SEVENTY-TWO VIRGINS AGAINST A SOUL (A PLAY BY JRS)
The following play has received inspiration from many different sources: from the poetry of Rumi and Omar Khayyam, from verses of the Holy Koran, perhaps from Douglas Fairbanks Sr.'s "The Thief of Baghdad" (the "thief turned knight" motif), and from the amazing true tale of the Old Man of the Mountain and his cult of assassins, which terrorized the Muslim Middle East in the days of the Crusades. Fantastic though the story seems, it appears that hashish and a carefully constructed vision of Paradise were key elements in the Old Man’s manipulation of his followers. (The existence of the Old Man and his cult is well documented by chronicles of the age. My sources include: The Travels of Marco Polo (chapters 23, 24, and 25), and the modern historical biographies of "Omar Khayyam" and "Tamerlane", penned by Harold Lamb. This story was also the one which mesmerized me in the past (see The Journey of Rainsnow, p. 401-402, 409, 412-413).
Besides the drama inherent in the history, I feel a connection between this ancient, true-life story and the culture of the suicide bomber which has had such a powerful impact in our own times. As I prepare to post this tale, I am compelled to proclaim: Sin and Virtue have no nationality, faith or color; just as Love is for everyone.
PS: The "pagan story" referred to in the play is the Babylonian chronicle of Gilgamesh; the quatrain which is quoted is from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, as translated by Edward Fitzgerald ("Awake, for morning, in the bowl of night…") Besides this, several verses from the Holy Koran are quoted.
Structure and Setting
The play, which is not formally structured into Acts and Scenes, is easily divided into scenes, as indicated, on paper, by spaces between episodes. Various settings are called for, but they could be dealt with in a minimalist fashion and mainly suggested by pantomime. Or, on the contrary, full-scale sets could be used.
TEACHER: A wise man who helps to bind the play together with his musings and reflections, and who also interacts with the others as a kind of higher consciousness and agent for change and support who exists within some of the principal characters.
AHMED: The protagonist, a strong, clever and disaffected Middle Eastern thief who is converted into one of the Old Man of the Mountain’s assassins. His growth and inner struggle are at the crux of the play.
THREE SUFI DANCERS: They whirl across the stage to inject a dose of spiritual energy and to signal changes of scenes.
TWO LOOSE WOMEN: Bit-players who accompany Ahmed on a binge.
DRUNKEN FRIEND: Bit-player who accompanies Ahmed on a binge.
OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN: The chief of the notorious cult of assassins, a charismatic false prophet, and clever con man who effectively transmits the presence of a great leader. (Also known as Hassan ibn Saba, and Shaikh al Jabal.)
VARIOUS ATTENDANTS OF THE OLD MAN: Two, at least, perhaps more. They accompany him.
VARIOUS DISCIPLES AND LISTENERS OF THE OLD MAN: A crowd of people who follow him and revere him; and also an audience of those who may be converted by him. Includes the TRUE BELIEVER.
ENGINEER: An increasingly disillusioned engineer who has helped the Old Man to build a false model of Paradise, as part of the Old Man’s efforts to deceive his followers.
MANAGER OF THE HOURI: Essentially, the manager of the Old Man’s harem, which he uses to imitate the maidens said to belong to Paradise in the Koran.
AKILAH and ILHAM: Two of the Old Man’s fake houri, or maidens of Paradise.
A’DAB: Another of the false houri; a protagonist of the play. She is disaffected from the Old Man and his plot, and falls in love with Ahmed. She must be capable of singing (Arab style) and dancing (belly dance).
MUSICIANS (optional): They play the music for A’dab’s dance. However, they may be represented as being off stage, and their role may be taken by a recording.
CAPTAIN OF THE ASSASSINS: A military leader who works for the Old Man, training his converts and recruits in the art of assassination. More than being sinister, he is a true believer.
ASSASSIN TRAINEES: ABDULLAH, MUSTAFFA, RASCHID, ALI: They will enact many kill scenarios/demonstrations during the Captain’s training session. They must seem agile, strong, quick, and effective. They are true believers, and inclined to treat Ahmed in a brotherly fashion.
MAS’UD: He is Ahmed’s guide, who leads him to the destination of his mission on behalf of the Old Man.
