Chapter 10, “The Zar Tale”

I just found this chapter in my computer file.  I forgot all about it but decided to float it here.  This chapter is for Margie.

CHAPTER 10

Berber Women from the time when Ali was mortal

The picture above is actually of Berber, not Turkish women and dress.  The striped overcoat  is the clan pattern.

Berber women are the only Muslims who are not veiled.  The men are.

 

Lady Nyo

The village was quiet after the visit of the mullahs.  The presence of Ali in the life of Shakira at first caused a lot of interest, but their Sheikha was obviously  happy no one could really begrudge her this for her troubles.  Although Ali came and went at will, he was there very little as far as people could see, for he seemed to travel a lot, and Shakira was not complaining.  It was general knowledge they were to be married in the coming month and the presence of Ali amongst them, when he was there, was taken in stride.  He was a handsome addition to their village, and the times he appeared, he would smoke the hookah with the village men.  He stood out by his height, his dark blue turban and the gold earrings in his ears.  Unusual for their village, but then again, it was privately said Ali was a Berber far from home.

Any plans for future zar rituals were on hold.  The women could wait for they were schooled by life in patience.   They had their Sheikha back, none the worse for her trials.

The men? Well they were smart enough to hold their tongues.  They met in the evening to smoke the hookah and talk over the issues of the day.  They knew  it could have gone a lot worse for them at home.

The important peace had been restored.  They didn’t live in fear of bad meals and a back turned to them in the marriage bed.

As for the mullahs, it was such a tragedy what happened, Allah Protect!  An investigation by the police had shown the car plunged off a cliff high in the mountains.  It was strange they were on that road, because it led deeper into the mountain and not back to Ankara.

No one seemed to know who the driver was or where he came from.  He wasn’t a local man, and a number of men remembered seeing his dark blue turban.  Perhaps he was from Ankara.  In any case, all were burned up in the wreck at the bottom of the cliff, the car just a twisted, burned out hulk of metal.  The smell of burnt kabobs hung over the area.  Ah Allah! Such misfortune!  And then the honorable Mullah Kaleel died in his bed, and our mayor had a stroke and was recovering his senses slowly. So many twists and turns.

Life returned to the usual routine. Shakira was happy and roses bloomed  in her cheeks as well  on the walls of her small courtyard.    She fed her two goats and sang songs each morning to them.  When asked why she was so happy, she would giggle like a young girl, and say that her goats gave more milk with music.  But soon word was out that Ali and Shakira were to be married in his village way across the mountains.  They would leave for a week and return.  Ah! This was not the way custom was done in this isolated village, but there were other things to be considered.  Sharika Sheikha was a middle aged woman, with no close relatives except the kinship through Leila’s family, and it was, after all, the 20th century.  City ways were creeping up to the mountains.  Perhaps this was the current, modern fashion with marriages? Perhaps this was the way things were done in the cities.  Who could account for today’s changes?

Mail and newspapers came more regularly, now every month over rough roads of the mountain,  and the telephone line running to the mayor’s house was in working order.  True,  some weeks there were no outside communication, but the line would start working again by magic, and news would flow into the village.  The women were better than the newspapers, for they were natural gossips.  They could take a story and make it much more interesting than the writers from the big cities.  And the men understood the words!

Ali was amongst them early one evening when the men gathered outside the baker’s shop, again sharing the hookah. He was sitting and enjoying the mixture of babble and smoke that rose up like spirits above.  His eyes were half closed, more in thought than because of the blue smoke that circled his head.

There was a lot more energy needed to be a mortal than a Zar, he thought.   That woman was insatiable.  Now she would grab his hand and lead him to the bed, and she would stay there, with demands and little shame for a woman!  On top of that, she was feeding him too well, and he was getting heavier.  Shakira told him he needed the weight, but he thought she just was in love.  Ah! Women acted differently in love. This was something he had forgotten over the past thousand years.  He also was adjusting to a digestion of rich foods he had not tasted before.  The diet of his Berber clan was simpler, and here was Shakira making flaky walnut and honey pastries and stuffing dates with sugared almonds and tempting him with candied ginger and orange and lemon peel.  Then, too, were the wheat salads with golden raisins and garlic and herbs from her garden.  And he was eating too much meat.  This goat and lamb was not stringy, as he remembered in the desert, but stuffed with lard and fat and served with stewed apples and apricots and more delightful than even her sweetbreads.  Ah, he was going to get fat and slow!  But he had a thousand years of nothing on his stomach, and Shakira was going to kill him early with all these rich dishes!  Or, he supposed, her demands in bed.  One or the other was going to shorten his life.

