The Sharazad Project: Week 16

NSFW (sexual references)

Welcome back to night twenty five and the shambolic justice of the king’s court, where he’s just challenged a group of deeply dishonest people to tell him strange stories. The first to take him up on the offer is his own broker.

Born in Cairo, the broker followed his father into the trade. One day, while he’s sitting at his work, a handsome stranger comes riding up on a donkey. He wants to sell a quantity of sesame, and once he’s confirmed the price that the broker is willing to pay, he gives directions to the store’s location. The broker helps measure out the sesame and arranges its sale. A month later, the same man returns for the money from the sale. As the broker doesn’t have it immediately on hand, the young man goes away again, asking that it be ready when he comes back.

That takes another month and the broker is once again unprepared. The young man refuses food and drink, disappearing for yet another month. The broker reflects on how attractive he is, and how odd. The uncollected money has earned interest – I think the broker has been trading with it – and he can’t believe how unhurried his client is being about taking it. It’s not until the end of the year that the young man finally sticks around, agreeing to eat and drink at the broker’s house, on the condition that whatever is spent on his hospitality comes out of the waiting money. The young man will only eat with his left hand. Enquiring whether there is anything wrong with his right, the broker gets more of an answer than he expected when his guest reveals lifts that arm and shows the hand has been amputated. There is, of course, a story in that. Cue segue!

The young man comes from Baghdad. His father was well-known and wealthy; upon his death, the young man used that wealth to satisfy a long-held wanderlust, travelling to Egypt. He arrives safely in Cairo. Once his trade goods are housed and he is settled at his lodgings, he decides to take a look through the local markets. While out, he’s stopped by opportunistic brokers offering to auction his goods. They cannot secure a suitable price, however, so the senior auctioneer advises a dubious sounding financial scheme involving fixed term credit, multiple sub-contractors and no need for personal oversight.

It suits the young man very well, because other people are handling the boring parts of his business while he goes sightseeing and meets up with friends. It’s while he’s meeting one such friend, a fellow merchant, that an elegant and mysterious lady comes sweeping into the shop and wins the young man’s heart with just the sound of her voice – which is not even directed at him, she’s buying a length of embroidered cloth off the other merchant. The one she ends up choosing is from the young man’s stock. The merchant tells her this, explaining she needs to hand over the money now so he can pay his friend’s share in the sale. “Bad luck to you,” she says coolly. “I am in the habit of buying quantities of material from you for high prices, giving more than you ask and sending you the money.” “Agreed,” he acknowledges, “but I have to have it today.”

She throws the cloth at him and says he doesn’t appreciate what a fabulous a customer she is. I kind of love her.

The young man doesn’t care about the money, he just wants to stop her leaving the shop. Due to his hasty courtesy, she agrees to come back. A receipt is soon filled out, dividing the money between merchants, so that the lady can take her cloth now and pay the young man back personally. “May God give you a good reward,” she says, “endowing you with my wealth and making you my husband.” Clearly she’s appreciated all that finance flirting. When she’s gone, the dazed young man demands his friend tell him everything about her. All he knows is that her (prestigious) father is dead, and she is very rich. Distracted by thoughts of the fabric-buying beauty, the young man can’t eat or sleep and returns to his friend’s shop early the next day.

Sure enough, the lady comes by again, this time accompanied by a maid. She ignores the shop’s owner in favour of addressing the the young man directly; it doesn’t take him long to make his feelings clear and she backs off quickly. Not too far, though. She sends her servant to bring her suitor to the money-changer. It doesn’t seem a terribly romantic, or even private, location for passionate declarations, but she doesn’t let that stop her. “My darling,” she asks, “shall it be your house or mine?” As he’s renting lodgings, her place is the better bet. Arranging to meet the next day, she gives directions.

In the morning he dresses and perfumes himself, a man determined to impress. Following the directions, he sends off his driver and knocks at the door. Two maids answer. It’s rather revolting how the only description they get is of their breasts. They lead the young man into a lavishly decorated hall, overlooking a very lovely garden.