SUPPORT CHIEF: He is the leader of the support team which receives Ahmed, and has laid the groundwork for his exploit.
SUPPORT LIEUTENANT: He is another member of the support team.
FOUR BODYGUARDS OF THE PRINCE: 4 bodyguards, including JAWAD, of the prince who Ahmed is assigned to kill. (Prince’s Bodyguards, PG 1 – 4.)
HERALD: The prince’s herald.
PRINCE FAROOK: The target of Ahmed’s mission. He is actually a noble and generous ruler who has been misrepresented to the assassins by the Old Man.
CROWD: A crowd of people who have come to see the prince, in which Ahmed is an infiltrator. Parts go to: PETITIONER 1 and PETITIONER 2, and CROWD MEMBER 1, 2, and 3.
First of all, appropriate costuming – Recordings(?) of belly-dance music that fits the dance, and call to prayer – carpets (2, one of beauty and quality, one old and decrepit for hiding it in) – various weapons and tools of the assassins (swords, especially Middle Eastern scimitars, knives, poison ring, poison locket, a book from whose binding a blade can be drawn, straw used for breathing underwater, rope with a hook attached to the end for scaling walls, a sample paper carpet for making noise which is used to alert intended victims of approaching assassins) – bow and arrows and quiver (used by the Teacher in a demonstration) – drums (for use by the Old Man’s ecstatic followers) – "gold" coins (loose and in a bag) – travel bag (for Ahmed) – various cups and drinking gourds – fruit – cushions to sit on – thrones (for the Old Man and for Prince Farook) – herald’s staff – hand-held mirror (for A’dab).
A young, sullen-looking man (Ahmed) sits in the darkness. We hear the voice from the mosque calling the faithful to prayer. The young man does not budge. After a while, Sufi dancers in white flowing garments whirl past, from stage left to stage right and continue until they vanish off stage. The Sufi Teacher comes out onto the stage, to the foreground.
Teacher: Today, I will tell you a story. I swear to you, in some way it is true. Lives have a way of passing by without being understood; action follows action. The animal eats, sleeps, couples, which is another form of eating, sleeps again, and dies. As he closes his eyelids for the final time, he awakens. What made no sense while it was here suddenly becomes magnificent when it’s gone. When it’s gone, that’s when we must hold onto it.
[The call to prayer continues]
Teacher: The muezzin is calling the faithful to prayer. Who doesn’t want their soul to be saved? Even those who could care less if they are good, do not want to burn in the flames of Hell. And yet, there is one who lingers here, in the darkness; he will not go to the mosque, he will not kneel down or bow to God. Who is he? Why does he fear the fire so little? I will talk to him – from inside his own head. I will play the part of his conscience. I will begin the story. [He goes over to Ahmed] My son, my brother – haven’t you heard the call to prayer? [Ahmed looks up, slowly] What are you doing here, hiding in the shadows, as though the sun rose on its own, as though the stars stayed in the Heavens without a thought to keep them there? Where is your gratitude towards God? Where is your solidarity with men? You seem like a wolf in the wilderness.
Ahmed: That wretched voice again. That wretched voice, trying to break me.
Teacher: Who are you? Why do you stay away?
Ahmed: God made the world, but men took it from Him. To Mohammed, Allah the Wise and Merciful came, speaking through an angel who was the Prophet’s hand. He sang of Justice, but the world is unjust. He sang of Compassion, but the world is heartless. He sang of Faith, but who believes in anything but his own gain? It is the corrupt who built this mosque, liars who stepped between Man and God. To pray in the mosque is to worship the theft of God, to submit to the godlessness of the world.
Teacher: There is hope, then, in the midst of this savage sorrow. To revile men so fiercely, you must believe in God most ardently.
Ahmed: [Standing] I believe in nothing. I believe in the pointlessness of the world. In the hypocrisy of laws. In the godlessness of leaders. In the powerlessness of God. What does it matter if He can raise mighty mountains above the earth, and gouge great canyons into the land, if He can fill the holes in the world with roaring oceans and fill the empty places above us with howling winds? He cannot control us, he cannot prevent us from betraying him! He cannot enforce his laws. Innocent blood drips from the swords of men who say they worship him! Thirst flourishes in the desert of rich men’s waterless alms.
