بخش 63

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PART FOUR

Fire

THE THINGS THAT DAMAGE, DEVASTATE, AND DESTROY

Suleiman the Drunk

KONYA, FEBRUARY 1246

Beguiled by wine, I have had many crazy delusions when drunk, but seeing the great Rumi enter the tavern door was really wild, even for me. I pinched myself, but the vision didn’t vanish.

“Hey, Hristos, what did you serve me, man?” I yelled. “That last bottle of wine must have been some mighty booze. You’d never guess what I’m hallucinating right now.” “Hush, you idiot,” whispered someone from behind me.

I looked around to see who was trying to quiet me and was stunned to find every man in the tavern, including Hristos, gawking at the door. The whole place had plunged into an eerie silence, and even the tavern dog, Saqui, seemed perplexed as he lay with his floppy ears glued to the floor. The Persian rug merchant stopped singing those awful melodies he called songs. Instead he swayed on his feet, holding his chin up with the overstated seriousness of a drunk who was trying to appear to be otherwise.

It was Hristos who broke the silence. “Welcome to my tavern, Mawlana,” he said, his voice dripping with politeness. “It is an honor to see you under this roof. How may I help you?” I blinked repeatedly as it finally dawned on me that it really was Rumi standing there.

“Thank you,” Rumi said with a large but flat smile. “I’d like to get some wine.”

Poor Hristos was so surprised to hear this that his jaw dropped. When he could move again, he ushered Rumi to the first available table, which happened to be next to mine!

“Selamun aleykum,” Rumi greeted me as soon as he sat down.

I greeted him back and uttered a few pleasantries, but I am not sure the words came out right. With his tranquil expression, expensive robe, and elegant dark brown caftan, Rumi looked totally out of place.

I leaned forward and, dropping my voice to a whisper, said, “Would it be terribly rude if I ask what a man like you is doing here?” “I’m going through a Sufi trial,” Rumi said, winking at me as if we were best friends. “I’ve been sent here by Shams so that I could have my reputation ruined.” “And is that a good thing?” I asked.

Rumi laughed. “Well, it depends on how you look at it. Sometimes it is necessary to destroy all attachments in order to win over your ego. If we are too attached to our family, our position in society, even our local school or mosque, to the extent that they stand in the way of Union with God, we need to tear those attachments down.” I wasn’t sure I was following him correctly, but somehow this explanation made perfect sense to my addled mind. I had always suspected that these Sufis were a crazy, colorful bunch capable of all kinds of eccentricities.

Now it was Rumi’s turn to lean forward and ask in the same whispery tone, “Would it be terribly rude if I asked you how you got that scar on your face?” “It’s not a very interesting story, I’m afraid,” I said. “I was walking home late at night, and I bumped into this security guard who beat the crap out of me.” “But why?” asked Rumi, looking genuinely concerned.

“Because I had drunk wine,” I said, pointing to the bottle that Hristos had just placed in front of Rumi.

Rumi shook his head. At first he seemed entirely befuddled, as if he didn’t believe that such things could happen, but soon his lips twisted into a friendly smile. And just like that, we continued to talk. Over bread and goat cheese, we conversed about faith and friendship and other things in life that I thought I had long forgotten but was now delighted to rake up from my heart.

Shortly after sunset Rumi rose to leave. Everyone in the tavern stood to bid him farewell. It was quite a scene.

“You cannot leave without telling us why wine has been forbidden,” I said.

Hristos ran to my side with a frown, worried that my question might annoy his prestigious customer. “Hush, Suleiman. Why do you have to ask such things?” “No, seriously,” I insisted, staring at Rumi. “You have seen us. We are not evil people, but that is what they say about us all the time. You tell me, what is so wrong with drinking wine, provided we behave ourselves and don’t harm anyone?” Despite an open window in the corner, the air inside the tavern had become musty and smoky, and suffused with anticipation. I could see that everyone was curious to hear the answer. Pensive, kind, sober, Rumi walked toward me, and here is what he said: “If the wine drinker

Has a deep gentleness in him,

He will show that,

When drunk.

But if he has hidden anger and arrogance,

Those appear,

And since most people do,

Wine is forbidden to everyone.”

There was a brief lull as we all contemplated these words.

“My friends, wine is not an innocent drink,” Rumi addressed us in a renewed voice, so commanding and yet so composed and solid, “because it brings out the worst in us. I believe it is better for us to abstain from drinking. That said, we cannot blame alcohol for what we are responsible for. It is our own arrogance and anger that we should be working on. That is more urgent. At the end of the day whoever wants to drink will drink and whoever wants to stay away from wine will stay away. We have no right to impose our ways on others. There is no compulsion in religion.” This elicited heartened nods from some customers. I, for my part, preferred to raise my glass in my belief that no piece of wisdom should go untoasted.

“You are a good man with a great heart,” I said. “No matter what people say about what you did today, and I’m sure they are going to say plenty, I think as a preacher it was very brave of you to come to the tavern and talk with us without judgment.” Rumi gave me a friendly look. Then he grabbed the wine bottles he had left untouched and walked out into the evening breeze.

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