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Authors: Hanan al-Shaykh

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BOOK: One Thousand and One Nights
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I was careful to take Aziza’s advice, and nearly all of the night had passed, and the cocks were crowing their first, when I heard a slight sound. I turned and was confronted by the sight of my beloved entering the garden, accompanied by ten women slaves, just like the moon surrounded by stars. She laughed when she saw me, saying, “I can see now that you are a true lover, for you have not been taken by sleep, so agonised were you by the fear that you would never see me.”

She bade her slaves to leave us and we fell into each other’s arms and kissed, I sucked her top lip and she sucked my lower
one and then as she undid her drawers I found that my desire and excitement acted on their own, working on her until her limbs surrendered to me. I made her reach the seventh heaven of ecstasy and then I followed her, losing myself completely in the moment. When we both came slowly back from our trance I heard myself declaring to her that I was born as of that moment and that my soul from now on lay in her hands.

When morning came I whispered many amorous things in her ear and bit her gently on the breast so that she might remember me throughout the day. I knelt and kissed her legs and feet and in return she produced a handkerchief from her pocket and gave it to me, saying, “Here, take this to keep.” It bore an embroidered picture of a gazelle.

I put it in my pocket and we agreed to meet that night and every night, for ever. I returned home in an intoxication of passion, swaying left and right.

I entered the house to find my cousin in bed, but she jumped up quickly to greet me, wiping away the tears with her sleeve as they fell down her cheeks. She knew without having to ask that I had finally achieved what I so desired and so she asked me, “Did you recite to her the lines, as I asked of you?”

I replied that I had forgotten to do so, and showed her the handkerchief with the gazelle embroidered upon it. My cousin examined it carefully and then asked if she could keep it. I readily agreed and when the time came for me to go to my beloved, Aziza reminded me that I must recite the lines to her. I had to confess that I had forgotten them, and so she repeated them to me, over and over.

I made my way to the garden, murmuring the lines to myself so as to memorise them. There she was, waiting for me. We flew into each other’s arms and then she threw herself on my lap, until
we groaned with pleasure, and then we ate and drank and then started to make love all over again, until the break of day.

Before I left her, I remembered to say the lines Aziza had taught me:

        “Lovers, in the name of God,

        Tell me how can one relieve this endless desperation?”

Hearing these lines, my beloved’s eyes filled with tears, and she said back to me:

        “He should conceal his love and hide

        Showing only his patience and humility.”

I reached home, overjoyed because I had remembered to carry out my cousin’s wishes, but I found Aziza ill in bed with my mother sitting beside her, trying to console her.

“Did you say the lines to her?” Aziza asked immediately, even though she was very unwell.

I answered her happily, “Yes,” and she said this back to me:

        “He should conceal his love and hide

        Showing only his patience and humility.”

Hearing my words, my cousin writhed in her bed like a snake. My mother shouted at me, “Have you no shame, you selfish, frivolous and feckless young man! How dare you spend the whole night out of the house and then return without asking after any of us—not even Aziza, who is in such poor health!”

I could think of nothing to say, other than that every breath I took was for my beloved, and so I remained silent. When my
mother finally left us, Aziza told me the answer I was to give to my beloved:

        “He tried to show fair patience but could only find

        A heart that was filled with unease.”

I recited these lines to my beloved that night, after another reunion which words cannot describe. My beloved wept, just as she had the first time I’d recited Aziza’s lines to her, and answered with these lines:

        “If he cannot counsel his patience to conceal his secrets

        Nothing will serve him better than death.”

When I returned home, Aziza was not waiting for me, but lay in bed, while my mother tried to get her to eat and drink. I noticed how pale my cousin was, how her eyes had sunk into her face and how emaciated she was. I felt great pity overwhelm me and so I approached her bed as she whispered to me, “Aziz, dearest to my heart, did you recite the lines to her?” I nodded, assuring her that I had done as she wished, and recited the answer:

        “If he cannot counsel his patience to conceal his secrets

        Nothing will serve him better than death.”

