Successfully reported this slideshow.
We use your LinkedIn profile and activity data to personalize ads and to show you more relevant ads. You can change your ad preferences anytime.

Night of nights

863 views

Published on

  • Doctor's 2-Minute Ritual For Shocking Daily Belly Fat Loss! Watch This Video ◆◆◆ https://tinyurl.com/y6qaaou7
       Reply 
    Are you sure you want to  Yes  No
    Your message goes here
  • Doctor's 2-Minute Ritual For Shocking Daily Belly Fat Loss! Watch This Video ◆◆◆ http://ishbv.com/bkfitness3/pdf
       Reply 
    Are you sure you want to  Yes  No
    Your message goes here
  • Home remedies to lose belly fat without exercise  https://tinyurl.com/bkfitness4u
       Reply 
    Are you sure you want to  Yes  No
    Your message goes here
  • Be the first to like this

Night of nights

  1. 1. © Copyright 2006, Ali Hazzah. All rights reserved. The Night of Nights On one of the nights of Islam called the Night of Nights, the secret doors of heaven open wide and the water in the jars becomes sweeter. Borges, Ficciones It is a Thursday morning, late in July; the shops are shuttered in honor of Farouk’s coronation. He is scheduled to receive the oath of allegiance from the army in a grand pavilion that tentmakers from the neighborhood have rigged up. I could have slipped in with them for a chance at a glimpse of the king. I stay in my room and look out the window at Ahmed Maher Street. It is already packed. Atef catches my eye immediately. I watch him pass through Bab Zuweila, the ancient gate to the city. He is wiry and tough looking. His skin is sallow; his cheeks sharply etched; and his forehead lined with deep furrows. A coil of 'agal rope secures his torn kufiyya. His dirty, flowing burnoose is frayed at the hem; worn-down leather sandals protect his feet. People mill about him, expectantly. Men clap and shout. Women in clattering shib-shib ululate, and children jump up and down as if on pogo sticks. Even Bulbul my nightingale is anxiously hopping on the roof. The area by Zuweila was notorious in olden days as a place for public executions. Here men were once hanged. Here sultans watched elaborate caravans start their haj to Mecca. Here strutted vain, flamboyant mountebanks. Here strumpets made bedroom eyes at bashi-bazouks with pockets full of Spanish dollars. Here assembled vanquished mamelukes in their faded splendor. Here ranted crazed prophets, sentimental anarchists, inebriated clowns, and lithe boys who pretended to wrestle with defanged snakes. A twenty-one gun salute for the king indicates the royal procession had left parliament and was proceeding to Rasdkhana Square. Hearing it, the people in Zuweila become delirious. Buskers and street peddlers fight with knives in order to stake out prime territory. A coalskinned man with three vertical lines etched on both his cheeks hawks a liquid that tastes of hibiscus and
  2. 2. Hazzah | Night of Nights belladonna. He pours the hallucinatory refreshment into miniscule glasses from an enormous, spouted jar strapped to his back. Legless, stone-faced beggars with painted fingernails push themselves along on rickety, wheeled plywood boards. An organ grinder in tatters gazes apprehensively at a chained, red-assed baboon that he has trained to do somersaults. Atef walks unperturbed past the gathering frenzy. I watch him stop at the corner of Maher and sharic el Khiyamiya, the medieval Street of the Tentmakers. He peers into the covered passageway. Suddenly, he turns and glances at me − by chance, I wonder, or destiny? Then he disappears. The call to salat el zuhr, the noon prayer, saves me from following him like a dizzy schoolgirl. I walk to the mosque, singing a ditty that my Englishman enjoys hearing: I work in a shop that sells patched frocks, And try not to think of the sjamboks. Even after the prayers, I am still drawn to him. I leave the mosque and hurry to el Khiyamiya. The crowd outside Zuweila has thinned out although the red-assed baboon is still there. The organ grinder has vanished. I enter the covered street. It is strangely deserted. The street is crooked, and roofed over with rushes, canvas, and rotting planks of wood. I walk past one closed stall after another. Atef is nowhere to be seen. I almost give up hope. I feel embarrassed. I am never the pursuer. A gang of young thugs jumps out from a side door. They are children of the zabaleen, the spectral garbage collectors of Cairo. They live like feral cats in a nearby cemetery amidst smoldering heaps of garbage. They surround me menacingly. I recognize one among them. Atwa. I study with him in the madrasah. We memorized the Koran together. He held my little finger once during a lesson. The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. He recited the words, over, and over again, as he clutched my little finger. I was transported by the loveliness of his voice and the music of the phrase. Afterwards, he gave me a sprig of jasmine to put behind my ear. Now he is making obscene kissing sounds and taunting me in a singsong 2
