This short story, of 1250 words, was written in response to Kreative Kue 4, issued on this site a couple of days ago.
Abdullah bin Hammad Al-Damma, third in line to the Sheikhdom of Al-Damma, had travelled to the city by camel from his family’s encampment in the deserts of the empty quarter, where they had lived a Bedouin lifestyle for as long as stories have been told. The journey to the big city took him eighteen days and nights. True, he had made some stops on the way to sample the delights of the local sheikhs’ hospitality, but it would have taken at least four days, anyway. His father had instructed him to go to the city and visit the suq, in order to purchase some small luxury items that they couldn’t find anywhere else; some new prayer-mats for the men, and some trinkets to give to the ladies in exchange for the many services they did for their men. His family had sold a score of camels at market, and was now well placed financially. Temporarily, at least.
Although Abdullah was in his mid-twenties, this was the first time he had visited the city on his own. Each visit before this one had been in company with one or other of his elder brothers. They were too serious, though. Straight here from the camp; into the mosque to pray for good fortune in the market; to the suq to buy just the things they came for; back to the mosque to thank Allah for favourable purchases, then straight back home. That is so dull.
Abdullah looked around parts of the suq he didn’t generally get to see. He wandered around the gold and jewellery sections, transported by the dizzying sights of more gold than he had seen in his entire life so far, and that was in just one shop. There were dozens of them. Every one boasted an amount of gold that could buy his entire family and every one of their beasts, and still have plenty left. He ventured into the part of the suq where spices were sold; his senses were assaulted with smells he had never before encountered; sweet smells, pungent smells, every combination of aromatic herbs and spices that he could ever imagine. I daren’t tell you how much his mind was blown by the electronics section of the suq. Imagine, if you will, a man who had never seen a calculator, let alone a computer, being faced with arcade and video games, mobile telephones and the gadgets that the rest of us accept as a necessary part of everyday life. By the time he had passed through the part of the suq where CDs and DVDs were sold, and made his way to the carpets section, his brain had gone off on an extended trip, leaving him behind; an empty shell, practically unable even to think.
That is why, when he ambled into the small shop selling prayer-mats, his face carried exactly that bemused, vacant expression so beloved of salesmen who were unfortunate enough to have been left behind when scruples were handed out.
“Good afternoon, Sir,” the salesman said to Abdullah, employing his most obsequious manner, “wonderful here, isn’t it? Your first time in this suq, Sir?”
“You are right, my friend; this is my first visit. Inshallah I buy some things for my father, then I must hurry back,” Abdullah replied.
“Then you are lucky that you came to me. My name is Jadir Bithfikha, and I have some very special things to offer you, at prices you will find hard to believe.”
“Your name sounds dependable and trustworthy. I think I shall buy my needs here. Firstly I need some prayer-mats; ten of them, for the men in my family.”
“Let me show you one very special prayer-mat. I have been saving it for one such as you, Sir. It is,” he looked around himself furtively, “magical.”
“How is it magical? If you try to trick Abdullah, the wrath of my family will descend on you!”
“Calm down, Abdullah. I don’t want everyone to know about this. They will all want one, and this is the only one I have.”
“Then tell me about it; and no tricks, remember?”
“No tricks, I promise you. This carpet was woven by the very children of Sheikh Ikhterrah himself, using thread drawn from the tails of his famous camels. It has special properties. Firstly, it can only be seen by people who know about it and trust in its power; those who do not know about it, or do not trust in its power, will not see it. Secondly, anyone who kneels on it will become one with the mat, which means that those who do not know about the mat, or do not trust in its power, will not see the person kneeling on it, either. And, of course, it can fly.”
“Where is it? I want to see it fly.”
“It’s in my hands. Can’t you see it?”
“No, I can’t.”
“Then you didn’t see it fly into my hands. Oh dear. I’m sorry I mentioned it. I can’t sell it to you, Abdullah. I can’t possibly sell it to someone who can’t believe in it. I thought you would be able to make the leap of faith needed to see it fully, but if it’s too much for you… Let’s look at some conventional prayer-mats.”
“Abdullah bin Hammad Al-Damma is not stupid!”
“I can tell that you are not stupid. But you can’t see the mat, so it’s not for you.”
Nothing was more guaranteed to ensure that Abdullah did exactly what you wanted him to, than telling him that it was beyond his abilities. His brothers had been using this weakness for years, to have him do things that were sometimes difficult, and sometimes dangerous, but always beneath his dignity.
“Of course I can see the mat. It is in your hands. Put it on the floor and I shall kneel on it.”
Jadir bent down and placed his two hands carefully on the ground, going through the motions of placing and pulling the mat straight as he did so. Abdullah knelt where he believed the mat to have been placed.
“Are you still there, Mr Abdullah?” Jadir asked, looking around his shop. Abdullah giggled like a small child – for such he was at that moment, inside his head at least – and stood up.
“Oh, there you are. It’s nice to see you again.”
“I buy it. How much?”
“Okay, I’ll sell it to someone else.”
“I will give you five thousand for it.”
Abdullah raised his offer. “Six,” he said.
“Eight, and no more.”
“Ten, and no less.”
“I offer you nine thousand, and that is my final offer. You choose.”
Jadir would have taken seven thousand, so was more than happy with nine. “Okay, Abdullah. You drive a hard bargain, my friend. Nine thousand it is. Do you want me to wrap it for you?”
“No need,” said Abdullah the wise, “no-one else can see it.”
And that explains why, twenty minutes later, Abdullah bin Rahman, third in line to the Sheikhdom of Al-Damma, was seen kneeling on the grass in the middle of a roundabout in the heart of the city, convinced that no-one could see him, and willing a non-existent prayer-mat to fly.
“Wallah! I kill that man if this mat does not fly soon,” he shouted.
Though, of course, no-one could hear him. Or could they?