So, the smoke and silence this evening was a restful time for Ali.

But it wouldn’t last long.  The murmur of the men made him open his eyes and there walking towards them was Emir and Hasan.  Ah! Two old  Zar friends now as flesh and blood…. thanks to mullah kabobs… as he.

Hasan wore the indigo blue turban. There was a kinship between them, and if nothing but their hooked noses and the colors of their robes and turbans showed this, well it was enough.  Emir was Persian, and his robes were white and black.  Ali stood and embraced both men, and kissed each on both cheeks as was the custom.  He introduced Hasan as a kinsman from a village in the mountains and Emir as an old friend.  How old, Ali didn’t reveal, but they had been Zars together for many centuries.  Ali called for more of the strong Turkish coffee and the baker came out with the tiny cups and the long ladled copper coffee pots.  The village men, as all in this region, prided themselves on their hospitality, and welcomed the two strangers with generosity.  Besides, they might bring gossip or news and that was better than reading weeks- old newspapers that dealt with city issues and rarely those from the mountains.

Hasan and Emir were passed the piping of the hookah, and they filled their lungs with the sweet scent of dried apple tobacco.  After a while, Ali mentioned that Emir was a poet, and a wonderfully inventive one at that!  Emir beamed with pride and delight and looked at Ali, a broad smile wreathing his sun darkened face.

“Ah!  My Brother Ali here is a fine poet in his own right!  I can not hold a candle with my poor verse next to him!  I have heard Brother Ali expound at length and his verse is prodigious!  The angels in heaven get dizzy with the beauty of his lyrics. They spiral almost to the ground and Allah sucks them back up with his breath!  Ah! The Great Rumi would have treasured the verse of Brother Ali here had he but heard it!”

Ali had to laugh to himself.  Emir knew well Ali had been a student of the great Rumi almost a thousand years ago.  It was not in his mortal flesh he sat as Rumi’s student,  but a time when he was condemned as a Zar, and without purpose or a woman to possess.

When Ali was a young Berber chieftain, and still with mortal connections to the earth, he was taken by the beauty of verse and was on his way of becoming a very good Berber poet.  This was unusual for his region, for the women of the tribes were known to be the poets and the literate ones.  But Ali was a favorite amongst the women, and they loved to have him around as a young man, before he was of age where he would not be welcome company with the women.  He heard the verses the women chanted while washing at the rivers, and learned how they took from the beauty of nature and the joys and sadness of their lives and wove them into carpets of verse.  The knots and threads of these beautiful verse-carpets were full of color and the softness of the yarn of dreams, not sheep wool.

He learned to stroke the phrases, to raise up the lushness of the Berber language.   When he was older, he would sit on his horse in the desert and roam the dunes until he lost himself in lyrics and sand.  His horse knew the way home, and Ali could compose his  poetry away from the chatter of wives and children, and growls of camels, the bleating of goats  and the general noise of the camp.

Ah! Ali had a hunting hawk, as had most of the Berber men, and he would put his beautiful girl on the leather pad at his wrist, gently pull off  the hood and launch her into the desert sky.  She would wheel and soar high and turn into the sun, and Ali would lose sight of her.  But before he did, he would compose verses in praise of his bird.  Her wings, her grace, her sharp eyes that saw from high on the wind.  She would fold her wings and plunge like a daytime falling star, stretching out her claws, and make short work of the life of desert rats.

She was fast as the sandstorms that carried the wind up to the foot of the mountains, and a fierce as any warrior on his steed.  Her coat shown with a million colors, like a piece of  bronze mirror, or like pearls glistening fresh from the sea.

Ali could never stop his praises of his hawks.  They lifted him into the wilds of their heaven and left his human travail behind.  Ah, his birds made his soul soar!

