(author's note- this is an exerpt from a very long novel- 200,000 words aprx.- and was written about ten years ago, before the present situation in Syria and the Arab world generally. Some day I may find a publisher for the whole thing, but till then- enjoy.
On top of everything else she
was going to be late. She scowled at her reflection in the bus
mirror , and her reflection- dark skinned, brown eyed , hair a
short, mat black mass with a blue streak that she'd forgotten (
damn!) to wash out last night- stared back, a double frown line
appearing between her too-heavy eyebrows . The bus lurched forward
another couple of feet in the heavy morning traffic, and she hissed
her Uncle's favorite obscenity under her breath, earning her an
angry sniff from the English lady seated next to her.
Deliberately she hitched her
shoulder bag into her lap and rummaged around in one of the large
outside pockets, muttering a nursery rhyme in Arabic, hoping she
looked like a mad terrorist who had misplaced her detonator, and was
rewarded by a gasp of alarm as her neighbor struggled to her feet and
clattered down the aisle and out the (fortunately) open door.
She sighed, her momentary
amusement at the game vanishing in a wave of depression. Why was she
always doing these things? For two pence that white Cow would have
told the bus driver, or gotten hysterical and screamed . Just like
now, she berated herself , sentenced to spend the next two months
doing God knew what at this bloody hospital or whatever it was,
carrying bedpans or something like as not, all for a stupid computer
prank that had somehow gotten traced to her laptop...
Yet for all that , she mused,
suddenly, it had been an extremely elegant program, a fact that
seemed to have escaped the University authorities, her Family, and
especially the Judge, sentencing her to two months' Community
Service in a bored, weary voice, not really even looking at her, his
mind probably on his lunch , and completely unable to appreciate in
any case the symmetry , the elegant beauty of the program which
….Crap! Lispenard! She caught sight of the street sign just as the
Bus pulled away from the stop, bolted out of her seat, yanked the
cord and hammered with her free hand on the closed double doors.
There was an annoyed sounding hiss from the brakes, a jerk that
nearly toppled her , and the doors banged open briefly, almost
spitting her out onto the hot asphalt.
She wasted no breath cursing the
Bus as it lumbered away, farting , into the bright metallic stream
of morning traffic. Extracting the slip of paper she'd been given
from a damp shirt pocket she checked the street number, and
realizing she still had at least two blocks to go down Lispenard to
St Andrew's she set off at a dead run, clutching her bag with one
She noted distantly that the
glaring brightness of the busy bus route had been replaced by a
narrow, tree shaded side road, and that the few people on the
pavement moved with a stately deliberation, as though walking
underwater . There was no road traffic , and the pavement was
bordered by a high , black painted iron fence. The Hospital grounds ?
- she wondered, just as twin stone pillars and an elaborate entrance
gate announced 'Saint Andrew's Rest Home' in curlicue iron letters a
She skidded to a stop, panting,
ran a hand pointlessly through her tangled hair , and handed the
damp , crumpled slip of paper to the guard who emerged from a small
shelter to one side. He was middle aged, dark complected, with a
set, expressionless face, and a plastic name tag reading 'Watkins'
pinned over the breast pocket of his neat grey uniform. He seemed
about to tell her to move along , Miss, it was too early for the
cleaning staff to arrive or something , when a familiar voice
shouted 'Nadi!' and she peered through the bars to see her older
brother Salim approaching, looking suitably harassed and professional
in a neat white jacket with the requisite stethoscope poking out of a
side pocket. 'It's all right, Watkins, Miss Marabet has an
appointment .' he told the guard in those superior Oxford vowel
sounds she had teased him about when he first came home from
University. The guards stolid expression did not change as he
brought up a small clip board and ran a pink skinned forefinger
down it. . 'Na-di-ya Mara-bet', he intoned in a singsong Island lilt,
making no move to open the gate. ' The ap-point-ment was for nine
Her brother took a deep breath
before answering. 'I know, Watkins. Miss Marabet seems to be twenty
minutes late. ' ' She still got an ap-point-ment, then, Doc-tor?'
asked the guard dubiously. Nadia was suddenly convinced that the man
was laughing behind that expressionless exterior, probably had a good
idea what the court order on her slip of paper meant. Poor Salim had
never had much sense of humor, for all his brilliance. Before he
lost his cool , she spoke up . 'Excuse me, Mr Watkins, I apologize
for being late, but if I don't report here, they'll probably throw me
in jail, so could you just let me in, please?' her tone of voice
deferential and matter of fact. The man's sudden smile was like a
flashbulb going off in that dark face, one gold front tooth catching
'Why sure, Miss Ma-ra-bet ,' he
said , genially , reaching behind him and actuating a buzzer in kiosk
, the gate responding with a mechanical hum , swinging open a short
distance before stopping. 'You take good care , now,' he said with
the hint of a salute, handing her the paper slip. She thanked him
with a grin before slipping through the narrow gap. Security must be
tight here, she told herself. What kind of a place was St Andrew's
Salim let out his breath in an
annoyed rush. ' Come on, Nadi,' he said gesturing peremptorily with
a cupped hand. 'I'm in the middle of rounds, I'll drop you off at
Reception . I managed to talk them out of calling the Court office,'
he added self-righteously.' Couldn't you have at least tried to be on
time? It wasn't easy getting the Judge to agree to this , you know.'
Nadia fell into step behind him as he strode away, not bothering to
respond. She wondered why the Family had been so insistent that she
do her Community Service here, instead of picking up litter in the
park or something. Idiot, she told herself, nobody will see you in a
place like this. Rest Home? Asylum , more likely. Salim had been very
uncommunicative about the nature of his new appointment, except that
she gathered it was a kind of honor . She sighed inwardly. It was
probably just as well that one of the siblings had made good,
considering how she had turned out. In fact...the abrupt contact with
the back of Salim's starched white coat brought her into awareness
of her surroundings and he rounded on her , exasperated. They were
standing in front of a glazed set of double doors and a discrete sign
that announced , yes, 'Reception'.
'Nadi, look- I've got to go, Dr.
Carter is waiting. Just go check in and they'll tell you what to do.
I'll see you later when I have a break. ' He patted her shoulder with
one neatly manicured hand, and she felt a momentary pang for the
adored older brother who used to swing her up by her wrists when she
was little and pretend to be a flying carpet..
The woman in reception was tiny
and looked as though she had been dusted with powdered ice, an
effect heightened by the chill air conditioning , and the overstated
politeness of her manner. White hair blended into bleached looking
skin and a pale silk blouse completed the effect. She looked at
Nadia's slip of paper with non-existent eyebrows raised over pale
Grey eyes in what seemed an habitual expression of distaste, told her
to wait, and pressed a button from an array on her desk.
After a few uncomfortable
moments of standing in front of the desk not knowing what to do with
her hands and being completely ignored, an inner door flew open with
a protesting hiss and a large woman clad in hospital whites stood
looking down at her . ' This she?' the woman demanded in the same
kind of lilt as the guard at the gate. At the receptionist's pained
nod, she looked Nadia up and down with an irritated frown. 'What I
s'posed to do wit' she? ' the woman demanded , seemingly of the world
at large. ' I tell them, send me some wo-man can lift and carry
'It's only temporary , Bertha.'
said the Receptionist , her mouth tight. 'It's - ' she gestured to
the slip of paper on the desk as though it had been dropped by a
passing bird. Bertha craned her neck and studied it carefully.
