Like 1001 nights in the Caliphate of Key…
by Lyndon Hood
Once there was a mighty Prince who was extremely mindful of his own mortality. He decided to ensure his legacy by having a child. Yet, having married, he realised that if he died and left his wife with a baby, she might end up on the DPB. So to spare her that widely-recognised dishonour, he immediately had her executed.
Much to the distress of the court, he repeated this pattern several times. Finally a wise young woman, the Grand Vizier’s daughter, agreed to marry the prince. And she distracted him from his brooding by telling him stories.
THE BEGGAR AND THE SISTERS
During the reign of the Sultan Haroun Al-Rashid, there lived a kind of beggar, who got his bread by running errands for the wealthy or doing such tricks as they might desire him to perform.
One day, in search of work or a few scraps of food, he knocked at the gate of a well-appointed house. It was opened by a beautiful lady who, though simply clothed, had the bearing of a person of high rank. She heard the beggars request with sympathy.
“You are welcome,” she said, “As are any who freely come to us. You may dine here and eat your full – only you must first swear to exercise the greatest politeness and not do anything to vex us, for if you anger us it will be the worse for you.”
The beggar eagerly assented and the lady led him into the opulent mansion. The walls were of sandalwood and wood of aloes, the doors of brass and the columns of massy gold. Inside waited two more equally beautiful and refined women.
The beggar, seeing three powerful women living together, speculated they might be lesbians. But the remembered his vow, and kept silent.
“Myself and my elder sisters,” said the woman who had answered the gate to the relieved beggar, “were about to dine. We would be honoured to have you as our guest.”
The beggar assented, with every politeness. The eldest sister clapped her hands, and a collation was brought on heavy silver platters, along with fine wine which was poured into glasses cut from a single crystal.
The beggar, remembering his promise to be amiable, confined himself to complimenting the house, the food and the wares it was served on, and listening politely as the sisters conversed knowledgeably on such a wide range of subjects. He was amazed women’s brains could fit so many things, though he politely refrained from saying so.
When the dinner was completed and the plates had been removed, the eldest sister turned to the youngest.
“When this man entered,” she asked, “Did he swear to remain polite and not do anything to vex us?”
“He did so,” said the youngest. The beggar eagerly nodded his head in agreement.
“As that is case, he may stay to witness our daily test.”
At this the middle sister took a golden key and opened a heavy door. Out of the door came a large ape. The ape ran shrieking at the sisters one by one, and flung itself at them, but though it struck them with the full weight of its body, they did not fall. As each sister stood firm, the others spoke to her, saying, “Ah! You are one of us!”
Then, temporarily calmed, the ape went back to its cupboard. The beggar was now overcome with curiosity. But he did not dare interrupt, as he remembered his promise and feared to anger the sisters.
The middle sister then brought out two magnifying glasses on a silken pillow. Each sister was in turn examined by the others, who looked through the glasses at her face, peering at the colouring that was applied to her cheeks, lips and eyes. When they were satisfied, the examiners spoke again, saying, “Be joyful! All is as it should be.”
The beggar was even more full of questions, but still he restrained himself.
Finally the sisters concluded. “Now,” said the eldest, “Let us rest.”
“Why?” asked the beggar, who could keep silent no more, “Are you on the rag or something?”
The sisters looked at him in horror. The youngest sister cried, the middle sister tore at her hair and the eldest screamed with rage. At the noise, all the doors burst open and six eunuchs armed with scimitars burst into the room and threw the beggar to the ground, holding their blades ready to cut him to pieces. The beggar pleaded for his life.
“Did you not swear to be polite and not to enrage us?” demand the eldest sister.
“Yes!” cried the repentant beggar, “But I didn’t realise you would be so grouchy! I mean, miaow!”
The eldest sister raised her hand, preparing for the fatal command.
“Please don’t kill me! I’m sorry you got angry… no, wait! I’m sorry for what I said!”
“And why did you say it?”
“It might be true!”
“Don’t you think there are more likely explanations?”
“Look,” said the beggar, who was never comfortable when the conversation strayed towards logic, “The fact is that I was so full of curiosity at when I saw you were all attacked by the ape yet still stood, while the others said, ‘You are one of us!’, then examined each other’s faces and said ‘All is as it should be!’, that I could restrain myself no more afterwards, and said the first thing that came into my head.”
