Mother and Daughter | Part 3

“I do not know what you are asking me about,” Delilah said when Khalid questioned her. “I’ve never committed a single theft in my entire life.”

It was already getting dark. There was no chance of trying Delilah that day. She was charged with many offences, and there were many witnesses to give evidence against her, and Delilah promised to provide a good fight before confessing her guilt. So Khalid wanted to keep her in custody for the night and try her the next day. But the gaoler refused to be responsible for her safe control. “I don’t want to take upon myself the responsibility of producing her tomorrow morning,” he said.

“That is true enough,” said Khalid. “It is better that all of you keep watch over her tonight in an open place.” He mounted his horse and started, and the five complainants followed him dragging Delilah with them. When they arrived outside the city gates, they planted a post in the open meadow, tied her up to the bar and began to keep watch over her. Khalid rode back into the city.

All five victims sat around Delilah for a long time and cursed her to their heart’s content. But as soon as they had their supper, they began to feel drowsy. Poor chaps, they had had no sleep for three nights running. Sometime after midnight, two persons met outside the city gates. One of them was leaving the city while the other one was arriving. They stopped and began to chat. Delilah could follow what passed between them.

“What is the most enjoyable thing that Baghdad has to offer to a stranger?” the one who was coming asked.

“Honey cakes with cream!” the other replied. “I’ve enjoyed them all the three days I’ve been here. Even if you ate them for years, you’d still want to eat them.”

“Good!” said the first one. “I shall spend any amount on these honey cakes and eat them as long as I remain in Baghdad.” Then they bade one another goodbye. The one going went away, and the one approaching the spot where Delilah was.

Delilah, who had heard the entire conversation, thought up a scheme. If the plan worked, she could still escape. After all, the one coming was a stranger, and he knew nothing about her. She began to wail, “No, no! I won’t eat them; I won’t.”

The stranger was surprised to hear these words. He approached her and asked her, Well, woman, who are you? Why are you tied up with the post? What is it that you won’t eat?”

“Why do you want to hear my tale of woe, my son ?” Delilah replied. “My husband has earned lakhs and lakhs by selling honey cakes smeared with cream. I loved to eat them in the beginning. But after some time, I began feeling an aversion to them strongly. Two days back, a family of rich people came to our shop and ordered honey cakes. My husband insisted that I should sit with them and eat the cakes. But the moment I placed a bit in my mouth, I got retching. The customers got suspicious about the cakes and went away without eating or paying for them. Was it not unwise on the part of my husband to insist that I should eat honey cakes, knowing that I hated them? Still, my husband lodged a complaint in court that I ruined his business. I was ordered to be kept under arrest until I ate honeycakes. They will bring honey cakes in the morning and order me to eat them. Until I eat them, I will not be given any other food. They have been starving me since yesterday!”

“Alas, granny!” said the stranger. “What a shame! How I wish I were in your place!”

“It’s easy, son!” said Delilah. “Untie me, take my place and cover your face. They will feed you honey cakes in the morning, as many as you want !”

The stranger thought it was a fine idea. He untied Delilah, and she tied him up in her place. She covered his face, took his horse, and rode into the city.

The five victims awoke in the morning and started to abuse Delilah again. But the man tied to the post asked them, “Why don’t they bring me the honey cakes?” They uncovered his face and discovered that the old witch had fooled them again.

Presently Khalid arrived and learnt what had happened. He realised that it was beyond him to deal with the cunning woman. So he went to the Khalifa with the five victims.

The Khalifa, having listened to the grievance of each individual, promised to make good the loss sustained by them. But the culprit was at large. He charged Khalid and Mustafa with the duty of catching the culprit. Khalid submitted to Khalifa that he was incapable of seeing the woman. “Then show me someone, who can,” the Khalifa said.

“Who is more fit for such a task than the newly appointed Chief of Police, Ahmad?” Khalid replied. “Since his taking office, he doesn’t seem to have caught even a single thief. If he misses her, his great reputation will blow terribly.”

Khalifa sent for Ahmad, told him the story of Delilah’s escapades and ordered him to catch her. At once, Ahmad marched out of the court at the head of his forty police officers. The chief of the police was one hunchback called Ali. Ali the Hunchback said to Ahmad, “Sir, I think we should take the help of Hassan in this affair.”

“You miserable Hunchback,” Ahmad shouted loud enough for Hassan to hear, “do we require anybody’s help to catch an old hag? If you say such a thing again, I shall beat you to a pulp!”

Hassan was already hurt be- cause Khalifa had selected Ahmad for the job of catching the older woman. He was much more hurt by what Ahmad said now. “All right, my brave hero,” he said to himself, “You will yet come to me begging for my help.”

Ahmad stood his forty men in ranks on the grounds outside the palace and lectured them thus: “My brave men! I shall divide you into four batches. Let each batch scour each quarter of the city till tomorrow noon. Then come to the serai in Mustafa street and report to me. You shall have further instructions from me there.”

The four batches departed in four different directions, and Ahmad left to make inquiries on his own.

Delilah was not worried when she heard that the Khalifa engaged Ahmad to catch her. She told her daughter, “My child, the only one who can catch me is Hassan. We are lucky that Khalifa did not engage him. As for poor Ahmad, even you can fool him.”

“Shall I go and fool them, mother?” Zenab asked Delilah.

“Go, my love!” Delilah said. Zenab made herself extremely attractive, wore a transparent silk veil, and proceeded to the serai on Mustafa street. The serai was run by one Haj Karim. Zenab bowed twice before Haj Karim and said, “I’m thinking of entertaining some friends. They would not like to mix with your other customers. I shall pay you five dinars to use your big hall for a day.”

Haj Karim noticed the girl’s beauty and was so pleased that he was prepared to give the hall free, provided the guests ordered his wine in large quantities.

“Have no fears on that account,” Zenab told him. “My friends drink like a fish.”

Next, Zenab brought several carpets, pillows, tables, plates and other stuff from her house and arranged them nicely in the hall. She ordered food and drinks and stood outside the serai, awaiting her guests.

Soon, Ali, the Hunchback, arrived there with his nine men. Zenab saluted and asked him, “Are you not Ahmad, the chief of police?” Ali smiled and replied, “No, I’m Ali the Hunchback.”

“In that case, I request you to come in and be my guests,” Zenab said to him. They followed her into the hall. They sat around the cask of wine and proceeded to drink. Zenab had already mixed so much bhang in the wine that they were soon unconscious. She dragged them out by their feet into the backyard, piled them up against a wall, covered them with a cloth, cleaned up the hall, and took her position outside the serai gate.

Soon another batch of ten arrived. She also extended her invitation to them, got them drunk, made them unconscious, piled them up against the wall, and covered them with a cloth. She went on doing this until all the forty men were disposed of.

Finally, Ahmad himself arrived on his horse. He saw Zenab and asked her, “Have you seen any policemen, my girl?”

“Are you Ahmad, the chief of police? If you are, your men wanted me to tell you that they saw an older woman at the end of the street and that they had gone for her. While they bring her, I request you to be my guest and accept my hospitality.”

Ahmad was in high spirits. Soon, he sat down to drink and was as active as a log of wood. Zenab stripped him of all his outer garments and ornaments. She denied all the others too similarly. Then she placed all the dresses on Ahmad’s horse and straightway returned home.

Ahmad and his men slept through two days and two nights. They woke up only on the third morning. At first, they could not recollect where they were. As they regained memory, they understood the indignity perpetrated upon them. Ahmad did not know how they could only venture out into the street in their underwear. But they had no other go. Prepared for the worst, Ahmad ventured out into the road, and his forty men followed him. They were a strange sight to the people.

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