'Com-mun-ity Ser-vice' she intoned . 'Oh Lord, come on then ,
With one plump hand she ushered
Nadia through the inner door and down a softly lit corridor. As the
office door closed with a satisfied click, Bertha stopped and
regarded her with interest.
'What you done, then, darlin''
she inquired bluntly.
looked up at the woman , seeing the intelligence behind the heavy
features , and decided to be candid. 'I wrote a computer program that
kind of messed up the University system,' she said simply,
remembering that glorious day of all grades being reversed,
acceptance letters sent out to every applicant, and elevators that
seemed to have minds of their own , so that every push of the button
was an unwanted adventure.
Bertha seemed impressed.
'Com-pu-ters! ' she murmured, then , 'Why you do that, then?'
Nadia shrugged . 'For fun. I was
Bertha sniffed. 'Well, we keep
you plenty busy here then, out of trouble , for true, yes?' Without
waiting for an answer she continued, ' What kind of name Na-di-a? Where you come from ?'
'I was born here,' Nadia
answered, beginning to get used to this odd interview. ' It's
Bertha's light blue eyes,
incongruous against her dark skin, widened somewhat theatrically.
'You one of them, so? Why you
don't wear that scarf on you head then?'
Nadia, used to the heavy handed
political correctness of her contemporaries , felt like laughing at
the naturalness of the question. ' My family is Druze,'she said ,'We
don't go in for that sort of thing.'
Bertha accepted this bit of
information with an interested nod and a grunt. ' Well, Na-dia,
let's us find you something to do, yes? Can't have you gettin' bored,
no tellin' what might happen. ' With a wave, she set off down the
corridor, Nadia almost trotting to keep up with the woman's long
strides..At the end they rounded a corner to find a sort of nurses'
station, where a younger woman with tightly curled hair of an
improbable golden yellow against her warm brown complexion was
seated at a small desk piled high with forms and clipboards.
'Serabi,', Bertha addressed her, ' This here Nadia. She be helpin'
out for a bit. Who we got need lookin' after this mornin' now?'
Serabi looked up briefly , her
eyes sharp behind gold-rimmed spectacles , then ran her forefinger
down a list on one of the clipboards. ' Well, there's that old dear
in 13 G . It's time for her outing.' Her voice was low and
cultured, with a hint of an African intonation.
Both women exchanged a wordless
glance for a moment, and Nadia sensed some kind of communication
taking place. 'Miz Goody, that would be, yes? ' Bertha said finally.
She pursed her lips , and then nodded . 'Right, then, Nadia, you just
follow along with me , now.' And with that she turned and set off
down the intersecting corridor, her soft-soled shoes whispering over
the tiled floor with each long stride. In moments they reached a
blank door with a hinged plate over a sort of observation spyhole,
and 13G engraved on the top .
Bertha turned to Nadia, her hand
drawing out a ring of keys attached to her waist by a thin chain.
' Now, this Lady get pushed in a
chair. She got the Dementia , so she talk all kind of stuff don't
make a lot of sense. You pay she no mind, yes? ' So saying she
inserted a key in the door and began to open it, Nadia watching with
a hollow feeling in her abdomen . There was something in Bertha's
manner that reminded her unpleasantly of childhood initiation
At first sight , the old woman
sitting in a chair by the window appeared to be asleep. The morning
sunlight, filtering through ivy which grew over the iron grill that
fronted the glass panes , struck shifting highlights on the mop of
frizzed hair which was all Nadia could see of her head, her face
being in shadow , chin sunk on her shawl covered chest. At Bertha's
decisive rattle as she withdrew her key, however, there was a nasal
snort and a jerking motion from under the concealing shawl , and
slowly, the woman called Miz Goody raised her head and turned to look
at them. The bright sunlight cast her face still into shadow, but
Nadia could make out under the bristling grey eyebrows two bright
points of light which- it had to be a trick of the sun through the
ivy leaves outside- appeared to be glowing green. A long bony nose,
curved like the beak of a predatory bird , was the only other
The old woman's gaze rested
first on Bertha, then dismissively moved to study Nadia and the
hollow feeling in her stomach began to fill with ice. This was so
creepy! For no reason she suddenly remembered a trip to the Zoo when
she was eight, and passing by the python's glassed cage, being
caught and held by that cold reptile stare...
.Bertha's no-nonsense voice
banished the image to its proper realm of childhood fantasy. ' Come
on, love. Time to get some fresh air in you! I got a new friend now ,
come special to be with you today. This here's Nadia, and me and
her's goin' to put you in the chair and take you for a walk!'
With the speed of long practice,
Bertha seized the collapsed wheel chair that leaned against the wall
by the door, and with a jerk opened it up and presented it invitingly
to Miz Goody. 'Take she under the arm, like this, Nadia,' she
murmured in an aside, ' We gone help she get in, now.' Wincing ,
Nadia did as she was told, obscurely relieved that the feel of the
old woman's arm was merely bony and fragile , but at the touch the
face with its predatory nose turned with a jerk to stare up at her .
Gnarled hands like bird's claws clutched the armrest , and the slit
of a mouth writhed for a moment and emitted a croaking sound that
became a voice. .
'I know thee! ' it said. '
Th'art Willow! Willow Rawnie ! Thee canna fool me, these old eyes
Bertha sighed with exaggerated
patience. 'Come now, love,' she said, as she all but hoisted the
woman with inexorable gentleness into the chair, Nadia trying to
assist as best she could. As they settled her into the wheelchair,
Bertha tucking the shawl efficiently around the thin shoulders, the
wrinkled face changed and she began to weep.
' Willow! Thee've made tha'self
young again! Thee must help ! I've forgotten the spell! I've
forgotten... all the spells! ' This last in a cracked whisper, barely
audible, as her head drooped down to rest again on her chest.
looked meaningfully at Nadia, as she skilfully turned the chair and
proceeded out the door. 'See, you just take no mind what she say.
Agree wit' she , if it keep she sweet. Doctor don' like no trouble
.' As they reached the corridor, Bertha stood aside and gestured to
the chair handles. ' Here now, you just take hold here, follow after
Nadia, feeling a desperate
nostalgia for the pedantic boredom of her University classes ,
gritted her teeth and did as she was told, fighting an insane desire
to push the wheelchair faster and faster until she came to a cliff
edge somewhere. The feeling passed, however, as they came to a door
with a glassed panel that glowed with the sunlight of outdoors, and
Bertha inserted another from her ring of keys , then held the door
open for the wheelchair to pass outside.
The warm sunlight , and the
peaceful scene of gracefully curving pavements amid immaculate lawns,
dotted here and there by other white dressed nurses wheeling their
somnolent charges about , was so reassuringly normal , that Nadia's
spirits rose in answer. Bertha patted her shoulder and gestured
vaguely over the grounds. 'See, you just take a walk now, slow like,
yes? Long about half- ten , be time for tea , over by terrace,
there,' indicating an paved expanse adjacent to the main building,
shaded by a projecting canopy. 'If she wake , jus' you answer back
whatever she say. She mind near gone, poor thing, wanderin' in da
past, like dey do, but seem like she take to you.'
'Who's this Willow-whatever ?'
Nadia asked, as Bertha put a hand on the door handle .
The big nurse shrugged ,
shaking her head. 'Some friend she use to have, mos' likely. You
lucky, for true. Folk she don't take to , she can be mighty fierce,
believe it.' And with a final enigmatic smile, she re-entered the
building, closing the door with a decisive click.