Ali was as proud of his hawks as he was of his poetry. His father and most of his kinsmen would sew shut their bird’s eyes shut and release the strong thread before they launched them. But Ali saw many hawks blinded this way, and what is the use of a blind hunting hawk?  So he patiently molded hoods of new lambskin, sewed and decorated them with dyed feathers for his hawks.

Hasan’s voice cut into his thoughts, and Ali shook his head to clear it.  He hadn’t thought about the hawks in many years, centuries actually.  Now, with his feet again mortal, he could capture and train young tercels and hunt again like his ancestors.  His thoughts brought tears to his eyes, and opening them, saw the compassionate glazes of both Hasan and Emir.  They had suffered as much as Ali, and now, thanks to the good mullahs, they had their chances at life again.

“Give us a verse, Brother Ali!” said Emir, with a broad smile.

The men of the village perked up with his words, for there was nothing that men loved more than the soft, lulling words of a poet.

Unless it was the softly moving hands of a woman.

The men had hard lives in the mountains, tilling the stony earth for their grain crops, but they made time for any poet.  It was music to their ears without instrumentation.  It was the fine music of human voice and colorful words.  It gave a precious beauty to their routine lives.

Ali shook his head, and said for Emir to give them a poem, but Emir insisted Ali give them a verse of his own making.

“Ah! You ask the impossible, my dear brother.  It has been long since I thought of any verse. Life had glued shut those pages of inspiration.”  Ali smiled to himself and took up one of the mouthpieces of the hookah, blowing out a long plume of smoke that smelled of apple.

“If marriage next month to the Sheilkha Shakira doesn’t open those pages, my friend, then all the poets of Persia have lived for naught!”

This from one of the men in the village brought out laughter.  They were all curious how this stranger had been able to attract the affections of their desirable Sheikha. But their eyes, even the eyes of men, could tell that he was handsome enough to attract a woman’s  eyes.

Better he marry the Sheikha now.  The women would have no claim on him then.

Ali stared at Emir through half opened eyes.  They spoke volumes, were masked by the heavy smoke he expelled from his lungs.  Ah, brother Emir would push him, but perhaps he could think of something.  Surely the men would want a love sonnet or a verse of the beauty of mortal life.  Make that Paradise, for these men were jaded by their mortality.  It was new to Ali, Emir and Hasan, and precious and confounding to them daily.  After being a zar for centuries, feet on the earth were heavy but strangely comforting.

“All the carpets of Persia can not match the softness of her hands

The roses of the Sultan’s garden have not the bloom of her cheeks

The trees blowing a gentle wind have not the sway of her delicate gait

And my heart travels with speed to lie at her feet.

Ah! She steps on my heart, invisible beneath her flowery foot,

And trods upon my senses, scrambling them like eggs for the breakfast.”

At this last line, the men guffawed loudly.  Even they, in their isolated mountain village could discern good verse from bad, and Ali was having his fun with them.

“I warned you I had nothing to say,” he said with a bemused look on his face.

“Ah Friend Ali!” said one of the men loudly.  “If you think you have nothing to say now, marriage will shut up your mouth completely.”

The others laughed at this comment, for the truth of the matter was so.  Marriage changed both men and women.  It made the women more quarrelsome and the men more silent and fearful of the wrath of the women.  Ah! Men could not win in this battle.

Ali had been married, with a number of wives.  His eyes glazed over as he blew out more smoke from the hookah.  The first one was Lela, when he was 20 years old.  She was 15, and so shy, she wouldn’t look him in the eyes for two months after the wedding.  She cried most of the first month.  Ali was aware she missed her family, but a marriage is a marriage and it must be endured.  He would take his horse and his hawk and ride out and hunt.  Only when Lela had her first child, luckily for her a boy, did she perk up.  She became right bossy, too.  The older men would laugh when Ali made a hasty retreat from their tent, usually followed with a string of invective from his young wife.  Ah! This was not a good situation, and his father decided that Ali had suffered enough and prepared to give him another wife. Sela was a cousin of Lela and at first, she was as shy as Lela.  But she soon overcame that and became a favorite wife of Ali.  There were two more, but one died in childbirth.  All toll, Ali had four sons and four daughters. Sela was killed in the arms of Ali, when  Ali was murdered making love to her.  Their second child died with them, for Sela was very pregnant.

