Robin Moger Translates “The Princess Waits: A Verse Play by Salah Abdessabour”

Abdel-Hadi El-Gazzar, The Lady Rider, early 1950s. Source: christies.com

We do not see the hut when the lights first come up, and then we see it. Its inhabitants are not interested in us, perhaps because their problems do not concern us. These women spend their days waiting for a man, and they know that one day he will come. Lights shine upstage from the front of the stage, illuminating a door in the back wall. Neither fully open nor quite shut, it swings gently on its hinges, creaking intermittently, as though the fitful wind outside the hut is knocking to make its presence known within. Then the light sweeps downstage and to the right: we see a flight of stairs rising to the princess’s room, mirrored by a flight on the left leading down to their larder. Centre stage is an old-fashioned, rectangular dining table—or rather, it is simply old: it has no identifiable fashion. Around this table there are four chairs, the back of one slightly higher than the rest. The chairs are not neatly arranged but are scattered about as though hastily vacated. Between them wend the backs of two women dressed in black, cleaning the shabby furnishings and complaining.

Lady-in-Waiting 1:

Death overtakes us, yet

We clutch at life’s cut cords.

 

Lady-in-Waiting 2:

Not even ours to choose the words

We speak.

 

LIW 1:

What’s said’s been said. The days

Have uttered us and cast us on

The face of the wind.

 

LIW 2:

We must take care then not to lose ourselves

Lest tomorrow catch us up like dust

On the breeze, and we

By the cypress trees

Are hung, entangled

In their braids.

 

LIW1:

Fifteen autumns passed now

Since she loaded us upon the cart

Among the baggage of her past.

 

LIW 2:

Fifteen autumns since we left

The flowered palace and descended

To this valley bare

but for its groves

Of cypress sprawling like

Sketches of fear.

 

LIW 1:

Was it against our will

She took us?

We dreamed of love like caves

Dream of the light, and so

We wanted to go with her.

 

LIW 2:

Our dreams betrayed us.

 

LIW1:

                        They also were betrayed.

What time is it now?

 

The second lady-in-waiting walks over to the wall and as she does we notice a small casement there. She opens it to reveal the darkness gathering in the valley.

 

LIW 2:

            Dusk on dusk. Fifteen dusks deep.

 

LIW1:

The time for our nightly entertainments

Is upon us.

The wound

Wants the knife.

 

LIW 2:

As before?

 

LIW 1:

                    As always.

When the darkness grows

To fifteen dusks

We trade these words.

 

LIW 2:

I know my part.

 

She withdraws to the far right of the stage, while the first lady-in-waiting moves to the left. The second lady-in-waiting pauses, like an actor preparing to play a role, then cries out merrily.

 

LIW 2:

Ya Maftoura!

Even the sparrow’s slender gorge

Cannot be filled by all

The joy held in its heart,

And so with our princess, who

To take her pleasure

In such sweet days as come

Until the sweet sun break upon her

At full brightness,

And she grow still more beautiful

(If increase there can be on

Perfect beauty)

Seeks for her luminous quiddity

Admixture of delights

Sublunary.

 

LIW 1:

 A glass of wine, say?

 

LIW 2:

                        Poured till it brims

That we might dip our crusts.

 

LIW 1:

Grilled meats?

 

LIW 2:

                        Enough to satisfy

A sparrow’s hunger.

 

LIW 1:

I have ready for her

Entertaining stories.

 

LIW 2:

The wife and her rough seaman,

Whose approach sets her arun

With waters?

 

LIW 1:

No, no…

 

LIW 2:

The enchanted cockerel,

Which turns each dawn into a prince

With glittering crown,

and comes

Each dusk into the arms

Of a peasant’s wife,

Clucking

While her husband sleeps?

 

LIW 1:

No, no…

I shall reveal my treasures

Only in her presence.

What time is it now?

 

The second lady-in-waiting walks over to the casement, peers out, then returns.