Nadia surveyed the rolling
expanse of grounds before her. Come on , this wasn't so bad, she told
herself . What a story she could make of it to the girls back in the
dorm! Taking a deep breath, she resolutely took hold of the
projecting handles and moved the chair slowly forward, wondering when
Salim had his break.
The sun was hot, and a small
cluster of trees seemed to offer shade, but turning in that direction
she spied two of the nurses, their white uniforms glowing in the
deep shadows under the trees , sitting on a bench with their patients
in their chairs alongside. Nadia was about to find another refuge,
when one of the nurses raised her head and, silently, waved a
welcoming hand to beckon her near. On either side , the men in the
wheelchairs stared blankly, evincing no real interest. The one on the
left had a large purple bruise disfiguring his eyes, and both
appeared to be drugged.
As she approached, the one who
had waved turned to her companion , her grin revealing teeth as white
as her blouse in the deep black of her face. 'For sure, look!' she
stated in a loud whisper. 'It that Obee woman. '
companion rolled her eyes . 'How you talk, girl, she said
disdainfully. 'You ain't in the jungle no more. What you sayin',
Nadia looked from one to the
other, at a loss to understand. 'Excuse me,' she said, 'I'm a little
new here. You mean this lady? What does O.B. stand for?'
At this both nurses broke down
in a fit of giggles, then the second one , lighter of skin, her hair
rust colored under her cap, answered. 'She mean 'Obe-ah'. It just a
word they use where she come from, don't pay no mind. You new, yes?'
At Nadia's brief nod, she held out a slim hand. 'I be Charlane, this
Nadia gave her first name,
shaking hands with both in turn. Cordelia seemed overcome with sudden
shyness, but her companion suffered from no such social handicap. She
put her head to one side, in frank appraisal. 'Nadia' .' she mused.
'That a pretty name . Where you come from , then, Nadia?'
Reflecting that origins must be
a constant preoccupation among these evidently recent immigrants,
Nadia said, 'Actually , I was born here. My family is from Syria,
originally. And yourself?'
The two exchanged glances,
eyebrows raised. ' Actu'ly, oim from Jamaica, ' Charlane said in a
deliberate burlesque. 'Oi believe , Cordelia, thet yew come from
Barbados?' Cordelia nodded , her teeth set in her lower lip to
conceal a smile. 'Oi must say, ' Charlane continued, obviously
relishing her new role, 'we don see many native born English here.
How is it we have da Plesur of you company, moi dear?' The assumed
upperclass accent was comical, and meant so, but Nadia sensed an
undercurrent of resentment . She decided to nip this in the bud.
'It was here or jail,' she said
with a shrug. 'They call it Community Service' .
Charlane's eyes became round and
Cordelia's mouth opened in a silent 'O' . 'C.S., for true? ' Charlane
exclaimed, dropping the satirical accent. ' What you done to get
that, then, girl?'
Further exploration of her
criminal past was postponed just then, however, as Nadia's charge
jerked her head upright, and stared at the two nurses . ' Eeeeeh! '
she wailed, her gnarled fingers fumbling uselessly at the wheel
rims 'Get away from me! Black Bitches ! '
Her voice rose to a rasping
shriek and Nadia quickly swiveled the chair away. 'Sorry, I'd
better go ,' she exclaimed hastily, over her shoulder , pushing hard
up nearest walkway.
Charlane sniffed scornfully. '
What we want wit' you, nasty old t'ing, ' she called after the old
woman. Nadia, looking back, saw the man in the wheelchair next to
Charlane was stirring vaguely at the noise, his face slack. 'Hey,
Nadia!' the nurse called, ignoring her patient, ' Take dat baggage up
da hill to da men's wing there, say hello to she Boyfren' !' At this,
both women dissolved in laughter again.
Nadia looked in the direction
indicated , patting the old woman's shoulder to try to calm her down.
' Come on now, Miz Goody' she said as firmly as she could, as the
cracked voice trailed away into hiccups. ' Let's go for a walk, OK?'
Maybe the Men's Wing would be where Salim worked, she told herself.
There might still be a chance to transfer to a nice quiet Park
picking up rubbish.
The Men's Wing, as she drew
near, appeared to be of greater age the the other buildings, the
bricks of the facade soot stained and worn. The ubiquitous iron
grills over the windows seemed a later addition, as though the place
had once had a more innocent use. . Miz Goody appeared mollified at
the change of scene, peering about as though actually expecting to
meet someone, and Nadia slowed her pace, scanning the surrounding
lawns for the tell-tale white coat.
Suddenly there was a bang from
inside the building that made her jump, and simultaneously her gaze
was drawn by a flash of motion behind a window set at ground level .
. Here the iron grill seemed set on the other side of the glass, and
clinging to it with both hands was a bronze skinned boy with the
most extraordinary golden eyes staring out and mouthing silently.
What was there about this place that kept reminding her of that
long-ago visit to the Zoo? It wasn't just the ubiquitous grills, it
was the feeling of beings in cages, forcibly separated from a world
that had no place for them. The boy- well, young man , really, had
nothing beast like about him – in fact, a face of unusual beauty-
but something about the expression in those wide set eyes reminded
her of the panther she had seen then, bounding around the perimeter
of his cage , finishing up against the bars with his nose a foot
from hers, holding her eyes with a stare of silent entreaty, she
thought, until her Grandmother had pulled her away , muttering
angrily...she was suddenly aware that Miz Goody was screaming again,
that the two nurses with their somnolent charges had approached from
behind, and somewhere a door banged open and a familiar white coated
figure was hurrying across the lawn towards her. How long had she
been standing here? The young man with the strange eyes was shaking
the stout iron grill back and forth, the muscles in his neck and
shoulders standing out like cables.
The two nurses were calling out,
'Monkey! Monkey! Come out and play, Monkey!' in shrill mockery , and
Miz Goody was screaming ,' Sheeay! My Sheeay! Ye dinna ken,, he must
go Back! He should na' be Here!'
Then Salim arrived , almost
running, his expression grim . 'Nadi- take this woman around the
back , quickly, I'll be with you in a moment . ' He put a hand on her
arm to urge her away, then turned on the suddenly sober-faced nurses.
'You two! Didn't you hear the bell for tea-time? What are you hanging
about here for? '
simultaneously ducked their heads , with a softly muttered 'Yes
Doctor,' and 'Sorry Doctor' and made haste to turn their respective
wheelchairs in the direction of the patio , where indeed a number of
other patients were gathering , each with a white-coated guardian.
Once away from the contorted
figure still clinging to the window grill, the old woman quieted
almost at once, her face growing slack , the sparsely bearded lips
muttering soundlessly, a thread of saliva seeping from one corner .
Nadia turned away, shaken and nauseous, just as Salim approached. She
saw the sun flash on the glass barrel of a syringe as he removed the
protective tip with a practiced flick, and he reached into a pocket
and handed her a small foil package.
'Here.' he said ,' his voice
suddenly gentle. 'Open this up and swab her left arm near the
shoulder, would you?' Nadia did as he asked , the sudden sharp
smell of the alcohol clearing her nose of the woman's fetid odor as
she pulled aside the shawl and loosened the neck of the stained
hospital gown. Salim fingers were impersonal and precise as he
administered the injection , nodding to her to swab down the area
once more , before she hastily threw the shawl around the bony
shoulders and backed away, unconsciously wiping her palms on the
sides of her jeans as she did so.