Teacher: Cynicism is sometimes the first step towards salvation. It is always the first step towards damnation.
Ahmed: Now that they are all busy at prayer, their homes are open to the thief. The survivor. The realist. [He gets up to begin to look into houses and to search for things to steal]
Teacher: How offensive! While their backs are turned! While they’re at prayer!
Ahmed: What do I care? Listen! My father beat us without mercy before he left. He beat us for laughing when he was unhappy, which was always, until, at last, we feared even to smile. And we hated the birds at dawn that woke him up. My mother was half a cripple after he was through with her, and she spent her days crying. Whether she was happy or sad it made no difference. She cried so much whenever we did something good for her, because it made her think of how life should have been, that we finally ceased to be good sons. We couldn’t stand her tears, which were like whips lashing us across the backs of our souls. Our love for her was bled to death by her constant laments. She loved her pain more than us. We were rotten sons, I admit it. We should have been born dogs.
[Ahmed pulls a carpet out of a window, which has been left hanging over a ledge to air out]
Ahmed: This will bring a good price. Praise be to Allah, and the faith that makes my neighbors incautious!
Ahmed: But talented! Now, quick, before they come out of the mosque; before they look out of their windows! I’ll roll it up inside another rug, a worthless thing, and be off with it!
Teacher: And if anyone should challenge you along the way?
Ahmed: [Showing him a knife in his belt] A taste of steel.
Teacher: You would have the ruthlessness to use it, in defense of your crime?
Ahmed: The courage. Do not expect to lock life behind a gate, without provoking the dying to trespass. This carpet will bring a handsome price. What fools to leave it hanging there!
Teacher: And with this dirty money, what will you do? Buy happiness?
Ahmed: I’ll send some money to my sister, who will give some to my mother. I’ll spend the rest of it buying forgetfulness. Now be quiet, old man! This takes skill. Their prayers are ending… [Ahmed leaves the stage while the Teacher watches]
The Sufi dancers twirl once more across the stage, from right to left.
Teacher:Their prayers are long over now. Things cherished by the faithful have been stolen while they were on their knees. The sun of the thief has risen high, it is his noon. Or is it?
Ahmed enters drunk, with two women clinging to him, and a drunken friend. He shoves money into the man’s hand.
Ahmed: Go on, buy more. You haven’t indulged enough. It’s feast or famine, with men like me. Tomorrow, they may cut my hand off.
Drunken Friend: Thank you, your grace. Your nobility is as expansive as the sky filled with stars. Your heart is as deep as a well full of water.
Ahmed: Go away! Eat, drink, like there was no tomorrow! Laugh, hold a woman in your arms. Dance, praise God who lets worms like us bore into the apple of life. Hurry! Quick, before you die!
Drunken Friend: You are every bit a prince. The shining star of generosity.
Ahmed: I am just lonely. Now go! Go away!
Drunken Friend: [Staggering away] Yes, my prince! Yes! May God reward you for your kindness! You scatter alms through the streets as though you were the lord of the earth! [He is gone]
Ahmed: I buy false friends. I build castles of sand. [To the two women with him, as he presses money into their hands] Go now! You, too! I am tired of you. Go with him [points in the direction his drunken friend has gone], he will take care of you. [They hesitate] Go! Now I know why my mother cried when we were good to her. Go! This pleasure is like the beating of a stick on an empty drum, when I cry out in ecstasy, I hear the emptiness inside. [Still they hesitate] Don’t make me say cruel things, just to drive you away. In the name of God, go away! Corrupt women! The very fact that you let me touch you makes me despise you! Leave me! [He gestures violently, and they flee] [With contempt:] Whores. [Reflecting] But they are better than me, a thief. I steal; they pretend to be in love. My sin deprives others of their possessions; their sin is, for a moment, to be what men do not have. [Looks around himself for a while] I am nobody. Sometimes rich, but always poor. Never sleeping in peace. Never able to look into a pool of water, to see that hateful face looking back at me. When I bend down to drink, I close my eyes. Damn the man whose lust cast me into the world! Damn the woman who let such a man plant his corrupt seed in her! Damn the merchants who taunt the poor with their wares spread out in the marketplace! Damn the kings and princes who feed their dogs before they feed their subjects! Damn the holy men who do not turn the world upside down! And you God, who gave your sacred book to animals! Who put the truth in a book, and not in men’s hearts! Why should I bow to you? I am already straw in the fire. Damn you , yes damn you, too! Verily, if you were an artisan, I would not buy, nor even steal this handiwork of yours, this wretched earth with its ruthless sun, its misshapen moon, its stars as cold as corpses, its deadly seas, its lame inhabitants. For this, we build you mosques, and get down on our knees? You are a failure God, a colossal failure.
