Mother and Daughter | Part 5
That evening the merchant who owned the house returned home with his servant and was surprised to see the door unlocked. However, he found that the house was not robbed.
The servant went to the well and dropped the bucket to draw water for his master’s bath. But when he pulled on the rope, the bucket seemed so heavy that he screamed, “Ghost!” and ran inside the house, leaving the bucket in the well. The merchant went to the well with a lamp and saw “Quicksilver” coming out of the well with the help of the rope.
“Scoundrel!” shouted the merchant. “Who are you? What are you doing in my well? Answer me, or I shall turn you over to the guards!”
“Sir,” Ali replied gently, “what country is this? Which town? I belong to Egypt. While bathing in the Nile, I was sucked into a whirlpool. I do not know how deep I sank, but I found myself in your well when I came to the surface again!”
This took in the merchant. “It’s most amazing!” he exclaimed. My friend, you are in Baghdad. You’ve come a long way, let me tell you. I shall give you warm clothes for the night. You can eat and rest in my house tonight and be on your way home in the morning.”
Ahmad was greatly relieved to see “Quicksilver” again. Worried about the mysterious absence of his disciple, he had not eaten the previous night, nor did he have a wink of sleep. Early in the morning, he called Hasan and sought his advice. “Quicksilver” returned while they were still talking.
He told them both about his experience. In the end, Hasan smiled and remarked, “There’s only one young lady in the entire city of Baghdad who is capable of playing such a trick. It’s Zenab, the daughter of Delilah, who runs the pigeon post. What do you propose to do to her?” he asked Ali.
“Marry her!” Ali replied. “After what she has done to you?” Hasan asked in surprise. “I can pardon her even if she did more than this,” Ali replied. “I’ve nothing more to desire in this world if I can make her my wife.”
“Such a desire must be gratified,” Hasan said. “You are also an attractive fellow. You’ll be a well-matched couple.”
“Help the boy, Hasan,” Ahmad put in.
Hasan elaborated to “Quicksilver” Ali a plan of action.
Ali blackened his entire body like a negro, put on a negro costume, took a certain quantity of bhang and some money, and went to the vegetable market. He sought Delilah’s cook and said to him, “Brother, I am a stranger to this city. The moment I saw you, I felt you were my brother. Let us go to a drinking place and drink to our friendship.”
“I can’t spare a moment,” replied Delilah’s cook. “Why don’t you come to our house? You can have plenty to drink and plenty to eat.”
That was really what “Quicksilver” desired most. He ac- companied the negro to Delilah’s house and entered the kitchen. At that moment, Delilah and Zenab came to have their meal. The cook got ready the dishes and drinks, which he took one by one to the mother and daughter, as well as the negro enslaved people. The moment the cook went out of the kitchen, “Quicksilver” added bhang to the drinks and dishes.
Soon his work was accomplished, and Delilah, Zenab, the forty negro slaves, the negro cook, and even the forty hounds were under the powerful influence of the bhang.
“Quicksilver” had no one to stop him from roaming the house. He took the official dress of Delilah, her golden cap, and the red uniforms of the forty enslaved people and made a bundle of them. He put all the carrier pigeons in a cage. Then he wrote on a placard, “This is the work of the brave ‘Quicksilver’ Ali and none else,” and returned to Ahmad’s house with the bundle and the cage.
It was getting dark when Delilah came to. She saw the message left by “Quicksilver”. On thoroughly searching the house, she realised that he made away only with things about the Khalifa.
Delilah pondered well over what had happened. If this incident were to light, her prestige and position would be significantly undermined. There was no use in taking “Quicksilver” to task, for Ahmad was behind the whole affair. The best course for her was to humble herself before Ahmad and get back the stolen property. Ahmad need not bear her a grudge any longer. Delilah pulled Ahmad’s leg by setting her daughter to fool “Quicksilver”, and Ahmad retaliated by tricking her through the same youth. They were now quiet. Delilah told her daughter, “I shall be back soon,” and went to see Ahmad.