 

LIW 2:

Seventeen dusks.

How quickly these dimmings mass.

Like robes they roll out over the valley

Each one so fine

The eye scarce sees them

Then straightway floating down, they thicken fast,

And set as hard as stone.

Ah!

This night lies heavier on my heart

Than anything.

 

LIW 1:

            What’s this? Have you stepped out of character?

 

LIW 2:

                        Not yet.

I cannot give my part the slip

While we still dwell here

In this hut.

 

LIW 1:

We wait for him.

 

LIW 2:

You’re confident he’ll come?

 

LIW 1:

It’s what we live for.

 

LIW 2:

And should he not?

 

LIW 1:

                        Not come?

No, no, no, no…

He must!

 

The third lady-in-waiting appears at the top of the stairs stage right and assumes an angry pose, as though called away from her work. She gestures dramatically.

 

Lady-in-waiting 3:

Here I am, this minute come!

What is it with you two,

Your voices never stilled?

A shiftless pair

Who send me to slave

Then rush to chattering

Like mares to stud.

Is it time?

 

LIW 1:

                        Wait

Until we’ve laid the table to your pleasing, and

Set out the cups.

 

The first two ladies-in-waiting descend the stairs to the store, while the third comes down the steps into the room, looking about her to make sure she is quite alone and cannot be heard.

 

LIW 3:

Days drop like leaves from the trees

And others bud, and we

Must hop like worms

From one that’s dead

To those new born.

 

She walks to the door and tentatively opens it.

 

The dark this night is blacker

Than that to which my eye

Has grown accustomed in this valley.

It is not silent, hollow, as most evenings.

A secret walks abroad

Within it, is

On the verge of speaking,

Calling out.

No, no…

That’s not the wind

Which chafes the dry leaves,

But the secret’s footfalls.

 

The two women reemerge from the storeroom below, carrying plates and empty cups. They busy themselves setting them out on the table. The three ladies-in-waiting exchange glances then align themselves in a row, as though performing some pagan rite. Together they turn their eyes to the top of the stairs where the princess appears in her most dazzling finery.

 

LIW 3:

My lady…

From the head of the stair, your light’s

Ashine, a sun meridian,

Your perfume overruns

And dews the walls.

 

LIW 1:

My lady…

From the head of the stair, your throat’s

Aglow, a lily field

Is sowed with light and your hair,

Rejoicing, is dark liquor

Spilt down a crystal pane.

 

LIW 2:

My lady…

Your figure at the stair’s head

Sways: a music coiling,

Languidly unfurling;

   A melody

Sundered by your steps’ refrain

To form again.

 

The Princess:

I thank you. Let me descend one step more…

 

LIW 3:

My lady…

Halfway down the stair, the eye’s

Bewildered. Is this your gown

Or sheet of silver where

The summer sun’s ashimmer?

 

LIW 1:

My lady…

Halfway down the stair, the eye’s

Confused. Is that your neck

Or diamonds piled

Where light first breaks

Then gathers?

 

LIW 2:

My lady…

Halfway down the stair, the eye’s

Bemused.

Those slippers that you wear

Are they wings instead, whose hues

In beauty and in brilliance

Outmatch the birds’.

 

The Princess:

I thank you. Another step,

And my apologies…

Always I forget

My ladies’ names.

Do you work at my father’s palace?

 

LIW 3:

How often his good feet have trod upon us…

 

The Princess:

What are your duties?

 

LIW 1:

I am your servant, Maftoura.

I bear your fan.

 

LIW 2:

And I am Barra.

I knot your scarf.

LIW 3:

And I, Umm Khayr.

Sometimes you favour me

To lie upon my lap until

The monarch of sweet dream brushes

His rosy fingers through

Your serene lashes.

 

The Princess:

What is it that you want?

 

LIW 3:

We await the disposal

Of your brimming perfection.

We have set here

A modest repast

In hope that you might grace your ladies

With your company.

 

The Princess:

Certainly. Why not?

