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Thread: White Bird

  1. #1
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    White Bird

    White Bird

    Three days later Ali received a formal invitation to the palace. He waited in a hallway outside a door with two muscled guards, nervous and excited at the same time. After returning the ‘stolen goods’ to the Sultana he had no opportunity to see how it turned out. The entire episode was kept quiet while a cover story was invented by the Sultana and her closest advisors. Now able to talk to her in private for the first time in days, Ali expected to be brought up to date. The only thing he knew for sure was that the grand wazir had been arrested and jailed.

    The Sultana was an unusually lovely woman, but this morning, in this light, she was absolutely striking. She was standing near a gilded cage feeding a white turtle-dove, her favorite pet. The bars were textured to resemble bamboo and the water troughs were blue-green enamel.

    “Ali, Good Ali, do you know much about birds?”

    “I know about wild birds, about falcons and hawks.”

    “This one is quite tame.”

    She slid opened the golden door.

    The dove looked out but stood fast on her perch.

    “You see, Ali, how sad it is? She can’t leave. She’s grown too accustomed to her cage.”

    The Sultana walked to the balcony and looked out over the city. Tall deodars and palm trees bowed their heads over the tile rooftops in submission to the heat of day.

    “You know, I’m closing the herb shop. The woman with the twisted lip is going to do a disappearing act. She’s not needed any more.”

    “Not needed?”

    “Not any more. You see, I’m out of a job. My brother is going to become Caliph. I’m no longer going to be Sultana.”

    “I don’t understand.”

    “I was only a fill-in, a temporary solution. The advisors and tribal chieftains liked my work, but my brother was born to be Caliph, like my father. It’s more than just a secular post; it’s religious and requires a man. More than that, my brother was from my father’s first wife, and is a Muslim.”

    “I was raised a Christian,” said Ali, “but in India I studied under a Sufi mystic. There’s something I like about it.”

    “Anyone can be raised to be anything. But in the end we all pick and choose a personal religion for ourselves.”

    Baheera fed the bird a spray of millet, and looked longingly over the city again.

    “My mother was a Christian and my father was a Muslim. I’m half and half.”

    “So that’s why you defended the other two faiths so vehemently.”

    “All three are related, and all religions deserve respect, no matter what they are or how few followers they have.”

    “So you’re out of a job because you’re a member of two faiths.”

    “That’s right.”

    “I’m out of a job myself. I’ve sent in my resignation to “S”.

    “Really? What will you do with yourself with all that time on your hands?”

    “I intend to keep busy. I’ll oversee a coffee plantation…somewhere, Sumatra or Java near the Sunda Strait. I have an old friend, a Dutchman, who’ll help me get started. What about you?”

    “I want to travel and paint landscapes and nature. Java is green isn’t it? And Sumatra, don’t they have tigers? They’re both in the tropics and surrounded by water.”

    “Java has more kinds of green than you can imagine, and blood-red sunsets and blue-turquoise seas, not to mention white-coral beaches littered with exotic shells. And they say in Sumatra that yellow tigers run down moonbeams on the dark nights.”

    Ali waited for his words to have their effect and then continued.

    “Oh, before I forget....this is for you.”

    Ali gave her the paint set. Baheera’s eyes brightened when she saw it was vintage and had no idea it was ancient.

    “Ali, I have something for you too. See here!”

    Baheera unwrapped a velvet cloth and placed a dagger with a lion’s-head pommel and ruby eyes in his hand.

    “I want to reward you for saving my brother, and being such a good friend to the woman with the twisted lip.”

    “The woman was a good friend to me. She was educated, not ivory-tower style mind you, but practical. She was truthful and kind, and when I think of it…charming. For a poor woman she had more generosity of spirit than any other woman I’ve ever known. I’ll miss her.”

    “We’ll both miss her.”

    Then Baheera’s voice took on a quality as seductive as Japanese silk.

    “You don’t have to miss her forever, Ali. You may cross paths in the future. One can never tell about such things. When are you leaving?”

    The turtle-dove hopped one perch closer to the door of the cage.

    “At the end of the week. I’m boarding the steamer Tankedere, first to the Sunda Strait and then to Batavia.”

    “In that case I’ll just say au revoir, not adieu. Besides, we may have a chance to talk again.”

    Ali took the Sultana’s hand, but as he was about to give it back she pressed his a moment longer, and the look in her eyes whispered volumes of things unsaid. Walking down the marble hallway, he experienced complete silence, with the exception of a fluttering sound, which Ali in his foolishness ascribed to his heart.

    Ali was mistaken. It was the wings of a snow-white dove taking flight for the first time in years, from the cage to the balcony, then over the treetops and spiraled minarets where holy men called the faithful to prayer.