Ahmed: Blasphemy? [Looking up, and talking to God] What is blasphemous is this world you have made! You made men of skin, and filled the world with thorns! Between desire and reality you made an ocean of darkness. How many ships laden with good intentions have you wrecked in your heartless seas?
Teacher: Sacrilege! What you are saying is sacrilege!
Ahmed: The world you have made is sacrilege!
Teacher: He insults God!
Ahmed: It is God who has insulted man! [After a moment, Ahmed collapses into a squat, he is distraught, disconsolate] I’m nobody. Listen to me. Listen to the things I say. I’m nobody. [After a moment] A voice is trying to reach me.
Teacher: Young man. Young man, you are ripe.
Ahmed stands up, he hears something.
Ahmed: A voice is trying to reach me.
Teacher: I think he is ready to be saved.
Ahmed: I hear something, different from what I have ever heard.
Teacher: Come my son. I will teach you. I will turn your despair inside out. In that coat of terrible darkness you are wearing, there is an inner lining of pure gold. I will turn your despair inside out.
Ahmed walks past him
Ahmed: A voice is trying to reach me.
Teacher: No, come back! Who is it you are listening to? Be careful, the despair that is trying to give birth to you may give birth to something else!
Ahmed leaves the stage. The Teacher follows, calling after him.
Teacher: No, young man! Come to me! I am the voice that has waited, since the beginning of time, for pain to open you! I am the word you have struggled your whole life to hear! No, wait! You do not know where you are going!
[He exits the stage, after Ahmed. After a moment, the dancers appear again and whirl across the stage, following them]
Enter the Old Man of the Mountain, two attendants, and two men who have been listening to him, followed by Ahmed. In the center of the stage, the Old Man stops to give his sermon. In between many of his points, his followers beat on drums or shout praises. The teacher comes up to the edge of the audience.
Old Man: My friends. The world knows me as Hassan ibn Saba, or Shaikh al Jabal, as you may have heard. But what I am is an attendant. An attendant of the sacred flame of Mohammed. Behold me!
My friends. Between God and Man, there had to be a prophet, and the chosen one was Mohammed, the greatest of our kind to ever turn his face upwards. But just as Man needed a Prophet to bring God to him, so the Prophet needed an attendant to guard the flame he lit in the world and prevent it from burning out. I am that attendant, come at the appointed hour, when the fire is low in your hearts.
My friends, verily, you have lost your faith! The world is filled with injustice; if you were brave men, the eyes of the earth would have wept a thousand jihads into being. But you cower in the shadow of tyrants, and in the shadow of laws that desecrate God’s intent. You cower in a world in which corrupt men sit on thrones, and honest men toil like donkeys, mercilessly beaten. You cower in a world in which the greedy and the cruel prevail, in which widows and orphans are spit upon by the strong, in which holiness is kidnapped by the indulgent, and sins call the world to forgetfulness from the minaret. God gave you such a world not because it is right, but because you are meant to change it. It is your test and your reward for being righteous: you have been given a reason to live. And yet you cower.
Verily, is it not said in our Holy Book: "Had Allah willed, He, Himself, could have punished the transgressor. But He has ordained it thus, that He might test you, the one by the other." The world is filled with struggle between the sinful and the just. Had God placed the prize of a just world in your hands, what would you have had to live for? Verily, did you wish God to take from you the joy of proving yourself? He has afflicted you that you might be great! He has afflicted the world that you might show the world what love is! But there you are, cowering, refusing to take the gift of jihad he has placed into your hands. Cowering! [He pretends to tremble, to mock them] Strong men like you, cowering.
