بخش 24

کتاب: ملت عشق / فصل 24

بخش 24

توضیح مختصر

  • زمان مطالعه 12 دقیقه
  • سطح خیلی سخت

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متن انگلیسی فصل

Hasan the Beggar

KONYA, OCTOBER 17, 1244

Believe it or not, they call this purgatory on earth “holy suffering.” I am a leper stuck in limbo. Neither the dead nor the living want me among them. Mothers point me out on the streets to scare their misbehaving toddlers, and children throw stones at me. Artisans chase me from their storefronts to ward off the bad luck that follows me everywhere, and pregnant women turn their faces away whenever they set eyes on me, fearing that their babies will be born defective. None of these people seem to realize that as keen as they are to avoid me, I am far keener to avoid them and their pitiful stares.

It is the skin that changes first, becoming thicker and darker. Patches of varying sizes, the color of rotten eggs, appear on the shoulders, knees, arms, and face. There is a lot of stinging and burning in this phase, but then somehow the pain withers away, or else one becomes numb to it. Next the patches start to enlarge and swell up, turning into ugly bulbs. The hands turn to claws, and the face is so deformed as to be unrecognizable. Now that I am nearing the final stages, I cannot close my eyelids anymore. Tears and saliva flow without my control. Six of the nails on my hands have fallen off, and one is on its way. Oddly enough, I still have my hair. I guess I should consider that lucky.

I heard that in Europe lepers are kept outside the city walls. Here they let us live in the city as long as we carry a bell to warn other people of our presence. We are also allowed to beg, which is a good thing, because otherwise we would probably starve. Begging is one of only two ways to survive. The other is praying. Not because God pays special attention to lepers but because for some strange reason people think He does. Hence, as much as they despise us, the townspeople also respect us. They hire us to pray for the sick, the crippled, and the elderly. They pay and feed us well, hoping to squeeze out of our mouths a few extra prayers. On the streets, lepers might be treated worse than dogs, but in places where death and despair loom large, we are the sultans.

Whenever I am hired to pray, I bow my head and make incomprehensible sounds in Arabic, pretending to be absorbed in prayer. Pretend is all I can do, for I don’t think God hears me. I have no reason to believe He does.

Though it is less profitable, I find begging much easier than praying. At least I am not deceiving anyone. Friday is the best day of the week to beg, except when it is Ramadan, in which case the whole month is quite lucrative. The last day of Ramadan is by far the best time to make money. That is when even the hopeless penny-pinchers race to give alms, keen to compensate for all their sins, past and present. Once a year, people don’t turn away from beggars. To the contrary, they specifically look for one, the more miserable the better. So profound is their need to show off how generous and charitable they are, not only do they race to give us alms, but for that single day they almost love us.

Today could be a very profitable day, too, since Rumi is giving one of his Friday sermons. The mosque is already packed. Those who can’t find a seat inside are lining up in the courtyard. The afternoon is the perfect occasion for panhandlers and pickpockets. And just like me, they are all present here, scattered within the crowd.

I sat down right across from the entrance of the mosque with my back to a maple tree. There was a dank smell of rain in the air, mixed with the sweet, faint tang coming from the orchards far away. I put my mendicant bowl in front of me. Unlike many others in this business, I never have to openly ask for alms. A leper doesn’t need to whine and implore, making up stories about how wretched his life is or how poor his health. Giving people a glimpse of my face has the effect of a thousand words. So I simply uncovered my face and sat back.

In the next hour, a few coins were dropped into my bowl. All were chipped copper. I yearned for a gold coin, with symbols of sun, lion, and crescent. Since the late Aladdin Keykubad had loosened the rules on currency, coins issued by the beys of Aleppo, the Fatimid rulers in Cairo, and the caliph of Baghdad, not to mention the Italian florin, were all pronounced valid. The rulers of Konya accepted them all, and so did the town’s beggars.

Together with the coins, a few dry leaves fell on my lap. The maple tree was shedding its reddish gold leaves, and as a gusty wind blew, quite a number of these made it into my bowl, as if the tree were giving me alms. Suddenly I realized that the maple tree and I had something in common. A tree shedding its leaves in autumn resembled a man shedding his limbs in the final stages of leprosy.

