Mother and Daughter | Part 1
While Harun al-Rashid was the Khalifa of Baghdad, that city boasted pigeon posts. The man who conducted it was a great man. The Khalifa gave him one thousand dinars a month.
When this man died, the pigeon post also came to an end. The Khalifa took back the carrier- pigeons, the forty negro enslaved people and the forty hounds in the service of the pigeon post.
The dead man had a wife called Delilah and a daughter named Zenab. Delilah petitioned the Khalifa that she should be appointed in her husband’s place and on the same salary, that the carrier pigeons, the negro-slaves and the hounds should be handed over to her so that she would run the post as efficiently as her husband had done. This petition was ignored.
A short while later, the Khalifa thought it fit to appoint two notorious robbers, Ahmad and Hasan, as chiefs of the police. The Khalifa had made every possible effort to catch these robbers and failed. Finally, he decided that it was wiser to appoint such clever robbers as chiefs of police so that they could curb other thieves and robbers.
Delilah became furious. She told her daughter Zenab, “If there is honour and wealth for swindlers and thieves in the land, it is time to show that we too are capable of unsurpassed wile and cunning. I shall prove that this Ahmad and Hasan are not to be compared to me.”
Delilah was old in years but still a great expert in deception and trickery. Zenab, a chip of the old block, was glad to hear her mother declare that Baghdad should resound with their exploits.
Delilah dressed like a Sufi beggar, wore innumerable chaplets of beads, covered her face, took the flag of the Sufi beggars and left her house.
One of the crucial persons in Baghdad was Mustafa, the chief of the Khalifa’s guard. He drew a fat salary. His huge palace had a doorway made of sandalwood and locks and bolts made of silver. In addition to several worldly possessions, he had a very comely young wife. Khatun was her name. Mustafa loved her so much that he did not take another wife even though Khatun did not give birth to any children. When other court officers came accompanied by their sons, Mustafa’s heart ached with envy.
Khatun knew how her husband was yearning for children, and she, too, suffered on that account. She took several medicines and underwent several treatments to beget children. But all her efforts were in vain.
Delilah came along the streets, crying, “Allah! Allah!” When she came near Mustafa’s house, she raised her head and saw Khatun at the upstairs window, decked in numberless gold ornaments and beautiful like a new bride. “If I do not rob this girl, my wits are worthless”, Delilah said to herself.
Seeing Delilah, Khatun thought, “This Sufi beggar may tell me some secret by which I can become a mother.” She instructed her woman slave to go and bring the Sufi beggar in.
When Delilah came up, Khatun threw herself at her feet and told her about her unfulfilled desire.
“This is not a very great problem. There is a wise man in this very city who can give excellent recipes for sterile women. Why don’t you visit him once?” Delilah told Khatun.
“O, holy mother. I’ve never stepped out of this house either for complimenting or condoling. I do not know a single street in the city. How can I visit this wise man ?” Khatun wailed.
“Then, you had better come with me. I shall take you to the wise man and bring you back before your husband returns home,” Delilah said.
Glad of this opportunity, Khatun also put on the rest of her jewellery and followed Delilah. After walking for a while, they reached the store of Sidi Muhsin, a young merchant. Sidi Muhsin was still a bachelor. On seeing him, Delilah had an idea. She asked Khatun to wait in front of the store and went in.
“That beautiful girl you see standing there is my daughter,” Delilah told the young merchant. “I want to marry her off to a nice young man like you. Her father was a merchant, and he earned a good lot. You will lack nothing. I shall give you enough dowry to open two more shops like this.”
Sidi Muhsin was beside himself with joy. He said, “When shall we have the confirmation?”
“Right now, if you come with me,” Delilah said. Sidi Muhsin took a bag of thousand dinars for any emergency and started.
As Delilah proceeded further, she came to the workshop of Haj Muhammed, the dyer. Leaving the two young people standing at the entrance, Delilah went in.
“Sir,” she said to the dyer. “The boy and girl you see standing there are my son and daughter. Our house is so old that it threatens to collapse any minute. So we started repairing it. We want to shift to another house for four days. Can you suggest to me any house?”
The dyer thought for a while and said, “The upstairs portion of my house is quite unoccupied. I live downstairs, alone. I keep upstairs for the indigo merchants who bring dyes to me in the season. You can occupy it till your house is repaired.”