“Why, then you should have asked those questions,” said the youngest sister, “And spared us your offensive, wrongheaded and irrelevant speculations on other matters. It is not in our nature to be vexed by questioning (just as we cannot be pushed over by the ape you saw) – if the questions are sensible. You might have heard an interesting story, rather than being subject, as you are now, to certain death.”
“Perhaps, good ladies, if I can tell you a story equally interesting as that which explains the ape and glasses, you may see fit to spare my life and forgive me my transgression?”
The eldest sister was ready to continue with the execution, but the youngest intervened.
“Please, show mercy,” she said. “If this man had power over women such as ourselves, or represented people who did, his behaviour would indeed be unendurable. But as he is only a useless old beggar, or a sort of performing monkey, I find it buffoonish and adorable.”
The sisters agreed the beggar should be given the chance he requested, so he began his story:
THE CUNNING MINISTER
Once, following a destructive earthquake which destroyed the property of many, the Sultan delegated one of his most trusted ministers to determine who should and should not receive assistance.
The minister delayed the announcement while he secretly went among the people of the city disguised as an unusually well-fed begging fakir. By their reactions he sorted the worthy from the unworthy, finally announcing those who had given him aid would likewise receive aid, while those who had spurned him should get none.
All were impressed by his wisdom, except one citizen who appealed to the Sultan, devising an entertainment called a “Te Tai Tokerau By-Election”, which so pleased the Sultan that he gave it funding for another season.
“That was somewhat interesting, was it not?” said the youngest sister.
“If we chop him into pieces, it will make a terrible mess,” said the middle sister.
Typical, thought the beggar, always trying to get out of housework. But he wisely said nothing.
“It was far too short to satisfy me,” said the eldest sister.
“Why does everything have to be about sex with you people?” the beggar exclaimed.
The eunuchs raised their scimitars again.
“Wait! I have another one!”
THE BARMEDICE’S FEAST
A rich man observed a hungry beneficiary in the street outside his house. The rich man was famous for his hospitality and, reasoning that a beneficiary standing in the street was lowering local property values, invited him in for lunch.
They sat down at an empty table and the rich man pretended to eat an enormous and varied invisible meal, encouraging his guest to partake. The confused man did so merely sat and stared.
“What?” said the rich man, “Aren’t you enjoying my delicious food?”
So the beneficiary pretend to eat with every sign of enjoyment (even as he became more and more hungry), for fear of losing the nothing that he currently had. To finish the meal, the rich man force-fed his guest ever-growing slices of an entirely imaginary cake.
The rich man was of course overjoyed at the beneficiary’s indulgence of his whimsy. So it was with great good humour that he pushed the man off his chair, kicked him a few times and told him to get out and not come back.
And so it came to pass.
“An intriguing story,” said the youngest sister.
“And so moral,” said the middle sister.
“Very well,” said the eldest, “I won’t kill you after all.”
“Typical woman! Can’t make up her mind!” said the beggar. “Oh… did I say that out loud? Okay, how about this…”
THE QUEST FOR THE RUGBY WORLD CUP
There was once a young merchant whose fortune suddenly turned bad – all ventures he embarked on came to nothing, he was going ever-deeper into debt, and even his very house and land were subject to collapse and disaster.
He heard tell of a special magical goblet that was capable of curing all ills.
I’ve actually forgotten what happens in this one, it’s difficult to remember stories when chaps are holding scimitars over you wobbly bits, but it’s all very exciting! And the moral is, ‘the real Rugby World Cup is inside yourself’ which is very inspirational.
“Let him live,” said the eldest sister, “He is not worth the wear and tear on the scimitars.”
“Besides,” said the beggar, “You have yet to tell me your story of why you are daily attacked by an ape and examine each other with magnifying glasses.”
The beggar knew he might have to listen to the women talking about their feelings, but if it calmed them down, he was prepared to take that risk. He quietly congratulated himself on how well his damage control was going.
“What you say is true,” said the middle sister, “And since you ask, you shall hear. We are exiles from a small island caliphate; you may have heard of it, though it is little talked of. The last person to whom we spoke of our homeland mocked us and pretended to fall off his chair with feigned boredom. But I shall tell you our story, as you demand, and I hope you will make a better audience.”