By the time she arrived at Ahmad’s house, Ahmad, Hasan, “Quicksilver”, and the rest were dining. Ahmad and Hasan rose on seeing her, bowed to her respectfully, and invited her to sit with them and eat.
Delilah saw that what they were eating was a pigeon, and her head reeled. “It’s not proper on Ahmad’s part,” she said with a trembling voice, “to steal Khalifa’s pet pigeons and eat them because he bears a grudge against me. Even a thief should have some principles.”
“We wouldn’t have eaten them if we had known that they were carrier pigeons,” said “Quicksilver”, and everyone burst out laughing.
“Your pigeons are quite safe,” said Hasan soothingly. “The entire property of the Khalifa is intact. You need not worry about that account. This young fellow here wants a small favour from you. Say yes, and everything will be restored to you.”
“What does he want?” Delilah asked. “You know that I’m a helpless old woman.”
“This is quite within your capacity,” Hasan said. “Ali wants to marry your daughter, Zenab.”
“Ah, my good friends,” Delilah said, relieved. “You shouldn’t have put me in trouble if that is what he wants. I’ve no say in this matter. My elder brother Zuraik is her guardian until Zenab comes of age. It is he that should give consent for the marriage. You know what a hard-boiled type of person he is. Let Ali solicit his consent.”
“Quicksilver,” said he would see Zuraik, obtain permission, and marry Zenab. Delilah took her things and departed.
Delilah’s elder brother, Zuraik, was at one time a renowned thief. In his time, he was never once caught, tried or punished. He could carry out a robbery any- where without moving an inch. He was now too old for thefts. So he opened a fried fish shop and was carrying on a business. Though old, he was still a tough person to tackle.
Zuraik had hit upon a scheme to attract customers. He hung up a bag containing a thousand dinars at his shop’s entrance and proclaimed publicly that those who could take the bag could keep it. Customers came to the shop in thousands and bought fried fish. In the hope of lifting the load. But no one ever succeeded in actually taking it. At the slightest touch of the purse, several bells and rattles made a frightful noise, and Zuraik could always prevent theft, even if he were in the farthest corner of the shop. He used to do this by hitting the thief with lead weights, which he had an ample supply of. Several persons got broken limbs because of those lead weights.
“Quicksilver” visited Zuraik, told him that he was so and so, that he was staying with Ahmad, the Chief of Police, that he wanted to marry Zenab, and that he wished Zuraik’s consent for the same. But Zuraik flatly refused his consent to the marriage; he said Ali was not good enough for his niece, Zenab.
So “Quicksilver” decided to get the old man’s consent by taking the bag that contained the thousand dinars. To achieve this, he disguised himself as a pregnant lady and went to Zuraik’s shop. While bargaining, he pretended labour pains so convincingly that Zuraik ran in to call his wife. At once, Quicksilver reached out for the bag, and the shop was filled with the noise of bells and rattles. Zuraik rushed into the shop, took a lead weight, and threw it at Ali, who was running away. The weight hit Ali very hard, and he fell into the street. Later he got up with a great effort and limped home.
The customers who watched this scene took Zuraik to task, saying, “What a beast you are! You attract innocent persons with your foul gold, and then you throw a lump of lead at a pregnant woman!”
Zuraik did not care for such talk. “I know what I’m doing,” he said.
“Quicksilver” was hardly recovered from the blow when he again started for Zuraik’s shop. He was prepared even to die to gain Zenab’s hand.
This time he disguised himself as a servant, took a bag and went to the shop. “I want some hot fried fish,” he said.
“If you want them hot,” Zuraik said, “wait till I make the fire.” Then he went into the back of the shop. At once, Ali seized the bag, and the bells and the rattles went off.
Zuraik shouted, “Do you think I didn’t recognise you, you blackguard?” He picked up a lead weight and threw it at Ali. But Ali ducked, and the importance struck a pot of curd on the head of the servant of a kadi passing in the street. The kadi walking behind his servant was splashed with curd all over his face and beard.
“Ah, the kadi will pay you with interest for your sinful money now!” the customers told Zuraik.