Salim recapped and pocketed the
empty syringe, his eyes registering the gesture . He smiled sadly.
'None of the nurses here will work with her anymore,' Salim said
apologetically. 'I suppose they thought someone new might have better
luck. What were you doing up here by the Men's wing? Didn't anyone
' They- those two you saw- said
she had a 'boyfriend' or something up here. ' Nadia was still
trembling with reaction, the worst part of which was that she
couldn't understand the cause of it. She put a hand on Salim's white
sleeve, feeling the warm, reassuring solidity of his arm underneath.
'Sali,' she asked suddenly, the childhood nickname coming unbidden,
'Who is that boy? '
Salim grimaced, sighing. ' Come
on, let's put her in the shade under these trees . She'll sleep for a
few hours now. ' As they maneuvered the chair into a secure place
beneath the spreading branches of a giant Sycamore,Salim spoke,
looking off into the distance. ' His case file says he was found
living in her house when the Services took her into care. No language
that anyone could understand, it says, and behavior so violent they
sent him here with her.'
Nadia looked back at the corner
of the building she had just left. ' Violent? ' she objected, 'he
looked to me like he just wanted to get out.'
Her brother smiled suddenly and
ruffled her hair almost as he used to when they were children. 'Hey,
Nadi, this isn't a mink farm, don't go opening cages around here.' he
chided, referring to an incident when on a school trip to just such a
place she had caused pandemonium by slipping away and setting all the
animals at liberty. 'Come here a moment, let me show you something.
Don't worry about your friend here, she'll be fine.' Nadia dismissed
the assurance with a shudder, meant to convey that she really
couldn't care less. He indicated a window low to the ground, a twin
of the one in front. ' This used to be the squash ball court back
when there was a private school here. '
Nadia, frowned. ' Squash ball?'
she repeated, uncomprehending, ' But this window...'
'Is five meters off the floor.'
Salim finished the sentence, quietly,' They dug down when it was
built , on this hill.' Faintly on the wind came a short protesting
squeal as the iron grill was shaken again around the corner. 'I'd
better try to get him down,' Salim said , grimly it seemed to her.
'Come on, you might be able to help. Everyone else is down having
tea. ' Nadia followed him to a metal side door which looked like a
service entrance, her mind busy with speculation . It was very unlike
Salim to discuss his cases. She knew he had been working summers when
he was still at University , doing volunteer work among the homeless
in the West End, and that his ambition was to qualify as a
psychiatrist , but she couldn't ever remember him mentioning specific
individuals ; she had the idea it was against medical ethics or
something.. The realization set her off on a new tangent. What was
she actually doing here? Could it be that her brother....?'
Salim unlocked the door with the
ubiquitous ring of keys, ushered Nadia in and turned right down a
dimly lit tiled corridor, their footfalls loud in a building that
seemed empty of habitation. They descended two flights of stairs
and came to a double door set with large panels of reinforced glass,
where Salim hesitated, his key in the lock. 'I've been working with
this boy whenever I have a free period,' he murmured , his dark eyes
intent . Was that a note of excitement in his voice? Nadia looked
from her brother to the enigmatic translucent panel of the door.
Faintly she could hear the rattling of the iron grill from inside. '
He's been diagnosed as Schizophrenic ,but it just doesn't add up. Too
well co-ordinated, for one thing,' Salim continued.' that also rules
out most forms of Autism. '
He's never discussed this with
anyone before, Nadia realized suddenly, struck that he spoke as
though conferring with a colleague. 'Salim!What's wrong? ' she said,
turning to him .
…' Salim began, then, decisively , 'No. I want you to see this for
yourself, and tell me what you think.' Abruptly he turned the key and
pushed one of the door panels ajar.
Nadia hesitantly peered inside,
then, at a distant rattle , looked to the left and then up to try to
pinpoint the source...up, up a sheer plastered wall, to the figure
silhouetted against the high grilled window. She gasped. 'How on
earth did he get up there? Salim, he'll fall! ' She turned in alarm,
to see her brother pull a small brightly colored packet from a side
pocket and calmly begin to open it. 'What's that? ' she squeaked in
confusion,' this is no time for …'
' A candy bar?' Salim smiled,
his teeth flashing in the half light. ' Don't worry. It's the only
way to get him down. Watch.' He whistled one clear note , and as the
shadowy figure looked over his shoulder , held the treat up as
though offering it. With no hesitation, the young man faced the
window , crouched nearer to it , then sprang away into space, turning
in mid air to rebound from the adjoining wall, repeating the maneuver
in the other direction further down, twice more until he landed on
all fours, perfectly balanced, then reached them where they stood in
two more leaps to crouch in front of Salim , his nostrils wide and
quivering. Nadia shrank back in alarm, but her brother motioned her
to stay with his free hand. Then he handed the chocolate to Nadia,
slowly, the extraordinary golden eyes following every move. They were
nearly all iris, she realized , only a little sliver of white, like a
crescent moon, showing on either side. The pupils were wide and dark
, but as they encountered the light filtering through the glass door
, they contracted suddenly, looking like...
' Salim !' she whispered in awe,
'he has cat's eyes!' It was true, she realized , only no cat she had
ever seen had eyes of that peculiar tawny gold.
'The ocular anomaly? Yes, I've
noticed. ' Her brother murmured , watching the crouching figure
intently as though waiting for something.
The young man called 'Monkey'
stared at the chocolate bar , his face expressionless, then looked
up suddenly at Nadia. 'Hhalu' he said, his voice impossibly deep for
so slight a frame. Nadia's breath froze in her throat. Slowly, her
fingers trembling, she advanced the candy bar slowly forward. In a
motion almost too fast to register, Monkey had captured the
chocolate , whirled, and leapt into the corner, where, she now saw,
a mattress and a crumpled heap of blankets lay. Convulsively she
clutched at her brother's sleeve. 'That was Arabic! He said
'sweet'!' A dreadful suspicion struck her. 'You've been teaching him,
haven't you! Like a parrot!'
Her sudden anger evaporated,
however , as Salim shook his head , his face serious. 'No, nothing of
the kind. He said that the first time I offered one to him.'
'But what...how..' Nadia
stuttered , her mind racing.
Her Brother shrugged. ' He could
be from a traveling circus or something,' he said dismissively.' That
would explain the acrobatic ability. Also, close inbreeding could
produce mutations like the eyes, I don't know, I'm no geneticist.' He
frowned impatiently as he always did when she missed the point he was
trying to make, ' No,don't you see? If he has retained that much
language- and I've noted a total of forty-seven different words, all
contextually correct, all Arabic, though in a very odd dialect,
probably from some hill family- if he has retained that much, he
probably isn't psychotic at all, perhaps only lost and confused!'
Nadia stared at Monkey's
hunched form as he devoured the chocolate bar avidly. She had a sense
of being in a dream where no matter what she said she was not
understood. 'No, Salim, that old woman, there's something weird
about her, she keeps talking about 'spells , and she said' he must
go back '
Her brother shook his head , '
She probably meant back to the Circus where she found him. What are
you on about? The real question is...'
'The real question is, Doctor, '
came a dry ironic voice from the suddenly open door behind them,
' the pertinent question should
be, what do you think you are doing here?'
and while you're about it, Doctor,' continued the voice, the ironic
stress on the last word more marked, ' perhaps you'd be good enough
to tell me who this person is …?
