. One of them even kissed the ground before me.”

The mistress of the house looked at the other two girls and saw the excitement on their faces. “Let them in,” she said.

The doorkeeper disappeared and returned with the three merchants. Everyone in the hall stood to greet them.

“We are delighted and happy to have you and welcome you as our guests, but on one condition,” the mistress of the house said.

“What is your condition, my lady?” one of the merchants asked.

The mistress of the house replied, “That you’ll not enquire about anything that you see or hear in this house: speak not of what concerns you, lest you hear what does not please.”

“Be assured that your condition is accepted,” one of the merchants replied.

Everyone sat down, except for the shopper and the doorkeeper, who rushed to get food and drink. But the three merchants did not partake of the wine or the food brought to them. They seemed astonished to see that the dervishes had each lost their right eye, and that they had found themselves in such a magnificent home, belonging to three women of such incomparable beauty, charm, eloquence and generosity and yet living with the three dervishes.

The merchants were so entranced by all that they saw that they had not heard the snores of the porter, who was so drunk that
he lay on the ground motionless. Soon, when the ladies too were very drunk, the mistress of the house said, “Come, sisters, let us do our duty.”

The doorkeeper got up, lit more candles, replenished the incense and cleaned the table, while the shopper went to the porter and woke him, saying, “Get up, lazybones, and lend us a hand.”

The porter got up, still unsteady on his feet, and asked, “What’s up?”

He followed the shopper as she moved over to a large closet, inside which were two black bitch hounds, with chains around their necks. The shopper instructed the porter to lead them to the centre of the hall, where everyone was sitting. She rolled up her sleeves and picked up a braided whip. Then she returned to the closet and took out a bag made of yellow silk satin and adorned with tassels. She sat down facing the mistress of the house and took out an oud, which she tuned and began to play, singing along with great passion.

        “Oh window of my love

        Bring me lust upon the breeze.”

The mistress of the house asked the porter to bring the two dogs to her. As soon as the dogs saw her they shook their heads as if trying to hide and began to whine, but the mistress of the house came down with the whip with heavy blows on the bitches’ flanks, unmoved by the piteous howling and weeping of the animals, counting the blows of her whip.

The shopper still sang, in despair and pain:

        “Oh window of my love

        Bring me lust upon the breeze,

        
If your mother asks for you

        I’ll hide you in my hair,

        My warmly woven hair.”

At this the doorkeeper wailed and shrieked “Oh oh oh,” her wails mingling with the singing, the howling of the dogs and the mistress of the house counting the strokes as she beat the dogs. The shopper rolled her head against the oud, shaking the instrument on her chest as if desiring that it would produce melodies akin to the beating of her heart.

        “Oh window of my love

        Bring me lust upon the breeze,

        If your mother looks for you

        I’ll hide you beneath my sash,

        And tie it around my waist.”

The three girls continued with their singing, screaming, beating, shrieking and wailing. The hearts of the seven guests were ignited with disgust and curiosity at what they were witnessing. They tried to pretend that everything was fine, all except for one of the merchants, who couldn’t restrain himself, and began to whisper to his friends. But the other merchants asked him to be quiet.

So the mistress of the house continued beating the dogs and counting the strokes, while the shopper continued to sing:

        “Oh window of my love

        Bring me lust upon the breeze,

        If your mother looks for you

        I’ll hide you in my eyes

        Where pitch-black kohl resides.”

As soon as she had finished singing, the doorkeeper, who was sitting facing the shopper, moaned “Oh oh oh” and then began to scream. She wrapped her hands around her neck but rather than strangle herself she tore her dress open, from the collar to the hem, threw herself to the ground and began to convulse, revealing to the mortification of all those present that her body was covered with black, blue and purple marks as though she too had been whipped, like the bitches. The shopper put the oud on the chair and hurried to her, taking rose water to revive her and covering her with her shawl. The mistress of the house stopped beating the dogs when she reached three hundred strokes and she threw the whip on to the floor, kneeled down and held the quivering dogs in an embrace, weeping herself. She produced a handkerchief from her pocket, dried the dogs’ tears, pleading with them to stop crying. She kissed them on the head and then gave them to the porter so he could take them back to the closet, and hurried to the doorkeeper, embracing her, wrapping her in her coat and the three girls wept quietly.

BOOK: One Thousand and One Nights
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