  3. 3. Hazzah | Night of Nights effeminate voice: Rayih fein, ya sharmouta? Where are you going, queer? The others laugh. I wiggle my eyebrows at him, which infuriates the little shit. He inches closer. The heat of the afternoon sun is overpowering. Suddenly I hear a noise behind me. Atef is standing in front of an empty stall. It is abandoned and filled with detritus. I notice the curved dagger in his belt. He is looking straight at Atwa. “Do you live in this filthy hole?” he asks, in his guttural desert accent. “You seem wretched enough.” Atwa hesitates. He looks at Atef’s dagger. “Il mara el gai’a, next time,” he says to me, and walks away. I hurl curses at Atwa’s back as the teenage thugs follow him down the street, until I realize that Atef is no longer standing behind me. Later that evening, I find him in an ahwa near Zuweila. I sit next to him. Intense men playing backgammon fill the outside tables of the coffee bar. It is abuzz with rumors of Farouk’s surprise appearance earlier at Opera Square in his red convertible. The men rattle dice in leather cups. They nervously hold unfiltered cigarettes between their yellow-stained fingers. They do not sip their coffee; they aspirate it. Sheesh beesh! Doush! Turkish argot for the roll of the dice slices through the air as the men slam the pieces hard on the board while they play. A farash brings out a mint tea for Atef. He tilts his head toward me. “Shay’ bil laban,” I say, “tea with milk.” He returns with a water pipe, which he sets down beside Atef. The farash stokes up the burning mixture of apple-flavored tobacco. He takes a puff and then some more quick puffs from the pipe. He hands the mouthpiece to Atef, its amber tip gleaming with his spittle. I wait for the farash to bring my tea. When it arrives, I shyly introduce myself. “I am Sofyan,” I say. “Atef.” “The stall is unrented,” I tell him. “I can help you clean it if you wish.” “You are a pimple waiting to burst,” he says. I try to comprehend his insult. We sit in silence as Atef’s pipe gurgles. I am about to finish my tea, when one of two one-eyed 3
  4. 4. Hazzah | Night of Nights soothsayers approaches our table from the street. It is the one with a missing left eye. “Good evening to you, brother!” he says to Atef. Atef draws on his pipe without returning the greeting. The soothsayer is unruffled. “I hope you are not deaf, good brother! Or is it that I look like a nipple to you? A vagina, perhaps? Or is it the evil eye?” Atef remains silent. “Behold the year you live in. Is it 1356, or 1937? Add up the numbers of the after hegira year. Khamastasher. Fifteen. Is that your magic number, brother? How long have you wandered alone in the desert before arriving here? Do you remember? Fifteen days?” Atef snorts at the question. “I will show you one thing, my Bedouin brother. A mirror of your life.” He signals to the second one-eyed soothsayer who fumbles in a satchel and retrieves a glass frame. The frame is made of silver. It is ornamented with the names of Allah in Kufic script. A crude drawing of a square divided into nine boxes is under the glass. Centered inside each box is a single number, one though nine. ٤ ٩ ٢ ٣ ٥ ٧ ٨ ١ ٦ “Look closely,” says the one-eyed soothsayer. “If you know the Prophet’s alphabet, Peace be unto Him, see the names of He who has determined your fate. Within the calligraphy of his appellations, the khat el arabi, the Arabic line, my brother, lays your path. Do you see it?” Atef remains impassive. The soothsayer hesitates. His pale eye is fixed on the furrows of Atef’s brow, as if searching for a sign. “Good brother, listen to me. You may once have lost your way. You may even have abandoned Him. I 4
  5. 5. Hazzah | Night of Nights see many who do and ask myself this. Is not a heart without God beating itself? Many are searching, my brother. The winds from the desert have blown like a swarm of locusts upon us. May Allah preserve us all. Now pay attention! The numbers in the boxes are not in random order, as it may initially seem. Can you see the pattern that is set before your own eyes? If you can count, count. Add the numbers of the top row. Fifteen. Add the numbers of any row. Add the numbers of any column. Add the numbers of either diagonal. Marvel at how all equal fifteen no matter which way you count. Fifteen, brother. Khamastasher. All is fifteen. Even the nilometer on Rhoda Island on a good flood year rises to fifteen cubits!” “Sixteen,” I say. “Are you certain, my unbearded child? Do not speak when you should be learning. Anyway, it matters not. Fifteen, sixteen. It is close