 

A sound is heard without. Hesitant footsteps. Perturbed, the princess listens.

 

What was that, Umm Khayr?

 

LIW 3:

That, my lady,

Was the wind.

 

The Princess:

Will he come tonight, I wonder?

 

LIW 2:

My lady, I do not know.

Listening out, this night, I seem to catch

The sound of a secret

Entombed in dumb stone. As though set

On sending forth a ghost

To crack and part the dark.

 

The Princess:

This night,

I feel as you feel.

I do not know what I shall do

Should he come. It’s true,

I ask of you the question,

But do not break my heart

With answers toothed like blades

Nor replies aslide like water.

You were with me that night

And know what happened.

 

LIW 3:

What happened? What was it happened?

 

The Princess:

                        The incident?

Don’t speak of it.

 

LIW 3:

What lives in every minute

Will not be unremembered or unsaid.

 

The Princess:

You think me in the wrong,

And yet… and yet…

He showed me love.

 

LIW 2:

We know, we know.

 

The Princess:

In fact, he swore he’d sow

Children in my belly.

One for every autumn.

 

LIW 1:

We know, we know.

 

The Princess:

Was I then wrong?

 

The sound of footsteps draws closer, now confident, now cautious. The princess listens intently.

 

Dear God, what does this night hold?

 

LIW 3:

                        Only what the others held.

Return to your parts.

 

She strikes a pose.

 

My lady, will you allow

We take a glass of wine before we eat?

 

The princess reassumes a royal demeanour.

 

The Princess:

No, let it be a cup of laughter

To wash the ghost

Of worry from the heart.

Maftoura!

One of your jokes.

 

LIW 1:

Listen to the latest:

A man says to his wife,

The full moon’s beauty’s

More than yours.

His wife replies, So then

Go strip the moon,

Not me.

 

They all laugh together.

 

LIW 2:

Not bad.

I know another, very droll.

A man says to his friend,

My woman is the most

Delicious woman in the town.

That’s right, the friend replies,

She is.

 

LIW 3:

Ah. Excellent.

 

LIW 1:

Laughter is sweet.

 

LIW 2:

Heart’s bread.

 

LIW 1:

The wine pressed from its yield.

 

LIW 2:

Ah, if only we could laugh until we died;

Die in a gasp of laughter.

 

LIW 1:

You live remembering death

Even in moments of joy.

 

LIW 3:

Come my girl.

Let’s seize the day, for we know not

What tomorrow brings.

 

LIW 2:

Only the weight of yesterday’s remembrance,

In our experience.

 

LIW 3:

Always breaking character, the both of you.

Two tragics: slipping down from joy to woe

Like fish through water.

Let us laugh!

 

LIW 1:

You’re right. Let’s laugh.

 

The Princess:

So laugh.

 

No one laughs.

 

LIW 1:

Why don’t you laugh, my lady?

 

The Princess:

Why doesn’t Umm Khayr?

 

LIW 3:

What about Barra?

 

LIW 2:

And Maftoura?

 

LIW 1:

I am laughing! Barra, though…

 

LIW 2:

I’m laughing! It’s Umm Khayr…

 

The Princess:

Let’s laugh together, then.

As one.

 

LIW 3:

Fine.

On the count of three…

 

The Princess:

Forget her game. We laugh before the count!

 

All burst out laughing, roaring until they weep. Suddenly, the sound of footsteps are very close and very clear, as though sprung from the laughter itself. They are now in the hut’s back yard.

 

LIW 3:

The footsteps tread the yard.

 

LIW 2:

Slow steps and steady.

 

The Princess:

Not his, though.

 

LIW 2:

No one in the cypress valley knows us.

 

LIW 1:

No one knows us.

 

There is a knock at the door.

 

LIW 3:

            Who is at the door?

 

A Voice:

A man, my lady.

 

LIW 3:

Who?

 

Voice:

My name would tell you nothing.