You cower, in spite of your strong arms, because you skin is soft, you fear to die! One prick of the needle, and the world is gone! Oh men of little faith! Is it not said in our Holy Book that the righteous shall be spared the end of the world? "Allah will admit those who embrace the true faith and do good works to gardens watered by running streams. The unbelievers take their fill of pleasure and eat as the beasts eat; but Hell shall be their home." Verily, forever is for the righteous.
My friends, is it not said in our Holy Book: "This is the Paradise which the righteous have been promised. There shall flow in it rivers of unpolluted water, and rivers of milk forever fresh; rivers of delectable wine and rivers of clearest honey. They shall eat therein of every fruit and receive every forgiveness from their Lord." And is it not said: "They shall dwell with bashful virgins whom neither man nor jinnee will have touched before. Which of your Lord’s blessings would you deny? Virgins as fair as coral and rubies. Which of your Lord’s blessings would you deny?"
My friends. Within righteous actions, there are shaded gardens, wells filled with water, fruits on trees that are never bare. You are the ones who have turned the earth into a desert, with your doubt: with your infernal doubt that turns all beautiful things into a scorching wilderness. You cry with thirst, and yet, you have spilled the drink that was lovingly placed in your hands by God!
My friends. I am here to restore you. I am here to offer you redemption. I am here, blowing on the embers of what Mohammed gave you, trying to revive the fire of a dying faith. I am Shaikh al Jabal, your redeemer! God be praised!
The Men: God be praised! Praise to God! Praise to Hassan, attendant of Mohammed, lover of God, rescuer of men!
Teacher: God help us! The serpent speaks with words that smite tears from men’s faces. He makes off with God’s horse, and how well he rides it! There is no rampart left but the cynicism of my dear thief. That which makes him so miserable is the only thing that can save him!
Ahmed: Fine words, old man, you almost moved me to tears, for which I hate you; fine words, that could almost make a man new. But it takes more than a candle to melt a heart of iron. Tell me, what is faith but the ability to believe in things you cannot see?
Men: Silence! Do not defy the wise man! God be praised; praise God, unbeliever!
Old Man: Let him speak! Let him speak… He is one of mine.
Ahmed: Here, see this copper coin in my hand? Tomorrow, I swear, it will turn into two coins, each of which will be gold. So will you buy it from me, now, for the price of two gold coins?
Teacher: Sad, that this is his only means of self-defense. Such blindness.
Old Man: What I have spoken, son, is straight from the pages of the Koran.
Ahmed: God be praised. And still I ask – will you buy this copper coin from me for the price of two gold ones?
The Men: Silence! Unbeliever!
Old Man: [To his followers] Silence! Do not silence him! [To Ahmed] You do not trust the words of Mohammed?
Ahmed: Gardens, with rivers of milk and honey? Beautiful, dark-eyed virgins? I wish it were so. But the book… How do I know Mohammed wrote it, and not some prince with a purpose of his own? Perhaps Mohammed never even lived, perhaps he was the invention of some weakling who no one would listen to, some pitiful monarch who had to inflate himself with a holy book in order to cling to his throne. [With difficulty, the Old Man restrains his followers] I wasn’t there when the Koran was written, were you? How do I know that if Mohammed did live and if he did write the Holy Koran, it was an angel who whispered the words into his ear, and not a malicious jinn, bent on leading mankind to destruction? How do I know, if God did send these words to our prophet, that God was not merely trying to trick us into being better than we are? Perhaps there is no Paradise. Perhaps there are no pure souls on the earth, only corrupt men, who will not serve justice unless they are deceived into thinking there is a reward. Perhaps there are no righteous men on the earth, only businessmen who recognize a bargain when they see it – a quick death followed by an eternity of bliss. Perhaps there are no brave men on the earth – only cowards who must be manipulated into acts of heroism.
The Men: Blasphemy! Blasphemy! Have respect for our lord and master! Praise be to God, and to the Lord of the Mountain!
Teacher: My poor thief! His cynicism is like the most indefensible outpost, built far beyond the palace walls. No man can hold out for long in a place like that! No man is so vulnerable to capitulation! He infuriates them because he wants them to embrace him!
