Ring, turban and music

Submitted into Contest #99 in response to: Begin your story with somebody watching the sunrise, or sunset.... view prompt

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Crime Fiction Middle School

I, the great king of the Al Qasim dynasty that rules over half Arab, sit on the desert sand, hungry and weak. The heat radiating from the orange sky only fuels my fury. I glare at Abu Fardeen, my slave and the ragged dervish, thier eyes closed and hands raised for dua, and imagine the punishments they'll receive once we return to my kingdom. And why shouldn't they be whipped and beheaded.

Never have I been more insulted and disrespected. Never have I been told what to do and what not to do but he dares tell me I'm a tyrant, which I shouldn't be. Never have I waited for permission to eat as now we're waiting for the sunset to break our fast. His sickening argument, "Allah told us to fast so we can practice self-control and feel empathy for our poor brothers who can not afford food," rings in my ears. Why should I fast? I'm the king.

He opens his eyes and observes the semi circle of sun visible. Poor starving sun, trying to shine on all of us with only a little light. Already half the sky has turned blue and a few stars are visible.

"I think it's time." The dervish says quietly. He utters the supplication in his soft voice and we break our fast with a date and a few sips of water. I think of my castles feasts.

As darkness falls it sucks out the heat from the air and sand. Abu Fardeen and the dervish stand up for salah while I stretch myself on the sand, a little distance away, my every limb aching.

I can't pray next to my slave. Never.

He's the only one who survived the storm. The storm that destroyed me. We had set out to visit an African king, with hundreds of camels laden with honey and gold and a hundred men. But in the mid journey a terrible storm caught us off guard at night. The camels ran away and we all got separated, with no food, no water and no sense of direction.

We were almost fried by the sun when we came across the dervish. He looked eager to help us but not in a way I'd call 'helping' and at once I knew he'd be as useless as my empty water skin.

"Assalam o alaikum brothers," he smiled. "Where're you off to?"

I scowled and Abu Fardeen quickly said, "It's our king."

"Why doesn't your king return greeting?"

He wore ragged cloths and carried a rucksack on his shoulders that seemed to be paining him. His face was smeared with dirt and his beard was dripping with sweat.

Bold words for a beggar, I thought.

"I'm not a beggar." He said eyeing me, "I'm a dervish."

Abu Fareed explained our situation to him on which he expressed his concern.

"Here," he said, handing him a water skin, "drink. You must be thirsty."

He's a fool! How can a slave drink before the master. Abu Fareed knew and at once handed me the bottle. While I drank, the dervish looked at me with disapproving eyes.

I knew what to expect of him. He's the sort of person who study so much books and delve so much into Islam that they end up losing their minds and go on blabbering about love and kindness and equality.

"So, where're you going to?" I asked him.

"Where ever The Mighty takes us, we'd be grateful but we're headed to Al Amal."

No way, I thought, that tribe is our blood foe.

"D'you know the way to Saha?"

He nodded. "I can take you there but I have a price."

Ha! The good old dervish, not good enough to help a traveller for free.

"You have to name it." I said, haughtily.

"Your gold ring and your turban."

It was like a sword through my chest. How dare he! He could've named any price and I'd have given him. But he asked for my humiliation.

"How dare you!" I snarled at him. "You insult me! How dare you ask a king for his crown and ring! These are what makes me a king."

"Oh, no problem." He said airily. "You can stay with me until you're ready to give them up."

I had to. I had to stay with him. There was nowhere else to go. I've been walking and dying for a week now. I still keep thinking of what I'd do next. We never went along. He's like a needle in my eyesocket. Always speaking of stupid, insulting things in his soft, weak voice. Preaching us how power is a responsiblity from Allah and how we're obliged to give every human their rights, even our slaves are to be treated like brother because we're equal. Only I know how I've tolerated these. Telling me I'm equal to those dirty, poor creatures! I'm the king!

One day, he asked me, "Why don't you walk the path?"

"Because it costs my ring and my turban." I said.

"I've seen many people make that mistake. But a king shouldn't be so bad at trade." I felt my blood heat up. He sighed. "But I meant The Path."

I snorted. "How can I?" It's true. I can never follow that path. I can never obey those laws because. . .

"They're not good enough."

"You think your laws are better than Allahs laws?" He was still calm despite all my snarls.

I wondered if he's human. He can act like he's in heaven while in hellish situations.

"Yes." I said. "How can I follow laws that tell me to obey my mother, that enslaves me to a woman? How can I follow laws declare me equal to those peasants? How can I ever follow laws that don't allow me pleasure and hold me accountable? I'm a king!"

"And your laws are..."

I got up walked away. Unable to tolerate his rubbish.

Now I lay on the floor while my bones feel like cracking, the great king of arab who once had the power to command winds.

"Are you asleep?"

I open my eyes to see the dervish.

"What d'you want?" I say, harshly.

"The pleasure of talking to you." He smiles and sits beside me.

"Forgive me," he begins, "for keeping this from you for so long but as it happens I've some news for you."

I felt a jolt in my heart but he goes on without waiting for my response.

