Ali Albaz is standing in front of the mirror in the early morning sun. He’s practicing, experimenting, inventing, talking to himself, gesturing, and not sure at all how he’ll handle tonight’s concert. Scheherazade is still stretched out on the canopy bed in her nightgown. She’s explained the whole incredible situation. But before that, she had checked the bump on his head and changed the bandage, and then she had made love to him, partly to get even with Fatima Zahra for doing it with his brother, but then again, her twin sister was right, even though in his mind he’s Ali, his body is still that of her man Aziz. She had a thrill, because Ali’s lovemaking was vigorous and vibrant whereas Aziz is always soft and tender, proof that one’s character is all in the mind.
“We can’t even do a play-back Scheherazade, I don’t have time to learn any of his songs. His callused fingers won’t even do me any good because I play guitar like a weekend dabbler. At least I’ve got his nicely honed voice! Hey, that’s it! The revolutionary song I made up, everyone in the jail loved it! I can spring it as a new release! We’ve got no time to waste! You got photos of Aziz’s band? I gotta get to know their names fast, and we have to rehearse, straight away.”
“Aziz already scheduled a last rehearsal today, there’s a studio downstairs. The band will be arriving at around 10. You’ve got two hours.” Scheherazade goes out of the bedroom and comes back a few minutes later with a press book.
“Here’re the photos from their last tour. The band’s mostly the same except there’s a new back up guitarist who’s not in the photos. His name’s Zakaria, he just goes by Zack.”
Ali studies the press book; it has all the names and details. “It’s great there’s a backup guitarist, he’ll have to play lead tonight. I’ll say my left hand got stomped on. They’ll have to learn my new song, but it’s an easy old blues riff. Any musician should be able to follow it, I just have to sing it a cappella first. I don’t think I can do any of the numbers on their repertoire, if I can’t I’ll have to make a speech to the crowd. I will anyway, about free speech, I love giving speeches. For me, writing and speaking are like painting; the words are like strokes of paint that stir people’s emotions and illustrate all of the pain and joy of living. Words are actions because they move people.”
“Fati told me that you were a painter, and you painted her portrait. She says it’s marvelous, but that you stopped painting.”
“Painting was my first passion. Now it’s writing. I swore to Fatima Zahra that her portrait would be my last painting, and it’s certainly the best one I ever did. It’s loaded with emotion. We’ve got two hours, so I’ll listen to the songs while we eat breakfast. You have all their pieces, right?”
“Yeah, they’re all on my phone, here you go. Fatima Zahra told me you already took a beating at a free speech demonstration two years ago on your planet. You must have had one hell of a déjà vu last night.”
“Yeah, when I came to, I thought it was a kind of flashback until a guy in the police van called me Aziz Albaz and spoke about the next concert, that’s when everything started to come clear. First there was the flight through the tunnel when I was out cold and crossed my brother going the opposite direction. I noticed that I had an enormous diamond on my right ring finger instead of my lapis lazuli, the clothes and prescription glasses in my pocket weren’t mine…I’d already checked Aziz’s wallet and ID before I got to the station. When I realized that I was in Aziz’s body it freaked me out, ‘cause I knew that my twin had died at our birth. I decided just to keep my mouth shut. Since the moment you explained everything this morning, I’ve had one thought in my head. Everything happens for a reason. You know that I’m an investigative reporter on Al’ard, and that I wrote a banned book about the government, don’t you? I think you girls know just about everything about each other, and about me and Aziz too, cause sisters share everything. Anyway, it seems that on your planet the fascist regime that has taken over Eorea is just starting. What if a Controlling Power has switched our places so that we can play our roles in different worlds? I understand at least part of mine, because I already know what’s going to happen, I have two years advance on your world. Perhaps I can help you to avoid getting to the point where we are with the snatchers grabbing people. It’s good that you and Fatima Zahra have been communicating for so long, that’s surely part of the plan too. I talk too much, don’t I? I’d better start listening to the music.”
Scheherazade laughs “You talk a lot more than Aziz, he’s pretty quiet except when he’s on stage. Try to do the same or people will wonder what’s gotten into you. You can let it all out on stage though.”