    ©StevenHunley2017 Sam Bush White Bird

  2. #2
    TheFairyDogMother kiz_paws's Avatar
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    Lots of dialogue, which is very appealing to me. Easier to relate to the characters, methinks.
    Your descriptions 'took me there' if you will. Very well done.
    *thumbs up*

  3. #3
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Beyond nowhere
    I liked specially the symbolic ending. What happened three days before? I suppose this is part two or three of a sequel.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

  4. #4
    Phil Captain Pike's Avatar
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    I read along and I thought you had changed,here was a big project, well researched, with the geography and the names and word meanings, until I read the line,

    The dove looked out but stood fast on her perch.

    Then I smiled, that was Hunley, I thought – can't keep a good man down!

    I always like to read your work.

    Ничего нет лучше для исправления, как прежнее с раскаянием вспомнить.

  5. #5
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    You guys have no idea how much your words mean to me. Good to hear from you, Captain. Hope all is well.

    And thank you too, Kiz Paws and Danik 2016. When you actually get comments on Lit Net, it's rare, like a jeweled experience, and you treasure it forever.

    Thanks one and all, and you, the Silent Majority, too.

  6. #6
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    I have to let you in on a secret. The Tankedere was the steamer Philieas Fogg took to San Francisco. And what happened three days before was this:

    The Woman with the Twisted Lip

    The eyes that peered through the lens were coconut brown, and veiled with long curving lashes. Under that, a Sultana’s cheeks, and under those rosy cheeks a petulant mouth designed by the Gods themselves when the royal girl-child was still in Heaven.

    The fingers adjusting the bright brass tube were slender and pale and almost artistic. Extended to full length, the instrument saw into every corner of the city. Minaret’s spirals piercing a cobalt sky, rose-colored roofed houses, white-washed promenades, and little brown donkeys piled high with wood. In the street, merchants bustling business from their stalls and lines of glistening black slaves chained to each other by their throats, dragging reluctant feet to the slave market. Tall burly tribesmen with whips stood guard and an old woman selling brown succulent dates sat in the cool blue shadows of a mosque to escape the mid-day heat.

    The crystal lens made everything appear close and sharp.

    But right now the usually well-formed mouth was pouting.

    “I never get to go out, Grand Wazier, never!”

    “I understand…but with affairs of state…”

    “I never get to see things close up!”

    Her small red velvet slippers with curled toes stomped on the unfeeling cold marble floor to no avail.

    “But we have to protect you, Your Majesty. What with all these threats of assassination…”

    Fine sculpted nails tapped impatiently on the brass telescope. Brown eyes still fixed at the end of the tube refused to acknowledge his argument.

    “You have proof?”

    “We have letters…intercepted letters. I’ll ask my secretary to retrieve them. The Turks threaten our borders, and our people are restless as jackals. I know it hasn’t been easy since your brother disappeared.”

    “I’m sorry, Wazier, I’m out of sorts. Don’t bother with the letters. I know you are competent in your job. It’s this heat, it has me ill-tempered.”

    “Yes, I agree. I feel it too. I don’t take your words personally. Cairo is unaccountably hot for this time of year.”

    The Sultana finally looked his way and smiled.

    “No offence?”

    “None taken.”

    “Then, you may go.”

    The Wazier backed his way from the balcony into the palace, stopped to steal a tangerine from a blue-glazed bowl, and allowed the Sultana to return to her amusement. Her palace, Qasr al – Bahr, was designed by royal astrologers to be in unison with the stars. It was imposing and beautiful. From its lofty walls she could see the city below, but never touch the wonders her lens revealed. To the Sultana the palace was a prison, and her courtiers and officials merely well-mannered soft-talking guards dressed in silk, or perfumed ghosts whose whispers haunted its gilded corridors.

    Older Cairo, poorer Cairo, was a different place entirely.

    Far from the palace was one of a thousand narrow winding streets. Covered balconies and jalousie blinds allowed sequestered women within to peer out at the crowded thoroughfares unseen. At an intersection was a fountain like any other. Across from the fountain was a stable for travelers to rent horses, a business where a man dyed wool, and a shop that sold birds. It could have been anywhere in the city and there was nothing to distinguish it except an unusual mosaic of the Virgin Mary on a wall not far from a minaret. Its spire’s shadow seemed to point at the beautiful sad lady. How a Christian mosaic came to be put there was speculated upon and debated every day by Moslem women who used the fountain, but its presence was defended by a frail Indian woman who sold herbs and bhang on the corner.

