بخش 60

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بخش 60

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متن انگلیسی فصل

Desert Rose the Harlot

KONYA, FEBRUARY 1246

Bitter and bleak, the day I left the brothel was the coldest day in forty years. The narrow, serpentine streets glistened with fresh snow, and sharp pendants of ice hung from the roofs of the houses and the minarets of the mosques in dangerous beauty. By midafternoon the chill had become so severe there were frozen cats on the streets with whiskers turned into thin threads of ice, and several ramshackle houses collapsed under the weight of the snow. After the street cats, Konya’s homeless suffered the most. There were half a dozen frozen bodies—all curled up in the fetal position with beatific smiles on their faces, as if expecting to be reborn into a better and warmer life.

Late in the afternoon, when everyone was taking a nap before the hustle of the evening began, I sneaked out of my room. I took no more than a few simple clothes, leaving behind all the silk garments and accessories I used to wear for special customers. Whatever was earned in the brothel had to stay in the brothel.

Halfway down the stairs, I saw Magnolia standing at the main door, chewing the brown leaves she was addicted to. Older than all the other girls in the brothel, lately she had been complaining about hot flashes. At night I heard her toss and turn in bed. It was no secret that her womanhood was drying up. Younger girls jokingly said they envied Magnolia, since she would not have to worry about having periods, pregnancies, or abortions anymore and could sleep with a man every single day of the month, but we all knew that an aged prostitute had little chance of survival.

As soon as I saw Magnolia standing there, I knew I had only two options: either return to my room and forget about running away or walk through that door and bear the consequences. My heart chose the latter.

“Hey, Magnolia, are you feeling better?” I said, adopting what I hoped was a relaxed and casual tone of voice.

Magnolia’s face brightened but then darkened again as she noticed the bag in my hand. There was no point in lying. She knew that the patron had forbidden me to leave my room, never mind leaving the brothel.

“Are you leaving?” Magnolia gasped as if the question scared her.

I didn’t say anything. Now it was her turn to make a choice. She could either stop me in my tracks and alert everyone to my plan or simply let me go. Magnolia stared at me, her expression grave and embittered.

“Go back to your room, Desert Rose,” she said. “The patron will send Jackal Head after you. Don’t you know what he did to …?”

But she didn’t finish her sentence. That was one of the unwritten rules in the brothel: We didn’t bring up the stories of the unfortunate girls who had worked here before us and had met a premature end, and on those rare occasions when we did mention them, we took care not to utter their names. There was no point in disturbing them in their graves. They had already led tough lives; it was better to let them rest.

“Even if you manage to escape, how are you going to make a living?” Magnolia insisted. “You will starve to death.”

What I saw in Magnolia’s eyes was fear—not the fear that I could fail and be punished by the patron but the fear that I might succeed. I was going to do the one thing she had always dreamed about and yet never dared to carry out, and now she both respected and hated me for my audacity. I felt a momentary pang of doubt and would have gone back had the voice of Shams of Tabriz not kept echoing in my head.

“Let me go, Magnolia,” I said. “I’m not staying here another day.”

After being beaten by Baybars and looking death in the face, I felt that something within me had changed irreversibly. It was as if I had no more fear left inside me. One way or another, I didn’t care. I was determined to dedicate what remained of my life to God. Whether this would be for a single day or for many more years to come did not matter. Shams of Tabriz had said that faith and love turned human beings into heroes because they removed all the fear and anxiety from their hearts. I was beginning to understand what he meant.

And the strange thing is, Magnolia understood it, too. She gave me a long, painful look and slowly moved aside, opening the way out for me.

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