I was a naked tree. My skin, my organs, my face falling apart. Every day another part of my body abandoned me. And for me, unlike the maple tree, there would be no spring in which I would blossom. What I lost, I lost forever. When people looked at me, they didn’t see who I was but what I was missing. Whenever they placed a coin in my bowl, they did so with amazing speed and avoided any eye contact, as if my gaze were contagious. In their eyes I was worse than a thief or a murderer. As much as they disapproved of such outlaws, they didn’t treat them as if they were invisible. When it came to me, however, all they saw was death staring them in the face. That’s what scared them—to recognize that death could be this close and this ugly.

Suddenly there was a great commotion in the background. I heard somebody yell, “He is coming! He is coming!”

Sure enough, there was Rumi, riding a horse as white as milk, wearing an exquisite amber caftan embroidered with golden leaves and baby pearls, erect and proud, wise and noble, followed by a throng of admirers. Radiating an air of charisma and confidence, he looked less like a scholar than a ruler—the sultan of the wind, the fire, the water, and the earth. Even his horse stood tall and firm, as if aware of the distinction of the man he carried.

I pocketed the coins in my bowl, wrapped my head so as to leave half of my face in the open, and entered the mosque. Inside, it was so packed it seemed impossible to breathe, let alone find a seat. But the one good thing about being a leper was that no matter how crowded a place, I could always find a seat, since nobody wanted to sit next to me.

“Brothers,” Rumi said, his voice rising high, sweeping low. “The vastness of the universe makes us feel small, even inconsequential. Some of you might be asking, ‘What meaning could I, in my limitedness, possibly have for God?’ This, I believe, is a question that has occurred to many from time to time. In today’s sermon I want to generate some specific answers to that.” Rumi’s two sons were in the front row—the handsome one, Sultan Walad, who everyone said resembled his late mother, and the young one, Aladdin, with an animated face but curiously furtive eyes. I could see that both were proud of their father.

“The children of Adam were honored with knowledge so great that neither the mountains nor the heavens could shoulder it,” Rumi continued. “That is why it says in the Qur’an, Truly We offered the trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to bear it because they were afraid of it. Only man took it up. Having been given such an honorable position, human beings should not aim any lower than what God had intended.” Pronouncing his vowels in that strange way only the educated are capable of, Rumi talked about God, assuring us that He dwelled not on a distant throne in the sky but very close to each and every one of us. What brought us even closer to God, he said, was none other than suffering.

“Your hand opens and closes all the time. If it did not, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding. The two are as beautifully balanced and coordinated as the wings of a bird.”

At first I liked what he said. It warmed my heart to think of joy and sorrow as dependent on each other as a bird’s wings. But almost instantly I felt a wave of resentment rise up in my throat. What did Rumi know about suffering? As the son of an eminent man and heir to a wealthy, prominent family, life had always been good to him. I knew he had lost his first wife, but I didn’t believe he had ever experienced real misfortune. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, raised in distinguished circles, tutored by the best scholars, and always loved, pampered, and admired—how dare he preach on suffering?

With a sinking heart, I realized that the contrast between Rumi and me couldn’t be greater. Why was God so unfair? To me He had given poverty, sickness, and misery. To Rumi riches, success, and wisdom. With his flawless reputation and royal demeanor, he hardly belonged to this world, at least not to this city. I had to cover my face if I didn’t want people to be revolted by the sight of me, while he shone in public like a precious gem. I wondered how he would fare if he were in my shoes? Had it ever occurred to him that even someone as perfect and privileged as he could someday tumble and fall? Had he ever contemplated how it would feel to be an outcast, even for one day? Would he still be the great Rumi if he had been given the life I was given?

With each new question, my resentment rose, sweeping away whatever admiration I might otherwise have had for him. Bitter and petulant, I stood up and pushed my way out. Several people in the audience eyed me curiously, wondering why I was leaving a sermon that so many others were dying to attend.

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