Both Salim and Nadia had turned
in alarm, and now stared at the speaker, Salim flushing darkly. Nadia
saw a tall, stoop shouldered man , his face hollow cheeked and
ascetic , his eyes hidden behind thick lenses in old fashioned wire
frames. He wore the standard Doctors whites, and appeared to be in
his middle fifties, his hair iron gray and clipped short in a frankly
military style. His eyebrows, by contrast were
wildly overgrown and at the moment raised in patient query. He had
the cruelest mouth Nadia had ever seen .
Her brother cleared his throat .
' Ah, Doctor Carter, ' he began. 'Let me introduce Miss Nadia
'A- family member , perhaps?'
his expression unchanged, the Doctor tilted his head and examined
Nadia as though she were a specimen .
sister , actually. ' Salim continued , beads of sweat appearing on
his upper lip. 'She- it's her first day here, helping out over the
Doctor Carter turned back to
Salim, laying a forefinger on his chin as though he had just remembered
something. 'Ah, actually, I believe the correct term is Community
Service, is it not?' he remarked blandly. ' My , my. How very
embarrassing for you. '
Nadia, ignoring Salim's agonized
look of warning , decided she had had just about enough of being
discussed as though she were not present. ' Excuse me, Doctor Carter,
' she said firmly.' It was only a School prank that got a little out
of hand. I'm not a criminal or anything.'
'I had always heard,' said
Doctor Carter,without turning his head, ' that among your people a
woman waits until she is spoken to. It seems, I must say, an
excellent custom. At the moment I am addressing you, Doctor. Who
gave you permission to gain access to this patient?'
Nadia remembered a time when she
was little more than a toddler, and walking home from school with
Salim , being accosted by a gang of older boys, white, who had made
remarks she hadn't understood , though the menace in their manner
was clear to her six-year old mind. She could still see the way
Salim's chin had come up and his shoulders stiffened, how he had
walked right up to the biggest of the boys and in a perfectly level
and clear voice had told him what he thought of his lack of manners,
intelligence, and ancestry.
'I understood that the patient
in question was still under review, Sir,' Salim said now, his voice
steady and reasonable. ' And that the terms of my internship here
required me to assist in the processing of new admissions. '
Doctor Carter gave Salim a sharp
glance, the thick lenses of his glasses flashing in the half-light.
'As and when I require such assistance, I will so inform you. And the
presence of this young lady? '
'I have discovered that the
patient speaks a dialect of Arabic, Sir, ' Salim said .' I wished to
check my observations with another fluent in that language. It was
simply fortuitous that my Sister happened to be available. '
It was the Public School drawl
that did it, thought Nadia in admiration, having already noted the
elevation from 'woman' to 'young lady'. Doctor Carter's tone was
suddenly markedly less sharp and hectoring.
'This is very interesting,' he
said , now. ' When was I to receive the benefit of this unsolicited
evaluation , pray? '
Salim's courteous nod in her
direction brought an inner grin to Nadia , which she was careful to
repress. ' I was waiting for corroboration , which Miss Marabet was
good enough to provide, Doctor. My Notes on this case will be on your
desk in the morning.'
that they are, then,' said the older man curtly.' Now, Doctor, if
you would lock this door and return the key to the front desk? In
future you will consult with me before seeing patients outside of
your regular rounds. And you, Miss Marabet, I believe your patient is
still asleep in her chair outside, perhaps you had better return her
to the Main Dormitory.' With that , he turned and strode away, the
impact of his hard heels echoing , and the sides of his jacket
flaring out like wings.
Salim took a deep breath as the
sound died away. ' Wow, Sal.' said Nadia, gazing up at him and
grinning openly. Talk about 'Romance at short notice,' she added,
quoting an 'author they were both fond of.
Salim shook his head. 'There's
something not right about this, ' he said , frowning. 'How did he
know I was here? And why keep this lad penned up down here, instead
of a regular facility? Just a mattress on the floor and access to a
toilet; what is it, some sort of experiment he's conducting? Why
aren't his notes in the File then? '
Nadia had the feeling again that
her brother was talking as if thoughts long suppressed were finding
utterance. What was that term she remembered from his days in Medical
School ? Clinical Supervision? ' Why don't you ask your Clinical
Supervisor, then?' she asked, 'Don't you still have one?'
Salim gave the breath of a laugh
through his nose, 'Sure, fat chance,' he replied, parodying an
American intern he had used to make fun of in his student days.
'Care to guess who has managed to appoint himself my mentor, clinical
supervisor, and all around slave driver? Nadi, I need this post. I
need a certain number of hours of clinical experience. ' He shook
his head in frustration. 'Look, I'm sorry I dragged you
down here. Best not to say anything to anyone, all right?'
Nadia pretended to look
thoughtful.' Well, I suppose I can manage not to gossip to Charlane
and Cordelia next time we are sharing a convivial cup of tea...'she
broke off, looking across the room to where Monkey crouched on his
mattress, half hidden in the shadows. Was it her imagination, or was
he staring directly at her? She realized that Salim was at the
entrance, fitting his key into the lock .
They were silent on the way back
to the outside door and the welcome sunlight, and Salim parted from
her with only a muttered ' See you tomorrow' , evidently deep in
Nadia wheeled the chair, with
its somnolent occupant , back to the pavement, and headed down to
the patio where Tea was still in progress. Behind her as she passed
the building, she heard a bang from the basement window, and turned
her head to see Monkey again at his post, not shaking the grill this
time but only staring out at her, his mouth moving as though her were
saying something. She released the wheelchair handle with one hand
and pointed to herself. ' I will come back.' she said slowly in
Arabic. ' Soon.' she amended, hoping it was the truth, then turned
and started down the hill.
The rest of the day passed in a
blur. Charlene and Cordelia, evidently feeling she had gone over to
the enemy, avoided her , while Bertha, seeing that Miz Goody was
snoring peacefully , her head lolling and her mouth slack, ordered
her returned to her room , and put Nadia to work folding towels until
lunch, after which she took her to Serabi , ' Might jus' be, you can
sort out some of this com-pu-tor stuff we be havin' to do all the
time,' she explained, as they made their way to the Nurses
station. ' Oh, and 'bout Miz Goody,' she added with an odd
diffidence, 'Be OK you take she out again tomorrow mornin'? T'ing
is,' the big woman confessed, 'she ain't too popular wid' the folks
here, for true. ' Nadia assured her , not without a sinking feeling,
that she supposed she could manage.
Serabi proved to be grateful for
the assistance , and Nadia spent the rest of the day happily
reformatting a series of bureaucratic forms so that answers to what
seemed endless requests for cost updates and staffing levels could be
entered in the boxes provided for them . During a break , Nadia
remembered the odd term the nurses had used to describe the old lady,
and asked Serabi if she had ever heard of it.
The young woman closed her eyes
briefly in what seemed to be an immense weariness. ' You think you
have left such superstitions back in the past where they belong,' she
murmured as if to herself. ' and then you find this new land has its
own darkness. .' Then, smiling in self reproach , she said,' The
word is 'Obeah' . I think it originated in the Congo region, probably
carried to the Indies via the Slave trade. '
The way she said that gave Nadia
a chill. 'What does it mean, do you know? ' she asked with as much
circumspection as she could .