 

LIW 3:

But you have a name?

 

Voice:

Today… Qarandel.

 

LIW 3:

What do you do here, in this valley?

 

Voice:

I wander.

 

LIW 3:

And your intentions? Good or ill?

 

Voice:

Governed by yours.

 

LIW 3:

Enter.

 

A thin and shabby looking man comes in, soiled with the dust of poverty and the road.

 

LIW 3:

Did you lose your way amid the trees?

 

Qarandel:

This was my destination.

 

LIW 3:

What do you want?

 

Qarandel:

To carry out the intimations

Of the wind

Which went before me through the woods

Then stopped me at this door.

 

LIW 2:

But it’s not you we wait for.

 

Qarandel:

The voice. It told me who

You all prepare to meet.

 

The Princess:

And?

 

Qarandel:

I shall not speak his name until

My shadow’s in his eyes.

 

The Princess:

Will he come tonight?

 

Qarandel stoops and presses his ear to the ground.

 

Qarandel:

I do not know. See here,

I press my ear to the floor,

Hoping to hear

The beat of his footfall

Sound within.

 

The Princess:

And does it sound?

 

Qarandel:

Down every road.

 

The Princess:

Will your shadow fall into his eyes tonight?

 

Qarandel:

The voice did not say.

Shall I sit in this corner?

 

Without waiting for an answer, Qarandel walks to the far left of stage and sits at the front with his back to the audience, staring at the door.

 

LIW 3:

Do you have bread?

 

Qarandel:

My bread is not done baking.

 

LIW 3:

When will it be done?

 

Qarandel:

When I sing.

 

LIW 3:

And when will you sing?

 

Qarandel:

When my song is done.

 

LIW 3:

And when will that be?

 

Qarandel:

There are fragments yet to fuse,

And still its final line eludes me.

 

LIW 3:

A man whom poverty’s exhausted and his mind

Illumined, raves,

Not knowing what he says.

 

The Princess:

Something in his manner gives me pause.

 

LIW 3:

Good, or ill?

 

The Princess:

I know not, but I feel

The letters in his words

Bear something wrapped within them.

 

LIW 3:

Nothing but his poverty.

Leave him sprawled in the wall’s shadow

Till he leaves.

Let us meanwhile prepare

Our entertainments.

 

LIW 1:

As we were?

 

LIW 3:

                        As before.

Where were we when he came?

 

LIW 2:

We’d finished the bit in which

We laugh ourselves to tears.

 

LIW 3:

Time for the celebration then!

 

 

She claps her hands.

 

Party! Party!

 

The first and third ladies-in-waiting sit on the floor, in darkness, as the princess rises, sways over, and sprawls seductively over the table, as though lying in bed. The second lady-in-waiting vanishes for a moment then reappears, wearing the mask of a moustachioed man. She strikes a defiant pose.

 

The Princess:

You’ve come at last! My day,

A mess of drudgery and waiting,

Leashed moments straining

Towards night.

I’ve wished I could collapse the broad horizon

To a wink of fire, extinguished

With a breath as with a candle.

Ah, if I could hold the violence of the sun

Against the sun and rule it, and

Oh, if I but could I’d hold it trapped

Beneath my bed, so when the cockerel comes

To sing light’s birth, it might not hear.

If I could only trap my breath within me

And slumber through light’s lifetime so

When dark fell I might preen upon my branch

And breathe the breeze of night: be then

A thrill and a delight

In bloom.

I am the shadow’s

Lily.

  Worshipper

Of darkness.

  Rose

At odds with radiance,

Which loves the gloom.

 

The second lady-in-waiting bows her head in silence.

 

And now at last you’ve come

O river of my life, which cuts

Across this skin

Cracked by the sun,

A field left fallow.

 

The second lady-in-waiting lays her hand upon the arm of the princess. The princess sits up and runs her hands from the woman’s waist to her face.