Old Man: [Quiets his followers] Verily, my friend, the thrust of a sword is no more than the sting of a bee. The piercing blow of an arrow that not even chain-linked armor can resist, is like the bite of a mosquito. For one instant, there is discomfort; and then, there is Paradise! The righteous man does not need Paradise to do what is right. But still – why should God not shower him with His affection if he has lived as a good man should? Do you not hold the hand of the one you love?
True Believer: [A follower of the Old Man of the Mountain steps forward] It is true, young man, what the Old Man says. Believe him! I have seen it with my own eyes, he has the power to take men to paradise! He showed it to me, years ago – paradise - he has the power to take men there, to restore their faith! To make men die and bring them back to life! I saw it, young man, with my own eyes – the fountains, the rivers, the gardens, the fruit trees, the singing houri, the virgins who wait for those who do not hesitate to do the right thing.
Ahmed: What? You’re mad! [He looks up at the Old Man] He’s mad. Are these the kind of people who follow you? Madmen?
Old Man: He speaks the truth. I fight to rid the world of evil, and thus, I wander the desperate places of the earth seeking those who have suffered injustice firsthand. I call upon them, as furious winds call upon the waves of the ocean, to rise up and sink the ships of the proud, and the cruel. I wrestle with beautiful scarred souls, to turn their courage to endure tyranny into the courage to oppose it. To inspire my men, I give them a glimpse of the kingdom to come. I calm their fears; I caress them with a few hours in Paradise before I return them to the earth, where the work of earning Paradise is done.
True Believer: Verily, the great Sheikh speaks the truth! He commands the portal to Paradise, the gates to Forever, he is the servant of God in our times, and all who serve him are blessed in the eyes of God, and assured of the joys of the righteous in the world to come.
Ahmed pulls out his knife.
Ahmed: You lie. Therefore, let the bee sting you! Let the mosquito bite!
The man shows no fear.
True Believer: [Joyous] God be praised! Send me to Paradise!
Ahmed is taken aback, then renews his threat, putting the knife to the man’s throat.
Ahmed: Dying, then, is such a beautiful thing? Let me be a good friend to you, then, and cut your throat!
True Believer: Go ahead! God be praised! I have lived right, I have followed the Sheikh’s commands! Dying is nothing, but a passage. The river is so shallow you barely get your feet wet as you cross! – Go on, send me to her dark eyes and her tender voice. No woman I ever knew here could compare with her!
Ahmed: [Bewildered, steps away from him] He is not afraid. He has not a trace of fear in him.
Old Man: He is one of my righteous warriors. One of my cleansers of the earth.
Ahmed: He acts as though his mad vision were true.
True Believer: As real as you are before me, was she: the dark-eyed virgin. And I drank from rivers of milk and honey.
Ahmed looks back at the Old Man, bewildered.
Teacher: Oh danger, the danger of this moment, this deadly moment! The Old Man’s smile is radiant, he is the father the thief always wanted! What a terrible twist of fate! I was to be the old man young Ahmed came to! But I did not come in time!
Old Man: I like you, young man. I know the anger in your heart and where it comes from. I know the disappointment. The rejection, years of being driven away like a dog from the table of life. I see the fires smoldering in your soul, where your faith was raided by hypocrites, the hope burned down, the gold of life carried away. I know they looked right through you like you weren’t there, the people you loved. They didn’t see the greatness in you. I know how they hurt you. [He takes out a knife, and begins to slash himself] With their cruelty, they cut you, with their indifference the cut you, with their contempt they cut you!
Ahmed: [Rushing forward] Stop! Stop! [The old man regards him, making Ahmed aware that he, Ahmed, has begun to care for this man] Stop, please. Don’t cut yourself. [He rips off pieces of his own clothes to begin to bind the Old Man’s wounds] You shouldn’t have.
Teacher: Never, in his life, has anyone ever displayed such solidarity with him! Why didn’t I think to slash myself, to win him over with my blood before the Old Man?! The false prophet who is so close to being true, that no one can see through him!
Old Man: You are worthy of my blood, young man. It is no more valuable than yours.