"A day before I met you, I saw a trade caravan. They said they were coming from the capital and that the king has sent them to trade silk. 'King?' I asked them. 'But isn't he on the journey to Africa?' They laughed. 'You're behind times. Don't you know about the new king?'"

He doesn't need to go on. I know what happened. The empire fell. The rebels won.

I'm a fugitive.

When you're not used to grief, even a little of it feels crippling. When you've had no practice to carry a burden, even the smallest of it can collapse you. That's what happens to me. I go numb and wrecked. I don,'t know when I fall asleep.

I wake up soaked and bewidered, surrounded by dust and smoke and assaulted by rain. My head hurts, my vision is blurred. But I heard a music. Its sound is suppressed by the rain but I can still hear it clearly. In another direction the dervish is reciting the quran loudly.

I run after the music blindly. I would recognize it even dead. The flute. The harp. My favourite music, the one that could be heard in my castle all day. Where am I? Am I near the castle? My feet keep sinking in the ground but I struggle. With every step, the music grows louder, urging me forward.

My feet obey submissively but I reach nowhere. The fog makes it impossible to see anything. I stop when I can go no more, panting, hands on my knees. Part of the dreamy sleepiness leaves and the realization hits me. How can I run for my castle when I have no castle? But where's the msic coming from? I look around.

That's when it begins.

At a little distance, I see a figure in vibrant coloured cloths dancing to the rhythm of the music. It's blurred but I hear it's voice clwarly as it sings in persian. The music turns faster and fiercer.

"Life was death was certainity

A gift from king

Our souls sold for century

Power of the ring."

I lung for breath, clutching the gold ring on my finger. How did they come hear? How can they-no, they can't be alive. Then who's this? Some friend trying to take revenge?

Drums starts beating and he sings in a deadly voice.

"Blood will flood and swallow him."

"Who are you?" I scream. "Why're you here?"

He doesn't answer but keeps singing and dancing to the violent tune. His voice is joined by another and another and another. I look around muself to see three figures dancing and singing in horrible chorus.

"Blood will flood and swallow him.

Blood will flood and swallow him."

Everything else is faded.

I know who these twelve people are. The twelve persian slaves I beheaded. And now blood starts flowing with the rain.

I ran back in the same direction only to bump into someone. It's my wife. No, not my wife, my slave, who'd have been a happy girl had I not killed her parents and kidnapped her and forced her to marry me. She gazes at me with her black eyes, her kohl smeared. I dash past her to where I guess the dervish will be.

Allah will never forgive me for what I did to her. Every night. Every day.

He is still reciting the Quran, oblivious to the doomsday music. But with the fog clearing, I can see where he is. I sit beside him quietly waiting for him to finish. I try to hide the fact that I'm shaking. He completes the verse and looks at me.

"Are you alright, dear?"

I thrust my ring and my turban in his hands.

"You can have the-them. I-I don't want them."

"I never wanted them. I wanted to show you something." He says softly. He holds the turban and the ring just before my eyes so that I can see them even in the mist. And then they vanish, just before my eyes.

"They never were anything but an illusion." The dervish says. I don't even act surprised as if I knew they would vanish.

And now there's nothing left except for my broken, impure soul. If I ask for forgiveness now, will Allah forgive me? Will He forgive how I abused power and the murders that could turn the oceans red. And if I lived a hundred lifetimes repenting and sacrificed my blood and produced blood again and again sacrificed it until I had given all the blood of the people I hurt, will I then deserve to be forgiven?

There is nothing else.

Just this desert and my private hell and weight of all my sins. With the illusion of my power gone, my pride slaughtered and my pleasure turned into torture. Nothing else is left.

I hear the dervish's words echoing in my head.

"Haven't you seen what your laws do?"

And then I see it. I see myself but I'm not a king. I'm a slave at the castle. I work twenty hours with food enough to keep my stomach rumbling. I'm beaten and spat on and picked on, because that's what my laws do. There's no Islam to save me.

I'm a farmer who spends day under the blazing sun and then gives all his earnings away as taxes. My children ask me for food and I watch them turn bone and skin. I know what hunger is.

And I see myself as all the people I killed and looted and abused, all the families I torn apart, all the people whom I deprived of justice, equality, and every other right Allah had given them.

June 25, 2021 18:26

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6 comments

Rebecca Weinert
22:36 Jul 02, 2021

Such a powerful story! I really like your writing style, it made everything so vivid.

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Esha Mahmood
09:56 Jul 03, 2021

Thank you so much. I'm really happy you like it. Actually I think I'm an amatuer writer and so I keep asking everybody if they have any advice to improve my writing. I'd be glad if you give me some tips. :) Good day!

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Rebecca Weinert
15:37 Jul 03, 2021

I'll keep that in mind for future stories of yours but for now, no tips ;)

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Esha Mahmood
08:10 Jul 04, 2021

Thanks!

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Alex Sultan
02:55 Jul 02, 2021

Cool story. I like your use of culture here, really adds to the imagery. I also really like the last two paragraphs. Ties everything together in a chilling way.

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Esha Mahmood
08:46 Jul 02, 2021

Thanks Alex. I'm really glad you liked this story. I wanted to how show power blinds people into thinking that anything they do is right and that even the kings and presidents are accountable for their deeds.

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