enough. Now look carefully at the mirror. See, too, what is hidden there in plain view. See what is in the middle of the square. Rob yourself of blindness. Is it a number or hā, the letter ‘h,’ brother? And if a letter, is not its sublime roundness a symbol of Allah’s perfection? Within the mirror of your own life! Fifteen I tell you. One and five, ١٥, Aleph, and the letter of God. The pursuer and the pursued. Either it is your fate, or there is nothing.” “You are a complete charlatan,” says Atef. “You disgust me.” The one-eyed soothsayer turned his pale, unblinking eye to me. “When were you born, child?” “1922.” He looks at Atef. “He is fifteen. Younger even than our glorious new king. Fifteen, my brother!” This silver-tongued man amazes me, but Atef seems unimpressed. “I know what you are thinking. This soothsayer sees only half the picture. Ach! What do you think I see when I look at my own brother?” The second one-eyed soothsayer giggles. He sounds as if he is bleating. 5
  6. 6. Hazzah | Night of Nights “Now here is what I will do. Tonight, and only for you, I will reveal your fate for a paltry fifteen piasters. What say you, brother?” He waits for Atef to answer. “I’ll pay you fifteen millimes.” “Mashi,” says the soothsayer, “all right. But only because you are my brother. Give it to him.” Atef hands the second one-eyed soothsayer the money. The soothsayer clears his throat. “I will say it in fifteen words. Listen carefully, for I will not repeat it. Ready?” “Yes.” “Your choice of any given path is known to Allah but not preordained by Him.” “Is that it?” “Yes.” Atef sneers “This could apply to anyone,” he says. “So it can, for that is the fate of all men. Women, too. Salaam on you, my brother! Salaam!” And with a synchronized wink, the two one-eyed soothsayers move on. The next day, Al Ahram’s headlines scream, Yom tareekhi el azeem! A day historical and magnificent! I ignore them. I fly in the air with Bulbul past the ahwas filled with people listening to Farouk’s speech on the radio. I do not hear it. I do not hear the muezzins calling me to prayer. I hear only Atef’s voice. I want him to sing desert songs to me. I want only his presence. I want him near me. I do not care why he left the clean desert to come to this wretched place. It is Friday, and the shop where I work is closed. I find the widow of the owner of the empty stall. She agrees to rent for a few piasters a week. I run to the Street of Tentmakers. I sweep the stall clean and wash the walls. It takes a few days to prepare everything. I find a worktable, and bins that I fill with brilliant swaths of silk and cotton. I place a pair of scissors, threads, large sheets of tracing paper, a few crayons, and an assortment of stitching needles on the table. O what sweet work this is! I wonder what sort of things he will stitch. Will it be appliqué? 6
  7. 7. Hazzah | Night of Nights Yes cushions, yes, pillowcases, yes, and mural stitchery. He could teach me to help him. Perhaps we can make suradeq, in fulgent patterns of red, green, blue and yellow. It is expensive to obtain all these things for him. I bargain with dry good merchants. I convince them to supply Atef on credit. Some of them I have to be alone with in the back of their stores. Some of them want me to meet them in the hamam. I do not care. I will soap down these men in a bathhouse in the steam for him. They are delighted when I meet them privately outside the shop. Pretty nightingale, they coo to me, I have caught you at last. I wait for him in the stall. The days drift. Where is he? Where is my absent love? Did he silently pass by and dislike the haberdashery I bought him? Or was I the object of his contempt? La’a, no. No. I wish he would sit on the pillows beside me. He is troubled. I saw it in his brow. I want him to melt inside of me. I want to walk along the Nile corniche and listen to him tell me everything. I want to see our reflection in the swirling brown water. I do not want us to be forever trapped in the Old City, with her shahateen, her halfclothed beggars, her flies, her scurvy-addled donkeys, and her antiquarian sadness. I want him to know another Cairo, different from all that, before he becomes part of it, like all the others. I want to cross El Malek el Saleh’s bridge with him, to Rhoda Island, that nosegay paradise, and whisper to him that it once belonged to Moses. I want to stroll with him there through Ibrahim Pasha’s rose gardens, by the luxuriant bamboo stands, and the yellow and green banana trees, and the sycamore, acacia, and swaying palms. I want us to walk to the nilometer and watch the slow moving feluccas glide serenely up the Nile with their lateen sails furled out. I want him to let go. Muhammad saw Jibreel in the form of a handsome young man. I am more than handsome. I am beautiful, and I want him to adore me. I want Atef to destroy me. I want to veil and reveal myself a thousand times to him from behind a coquettish fan of colored plumes. A full week goes by. I feel as if I am going mad. I go to the mosque for the first time since Farouk’s coronation. I sit alone in the cool shadows of the mosque and perform salat el maghrib, the evening 7