Ahmed: [Protesting] Please…
Old Man: You don’t know your promise. I see it in your eyes. In the decisive way you handle your knife. In the strength you have to stand up to a crowd. You are a lion who has sold yourself short by playing the part of a jackal. I can make you into a lion again. I can transform you from a thief into a holy warrior!
True Believer: Show him Paradise, oh great one, as you once showed me! Show him what awaits the faithful! Dash his fear to pieces! Throw it to the ground and break it! Whatever fear he has, for no one who has not set foot in Paradise can be immune to trepidation – destroy it!
Old Man: Do you want it, young man? The chance to serve the cause of justice? The chance to belong? To have brothers? To leave behind all the petty struggles that gain nothing, and to embrace the mighty struggles that exalt the soul?
Ahmed: I don’t know. I want something I don’t have now. I’m not sure what it is… I want something that’s missing. I’m tired of believing in nothing.
Old Man: And if I show you Paradise? Will you let me take you there, young man? Will you let me prove to you that God is not a lie, that He is real?
Ahmed: I don’t know. If you fail to show me what you promise, if you offend me with some cheap illusionist’s trick, I will never again have the strength to crawl out of the pit of skepticism. And though I love despising everything, I know that it is killing me. And if, by chance, you do, somehow, possess the power to take me to Paradise, and let me pass a moment there to quell my disbelief, won’t that destroy my last chance to be brave? To have faith? For aren’t those bravest who die without knowing what their fate is, yet face death anyway, because they believe so much in something that they are willing to die even though they are not immortal? And does one not need uncertainty in order to have faith? Otherwise, one simply has knowledge.
Teacher: What a young man, he could go so far; but he is going to be won over too soon!
Old Man: Young man, fear not. What I offer is beyond all shadow of a doubt. When I take you there, you will know, for certain, that you are in Paradise. Religion does not diminish bravery, it ennobles it. To know that God exists is one step higher up on the ladder of holiness than believing He exists. Knowledge is but the highest form of belief. Do not think too much, young man, it is how we pull ourselves down from the tower God put us in when we were born. If you are thirsty: drink! I offer you the water of life! Drink!
Teacher: He avoids the thief’s concerns with sophistry, yet speaks with such conviction, that no one notices, or cares. When the hurricane strikes, everything in its path is swept aside. Though this man speaks of Heaven, his heart is bent on ruling the earth. He sows dragons’ teeth in the fields of the world’s pain. Wounded men like Ahmed rise up, with swords in their hands.
The old man extends his hand to Ahmed.
Old Man: Come. Come with us, dear boy. What is your name?
Old Man: Ahmed. I had an uncle by that name. He was a great scholar, from him I learned to read. Ahmed, my son: I will give you a drink, for it is forbidden for living men, before the end of time, to know the way to Paradise. The drink will relax you, you will sleep more soundly than you have ever slept before, as though you had never had a trouble in your life. When you awaken, you will be in Heaven. You will neither see the angels who bring you there, nor the angels who bring you back to earth. But you will see the home that is waiting for you to be brave enough to make it yours. You will see it exactly as it has been described in the Koran, and you will understand that this life we live now is but our way to the Beyond. Fear will leave you, forever. Afterwards, tigers and bears may attack you on the road, and packs of wild wolves; scorpions may infest your tent, and treacherous serpents crawl into your bed, but you will only laugh at them. I swear it. You will be untouchable. You will believe. Come, Ahmed, come with me. Will you take the drink I offer you? Will you let me show you Paradise?
The old man leads him off stage, along with his retinue.
Teacher: I am a teacher without a student. I had too much to teach; his pain was too great to wait for me.
The dancers once more pass across the stage, whirling as they go. The Teacher exits.
Enter Ahmed, supported and half-dragged on stage by two of the Old Man’s followers. The old man also comes, with a cup in his hands. The men lie Ahmed on the ground. The old man turns the cup upside down.
Old Man: All gone. Hashish with wine. The logic that has bound him all his mortal days is gone, the high tide of his imagination has come. When he awakens, the things around him will become a part of his vision, they will shape his vision, they will guide his vision, they will steer him to me. He will be awake enough to know he is not dreaming, but not awake enough to question what he sees.
Enter an engineer, with a blueprint in his hands.