THE SISTERS’ STORY
You must know my sisters and I are Facts. We were once thought powerful in our country, and certainly the tribe of Facts was, if not loved or feared, at least acknowledged and given the trappings of respect.
But in time, some of us began to feel more and more ignored by those in power. But the change was slow, so that we were not spurred to action all at once.
But one day, when our cousin Migration Numbers arrived at the palace for his regular audience, none of the court would face him. The Caliph proclaimed that he did not accept Migration Numbers, giving no reason, and so our poor cousin was turned away.
As he went sadly home he met two other Facts, Inequality and Boot Camp Re-offending Rates. The three resolved to return to the Caliph and protest. But when they reached the threshold of the palace they were stopped by the guards. It was clear the Caliph thought it would not be convenient to admit them.
The Facts were not used to being denied so boldly, and made as much noise as they could. But it was not loud enough to be heard over the raucous sound of the Caliph entertaining some eccentric Opinions.
After that, we realised our people were expected to stay hidden. Those who rebelled against this suppression and revealed themselves were denigrated or even attacked. We are not without pride: if we are ignored for long, there will be dire consequences.
Our uncle How Well The Super Fund Is Doing counseled patience, saying they would have to deal with us in time. But the other economic statistics, among the most hotheaded Facts, were determined to have revenge after the Caliph subjected our cousin Income Distribution to a merciless and unjustified averaging, leaving him almost un-recognisable.
Finally our beautiful cousin River Quality undertook to intervene with the Caliph. Once day, as he paraded through the city, she dressed herself in her finest evidences and prostrated herself in his path, forcibly laying herself out before him.
“Please, great Caliph, I am a Fact, representative of a host of other Facts both great and small. Before you proceed on the path you have determined, if you will not love me, at least acknowledged me!”
But the Caliph pretended he did not recognise her, or even see her – he walked over her, kicking her and stumbling a little as he did. Until then we had hoped (and here the three sisters wept) that the Caliph would know a Fact if he tripped over one. But he did not.
After that humiliation, there was much lamenting in the house of Fact, and it was clear there could be no peace between us and the Caliph. The Facts had united against him. And since he was too proud to admit fault, he in turn went to war with us.
Any Facts showed their face in public were attacked relentlessly and left mutilated. Our palaces were undermined and defaced. And when some of the people who loved us begged the Caliph to cease his campaign he was waging against us, he said, “Am I? I don’t accept that assertion.”
Those of us who were able decided to leave that land, and now it continues without us.
Almighty God has avenged the wrong done to us by having the country succeed no better than if it were being operated by self-satisfied idiots with no connection to reality. Most recently, the Caliph has announced the seasons are “broken” and “unsustainable”, justifying this by saying it is much colder and darker now that it was six months ago. So he proposes to sell off the Sun and have the citizens buy light on the open market.
You will see by this that he still keep some few mutilated Facts at his palace, but they are held hostage by his favourite ministers, Anecdote and Personal Opinion, and only allowed daylight in line with the Caliph’s whims.
Many of our brethren fled across the ocean, but my sisters and I came here to Baghdad. It was not difficult to revive our fortunes – for we Facts are both beautiful and useful, and the wise people of the city have reference to us in all their decisions.
And every day we keep up our traditions and subject ourselves to the rigorous inspection you witnessed tonight. We allow ourselves to be pushed by the ape to show we cannot be toppled. This is because it is best for one’s Facts to be well supported. Likewise, we carefully examine each other’s eye, cheek and lip colouring with a glass, we have a great fear of being improperly applied.
“Oh!” cried the beggar, who was weeping uncontrollably, “Such a sad history! And the more difficult for your selves to endure, subject as you are to feminine outbursts of extreme emotion!”
The youngest sister reminded the others that they had already agreed not to chop him into pieces, and that he couldn’t help himself really.
“Beautiful and merciful lady,” said the beggar, “May I have the honour of asking your name?”
“I am called The Gap Between Male And Female Work Attendance.”
The beggar seemed astonished to hear this.
“Please,” said the Fact, “If you are amazed to discover who I am, tell me the reason, without further fear of decapitation.”
“It is merely,” said the beggar after he had regained control of himself, “That you are smaller than I would have expected.”
“I get that a lot,” she replied.
And so the beggar was sent on his way. At the door he was presented with a purse full of one hundred sequins, on the condition that he never, ever come back again.