How I wished then that I had remained silent, because she fainted when she heard my words. My mother came in and sprinkled rose water on her face and revived her. I sat beside her, trying to comfort and soothe her. Aziza smiled at me with the utmost tenderness and made me memorise another couplet for my beloved that evening.

        
“I have heard, obeyed, and now must I die.

        Salutations to she who tore us apart.”

After we had made love later that evening, I recited these lines, and my beloved cried out loud in sorrow and said, “Oh God, the one who spoke these lines has died.”

She wept and asked who this person was. “My cousin Aziza,” I explained, “who lives for our union and who was waiting for me to come back from the hammam on the day our contract of marriage was to be signed, while I sat before your window, hypnotised, as still as a statue with a bird perched on its head.”

I told her that Aziza had been the one who had deciphered all of the signs and messages, and that it was she we must thank, for it was only because of Aziza that I had reached the garden and consummated my desire for her.

My beloved sighed and spoke as though addressing Aziza directly, “What a pity, Aziza, that you so regretted your youth.” And then she urged me, “Go and see her at once, before she dies.”

I hurried back home, greatly distressed, and when I reached our home I heard great cries and wails and weeping and I was told that my cousin had died. My mother attacked me, weeping. “May God never forgive you for her loss and regard you as solely to blame for Aziza’s death.”

We attended her funeral and buried her, and my mother never ceased to ask me, “What have you done to cause her to die from pain and grief?”

“I have done nothing, mother,” was my answer.

But my mother continued to reproach me, saying, “I don’t believe you. Tell me what went on between you, because as Aziza lay dying she opened her eyes and asked me to tell you that she would never blame you and that she prayed that God would not
punish you, since all that you had done was take her from this world to the eternal one. And she asked me to urge you to say to the one whom you visit each night, ‘Loyalty is good; treachery is bad.’ She hoped that these words would help you and as she died she said that she felt pity for you, in this life and in the next.”

She wailed and moaned, and added, “My Aziza left you something, but she made me promise that I would give it to you only when I see you wailing and mourning for her.”

And yet, despite my great sadness for my cousin, I found myself hurrying at the usual time to the garden, with nothing in my heart except passion and desire for my beloved and nothing in my mind but her beautiful face and lovely body. As soon as she saw me entering the garden she asked about my cousin and I told her that she had died. She pulled herself from my arms, saying, “You caused her to regret her youth and you killed her.”

But I assured my lover that I was not responsible for her death and I repeated Aziza’s instructions, saying, “Loyalty is good; treachery is bad.”

When my beloved heard this, she wept, saying, “May God Almighty have mercy on Aziza, for she saved you from me even after death. She knew that I intended to harm you, but now be assured that I shall not.”

I was surprised and shocked by her words, and so I asked her, “Hurt me? But are we not lovers, does each of us not feel only compassion and loyalty to the other?”

“You’re so young,” she answered, “and your heart is innocent, while we women have our wiles and tricks. You must promise not to trust any woman, young or old, except for me, especially now that your cousin is no longer here to protect you.”

Then she asked me to take her to Aziza’s grave and she carved these words on my cousin’s headstone:

        
“I passed an ancient grave

        On which grew seven red anemones.

        ‘Whose tomb is this?’ I asked

        And the Earth replied,

        ‘Tread carefully, a lover lies here.’ ”

She then distributed alms for the soul of Aziza to the needy and the poor.

A year passed, and yet my beloved waited for me each night as if on a hot griddle, while I would pounce upon her as if I was an eagle. We would cling to each other and make love with great fervour, and we rarely mentioned poor Aziza. If ever we spoke of her, my beloved would sigh and say, “How I wish that I had met her and knew her story, for then I would have been more careful.”

Everything continued smoothly and with great happiness, until one day as I was heading for the garden, an old woman stopped me and asked if I would read to her a letter from her son, from whom she’d had no word since he’d departed on a voyage.