 

Ah, you’re like a brandished lance, planed straight and bright

And,

Oh, you’re like a blade that’s honed and burnished to a greater splendour

And, ah,

  you are alike

Unto a god, kind-hearted, cruel and noble.

  You’re, Oh! a tree,

  And, Oh! a sugar lump. You

Are, Oh!, like everything that visits me in dream,

And sweeter.

 

The second lady-in-waiting touches the princess’s breast.

 

I wonder,

Does this breast of mine,

Its swell and lines,

Please you?

Your ardent pasture wants you

As you want it, so

Touch it, hold it, hurt it, maybe from it

A fragrant bloom will shoot

Tempting you to pick it.

Maybe it’s mark will be printed on your breast

Which spreads out like the fortress at

The reckless ocean’s shore.

 

The princess raises herself towards the second lady-in-waiting.

 

Oh sling me like a necklace from your shoulders, toy

With me, scatter me in grains about,

Over your body spread me out

As music and as light,

Then rope me in and thread me on

The string of your possessions.

Stroke me, stamp me

With your seal, and see

Tomorrow promise you

A bold and naughty child

From me.

 

The second lady-in-waiting lets the princess sink down before table and takes a step back.

 

Your eyelids dipping hint at discontent,

A cloud of checked vexation rolls

Across your face. How is it I

Have angered you?

Do I seem guileless, innocent of the secret

Truths of love? Perhaps too keen

To let my feelings show?

Teach me what to do,

But do not leave me.

 

The second lady-in-waiting takes another step back and brings her hand to her chin.

 

Maybe you love another,

The thought of her floats in your eyes,

Hiding their brightness from mine.

Oh,

If it is as I fear,

I’ll kill myself.

 

The second lady-in-waiting takes a third step back then gestures with her hands as though speaking.

 

What’s that?  You don’t like

To come to me in secret like the thief?

To wait for the guards to sleep, then creep

Along the shadow of the wall?

Would you like the key to the palace?

 

The second lady-in-waiting gestures again.

 

But when he sleeps my father keeps

The key and with it his royal seal

Beneath his pillow.

 

Frowning the second lady-in-waiting takes another pace back.

 

I don’t know what to do!

To reach my hand out to my father’s bed

Is something I’ve not ventured.

 

Glowering, the lady-in-waiting turns to leave.

 

I’ll lead you to his chamber!

You can take it yourself!

 

The princess slips off the table and she and her lady-in-waiting circle around it. The third lady-in-waiting now appears wearing the mask of the old king, and climbing onto the table, lies down as if asleep. The princess and her companion approach the sleeping figure, and while the princess hangs back, her companion reaches out and feels at the old king’s neck. The lights go down, then come up to sound of the princess’s scream.

 

You’ve murdered my father,

Stolen his seal to hold it up

Before the people,

And with it, rule them.

What have I done?

You are my beloved and my rock

And you have killed

My father and my pillar.

Do I point at you and cry,

This is my lord’s murderer!

Or fold my hands away and drown my secret

In a pool of my dammed tears?

To speak or be silent?

The pain of it all!

Do I love you

Or hate you?

 

The second lady-in-waiting turns to the princess, as if to placate her.

 

What’s that?

You’d have me tell them that my father,

Feeling death upon him, called your name

And gave to you his daughter? Gave you me

And his estate, and handed you

The seal and key.

  Of love,

The pleasures we have tasted, and the future’s

Promises, you sing. No, no, no…

I cannot! What cripples me

Is that I lose you and lose him

In the same instant. One wound

A day suffices. Let it be

As you will it.

Summon the captain of the guard.

 

The first lady-in-waiting now appears in the guise of the captain of the guard. The three women gesture to one another, and the first lady-in-waiting retires, head bowed and obedient.

 

Now leave so I might mourn my murdered man,

And return to you a bride apparisoned

And purified by tears.

My man!

My murderer!

Get out, get out…

 

The princess collapses sobbing onto the dead king’s bed, while the other two women remove their masks and stand behind the princess weeping with her, their lamentations harmonised as if in song. As they weep, the one they wait for enters. It is Samandel.