The corners of Serabi's generous
mouth drew in , registering her distaste. 'It means magic , or
anything to do with rituals, that sort of thing. Witchcraft, if you
Nadia was deep in thought as the
day drew to a close , and she headed for the Entrance Gate, joining
small groups of Nurses ending their shift. She noticed Charlane and
Cordelia among them, deep in seemingly endless conversation, threw a
half smile their way by way of acknowledgment and greeting, but
receiving no notice shrugged and continued to the main road and bus
stop. The same 'Watkins' was at the gate, looking tired, and no
wonder, she thought. She gave him a smile and was rewarded by a flash
of the gold tooth and a half salute.
She kept seeing Monkey's face
at the basement window, his serene expression a contrast to his
frenzied jerking of the stout wire mesh. And then , staring up at
her , his wide golden eyes with their catlike pupils fixed on the
chocolate bar, and that voice, echoing from somewhere deep
inside....a bus approached headed for Central London, and she
stepped back, peering down the road for her own number fourteen ,
when a sudden thought struck her. After all, who else was there to
ask among the people she knew, that would know anything about
magical creatures ( she finally admitted the word into her conscious
mind.) who spoke Arabic? Impulsively she raised her hand.
She spotted the golden dome
when still a number of blocks away, and waited impatiently for the
Regents Park stop , clattering down the steps as soon as the doors
hissed open. She'd never been to the Central Mosque , which must have
been built around the time she was born, and was struck by the sheer
size of the place, and it's incongruity on the staid suburban street,
the white walls crowned by the huge onion shaped dome rising above
the surrounding trees like a second Sun. Small groups of men were
standing about the paved area in front of the Entrance, murmuring
together; she noticed a few in long shirts and prayer caps , but
most were dressed casually- the evening prayer service must just be
ending. She registered a few hostile glances and looks of confusion
directed at her , but she was used to that from religious Muslims who
disapproved of her short hair and boyish clothes . Without pausing
she entered the door, to find a sort of anteroom with paper slippers
and a few pairs of shoes scattered about, which reminded her to slip
off her trainers and proceed in her stocking feet through the inner
door and enter the vast inner space of the interior.
For a moment she only stood and
stared. The entire inside seemed to be one huge room, brightly lit
by the early evening sunshine pouring through the great arched
windows , filtered by the encircling trees , and rebounding from the
pale blue carpet which was sectioned off into what seemed endless
rows of a darker blue area for individual prayer. High overhead as
she craned her neck upward , from the interior of the dome hung a
silver filigree chandelier easily two meters across...'Excuse me, can
I help you with something?'
The man who addressed her had
come hurrying from an inner room . He was dressed in a white, ankle
length robe , wore a white skullcap and a stern expression behind
his short black beard.
'I have a question regarding
supernatural creatures who might speak Arabic,' Nadia said, figuring
that ought to be an icebreaker if nothing else. The priest or Imam or
whatever he was looked as though he'd been slapped.
'Excuse me, is that some kind of
joke? ' he said stiffly,'Really, young woman, it is not appropriate
for you to be here at all, let alone dressed in such an immodest
fashion. I think it is best that you leave immediately. That door by
which you entered will do.'
Nadia stared at him in
disbelief. 'What have my clothes got to do with it? I'm not here to
worship or anything, I just need some information,please. '
The young man ( he was really
only a little older than she was, Nadia guessed) looked down his nose
at her, frowning.' If you wish instruction in the Muslim Faith,
please come at the proper time , dressed in a more appropriate
fashion with your -hair- ' he said eying the blue streak –
'decently covered. '
Being patronized twice in one
day was just too much , Nadia decided. ' Where in the Quran,' she
snapped in rapid Arabic, 'is it written that a woman has to cover her
head? Or walk about draped in a tent? ' Then , as he turned red and
began to splutter , she continued in English, 'Oh , bloody Hell,
don't tell me you don't even speak...'
'Of course I speak the language
of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him ! ' broke in the
young man loudly in textbook Arabic.' By adopting Traditional dress,
we show our respect for our heritage in the land of the Infidel.'
Nadia snorted in disgust. ' In
my Family it is said, ' she replied, raising a forefinger in
conscious imitation of her Father, 'Dress not in Black , when they
are stoning the Crows.' ' Registering his puzzled frown, she
continued, bitingly, ' In other words, if you and your friends have
decided that part of being Muslim is treating women like chattel, I'd
be stupid to dress as one, wouldn't I?'
His eyes wide in outrage, the
young man cried 'Heretic ! Unbeliever!' before reverting to English
and stiffly , controlling himself with an effort , asking her again
to leave. Nadia, fuming , marched out the door , jammed her feet
into her trainers, and exited the building, ignoring the glares,
ranging from disapproving to openly hostile , from the men loitering
stamped along, mentally reviewing the many things she could have
said, and then when he....'Oh! Sorry!' as she collided with a
someone. Rebounding in confusion, she realized that she was on one of
the wide curving paths in the Park behind the Mosque, and before her
an elderly man smiling behind a long white beard had put a hand on
her sleeve to steady himself. Her first automatic response was that
he was one of the London Homeless, draped in a long green overcoat
with a shapeless sort of hat on the back of his head and barefoot.
At second glance , she realized her mistake- for one thing,the coat
was clean and appeared to be of rayon or some light-weight material,
and its owner,likewise , pale-skinned behind a neatly combed and
trimmed beard that reached to his chest, was so clean he seemed to
glow in the late afternoon sunlight. He was not really barefoot, but
wearing old style sandals made of braided leather; also his eyes,
twinkling with good humor before her astonished scrutiny , held such
a keenness of perception and intelligence in their clear brown
depths..... ' Oh, I'm really sorry!' Nadia repeated. 'Are you all
The elderly man gave a short
laugh. 'Indeed, yes!' he said, his voice not so much accented as
modulated, like- the comparison that came to her was the low tones of
a bass viol she had heard once. ' In fact, I was hoping to encounter
you, although perhaps not so ...precipitously.' Again he laughed ,
so good humoredly that she was forced to join in.
me?' She said , puzzled., after a moment, ' Whatever for? Are you
with the Mosque? '
'Oh , not exactly, no,' he
answered, 'Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Green ...yes, '
he added smiling, at her involuntary glance, 'just like my coat. And
you are...?' Nadia reflected, ruefully, as she answered , that she
had never spent so much time introducing herself before in her life .
'Hm, Marabet. ' said the man,
his gaze momentarily distant.' I once knew a family of that name in
...Syria, was it? '
'Why yes, ' responded Nadia,
surprised and delighted,' My Uncle Bukhari and his wife still live
there, although he travels all over the world on business...do you
travel a great deal yourself, then?'
' I once did, when I was
younger, oh yes, a very great deal..' answered the man named Green,
his voice soft and for the first time holding the accents of old age.
Abruptly he sighed and seemed to return to the present . 'Well, in
any case, I happened to overhear you asking that somewhat
overbearing young man in there ( a very middle-eastern lift of the
bearded chin indicated the golden dome of the Mosque with its tall
prayer tower emerging from the trees behind them ) about- magical
creatures, was it? Speaking Arabic?'
Nadia felt her face grow hot.
'Well, something like that.' The notion seemed ridiculous, suddenly,
here in the middle of London surrounded by neon clad cyclists and dog
She looked up from studying the
toes of her trainers to meet an intent gaze which held no trace of
condescension or mockery. ' How interesting. How very interesting.'
he said . 'I myself in my travels have encountered many strange
things. I wonder , ' he said, as if the idea had just occurred to
him,. 'If you would take tea with me at my house. I live , oh, not
too far away, if you could spare the time. I should like very much to
hear your story; I am, ' he added , in the tone of understating the
truth, 'Something of a collector of
strange tales, do you know.'