  8. 8. Hazzah | Night of Nights prayer. Afterwards, I meditate for a sign of His divine pleasure. I walk out; that is when I again see him. Beloved! He is squatting on the ground of the Street of the Tentmakers like a penniless mendicant. He sees me, and stands up tottering. He is plastered. Artisans from the street hover outside their stalls like worried hens. A member of Atwa’s gang slips around a corner. I take Atef to my room above the shop. The owner is in his pajamas. He helps me carry him up the stairs. He is annoyed at having to do this. He argues with me. No one has been allowed up before. But in the end, he resigns himself to Atef’s presence. After all, we have an arrangement. He does not bother me; I pay his bills. It suits him well enough pretending that I work in the shop selling the patched frocks that no one buys except during the festivals. I let Atef sleep it off in my bed. I wash his body and soiled clothes and in the morning bring him a plate of fava beans and a glass of honeyed tea. He sleeps again. The next day is better. He looks refreshed, less old. I take him to the stall. How I wanted him to kiss me so. He says nothing. Instead, he sits down crosslegged and begins to draw a pattern. I stay with him most of the day and watch him work. That night, he returns to me and sleeps on the floor. A few weeks later, we smoke hashish together. I am not used to it, at first, and become unwell. Sleep on this straw mat on the floor where I sleep, he says. I do. He eases himself beside me, and I wait in vain for him to ravage my soul. This goes on for several months. Every day until evening, including the holy day, he hunches low over his worktable. He does not stop to eat, unless I bring him something. At night, he returns to me. One evening, he mentions that he tried once to make a perfect tent in the desert. He tells me of a terrible Khamaseen that blew in from the West and destroyed everything in its path. I wanted to know more but he would not say anything else. I wept in sadness that night. After a while, he begins spending less time in the room with me. He goes to the ahwa after leaving the stall and stays there most of the night smoking hashish. I pay for all this, too, as his work does not sell. 8
  9. 9. Hazzah | Night of Nights Occasionally, curious tourists come inside to view the fury of his work. Atef ignores them, particularly the English ones, as they stare mutely in puzzlement. They leave feeling disturbed, and hollow at not having bought anything. Later, some of them linger on the grand verandah of the Shepherd Hotel. They sip shandies, gin and tonics, and bottles of Stella beer served to them in sweating ice buckets by Nubian suffragis. They gossip: Did you see that awful man in the tentmaker place? Did you see all his horrible unfinished murals? All those destroyed tents? All those women in black sinking into the sand? All those dying children? How depressing! And what a revolting wog! No manners whatsoever! It’s no wonder he can’t finish any of it. At least that is what my Englishman says they talk about; I do not care one way or the other, for Atef’s sickness is my healing. I sleep with Atef, but no longer love him. It is early December and the last days of Ramadan are afoot. My tongue is fissured from thirst. We are in my room. He finishes salat el ‘asr, the mid afternoon prayer. He smells of wine and hashish; the odor pervades the room. Salat el ‘ars, I say to myself: the prayer of pimps. He passes out after praying. I leave, and spend the afternoon at a hotel with my Englishman. It is evening when I return. “Were you with him?” “No.” “How much did he pay you?” He stares at me. “Not even a tareefa.” “Give me the money.” “No.” He slaps me on across starts bleeding. “Burn it, then.” the mouth. It Atef goes to the window and unlatches the wooden shutters. He opens them wide. Bulbul alights on the windowsill. “You’re lying about your rich Englishman,” he says. I shrug. 9
