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.
First song of autumn
Joy of my days, come
watch me run
I’ve bought white shoes
and see-through eagle’s wings
I am the clarinet’s mouth
and you the ransomed player
Kneel and guzzle me, set
the sea’s taste in my throat
and make my breast a wave
upon whose mane the sun
The grey ships come from the north,
The snow-white ships come from the pole,
The ships of the south are all broken down.
O Harbourmaster sitting on the cloudbanks,
O Harbourmaster walking on the water,
Tell those leaping on the equator line
How their flesh might turn to wood,
How their bones might turn to steel,
Until from out their bodies comes a ship
Its black pushing through the swell.
Blessed is he who lays a flower on a tomb or a palace or a breast, is he who is born in the seventh month or the twelfth, is the throat become gorge, is he who slaughters his only horse out of kindness. Blessed is he who sinks to his knees pleading forgiveness or overcome with lust, is he who bears a cross upon his back, is he who boils a porridge of cement to hoodwink his children’s hunger, is the sniffer become snout, is the time when a wife could gather together the pieces of her helpmeet’s corpse and he would live, are the truths cowering in the crevices of falsehood, is the nation that feeds on the chatter of the worthless, is the nation that feeds on the prattling of the powerful, is the gulp become gullet. Blessed is he who fashions an ear from clay and an ear from dough until his head is severed, is a sun that still rises in the East, is a star that shines through on a cloudy day. Blessed be this tale, which would not have be told of Mustajab VII were it not for that incident, revealed to the world by a wordsmith whose father laboured as a screenwriter, wherein Mustajab VII secretly murdered Mustajab VI, sold his body to students studying dissection and with the proceeds erected a sumptious pavilion replete with dazzling lights and microphones that resounded with proverbial wisdom, to outfox foes and keep in remembrance the glorious exploits of Clan Mustajab, ancient and modern, then stood at its entrance to receive the sincerest of condolences. This is a slander against the man, which lays the very heart of truth to waste and strikes at the crux of our tale, the point at which it joins with what took place thereafter, for which reason we set over this incident an upturned water jar, and kept it hid.
It is said that Qasmuna’s father, Ismail, enjoyed improvising verse with her. One day he said: ‘Finish this poem’.
I had a friend whose rare delight,
Though it rewarded care with spite,
Qasmuna thought for a moment and replied:
To love two people is to have it
coming: body nailed to beams,
But loving one is like observing
I held out until fever
How long can grass
If I did not have hope
that my heart’s master’s
heart might bend to mine,
I would be stranded, no
closer to gate than home.