Listen. Allow me to be your god. Let me take you on a journey beyond imagining. Let me tell you a story.
A long, long time ago, an emir lived in a distant land, in a beautiful city, a green city with many trees and exquisite gurgling fountains whose sound lulled the citizens to sleep at night. Now, the emir had everything, except for the one thing his heart desired, a son. He had wealth, earned and inherited. He had health and good teeth. He had status, charm, respect. His beautiful wife loved him. His clan looked up to him. He had a good pedicurist. Twenty years he had been married, twelve lovely girls, but no son. What to do?
He called his vizier. Wise vizier, he said. I need your help. My lovely wife has been unable to deliver me a son, as you know. Each of my twelve girls is more beautiful than the other. They have milk-white skin as smooth as the finest silk from China. The glistening pearls from the Arabian Gulf pale next to their eyes. The luster of their hair outshines the black dyes from the land of Sind. The oldest has seventeen poets singing her praises. My daughters have given me much pleasure, much to be proud of. Yet I yearn to see an offspring with a little penis run around my courtyard, a boy to carry my name and my honor, a future leader of our clan. I am at a loss. My wife says we should try once more, but I cannot put her through all this again for another girl. Tell me, what can I do to ensure a boy?
The vizier, for the thousandth upon thousandth time, suggested his master take a second wife. Before it is too late, my lord. It is obvious that your wife will not produce a boy. We must find someone who will. My liege is the only man within these borders who has only one wife.
The emir had rejected the suggestion countless times, and that day would be no different. He looked wistfully out onto his garden. I cannot marry another, my dear vizier. I am terribly in love with my wife. She can be ornery now and then, vain for sure, petulant and impetuous, silly at times, ill-disposed toward the help, even malicious and malevolent when angry, but still, she has always been the one for me.
Then produce a son with one of your slaves. Fatima the Egyptian would be an excellent candidate. Her hips are more than adequate; her breasts have been measured. A tremendous nominee, if I may say so myself.
But I have no wish to be with another.
Sarah offered her Egyptian slave to her husband to produce a boy. If it was good enough for our prophet, it can be good enough for us.
That night, in their bedroom, the emir and his wife discussed their problem. His wife agreed with the vizier. I know you want a son, she said, but I believe it has gone beyond your desires. The situation is dire. Our people talk. All wonder what will happen when you ascend to heaven. Who will lead our tribes? I believe some may wish to ask the question sooner.
I will kill them, the emir yelled. I will destroy them. Who dares question how I choose to live my life?
Settle down and be reasonable. You can have intercourse with Fatima until she conceives. She is pretty, available, and amenable. We can have our boy through her.
But I do not think I can.
His wife smiled as she stood. Worry not, husband. I will attend and I will do that thing you enjoy. I will call Fatima and we can inform her of what we want. We will set an appointment for Wednesday night, a full moon.
When Fatima was told of their intentions, she did not hesitate. I am always at your service, she said. However, if the emir wishes to have a son with his own wife, there is another way. In my hometown of Alexandria, I know of a woman whose powers are unmatched. She is directly descended, female line, from Ankhara herself, Cleopatras healer and keeper of the asps. If she is given a lock of my mistresss hair, she will be able to see why my mistress has not produced a boy and will give out the appropriate remedy. She never fails.
Excerpted from The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine Copyright © 2008 by Rabih Alameddine. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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