  10. 10. Hazzah | Night of Nights “At least he doesn’t beat me.” “Don’t be so angry with me, ya habebti,” he says sarcastically. “Are you coming to my wedding?” He looks at me. His eyes are puffy and bloodshot. “I might. Where is it anyway?” he says. “I have to get ready.” “Where is it?!” “Ask God.” “I need money.” I throw a shilling on the floor. My heart does not ache as I watch him pick it up. They come in secret after salat el isha, the night prayers. The heretics climb silently up the Moqattām hills from the Old City in a path of ashes marked by a few candles. They file solemnly into the suradeq that is set up in a hidden place overlooking the valley. The night sky is dancing. A shooting star… it is Leila Al Qadr, the elusive Night of Power. Inside the massive, unadorned tent, a single torch crackles brightly in the middle of a rough circle formed by the inchoate crowd. It is the circle of revelation. It grows larger as the heretics jostle each other entering the suradeq. They settle down when a storyteller steps into the circle. He tells Omar Khayyam’s ribald tale of the Three Choices on the Night of Power. The heretics laugh without mirth. They have heard it many times. The storyteller drinks poison from a jar and falls dead to lend panache to his story. They growl their approval. An emaciated man steps over his body and levitates a row of snakes that he produces from a basket. The snakes join themselves mouth to tail in a circle that spins around the man’s extended arm. Another steps in and plunges fearsome knives into his body, then smites his eyes with rusted nails for good measure. Another viciously whips a blindfolded prostitute for tempting men of faith. Finally, an enormously fat man steps into the circle and incinerates himself without uttering a sound. When he turns into a charred cadaver, the heretics utter the words Allah is Great! with a single voice. They are ensorceled. They are ready. The circle begins to tighten; it is my cue. I 10
  11. 11. Hazzah | Night of Nights step into the suradeq from behind a curtain. I walk through the corridor they make with their bodies. I stand in the middle of the circle and drop my veil. I am at my most beautiful. I have not adorned myself with any female artifacts. There is no powder on my cheeks or rouge on my lips. A little kohl around my eyes is all I have allowed myself. I drop my frock and stand before them. The heretics gasp at the perfection of their arroussa, their bride. I see Atwa at the edge of the circle. I wait as he comes to me and I lower my eyes and almost surrender. The heretics murmur, awaiting the inevitable. Finally, he is here. They sigh as Atef dramatically pushes his way in. He will slit Atwa’s throat. He will spike his severed head on a stick in front of the roseate gate. I wait for him to claim me. I am a virgin in Paradise. He stands at the edge of the shadows. He fingers the handle of his dagger. He has me. The heretics groan as he takes his hand off his dagger, and the venom in the jar becomes wine and I drink it and no longer see anything. I wake up at false dawn, the anticlimactic dawn that precedes the true rising of the sun. My back is sore from sleeping on the straw mat. My head aches from the wine. I tap my swollen lips with my fingers. Outside, a lone muezzin sounds reveille for the fajr prayers. Another beckons; then another. Within seconds, the streets reverberate with their calls. Hay’a ala-s-salat! Come to pray! As-salatu khayrun minan-nawm! Prayer is better than sleep! It is time to wash my uncleanness. Ha! The cries to morning prayer grow louder, more insistent. I am paralyzed. How can I pray? Ulema permit the sick to do so using only their eyelids. Atef had taught me that, not long after we met. I am half-asleep in the half shadows. I pat the straw mat beside me. His chaste, wiry body is not there, but I find a shilling on the mat. He has wrapped a woolen blanket around me; I shiver, nonetheless. I do not feel like performing my ablutions without him. How beautiful a ritual it was: pouring water from a jug into a white porcelain bowl with a blue rim and washing each other completely. 11
  12. 12. Hazzah | Night of Nights His faint scent is still on the blanket and mat from yesterday afternoon. I do not wish to abandon them. I swab my palms on the dirty floor. I wipe my face with them, pretending the dirt is pure sand, and that I am a traveler in the desert, far from any water. Then I flutter my eyelids. Ha! Sofyan’s beauty quickly faded. He was never again a bride. His Englishman left soon after, promising to send many postcards. Bulbul flew away one day and never came back. Atef returned to the rolling sea dunes west of Alexandria where he lived before meeting Sofyan. He pitched a tent near a watering hole nestled in the middle of a grove of succulent fig trees. In winter, he concealed nets in their branches to catch the nightingale that flew down from across the sea. He never again thought about that night. From time to time, Sofyan would still hear the muezzin’s voice that woke him up that last, benighted morning. He heard his cry of longing that once sounded so hauntingly from the ancient minarets. The reedy voice helped Sofyan suppress the ineffable disappointment that occasionally plagued his remaining days. His voice. ۞۞۞ 12

×