 

Samandel:

Dear me,

Without the guidance of the cypress trees

I would have lost my way here.

What is this?

A festival of grief! Has someone died

Or do the women weep to fill their empty hearts?

 

At his sudden arrival the women collect themselves. The third lady-in-waiting removes her mask and dismounts from the table as the princess and other two women turn to face him.

 

Just as I thought.

The dead man’s a mirage;

The tears are tangible.

 

The Princess :

And you are?

 

Samandel:

No one knows me better than you.

 

The Princess:

What brought you here tonight?

 

Samandel:

A heart seeking its cage.

 

The Princess:

Those are words you’ve readied for this meeting.

You blow in them like bubbles till

They are full of nothing,

Gleaming.

 

Samadel:

It is not my voice,

But love’s.

 

The Princess:

I beg you, no, no, no…

Don’t spoil it.

 

Samandel:

Spoil what?

 

The Princess:

The moment.

Dear ladies, listen.

My body’s every cell has waited

For this moment’s touch. My blood

Has risen, lusting for its fervid shiver

Since forever.

Clothed in the absence

Of the night, in my sleep,

In the long duration of my patience,

Its harbingers have circled me.

This moment has eaten my insomnia,

Has sipped my thirst,

Has worn my days as robes,

Has looped about my neck its promise

As a necklace, dangling,

To leave me waiting

For the one to come

One evening.

I have asked myself, will he come

Vengeful or contemptuous, glum

Or broken, or remorsefully,

Or wounded?

Dying?

But sad to say, he comes

As always, singing lies, the phrases

Swimming at his lips

Like oil: ashine, aslip.

How sad.

You’re still the same.

Just go away.

But no,

Don’t go. Your errors

I’ll forgive you, all except

You spoil a moment

Of sincerity.

 

LIW 3:

Amazing.

You say he’s spoiled a moment and forget

He spoiled your life.

 

Samandel:

Old bag, be quiet.

I spoiled her life? I brought it

To full ripeness.

A girl of twenty,

Turned under my wing into a woman

Filled with lust and fire,

Pleasure and shame,

Love and hate, desire

And scorn.

 

LIW 2:

You murdered her father.

 

Samandel:

Oh, that?

I did not murder him.

I hastened his end.

He was but dust strewn on a shabby sheet:

I barely had to touch him and he flew away

On death’s wings.

 

The Princess:

How strange that my eyes do not deceive me.

You can be so heavy when you try

To show your wit.

 

Samandel:

Your father had been ailing

Since your eyes first saw the light.

Passing the cup between them

The commoners would claim

The worm which gnawed the timbers

In his chamber’d made the leap and now

Played havoc in the king’s dead leg.

Others said the royal limbs were wasted

(Shoulders like bones and shrinking hands).

There was even a rumour that

The king’s legs were so withered that

The dead one now stood shorter than the living.

They said his beard had fallen out.

He’d grown a pair of breasts.

 

The Princess:

You’re a boor, too.

 

Samandel:

It came to me one evening.

We guards were up

On our patrol about the walls

And someone said,

Seems like the king won’t sire a boy

To take his throne and prop

His sagging tent up.

 

The Princess:

And so you offered love to me

But lovelessly…

 

Samandel:

Ten long years, child.

And yet… I loved you.

 

The Princess:

I was not always a child.

 

Samandel:

Watering your veins with sweetnesses and kisses

Until your fruits had rounded in your robe.

You shook your branches

And the knot split.

 

The Princess:

Only a shit tells tales from the bed.

 

Samandel:

I don’t tell tales.

I just remember.

I remember the first time I bent you

My way,

Breasts shivering like a dew-drenched sparrow

And the length of you inclining like

The weighted bough.

    This was

In the sixth year of our acquaintance.

I remember when we first lay

Sprawling naked, twined

Until both shadows and the light

Had died.