“Ah, my wife will be angry if I don’t return home soon.”

The words of one of the men cut into Ali’s thoughts.   The sun was setting, and the sky was red from its fading luster.

“Soon, my friend”, answered another, putting his hand on the shoulder of Ali in a compassionate gesture,   “you will be yoked like the oxen in the fields to our Sharkira and you too will watch the hours like the rest of us, knowing that they are linked to the tempers of women.  Ah Allah! You had many wives, but we have just one each, and our lives are made miserable still!”

The laughter went around the benches where they sat in the fading sunlight.  Men all over had the same issues, and now that Ali and the others were mortal again, they faced their own temperamental women.  Perhaps it was easier before as Zars, for they could just float out of earshot of women and gather in the forests in the mountains to share the hookah with other Zars.  But the good outweighed the bad, for the cooking of the women went a long way to filling appetites that had been lost for centuries.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Chapter 10 of “The Zar Tale”

Copyrighted, 2007, 2009

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6 Responses to “Chapter 10, “The Zar Tale””

  1. Malcolm Says:

    Another beautiful story, and as ever your blog is compulsory daily reading for me.

    Like

  2. Malcolm Says:

    Halloween as you describe it, even its debased form, has never been a custom in Australia, though there are children, much affected by American television and comic strips, who like the idea and try to do the ‘trick or treat’ thing. There are a few adults who have ‘Haloween parties’, but they are an eccentric minority. We usually follow British customs, with lately a leavening of European and Asian ones. It’s a good feeling to be part of the larger world, in what was once a very isolated and insular society…

    Like

  3. Margie Says:

    I quite like this chapter and look forward to reading the complete book. I can’t put my finger on why I like this Middle Eastern culture so much, but I do – the description of the food, the relationship of the men to the women, just fascinates me and you paint a very thorough picture with your words. Thanks for posting this!

    Like

  4. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Malcolm.

    It’s just a chapter….one that I wasn’t going to include because I finished “The Zar Tale” with nine chapters…but this goes into “Book II” and I have two long chapters done in it.

    I realized after I posted it…damn! that the changes I made didn’t take for some reason so I have gone back into the original ms and made the proper and necessary changes…but I’m pooped today and will let what is on the blog fly.

    For some reason, this new book (The Zar Tales) is more of a problem than the first book…well, part of the reason is I am more careful with this book, and the theme is so constricted. Everything relates to the Zar issue and that’s become no fun.

    I was already working on “White Cranes of Heaven” but this one needs a lot of work in the formatting apparently.

    Blessed Bill Penrose there….I couldn’t manage it myself, but I am getting better.

    Thanks for reading the blog, Malcolm….and Happy Halloween!!! You Aussies do celebrate this holiday???

    Lady Nyo

    Like

  5. ladynyo Says:

    You are very welcome, Margie.

    Of course, we are dealing with mythological creatures here with the Zars…..I don’t know that human men would have such a reaction.

    Probably not. But with words we can create a whole world at our making and we can rearrange relationships around the way we please….or the way it pleases us.

    The food! It’s wonderful food, and tasty. I don’t know much of the ingredients…..I do make a mean Moroccan Lentil Soup…but cardamon and rose water seems to make it different. Very new to our tongues.

    I thought that “The Zar Tale” was finished…with nine chapters…it was to be a short, very short…novella…then I found these two long chapters…and thought….why the hell not? They form the beginning of “Book II” of “The Zar Tale” and I thought this: I may never get back to Ali and Shakira, and leaving them married….well….that might be the best solution. Plus the two chapters are long and the book needed the bulk.

    Thank you for reading, cuz…and especially for your support and encouragement. Sometimes….you feel like you are out on a weak limb in writing.

    Like

  6. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Malcolm….

    Isolation and insularity comes in various packages. I feel it here, too. In the South, there are a lot of cultural differences and it’s sometimes alien territory.

    Amongst the gay community here, Halloween parties are a big thing. We were invited to one this night but I have no energy to go. And no costume. Boo hoo.

    I think the children just want the candy, and I think my neighbors who turn out the lights and hid under the kitchen table to avoid the little crumbcrushers….

    ….are missing a lot of life and humanity.

    It’s after 5pm here and no kids, yet. But I’m prepared.

    Like

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