The Sharazad Project: Week 5

NSFW (not safe for work). Explicit language.

It is still night nine and Sharazad is beginning the tale of a porter from Baghdad, whose job is to carry around other people’s shopping. One day a beautifully dressed woman approaches him at the market and asks him to follow her. Enchanted by her dulcet tones, he hurries at her heels while she goes from one place to another. She buys wine and fruit, meat and nuts, pastries and fancy toiletries. The porter loses enthusiasm for the task as his basket gets heavier, but perks up when they reach the woman’s house. She lifts her face veil here and of course she’s gorgeous. So is the woman who opens the door, though you wouldn’t necessarily know it from the way she’s described – ‘eyes rivalling those of a wild cow’ is not my idea of a compliment, and comparing her breasts to pomegranates is not much better. The porter is so overexcited he almost drops the basket. I don’t think I’d invite him inside.

They do, however. The house is luxuriously decorated, with a pool at its centre so large a skiff is floating on it and from this boat emerges a third woman, ‘glorious as the moon’. The porter is allowed to put down his basket and the three ladies of the house put away their purchases. They then try to pay the porter, but he’s too busy staring to get the hint. “Why don’t you go?” one of the women asks. “Do you think that we didn’t pay you enough?” He confesses his adoration and offers to be their love slave, on the principle that women totes can’t have fun without guys around! The women are skeptical. Seeing that his chance is slipping away, the porter insists he’s super intelligent (“I have read books and studied histories!”) and can keep any secret they want.

If he wants to stay, the women decide, he’d better pay for the privilege – a house this fancy doesn’t maintain itself. “Have you not heard what the author of the proverb said,” they admonish, “‘love without cash is worthless’?” The first woman, who brought the porter home in the first place, abruptly reconsiders and offers to pay on his behalf, which does not please the others. Another of the women says that if the porter asks any questions, he’ll be beaten. The porter agrees to terms and the women set about preparing their party.

This involves a lot of wine. Once properly drunk, the porter tries out some romantic poetry – or at least he thinks it’s romantic, personally I get put off by that many references to blood and tears. The women like it better than me. They are also very drunk. There’s dancing and singing, which leads to kissing, which leads to a confused sort of feeling up. The second woman (the doorkeeper) eventually strips off and jumps in the pool, taking a mouthful of water and spitting it at the porter. Coming back to the others, she throws herself in his lap and gets straight to the sexy talk. She also slaps him a lot. The other women join in and everyone gets naked and starts talking about their preferred slang for genitals.

Night ten begins with the four of them laughing uproariously and drinking some more. When night falls the women tell the porter to get dressed and go, but he asks to stay and the woman who brought him there wants that too. “Who knows whether in all our lives we shall meet someone else like him,” she says, “both wanton and witty.” The other women agree he can stay the night but only if he does what he’s told and asks no questions.

They finally eat something, and because alcohol poisoning is apparently not a thing, keep downing wine. Suddenly there’s a knock at the door. One of the women gets up to answer it. “At the door are three Persian dervishes,” she tells the others when she returns, “with shaven chins, heads and eyebrows. By a very remarkable coincidence, each of them has lost his left eye.” These unexpected visitors want to stay the night. Agreeing to the same terms as the porter, they are permitted inside. Cue MORE DRINKING. The dervishes start playing music, the girls sing and there’s another knock at the door. It’s not the neighbours complaining – it is the caliph.

You see, he has a habit of disguising himself as a merchant and prowling the city with his vizier and executioner. His vizier is actually called Ja’far; sadly he does not have a parrot. He’s the brains of the trio. When the caliph wants to crash the party, the vizier points out those people are DRUNK and maybe it’s not a good idea to hang out with the sozzled. The caliph could not care less. “I want you to think of some scheme to get us in,” he orders, so Ja’far tells the woman who answers the door that they are traders who have become lost en route to their hostel, might they please spend the night here? Once the three men have agreed to the same bargain as the earlier arrivals, they are seated and given wine. The caliph tells them he’s planning a trip to Mecca and won’t drink. Maybe he has some sense after all. He’s given sweetened willow-flower water instead, which he likes.

One of the women rises, the one who hired the porter and who he believes to be in charge. She takes the other women by the hands and announces mysteriously that it is time to settle their debts. Clearing a space in the middle of the floor, they move their guests to benches on either side of the room, but the porter is considered exempt and asked to help out…by pulling a pair of black dogs from a cupboard. That is a bad way to begin. The first woman takes up a whip and beats each dog repeatedly while the poor creatures howl, then gathers them close and kisses them. Her spectators are naturally freaked out by the savage animal abuse and the caliph in particular wants answers. He looks to Ja’far hopefully; the vizier gestures for him to be quiet.

“Get up and do your duty,” the first woman instructs the second, the doorkeeper, who obediently retrieves a lute and plays a frankly disturbing love song that sums up as ‘loving you makes me sick but I’m doing it anyway’. The first woman is very affected, ripping her clothes and collapsing in a faint. The watching men see scars all over her skin, like the blows from a whip. “I can’t keep quiet without knowing the truth of the matter,” the caliph mutters. Ja’far reminds him of the bargain they made, and the caliph reluctantly subsides as the third woman is called upon to keep her promise.

Cue more lute-playing and another concerning love song. I interpret this one to mean ‘love is awful and a specific lover is specifically awful’. This time the doorkeeper is the one moved to cloth-ripping, and demands more sad poetry. The third woman obliges with several verses about how much it hurts being neglected by someone you love. The doorkeeper rips her dress again. I think that is this household’s version of applause. The torn clothes show bruises on her skin and the dervishes regret ever coming to this creepy place.

Their remarks draw the caliph’s attention; he thought they were a part of the household, but upon inquiry realises even the porter is a newcomer with no idea of what’s going on. “We are seven men and they are three women,” the caliph calculates. “So ask them about themselves, and if they don’t reply willingly, we will force them to do so.” Everyone agrees except Ja’far. “Let them be; we are their guests and they made a condition which we accepted, as you know,” he reasons, and points out that it is almost morning – once the caliph is back in his palace he can summon the women for questioning.

Ja’far, WHY ARE YOU NOT IN CHARGE.

Overhearing the argument, the first woman comes over to ask what is being so hotly debated. The porter unwisely tells her. She looks at the others, to confirm they are all part of the question, and they all say yes – except for Ja’far. “By God, you have done us a great wrong,” she says furiously, and strikes the floor three times. Another cupboard door flies open and seven armed slaves come striding out to tie up the transgressors. They ask for permission to execute the men, but the lady wants some answers herself first. The porter starts babbling frantically, blaming the dervishes for breaking up the sexy times and begging with poetry for her to spare his life. She starts laughing.

That is the end of night ten, and this week’s segment. Find out next Tuesday if that laughter’s a good sign or maniacally villainous.

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One thought on “The Sharazad Project: Week 5

  1. Pingback: Read-Along: The Sharazad Project (Part 4) | Alex Hurst

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