They eat breakfast in silence while Ali listens to all of Aziz’s most recent songs again and again. He’s beaming after a while. Lyrics are coming into his head for one of the tunes they play. “We’re gonna be OK. I’m sure I can breeze a lot of these songs. I have Aziz’s voice. No one will notice. If it’s a bit off, we have last night’s beating to blame!”
When the band shows up Ali is already warming up his voice. Having seen the papers and heard the news about Aziz Albaz on the radio, they all want to know what’s gone down. Scheherazade tells them about last night’s events and breaks the news that Aziz can’t play any instruments because of the beating he took, so he’ll just sing. None of them notice anything, to them, Aziz is just shaken up. Zack is thrilled to be able to play the lead for once. They repeat the new revolutionary song that Ali wrote and like he said, it’s easy for them, but he keeps his new lyrics for their recent song as a surprise for the concert.
A few songs into the show they come to the piece that Ali wrote the new lyrics for, and he gives them all a surprise. Only one person in the concert hall understands.
“I found myself on the street, where I was I didn’t know. Dazed, lost, and beat, my head had taken a blow.
You came and you took me into your home. You nursed me and loved me, I’m no longer alone.
Life on your planet, I didn’t plan it. Life on your planet, I didn’t plan it.
I was behind bars, a jailbird singin’ the blues. Fate isn’t in our stars; it lies in what we do.
You did what had to be done, woman you set me free.
Scheherazade you are the one that changed my destiny.
Life on your planet, I didn’t plan it. Life on your planet, I didn’t plan it.”
After ‘Life on your planet’, Ali starts into a speech about what happened to him the night before.
“I’d like to say a few words. Those of you who know me well know that it’s not something I do often. Here on stage, I feel comfortable speaking to you all from my heart. We’ve all heard the saying ‘one act is worth a thousand words’ or ‘action speaks louder than words’, and while these sayings apply well to words which state intentions or promises, words in themselves can be powerful acts. Many people have been influenced to action throughout history by words. And words themselves can be considered as acts, whereas thoughts cannot. It is about the freedom of our words that we demonstrated last night. Whether written, spoken or sung, if we allow them to be stifled and censored it’s the first step towards letting our country be run by a fascist regime. We mustn’t let this new law pass, or it will be followed by other forms of oppression. Last night when I was in jail a new song came into my head, it’s an easy one to learn, so I want everyone to repeat each stanza after me, then we’ll all sing it together. It’s called ‘We Gotta Move’. My cellmates all sang it with me last night! So, let’s go! Everyone on your feet!
You may be high, you may be low, you may be rich child, you may be poor.
Come along, get ready, you gotta move.
In the sky above and down here below,
Somethin’s a happenin’ and you oughta know.
Come along, get ready, we gotta move.
They say the word is stronger than the sword.
Make yourself heard. Come on, climb aboard.
Get on this train, come on now, we gotta move.
The time has come to take a stand.
Get off your ass now and lend a hand.
Come along, get ready, you gotta move.
They say the calm comes after the storm.
Storm clouds are gatherin’. We won’t take it no more.
It’s gonna rain hard before the sun comes shinin’ through.”
As the song ends the whole concert hall is alive and the cheers go up, “Aziz! Aziz! Aziz! Aziz Albaz!”
Scheherazade is overcome with emotion. Her Aziz is the incredibly talented leader of a famous band, but Ali is a leader of men. “He’s just what our movement needed!” she thinks “…and what if he stayed?”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Thousands of light years away in a parallel world, at the same moment that Ali is practicing for his performance in front of the mirror, Aziz wakes up in bed with Fatima Zahra. She was thrilled by the gentleness of his lovemaking the night before, so different from the driving energy of Ali. She’s undoing the bandage to examine the bump on his head when he speaks.
“You said that you had to connect with Scheherazade quickly, did you talk to her yet?”
