بخش 18

کتاب: ملت عشق / فصل 18

بخش 18

توضیح مختصر

  • زمان مطالعه 7 دقیقه
  • سطح سخت

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The Novice

BAGHDAD, SEPTEMBER 29, 1243

Being a dervish is not easy. Everybody warned me so. What they forgot to mention was that I had to go through hell in order to become one. Ever since I came here, I have been working like a dog. Most days I work so hard that when I finally lie on my sleeping mat, I can’t sleep because of the pain in my muscles and the throbbing in my feet. I wonder if anybody notices how awfully I am being treated. Even if they do, they surely show no signs of empathy. And the harder I strive, the worse it seems to get. They don’t even know my name. “The new novice,” they call me, and behind my back they whisper, “that ginger-haired ignoramus.” The worst by far is to work in the kitchen under the supervision of the cook. The man has a stone instead of a heart. He could have been a bloodthirsty commander in the Mongol army rather than a cook in a dervish lodge. I can’t recall ever hearing him say anything nice to anyone. I don’t think he even knows how to smile.

Once I asked a senior dervish if all the novices had to go through the trial of working with the cook in the kitchen. He smiled mysteriously and replied, “Not all novices, only some.”

Then why me? Why does the master want me to suffer more than the other novices? Is it because my nafs is bigger than theirs and needs harsher treatment to be disciplined?

Every day I am the first to wake up, to get water from the nearby creek. I then heat up the stove and bake the flat sesame bread. Preparing the soup to be served at breakfast is also my responsibility. It is not easy to feed fifty people. Everything needs to be cooked in cauldrons that are no smaller than bathtubs. And guess who scrubs and washes them afterward? From dawn to dusk, I mop the floors, clean the surfaces, wipe the stairs, sweep the courtyard, chop wood, and spend hours on my hands and knees to scrub the creaky old floorboards. I prepare marmalades and spicy relishes. I pickle carrots and squash, making sure there is just the right amount of salt, enough to float an egg. If I add too much or too little salt, the cook throws a fit and breaks all the jars, and I have to make everything anew.

To top it all off, I am expected to recite prayers in Arabic as I perform each and every task. The cook wants me to pray aloud so that he can check whether I skip or mispronounce a word. So I pray and work, work and pray. “The better you bear the hardships in the kitchen, the faster you will mature, son,” my tormentor claims. “While you learn to cook, your soul will simmer.” “But how long is this trial going to last?” I asked him once.

“A thousand and one days” was his answer. “If Scheherazade the storyteller managed to come up with a new tale every night for that long, you, too, can endure.”

This is crazy! Do I resemble in the least bit that loudmouthed Scheherazade? Besides, all she did was lie on velvet cushions twiddling her toes and make up fancy stories while she fed the cruel prince sweet grapes and figments of her imagination. I don’t see any hard work there. She wouldn’t have survived a week if she were asked to accomplish half of my work. I don’t know if anyone is counting. But I surely am. And I have 624 more days to go.

The first forty days of my trial I spent in a cell so small and low that I could neither lie down nor stand up and had to sit on my knees all the time. If I longed for proper food or some comfort, was scared of the dark or the loneliness, or God forbid had wet dreams about a woman’s body, I was ordered to ring the silver bells dangling from the ceiling for spiritual help. I never did. This is not to say I never had any distracting thoughts. But what’s wrong with having a few distractions when you can’t even move?

When the seclusion period was over, I was sent back to the kitchen to suffer at the hands of the cook. And suffer I did. But the truth is, as bitter as I might be toward him, I never broke the cook’s rules—that is, until the evening Shams of Tabriz arrived. That night, when the cook finally caught up with me, he gave me the worst beating of my life, breaking willow stick after willow stick on my back. Then he put my shoes in front of the door, with their fronts pointing out, to make it clear it was time for me to leave. In a dervish lodge, they never kick you out or tell you openly that you have failed; instead they make you silently leave.

“We cannot make you a dervish against your will,” the cook announced. “A man can bring a donkey to the water but cannot make him drink. The donkey should have it in him. There’s no other way.”

That makes me the donkey, of course. Frankly, I would have left this place a long time ago had it not been for Shams of Tabriz. My curiosity about him kept me anchored here. I had never met anyone like him before. He feared no one and obeyed no one. Even the cook respected him. If there ever were a role model for me in this lodge, it was Shams with his charm, dignity, and unruliness. Not the humble old master.

Yes, Shams of Tabriz was my hero. After seeing him, I decided I didn’t need to turn myself into a meek dervish. If I spent enough time next to him, I could become just as brash, steadfast, and rebellious. So when autumn came and I realized that Shams was leaving for good, I decided to leave with him.

Having made up my mind, I went to see Baba Zaman and found him sitting, reading an old book by the light of an oil lamp.

“What do you want, novice?” he asked wearily, as if seeing me tired him.

As forthright as I could be, I said, “I understand that Shams of Tabriz is leaving soon, Master. I want to go with him. He might need company on the way.”

“I didn’t know you cared for him so much,” the master said suspiciously. “Or is it because you are looking for ways to avoid your tasks in the kitchen? Your trial is not over yet. You can hardly be called a dervish.”

“Perhaps going on a journey with someone like Shams is my trial,” I suggested, knowing that it was a bold thing to say but saying it anyhow.

The master lowered his gaze, lapsing into contemplation. The longer his silence, the more I was convinced he would scold me for my insolence and call the cook to keep a better eye on me. But he did no such thing. Instead he looked at me forlornly and shook his head.

“Perhaps you were not created for life in a lodge, my son. After all, out of every seven novices that set out on this path, only one remains. My feeling is you are not fit to be a dervish and need to look for your kismet elsewhere. As for accompanying Shams on his journey, you will have to ask him about that.” Thus giving me notice, Baba Zaman closed the subject with a polite but dogged gesture of his head and went back to his book.

I felt sad and small, but strangely liberated.

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