Nadia felt the urban dweller's
automatic cautionary response, but looking again at the friendly,
matter of fact expression that held no trace of guile, she said, '
Well, I really should get back , Mr, um, Green, may I call you that?
' Mr Green it is, ' said the old
man,' or al-Khidr as I'm called in your language, 'the Green One' –
it's the coat, I'm afraid ,it's become rather a talisman. ' He
laughed again.' Well, Nadia Marabet, I shall not keep you long, and
it would give me great pleasure, if you would be so kind. '
His use of the Arabic term –
though his accent was hard to place, it sounded a little like the
way Persians spoke, Nadia thought to herself briefly- coupled with
his recognizing her Family's name, removed the last of her caution.
' Well, yes, then , thank you, ' she replied.
thanks and the pleasure are mine, ' said Mr Green , smiling impishly
at his conscious parody of traditional Arab courtesies. ' You do
honor to my humble dwelling...which is just this way, if you please,'
he added with a motion of the cane, no, she realized startled , an
actual staff which she for some reason had not noticed him grasping
in his left hand. What had seemed a shapeless woolen hat, she saw
also as he turned to lead her down a side path , was revealed on
closer inspection to be in truth a turban, green like his coat.
casually encircling his head and pushed back to leave his forehead
bare. Wow, she told herself , he certainly doesn't have much regard
for what people might think, walking around Central London dressed
Mr. Green led her down a narrow
path closely bordered by shrubbery, to a small wicket gate that gave
out unto a tree-shaded side street. Nadia smiled to herself. This was
just like London, once you got to know it, full of little nooks and
byways only the residents knew about.
She wondered what the 'humble
dwelling' was like, following beside Mr Green as he strode easily
along, punctuating the soft scuffle of his leather soles with the
intermittent tap of his staff . The houses here were old, built in a
single row, most of them of time darkened brick with small diamond
paned windows . They paused before one set back further from the
rest behind a high wall attached to the neighbors on either side.
Mr. Green opened an elaborately filigreed gate and ushered her
through , down a paved walk to a narrow iron bound door almost lost
in a profusion of bordering vines . Here the old man stopped ,
extended his staff and tapped gently, whereupon the door , seemingly
of itself, swung slowly open.
Nadia , unconsciously braced for
the musty clutter of an elderly bachelor's apartment, was struck
speechless as she was ushered through the mysteriously opening door.
The room in which she found herself was dimly lit, to be sure, but
there any semblance to her expectations vanished. One of the Antique
shops in the East End, perhaps, specializing in foreign imports,
could possibly have matched some of the furnishings she saw, but the
carved wooden screens , polished brass fittings and tooled leather
arm chairs were not displayed in a collector's jumble but arranged
with a casual naturalness which spoke of daily use. The front
windows were closed off from within by slatted wooden shutters, and
the subdued lighting issued from a pair of pierced and fretted
silver lamps which hung by slender chains from the ceiling, burning –
yes, she assured herself in astonishment, actually burning, with a
clear pale flame which must be the source of the subtle , somewhat
spicy odor in the air. And everything, room and contents , was as
meticulously clean as its owner , who now stood regarding her , hands
clasped loosely at his waist, head on one side as if awaiting her
'It's beautiful!' she managed to
gasp, ' So many ….where did you find such...'
Mr. Green broke out in a smile
as open and radiant as a child's . 'I'm so glad you like my home, '
he said , ' I feared you might think it too much like a museum, but
you see, when one is as old as I , it is comforting to have things
about of a similar antiquity' '
you- I mean, are you alone here?' Nadia bit her tongue, this was
surely no business of hers. But Mr. Green seemed not to find the
truth, I seldom have visitors such as yourself, ' he said, his voice
low and musical . 'It is a lovely evening- shall I show you my
garden? We can take our tea there, if you like. ' He led the way
through an arched doorway at the end of the room , parting a curtain
made up of strings of tourmaline colored crystals which clashed
softly and musically , and out onto a sort of paved pavilion. Only
the freshness of the air told of being out of doors , for over the
smooth laid floor hung a canopy of what looked like but could not
possibly, she thought, be silk, pale yellow and lit by more hanging
lamps , while in lieu of furnishings a number of large shapeless
cushions lay scattered about the surface of an intricately patterned
carpet . At one end a circular pond was let into the stone , with a
central fountain in the shape of a carved leaping fish. The musical
sound of the falling water drew Nadia like a magnet, and she looked
into the pond where , in and amongst the fronds of aquatic plants
swam a half dozen at least of the most beautiful ornamental Carp she
had ever seen.
Her host joined her by the pool,
releasing from his opened hand a shower of breadcrumbs which the fish
accepted with an indefinable air of good manners rather then hunger.
Nadia watched entranced as the red-gold forms glided in and out of
sight. 'They used to be thought of as symbols of wisdom,' said Mr.
Green softly ' but I keep them chiefly for their beauty, and because
it is a species that does not know age; unlike myself, ' he added ,
smiling. 'My garden pleases you , then?'
'This is amazing!' Nadia said,
looking around ' Like something out of the Thousand and One Nights!''
Mr. Green laughed delightedly.
'Do you tell me you young people still read that old book?' he said
'Come- let us sit at our ease over here, I see that tea has been
prepared.' And indeed , on a low table with cushions arranged
invitingly around was a tray holding a steaming brass teapot and
two delicate cups, which Nadia could have sworn had not been there
when they entered . She felt, however, that she had asked already
more questions than was consonant with good manners and decided not
to mention it. Mr Green lowered himself unto a cushion with none of
the awkwardness of age, and when she had done the same, poured them
each a cup of pale yellow tea and offered her a small platter of
sweetbreads which he produced from somewhere with the ease of a
'Now ,Nadia Marabet, tell me of
the creature you seem to have encountered ,.' He said, taking a
delicate sip of his tea and holding the cup rim against his chin as
if to inhale the fragrant steam.
Nadia, to be polite, raised her
cup as well and sniffed the aroma curiously. Cloves, certainly, and
some other fragrance she could not place...she took a cautious sip,
but the liquid was at a perfect temperature , just hot enough to
sting a little . Immediately she felt a sensation of calming which
began at the back of her throat and spread rapidly , relaxing her
tense shoulders and somehow making the garden more distinct , more
present. She heard the soft sighing of an errant breeze which rippled
over the silken canopy, mingled with the repetitive chime of the
falling water , and she gazed entranced at the dancing shadows cast
by the lamplight for a timeless moment until...
' Excuse me ?' she said, aware
that her host had asked her something.
Mr Green smiled, ' I was asking
, somewhat unnecessarily it seems, if the tea was to your liking. You
spoke of magical creatures,' he reminded her gently,' Have you,
yourself , encountered such a being?'
Nadia found herself describing
in detail her meeting with the young man called 'Monkey', as if it
were a particularly vivid dream. She could see in her mind's eye as
she spoke, every detail of the dingy room, the superhuman agility and
speed of its occupant, the contraction of the pupils of Monkey's eyes
as they assumed the cat like aspect that had so startled her. She
described the old woman, when asked, and tried to remember exactly
what it was she had screamed when the face had suddenly appeared at
the window. 'It sounded like she was saying 'shay' or something like
that. 'My shay' she said, and 'He must go back . He should not be
here.'' Nadia paused and looked inquiringly toward Mr Green, who was
sipping his tea , frowning, his eyes distant.