    This was

In the eighth year of our acquaintance.

You used to cry, when love

Had teased and wired you,

Oh naked moon,

My burning rose,

Your hands are reins,

My ribs a cart,

Now whip me to the fields

Of flames.

 

The Princess:

Silence.

 

Samandel:

I remember, now, that evening when

You whispered in my ear to say,

Rain in me

Your child.

 

The Princess:

I beg you, stop.

 

Samandel:

Do you remember?

 

The Princess:

I do.

 

Samandel:

And so I came.

 

The Princess:

But why?

 

Samandel:

To make days happier

Than those gone.

 

The Princess:

But why tonight?

 

Samandel:

So we might start tonight!

 

The Princess:

Poor man.

 

Samandel:

That’s true enough.

Aside from yours I have no arms

To lie in: that embrace

In whose rich splendour I forget

The dark days.

 

The Princess:

The same with me.

Shall we go back

The way we were?

 

Samandel:

Better than we were.

 

The Princess:

You would break down dead time’s door,

Sprinkle sweetnesses and kisses on my cares?

Would you return that girl to me?

 

Samandel:

If you returned to loving me.

 

The Princess:

But tell me…

How go things at the palace?

 

Samandel:

Well.

 

The Princess:

Why does your voice dip

Low beneath your words?

You tire it with lies.

 

Samandel:

Very well, in fact!

 

The Princess:

And the guards?

 

Samandel:

They tremble at the mention of my name.

 

The Princess:

The soldiers and their captains…?

 

Samandel:

Shrink back to see me, necks

Pressed down between their feet!

 

The Princess:

They still swallow the story?

 

Samandel:

What story?

 

The Princess:

Of the bed-bound king’s bequest to you.

Of his death.

 

Samandel:

What do you mean?

 

The Princess:

Mean? Nothing.

I simply ask.

I beg of you,

For once be honest.

Not for me, but for yourself.

Let’s go from the beginning:

Why did you come?

 

Samandel:

Do you still love me?

 

The Princess:

A woman never forgets

The first man in whose hands

She turned to heat. His memory’s

Kept hidden like the whirlpool

In the water.

 

Samandel:

I’m overthrown.

My kingdom cracks about me like dry bark.

The guards denounce me.

 

The Princess:

The captains? The soldiers?

 

Samandel:

Drove me out.

 

The Princess:

What if I went back with you?

 

Samandel:

Things might be resolved.

 

The Princess:

For you?

 

Samandel:

For us.

 

The Princess:

But how?

 

Qarandel springs from his darkened corner.

 

Qarandel:

My song’s complete!

Ladies, listen…

 

Samandel:

Who is this?

 

Qarandel:

Don’t bother your head.

Be a guest in my song.

 

Samandel:

Who are you?

 

Qarandel:

My name means nothing.

 

Samandel:

            What do you do?

 

Qarandel:

Do? Nothing.

Sometimes I stare at the sun till it sets.

At the night till it breaks in dawn. Sometimes

I dance at the weddings of friends.

Sometimes I write.

 

Samandel:

Write what?

 

Qarandel:

What happens.

 

Samandel:

Do you live in this hut?

 

Qarandel:

I have work here. Tonight

I am summoned to perform my song.

 

Samandel:

Summoned? By whom?

 

Qarandel:

Do you hear the sound of the wind?

 

Samandel turns to the princess.

 

Samandel:

Did you ask him here?

 

Qarandel:

Do you invite the wind?

Listen, it tells a story too.

Listen, listen.

 

Samandel:

What story does it tell?

 

Qarandel:

What happens.

 

Samandel:

A madman.

 

Qarandel:

A witness, rather.

 

Samandel:

What do you want?

 

Qarandel:

That my shadow be in your eyes.

 

Samandel:

Where did you find this lunatic?

Come, darling,

Let us go.

 

The Princess:

And my ladies?

 

Samandel:

Will follow later.

