Trigger warning: ableism and physical abuse
I made a flippant joke about the Barber Show last week. LITTLE DID I KNOW. Today we return to night thirty one and the barber, who is telling family anecdotes for a disgruntled caliph. Having shared the misadventures of his eldest brother, he moves on to his second brother, who is semi-paralysed but apparently capable of walking because that’s how he meets a really ominous old lady. “I shall tell you of something,” she offers, “and guide you to it, but you must not question me too much.” Just say no!
Bro 2 is listening, however, and the old lady goes on. “What do you say to a beautiful house with a pleasant garden, flowing streams, fruit, wine, a beautiful face and someone to embrace you from evening until morning?” she wheedles. “If you do what I shall suggest to you, you will find something to please you.” Bro 2 has just enough skepticism to ask why she’s singled him out for this fantastic offer and she tells him not to ask questions.
Leading the way to a handsome mansion, she passes off Bro 2 as a craftsman and introduces him to a beautiful young woman. They exchange pleasantries. There’s nothing much Bro 2 can say, since he has no idea what he’s doing there. The girl orders a magnificent meal for them to share but spends the whole time laughing at him. He mistakes this for attraction. After the meal, musicians come to play for the girl and her maidservants; she gives Bro 2 glass after glass of wine and starts slapping him around. When he tries to leave, the old lady ushers him back into the room. It only gets worse from there. The maidservants join in the abuse, until he’s almost unconscious from the beating. The old woman insists that once the girl is drunk Bro 2 can turn the tables and it’s all disgusting. If you want to skip this story – I kind of want to skip this story – scroll down until you reach the bolded paragraph.
Anyway, back to Bro 2 and his poor life choices. The maidservants are now sprinkling him with rosewater, possibly to wake him up. “You have entered my house and endured the condition I imposed,” the girl in charge tells him. “Whoever disobeys me, I expel, but whoever endures reaches his goal…Know that God has made me passionately fond of amusement, and those who indulge me in this get what they seek.” Bro 2 takes this to mean great sex and sticks around. I predict he’ll regret that.
The maidservants pluck out his moustache and dye his eyebrows, then shave off his beard. Bro 2 starts having second thoughts at this point but the old lady assures him all this is proof of how desperately in love with him the girl is (WHAT, LADY) and Bro 2 resignedly allows it all to happen. The lady finds the resulting spectacle hilarious and orders him to dance so that she can throw cushions at him. The maids hurl bits of fruit. He falls over.
“Now you have achieved your goal,” the old woman soothes him. She tells him that once the girl is really drunk, she’ll strip and Bro 2 must strip too, then chase after the girl through the halls because even thought it’ll look like she’s trying to escape, it’s all…a game…this is so vile. The story breaks off there and when it resumes in night thirty two they’re running naked through the house. It is all a really nasty prank, of course – Bro 2 falls through a trick door and tumbles outside into a street market, where indignant shopkeepers beat him up and drag him before the governor, who has him beaten up some more and banished. The barber takes him in too. Literally the only interesting thing about this story is that the house he fell out of is said to belong to Shams al-Din, a name familiar from a previous story.
Don’t breathe easy yet, we’re seguing straight into the story of Bro 3.
This brother is blind and a beggar and really, if the barber takes such good care of his brothers, how did he not know about that? Bro 3 knocks at the door of a large house but doesn’t answer the owner’s increasingly irritable calls of ‘Who is there?’ until the door opens. Instead of giving him alms, the owner drags him inside and up several flights of stairs to the rooftop. There he asks again what Bro 3 wants, and gets very angry at the prospect of donating anything at all. He just takes off and Bro 3, trying to reach the stairs, falls off the rooftop. He gets a terrible concussion; it’s a wonder he isn’t killed.
Wandering in a daze, he comes across two friends of his, both of whom are also blind. He suggests they pool their savings for some fun after such a bad day, but unknown to any of them, the horrible man from the house is watching and follows Bro 3 to his lodgings. Even when the friends (very sensibly!) search the room for an intruder, Stalker goes undetected by hanging off the edge of their roof. Thinking themselves unobserved, the three friends count their not inconsiderable savings, take out a sum and bury the rest in a corner. After that, they share a meal.
Being blind does not make these men defenceless; Bro 3 realises a stranger is in the room when he hears someone else chewing and his friends quickly lay hands on the invader. Their shouts gather a crowd. Stalker is shameless – he shuts his eyes, pretending to be blind himself and says the men are trying to steal his money. They are all taken before the governor. Stalker is questioned first and declares that the only way to discover the truth is through torture. Also, he suggests they start with Bro 3. AND THEY DO. While Bro 3 is subjected to a savage beating, Stalker conjures up a terrible story, pretending they are a gang of con artists preying on charitable souls and the savings buried back at the lodgings are their shared ill-gotten gains.
The governor believes them. The men are brutally beaten. As a reward for his testimony, Stalker is given a large share of the buried money and the real owners are all exiled. Thus the barber must take in his third brother.
The caliph finds this hilarious – I feel a bit sick. If I had not committed myself to this project, I’d be skipping the next few segues, because I doubt it will get any better until the barber goes away. As it is, I am going to finish up this section next week or die trying.
Don’t let me overwhelm you with my enthusiasm.