    The old woman maintained that the mosaic was set there long ago by a Christian crusader’s family after the Holy crusades and sanctioned by Saladin himself, a well-known defender of the faith. She was impeccable in her taste and her cleanliness, swept her storefront and wiped dust from the mosaic as a ritual every evening. She was poor but respected, and although she was elderly, the sands of time had not dulled the needle of her wit. In fact, her wit and sense of humor were known far beyond the neighborhood in which she lived. Some said she was the widow of a Sufi mystic, but many argued that her remarkable perception took no training, that it was a gift. Rumors floated about her shoulders like flocks of restless starlings. She kept to herself and lived alone and slept during the day, so only the flotsam and jetsam that slunk about in the night were fully conversant with her and her ways.

    To her neighbors that lived their lives during the day this reclusiveness only added to her cache.

    “She is a night-owl,” remarked one woman to another while doing laundry. “Some people are just that way.”

    “In that case I don’t give a hoot about her,” the second woman laughed.

    “She keeps to herself,” observed a third. “And that’s good enough for me. Not long ago she gave my son some herbal medicine for his stomach complaints.”

    “It did him no harm?”

    “The next day he was up and about chirping like a bird!”

    All three cackled like hens.

    Three sets of brown hands returned to their white foaming suds with such industry that bubbles slopped into the street.

    But what of the men?

    Oh, by the beard of the Prophet, she was popular with them too. Men would seek out her advice and herbal remedies when they required more vigor in the bedroom, or when their heads suffered from too much drinking. This made her popular with their wives as well. Kindness and clarity beamed from her person like the ancient lighthouse at Alexandria and many people on the street owed their success to her knowledge and forethought.

    All these aspects and virtues were wrapped in an unlikely package. Time, it is supposed, had bent her back like a recurved Persian bow. Lines of care were etched on her forehead and her skin was mottled and discolored, and nature, in a final act of perversion, had twisted her lip.

    “It’s a hasty dye-job Allah has done on the woman,” said the man who dyed wool, “though he must have his reasons.”

    “He moves in mysterious ways,” said the man who sold songbirds birds in bamboo cages. “Never doubt his wisdom. His reasons are not a matter for mortal men to judge.” U2 Mysterious Ways

    to be continued?.....

  7. #7
    TheFairyDogMother kiz_paws's Avatar
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    My goodness, so very rich in imagery.
    Very well done, my friend.
    Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty
    ~Albert Einstein

  8. #8
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Both men were interrupted when they heard a rider approaching. From the speed of the horse it could only be one man, that and the fact a hooded falcon was hanging onto his shoulder with his talons for dear life indicated they were correct.

    “It’s Ali Pasha, come to return my bird and stable his horse.”

    “The man rides tall in the saddle and studies falconry. He’s quite a horseman.”

    “He’s my best customer and, praise be to Allah, a gentleman.”

    “A gentleman and a rogue, that’s what they say.”

    “Most certainly he is as advertised, a gentleman, a rogue, and a rake, all three.

    Ali Pasha rode up like a whirl-wind and threw seven desert quails to the man who owned the stable and bird shop.

    “I see the hunting was good.”

    “Good enough to break one’s fast,” Ali said, dismounting, “Have your wife fix me two. Keep the rest for yourselves.”

    “Coffee, too?”

    “Naturally, make mine medium sweet.”

    Ali dusted off his caftan and boots. He was handsome and well-built, with a square jaw that wanted a shave and regular features graced with dark liquid eyes women found irresistible. Rubbing his fingers against his chin provoked him to say,

    “I’m going to shave and have a bath. After that, let’s break our fast in your garden under the flowered gazebo before it gets too hot. Your wife is with child, isn’t she?”

    “Yes, Effendi, she’s due in a month or so.”

    “See she gets the fattest one.”

    “At once, Effendi, and thank you.”

    Ali Pasha handed the bird-seller his falcon for safe-keeping. He opened his saddlebag and took out a bundle of papers, a small inkwell and a few quill pens wrapped in a cord and left for his rooms over the bird-shop.

    “What’s that?” asked the man who dyed wool.

    ‘It’s a manuscript of the Thousand and One Nights. He’s translating the tale of the Genii from Farsi to Egyptian!”

    “My goodness, he’s a gentleman and a scholar!”

    “He’s a hunter and a horseman and a gentleman and a scholar.”

    “And a rogue and a rake, remember?”

    “It is written that ‘it takes many qualities to be a man’ is what I remember. Come, let us eat."

    “I will accompany you eagerly,” the wool dyer muttered on his way to the most sumptuous breakfast he’d had in a week. “For Ali Pasha is one of a thousand and one.”
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 09-14-2017 at 12:28 PM.

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