We press on to the palace, ahead

Of dawn’s first thread.

This morning we shall stand in the midan

Our hands entwined

And tell them that their princess has returned,

Has passed the robe of pardon to her lover

Weighed with sins, which sinner has received it

With clear proofs of gratitude.

 

Glowering, Qarandel draws his skinny frame up. He is wildly angry.

 

Qarandel:

No, no… I beg you. Please.

Once by a lie our city’s heart

Was knifed. It sickened,

Sagged beneath its wounds.

This night may see the end of all,

Of rivers, hills and houses,

Should another lie be born

In the midan.

 

Samandel:

Quiet, madman.

Come on, come on, let’s go.

 

Qarandel:

Sad to say, it seems

That I must sing my song.

 

Qarandel advances towards Samandel, circles his neck with fingers and stares into his eyes.

 

My shadow in your eyes,

Samandel.

 

Drawing a knife from his robe, Qarandel plunges it into Samandel’s chest.

 

There. The final line.

 

Samandel collapses across the table. Qarandel turns to the stunned women.

 

My song is done.

God keep you all.

 

He walks to the door, opens it, then turns to see the princess collapsing to the ground.

 

But don’t let me forget! A coda,

Without which my song’s undone.

My lady, Princess, be

Sovereign and mistress,

Do not bend your knee

Submissive

To any man of clay,

Wretch or righteous,

Colossus or rat.

Receive love’s splendours

And do not give it.

Bed yourself and so

Yourself suffice.

Make those brave gallants,

The sight of them so sweet in your eyes,

Servants to you, not lovers,

Or lovers,

Not beloved.

Qarandel exits. Beside the bed the princess weeps and kisses Samandel.

 

The Princess:

In death, he is

How true.

Look ladies, see

That charming, oily smile

Is dead,

And he looks shaken, petrified, and wears

A fetching honesty.

How beautiful dead,

Bone-weary lamb,

Bundled in my bed.

Let me shut terror’s window,

 

She closes his eyes.

 

Fold up the arms, that useless caution, lift

And lay the legs that loved to climb

Though they be sunk in mud.

How like my father he is,

Lying there.

My ladies, see,

And offer your congratulations.

My promised moment come,

It crushed me.

She falls into a chair beside the table, her back to the corpse. There is a dazzling smile on her face, and her eyes are closed, as though she’s dreaming. The third lady-in-waiting starts towards her.

 

LIW 3:

My lady! My lady!

 

The princess starts, as though awaking, and turning to the woman seems to forget all that has passed.

 

The Princess:

What is it? Swindler sleep’s

Not stolen our dawn stroll? Has the hour

Appointed for the nightingale and dew

Gone past and left us?

 

LIW 3:

No, my lady, but…

 

The Princess:

But what?

Do not despair Umm Khayr.

We’ll yet know the early silvered thread

And fill our cups with molten pearl

Upon the flowers’ cheeks,

And be at the palace

By the hour appointed.

 

LIW 1:

The hour appointed!

 

The Princess:

Do not forget, I am

A lady and a princess,

Sovereign and mistress.

This morning

I must stand in the midan

So my followers might see clear

My form aglow before them.

 

LIW 1:

Sorry, my lady.

 

The Princess:

We have amused ourselves,

We’ve played, we have

Shrugged off ourselves the burden

Of plans and plotting, dozed

Like children who have had their fill

Of food and chatter.

What is the time?

 

The second lady-in-waiting walks to the casement, opens it, and looks out.

 

LIW 2:

Dawn’s still an arrow’s flight away.

 

The Princess:

Strap down the baggage, then. Umm Khayr?

You’ve fetched the tack and saddle to the cart?

 

LIW 3:

My lady, I…

 

The Princess:

                        No matter.

Through forest paths, then, to the palace door, and so

On foot into the courtyard there

To meet my servants

And my subjects, to receive

What fills my heart by way of love

And of subservience.

Come, come!

Quick, quick!