He gave her a bunch of keys. Delilah thanked the dyer and came out. She proceeded to the dyer’s house, Khatun and the merchant following her. She signed to the young merchant to stay below, moved upstairs with the girl, and said, “My child, the wise man resides below. I shall tell him about you and come back. Meanwhile, you may remove all your ornaments. It is not right that you go to the wise man with all this gold.”
When Delilah came down, Sidi Muhsin asked, “Let us proceed to confirm the marriage.”
Delilah began to weep, saying, “What am I to do now? Some evil-minded people have put the notion into my daughter’s head that you have white spots and ringworm on her body. She believes that nonsense and flatly refuses to marry you. Remove your shirt and give it to me with your bag; I shall keep them safe upstairs and send my daughter down to look at your chest and back.”
The young merchant accordingly removed his shirt and handed it over to the older woman along with his bag of dinars. Delilah again went upstairs and told Khatun, “Lucky girl! The wise man is waiting to see you. Go down; I shall lock up your ornaments and follow you.”
Khatun went down and entered. The rooms are below. A minute later, the older woman took the bag of dinars and the bundle of ornaments and went away.
Khatun did not find any wise man below. She saw a man without a shirt who told her, “Look, there is not the ghost of a spot on my body!” Khatun went upstairs frightened and bolted herself in. There was no trace of the Sufi beggar or her precious ornaments.
Meanwhile, Delilah deposited her loot in a particular shop known to her and went to the dyer. She said to him, “Sir, I thank you for the loan of your fine mansion. My children are starving. I request you to accept a dinar from me and take some bread and eatables to my children. They will be glad if you keep them company at lunch. In the meantime, I shall shift my things from my house.”
The dyer agreed to this. He put his assistant in charge of the shop and went away. Delilah, too went away and returned with the loot. She told the shop assistant, “My dear man, your master is at the bread shop. He wants you to go to him at once. I shall look after the shop till you return.”
The assistant had hardly left when Delilah began to collect all portable and movable things and set them in a pile. This done, she called a boy passing on the road with a donkey and told him, “Do you know the shop owner? Well, he is my son. Creditors got him arrested. These things belong to the customers, and I must return them at once. Will you be kind enough to lend me your donkey for a dinar? While I am away, you can smash up the whole place so the creditors will get nothing.”
The boy readily agreed. The smashing-up part of the bargain appealed to him greatly.
Now Delilah’s work was done. She went home with the dyer’s things on the donkey.
“What have you achieved, mother?” Zenab asked her.
“Well, I’ve fooled four persons. These are the ornaments of the wife of the chief of guards. Here are the shirt and money bag of a merchant. On the donkey, you see the property of a dyer, and the donkey itself belongs to the fourth person,” Delilah told her daughter.
“O Mother, you are so clever. But you cannot go out into the street now. All of them will be looking for you,” Zenab said.
“Don’t be silly, my precious daughter. This is only the beginning,” Delilah said.
While the dyer was purchasing bread, his assistant arrived and asked why he was sent for it. The dyer got suspicious and returned to his shop with his assistant, only to see the donkey-boy smashing up the whole shop.
“What are you doing, scoundrel?” the dyer shouted.
“Thank God that the creditors let you off. I am smashing up everything. Your mother told me to do it,” the boy said.
“What nonsense are you talking about? My mother died a long time ago. Where is that old hag?” the dyer demanded.
“Where is my donkey then?” wailed the boy.
It was a long time before they understood each other. Meanwhile, a vast crowd gathered to see the fun. Finally, all of them went to the dyer’s house.
They saw Muhsin without his shirt, and the dyer asked him, ‘Where is your mother?”
“My mother died long ago,” said the merchant. The older woman promised to marry her daughter to me. They are both upstairs.”
The dyer went upstairs and knocked. Khatun opened the door. “Where is your mother?” he asked her. “My mother died a long time back,” the girl said.
Only after the four victims compared their notes could they find out how the same older woman duped them. Having sent Khatun to her house, the other three went to see Khalid, the city’s protector.
Having listened to their extraordinary tale, Khalid said, “I am sorry for you, good people. But it is not easy for me to find one older woman in Baghdad. But, if you get hold of her, I promise to make her confess and punish her.”
Satisfied with this promise, the three victims searched for the crafty older woman.