After a moment he seemed to
return to the present. 'Hm. Yes. I thought as much.' he murmured half
'Does that mean anything?' Nadia
asked hopefully, 'She wasn't just raving , was she?'
Mr. Green sighed. 'No, I'm
afraid she was not 'raving', in that sense. Though a person would
need to be ...Nadia, what to you know of the Jinn?'
'You mean a Jinni, like in the
story of 'Maruf the Cobbler' ? ' She stared astonished as Mr Green
clapped his hands in delight.
'So you do know the Tales of the
Thousand and One Nights!' he exclaimed .
Brother Salim used to read them to me as a child when I couldn't
sleep .' Nadia replied , her mind whirling. 'But those are only
stories, aren't they? '
Mr Green gestured dismissively.
'Of course , only stories, as you say, travelers tales; besides, that
was not the way it actually happened.' He went on rapidly , before
Nadia could respond , ' No, I'm afraid the beings called Jinn are
quite real, my dear. And it appears that you have one such locked up
in that ...place, and locked up ...here is the worst part....in a
form not his own... ' As if in counterpoint there was a sudden rumble
of something like thunder and the light darkened for an instant as a
sudden gust of wind invaded the garden, making the lamp flames leap
and tremble. Mr Green held up an admonitory hand and said 'Peace,
Brothers ' seemingly to the empty air, and the disturbance subsided.
Nadia realized with a start that he had spoken in his Persian
accented Arabic, and that they had been speaking in that language
for some time with out her noticing. Now he looked intently at
Nadia, his expression grave. 'The word the old woman used was ( it
sounded to her as if he were saying 'Shee-dhay' ) which is Old
Irish, or Gaelic , for the Jinn, or as they say in that country ,
'The Fair Folk'
took a long drink of her tea, registering dimly as she did so that
the cup seemed full and steaming every time she picked it up. As in a
waking dream, everything seemed to make perfect sense, and she felt
free to do or say whatever she wished. 'What it I were to fly?' said
a little voice in a corner of her mind, but she shook her head and
tried to concentrate . ' What did she mean, then, by saying 'my
she asked .
Mr. Green grimaced. 'If I were
to hire you to do something for me,' he said tartly,' and we agreed
on a price to, let us say , come and feed my fish every day for a
week, could I then say you were mine, my property? Foolish, foolish
woman. I had thought the knowledge of how to summon the Jinn had been
safely lost these many centuries.'
Nadia frowned, trying to
remember what Serabi had said. ' One of the other nurses called Miz
Goody 'Obeah' , ' she said hesitantly,' Do you think that the old
woman really is a...'
'Witch?' replied Mr Green with a
weary sigh, 'Yes, I suppose you could say that. There are always such
people, meddling in matters they do not comprehend for some trifling
advantage or other. '
'What did you mean when you said
, 'a form not his own,' Mr Green? ' asked Nadia, feeling a sudden
chill as an idea occurred to her. 'What does a Jinni look like, then,
Mr Green regarded her, his head
tilted as if debating how best to answer. ' It is said, ' he
responded finally, seeming to choose his words with care, 'that the
Jinn were made of fire, as Humans were made from the clay of the
earth. A jinni is invisible to human eyes, when he is in his own
realm. In our world, he may take any form he wishes, as fire does,
unless constrained by some Spell, bound to appear in a certain guise
and no other. That is a great wrong! Nadia, I say to you, not only
the mad old Witch, but everyone there is in terrible danger.'
At his words the icy feeling of
earlier today when she had first met the old woman called Miz Goody
filled Nadia's abdomen , warring briefly with the warmth of the tea.
'Danger? What danger? ' she asked , the tea cup rattling as she set
it down abruptly.
Mr Green's voice took on an
added timbre, as bleak as a judge delivering some dire penalty.' If
someone were to imprison you in an earthen jar, so that you had to
live there for years, feeling your bones grow in the shape of the
jar, and your natural form corrupted and changed forever, what would
you do to that person, should you escape? '
Nadia tried to align her mind to
these extraordinary assertions. It reminded her of the Fantasy Games
she and her friends played , the logic of the Impossible, to be
banished at the touch of a button; except that this felt too
horribly real. ' But if Mo- if the Jinni is under some kind of spell,
how can he escape?'
Mr. Green spread his hands with
a sad smile.'Spells wear out, Nadia, unless they are constantly
renewed. The being you call Monkey is changing, even now, from the
human form he was given. When he gets free entirely, his vengeance
upon those whom he feels imprisoned him will be...most terrible. '
Again there was, as he spoke , the sound of distant thunder, and the
air around seemed to seethe and crackle. This time Mr. Green made no
remonstrance, but sat quietly, as gradually the disturbance subsided.
The silence lengthened, but the old man said nothing further, merely
studying her as if he were waiting for some particular response.
Suddenly she was back at her University, in a Logic tutorial, staring
at the rows of symbols while the professor waited for her to see the
you help? ' she burst out finally, ' I mean, you seem to know so much
about ...these sorts of things, surely you could...'
Mr Green laughed ruefully, 'This is a 'thing' not of my making,
still less of my mending. No, I rather think it is you who must set
it right. .'
Nadia scrambled to her feet ,
suddenly terrified. 'Me? I must? How am I to do that? Why me?' she
Mr Green rose to his feet also,
as gracefully as a dancer, and looked down on her with such immense
kindness that she fell silent. 'So do they say, always, the Chosen
ones,' he murmured, then: 'How? That I do not know. I do not
foretell, that would be a gift beyond bearing. I say only what is,
not what will be. Yet such help as is in my power to give, I will
bestow. ' He held out his two hands which suddenly held suspended a
carved medallion made of some translucent blue green stone. It was
circular and slightly smaller than her palm, suspended on a leather
thong which ran through a pierced hole in the center. Joined up
writing in Arabic covered its surface entirely, too small to make
out, and it was altogether the most beautiful object Nadia had ever
seen. She had an irresistible desire to touch it, to stroke the
shining surface, and Mr Green deftly looped the thong over her head
and delivered the object into her cupped hands.
' It is so lovely! ' she said in
a daze, trying to follow the intricate cursives of lettering over the
'It is called in your language,
'Tawiz' ', said Mr. Green softly.' It will protect you and turn evil
aside; for it is in my heart that there are more forces here at work
than one old madwoman. Wear it always next to your skin.' Obediently
Nadia slipped the medallion under her shirt, feeling the stone
already warm against her chest.
'Now,Nadia Marabet, the hour
grows late. As it is said, 'Gladly come and freely go, leaving
something of the happiness you bring.' ' Mr Green gestured politely,
once more merely an elderly man ushering out a departing guest. A
sudden gust of wind flapped the silk of the canopy , extinguishing
both lamps, and an instant later, it seemed , she was walking down
the pathway to the iron gate, the twilight soft about her , and no
street lamps yet alight in this neighborhood. On the pavement once
more she turned back ,thinking perhaps to wave goodbye, but saw only
a blank brick wall between two old houses with no sign of a gate or
that there had ever been one.
She stood for a moment, staring,
then in a sudden panic her fingers sought under her shirt collar,
feeling with a sigh of relief the polished circular shape of the
medallion, nestling warmly between her breasts. The flavor of the
tea still lay upon her tongue, and she was obscurely grateful to be
alone , able simply to accept the evening's happenings without having
to rationalize or explain them. With the thought came decision , and
she set off down the darkened street toward that other world with
its matter of fact streetlights , cars and buses .