“Yes, we talked while you and your brother slept. She’ll explain everything to him when he wakes up, maybe it’s done already. Poor Ali, he got beat up by the cops at a demonstration for free speech and they took him to jail. The same thing happened to him here two years ago and I had to bail him out. All our friends pitched in. This time it looks like you’ve got friends in high places. He was out in a flash. You’ve got a concert tonight and he’ll have to stand in for you. Hope everything works out alright. I know my man and he’s resourceful. I’m sure he can handle it.”
“One thing isn’t clear; how do you communicate with Scheherazade? You told me you’ve known each other since you were 11 and that you’ve been to our world before. Apparently, we switched places when we both got a blow on the head at the same time, but we can’t communicate. How do you do it? We should be able to switch back, right?”
“We both discovered the secret at the same time. Do you know anything about magic mushrooms?”
“A bit, but I’ve never tried any.”
“We were both on vacation at our grandparents’ house in the mountains, each on our world. We stumbled upon a beautiful carpet of purple mushrooms in the forest. Now I know that it’s a rare unknown variety of Psilocybe mairei. We took a nibble at the same time and in a flash, we were travelling through a kind of tunnel, and we found ourselves in each other’s places! We discovered that we could talk to each other and even switch places at will.”
“So, all we have to do is eat some of those mushrooms and we can switch places, I can do my concert!”
“I wish it were that simple Aziz. The mushrooms only grow at one time of the year, at about halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, it’s the summer solstice now, so that’s in about 4 months. They work best when they’re fresh, in fact the effect is immediate. They still work when they’re dry but it takes more mushrooms and more time. Every year at the same time we both visit the village in the mountains and collect a stock of mushrooms to last all year. We both only have a bit left, enough to communicate but not to voyage through the tunnel. Even now, we have to wait for about a half an hour before we can talk. So, we signal and wait for a response. If I eat some and think hard Fatima Zahra gets a ringing in her ears and then she does the same as soon as she can. By the time we spoke last night you were both asleep. This morning Ali will be asking all of the same questions as you and my sister will be giving all of the same answers. You’re both stuck in each other’s places until we can get some fresh mushrooms. That’s why I already knew that he’ll be standing in for you at your concert tonight.”
“Maybe if you just whack me in the head really hard? No. I understand, it only happened because the hit to our heads was exactly simultaneous. Impossible to replicate. It looks like this world is in advance on our world’s events by about two years. You told me last night about the snatchers and about your resistance group. Since I’m in Ali’s place you’ll have to tell me all about it.”
“We’ve got a meeting tonight and you’ll have to be there. I’ll fill you in on everything you need to know. First thing, Ali wrote a revolutionary song that we sing at the beginning of each meeting. It’s easy, I’ll teach it to you. It’s called ‘We gotta move’.
“Ali’s a musician?”
“No, he sings pretty well, and he plays the guitar, but not like a professional. Not anything like what you played for me last night on the lute! He probably could have been a musician, but he had a passion for painting. Then he started writing. I think he’s a great writer, better than me anyway. He was already a journalist when we met. I was studying Communication and Media. In fact, I met him at exactly the same time you met Scheherazade at the Conservatory four years ago, when she auditioned for the leading role with you. I was starting an internship at the news website where he worked. You’ll have to read his banned book about the government, it’ll help you to understand how the fascists came into power.”
“Let’s get some breakfast and then do the song together, I’m dying to hear it!”
“I’ll sing it to you now!”
Scheherazade and Aziz sing even before they’re out of bed. Aziz already knows the old blues song it’s based on. Only the first stanza is from the original song, ‘You gotta move’, whose author is anonymous. They spend the day talking about the situation on both worlds. They’re both fighting the same battle, but the situation is worse here on Al’ard. The battle will be more difficult.
The evening finds them at the resistance meeting. Fatima Zahra has found an electric guitar, amp, and microphone for Aziz to use. Usually, everyone sings the resistance song all together without any instruments, followed by a motivational speech by Ali, but tonight, there isn’t any speech, there’s a concert instead. And what a concert! Ali has hidden talents. No one knew he could play so well, has he been practicing secretly? The change is what was needed to remotivate everyone, it worked better than a speech. Spirits are high and everyone is ready to face the oppressors.
Fatima Zahra is under Aziz’s charm and thinking “He’s just what our movement needed!…and what if he stayed?”