That is not even slightly a cliffhanger, unless you’re much more invested in this romance than me, but Sharazad breaks off there. Night twenty six opens with the entrance of the lady of the house. She’s painted with henna, wearing a crown of jewels, eager to dazzle as her prospective lover and definitely succeeding. The ensuing kiss is heavy on tongue. They compare their suffering – neither has been able to eat or sleep out of desire for the other, the first of which they rectify together by feasting on a spread of delicacies. Amidst the talk, they drift into foreplay, exchanging touches and kisses. Eventually they end up in bed. Thankfully, there’s no virginity euphemisms in this one.

In the morning, the young man leaves a bundle of money under her bed, and I’m not sure whether this is an official financial part of their relationship or a love token. I’m hoping for the latter. They arrange to meet again that night. In a thoughtful gesture, the young man sends some meat and sweetmeats to his girlfriend’s house.

It becomes a pattern that he spends every evening with her, and in the morning leaves fifty dinars under her bed. It really is like he’s paying her for sex, though I don’t think that’s his intention. It’s also stupid, since she’s already very wealthy, and one day he wakes up to find he has no money left. Horrified, the young man wanders out of his lodgings and joins a large crowd in the street. He knocks into a soldier, accidentally touches the man’s purse, and very deliberately chooses to steal it. The soldier notices. He responds by whacking the young man with his club, knocking him to the ground.

The crowd divides into two camps: those who believe the young man to be a thief and those who think he’s way too pretty to commit felonies. While the young man is still recovering from the blow, the local law enforcement arrives. They search him, recovering the purse. The young man confesses to theft. The penance for such a crime is losing a hand. If I’m reading this right, an executioner is called upon to perform the operation right there on the street. Even the soldier takes pity on the young man after that, letting him keep the purse.

Onward he staggers to his lover’s house, where he tries to pretend his pain is the result of a headache. She doesn’t buy that for a second. Really, no one would, he’s flopped out colourless on her bed with his right arm hidden inside his clothes. She does all she can to extract whatever he’s hiding from her. When he won’t talk, she thinks it means something has gone amiss between them. He won’t even eat, for he’ll have to use his left hand and that would reveal the truth.

Finally he breaks down crying, which out and out terrifies her, and still he won’t admit what happened. He drinks glass after glass of wine until he passes out drunk, and while he’s in that state she catches sight of his bloody wrist. It doesn’t take a thorough search to find the purse of gold. She’s devastated at what he’s come to.

By the next morning, she’s decided what to do. When her lover tries to leave the house, she makes him sit down. “Have you loved me so much that you have spent all your money and lost your hand?” she asks. “I take you as my witness – and God is the truest witness – that I shall never leave you, and shall see that what I say is true.” With that, she sends for officials to draw up a marriage contract, handing over control of her wealth and property. After that, she leads her new husband to a chest full of money. This is where she’s kept all his gifts, unspent. Guilt is thick between them, though he says nothing to accuse her and she is in NO WAY to blame for what happened.

Less than a month after the marriage, she falls desperately ill. Not quite two months after that, she dies. It’s not fair, she was lovely.

The young man arranges a funeral (which includes charity donations given in her name, I think she’d have liked that) then sees about her estate. He’s been selling off her goods for some time, hence his long absences. Having explained his story to the broker (ending the segue) he pays for his meal by allowing his host to keep all the money from the sesame sale. Not only that, he invites the broker on a trade expedition back to his own country. The broker agrees. Selling off his own property in preparation, he follows his new friend.

Which is how he ended up in this city, in this mess.

“Is this not more remarkable than the story of the hunchback, O king of the age?” he asks. The king is unimpressed. Too much financial jargon, methinks. “I must very certainly hang you all,” he replies.

Is it possible telling weird anecdotes won’t get them out of this one? What is the justice system coming to? Find out next Tuesday!

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