In spite of my state of great intoxication and desire, I agreed to help her. I read the letter and assured the old woman that her son was alive and well and then I set out once again, but the old woman followed me and asked if I was willing to read the letter to her daughter, because she would refuse to believe that her brother was safe. “Just read the letter out loud from the alleyway,” she pleaded, “and then my daughter will hear you and believe that her brother is alive.”

The old woman hurried to the door and opened it and I saw a hand stretched out holding the letter, and a melodious voice called, “Is that you, mother?” But as I drew closer the old woman
pushed me into the house and locked the door and I realised that I had fallen into a trap. The girl who stood before me was both beautiful and coquettish. She asked me, in a voice which had now become quite harsh, “Tell me, Aziz, do you love life or death?”

“Life, of course,” I answered.

“Great! Then marry me,” was her reply.

“I would hate to marry someone like you!” I shrieked.

“If you marry me you will save yourself from the daughter of Alsawahi Aldawahi.”

“But who is the daughter of Alsawahi Aldawahi?”

Hearing this, the girl called to her mother, “Come here, mother. He claims not to know the daughter of Alsawahi Aldawahi!”

She cackled with laughter, and her mother joined in.

“So you don’t know who she is?” the girl said, still laughing. “She’s the one you’ve been with every night, for one year, four months, and two days, the one you meet each night in the garden and she is the one who kills her lovers, one by one. Why has she not yet killed you? This is what we wish to know.”

My heart was pounding at what I had heard. “Do you know her, then?” I asked.

“I know her, just as time knows all tragedies,” was the girl’s reply. “But what I do not know is how you have survived.”

I found myself telling the girl and her mother the whole story, about my beloved and how Aziza had helped me to be with her. And then I repeated Aziza’s final message to my beloved: “Loyalty is good; treachery is bad.”

“Now I understand,” the girl said. “Do you know that these words saved you from the daughter of Alsawahi Aldawahi? Listen, you’re still a young man, unaware of the ways of women and the treachery of older women in particular. Let us marry. I shall require nothing of you except that you live with me like a cock.”

“A cock? But I don’t know how a cock lives!”

The girl laughed and so did her mother and the girl laughed harder and harder, until she fell down on her bottom, saying, “What does a cock do with his life other than eat, drink and fuck?”

I was embarrassed and didn’t know where to look. But the girl showed no shame, instead she ordered me, “Go on, prepare yourself to be strong, and to fuck me just as hard and often as you can!”

Then her mother appeared with the four witnesses. I looked towards the door, thinking I must escape, but the girl said, “Everything is locked tight, even an ant could not get out of here.”

Her mother hurried up and lit four candles and then a notary drew up the marriage contract. The girl testified on her own behalf that she had received the full dowry payment from me, both instalments, paid the notary and then bade everyone leave. Then she disappeared and returned wearing only a see-through nightdress, threw herself on the bed and began to moan and writhe, murmuring, “I am your wife now.”

She kept on moaning and writhing until I could wait no longer. I thrust into her and we reached our climax together, screaming with joy and ecstasy until our voices reached the street. But when I woke the next morning I was gripped by fear and panic at what I had done, and I trembled to think that I had stayed away from my beloved that evening. I hurried to dress, thinking all the time of some diabolical excuse for my absence, which would convince her of my innocence.

But the girl rose from the bed and stood with her hands on her hips, saying, “Where do you think you’re going? Do you believe that entering a bath is the same as leaving it? Do you think that I am like the daughter of Alsawahi Aldawahi—that you can spend the night with me and leave in the morning? Well, I have
something to tell you about this house. It is locked up all year round, except for one day.”

I was mortified to hear this and I looked around to find a way to flee. “If I were you, I wouldn’t waste my time trying to escape, for the house is sealed, the gates, the doors and the windows. But don’t worry, we have enough provisions to last us a whole year. I promise that you shall eat only the choicest delicacies and that the months will pass by in the blink of an eye, if one lives happily, like a cock.”

BOOK: One Thousand and One Nights
4.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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