Engineer: My lord. There is a problem. - The river of honey. The screwpump is broken. I can send the current downstream, but I can’t keep it circulating. We’re also having problems keeping the honey in solution, the mixing operation is having mechanical difficulties, the water barely tastes sweet.
Old Man: Do I need to kidnap Al-Jazari himself to set things right? Nessim, how many fields have you irrigated in your day? Isn’t it true, you once built a machine that could bring water from the Euphrates up to the top of a hill? A hill that was so high even the birds avoided it?
Engineer: My Lord, God made the universe so perfectly that the sun rises every day in the east and sets in the west; and never, since the Earth was created, has a day been missed. But he also makes cripples and mutes.
Old Man: I pay you well, Nessim. Too well for you to fail.
Engineer: I am paid well, but I cannot leave. What can I buy? I have not seen my family in years.
Old Man: You send them money, from that which I give you. They are well provided for.
Engineer: My children are well-dressed, but not well loved.
Old Man: You could bring them here to live with you.
Engineer: Then they, too, could never leave.
Old Man: And what of it? Is not this the aim of all humankind, to dwell in Paradise? And have not you and your brothers built me the perfect model of Paradise, here, inside my mountain? Have you not followed the vision of the Koran, word for word, and made the aspiration of all men who have ever lived tangible and believable?
Engineer: This is not Paradise, my lord. This is an imitation. This is a mighty monument to men’s lack of faith. Faithlessness has won, that men need to see Paradise in order to believe in it. May God forgive me for lending my talents to such a deception! Back home, they think I am building a fortress.
Old Man: Men no longer believe as they used to, Nessim. As the lame need crutches to walk, so, nowadays, men of little faith need help to believe in God. We are helping them, Nessim; we are doing what must be done to keep God from being left behind by a skeptical age. It is no sin to lie in order to preserve the truth.
Engineer: And to what use is this faith being put? How many men have died at the hands of your converts, your holy warriors? What, exactly, is going on outside of this mountain you will not let me leave? I do not see the end results of my work. I build pumps and channels, I maintain streams of milk and honey and wine flowing through this false Paradise, these gardens which you use to dazzle the poor and the hopeless, I am the mechanic of the lie. It is the gears and shafts of my inventions which have turned you into a great prophet. What are you doing with this power?
Old Man: We are ridding the world of tyrants and sinners, Nessim. We are cleansing the world like a flood. You are an indispensable part of history. You should be proud of yourself.
After a while:
Engineer: I want to go back out into the world, my lord. I want to see the earth again. I am tired of Paradise. I want to love my wife again, no matter how she has aged. I have had enough of these beautiful girls you have recruited from around the world, these Egyptians, Syrians, Persians, Turks and Indians, these dark-eyed virgins, these false houri who you use to bewilder your converts and bind them to you forever. They are too beautiful, too kind, too talented. I want to kiss the wrinkles on my wife’s face, to be with someone like me.
Old Man: You cannot leave, Nessim. You know too much.
Engineer: Like the workers who built the channels and machines I designed, the ones who lifted what I wrote on paper [he points to his blueprint] into the real world? The ones buried on the other side of the mountain?
Old Man: If I had let them go, they could have revealed the secret.
Engineer: The secret? Of what? Paradise? Mohammed already revealed it.
Old Man: The secret that this paradise was made by us. [After a while, directing their attention to Ahmed] Look, he’s stirring. Soon, he will awaken. I need this man, he is special. He will be able to do what the others can’t. Nothing can be other than it is supposed to be. While he is here, the river of honey must flow, and it must be sweet. Nessim, if you love your family…
Engineer: By God, Hassan, don’t threaten them!
Old Man: This is holy work, Nessim! You must not fail me! If you cannot pump the waters underground back to their source, cut the flow until he awakens. Save it for him alone, and run it down the channel one time, when he is looking. How long can the stream run without being replenished?
Engineer: Not long, my lord. For several minutes.
Old Man: Not good enough! You must get the screwpump up and running! And the water absolutely must taste sweet! Tell the mixers they will pay with their lives if they fail me!
Engineer: All for this one man?
Old Man: For what he can do.
Enter another of the old man’s followers, the assistant.
Assistant: My lord, which of the girls do you want for him?
Old Man: Only the best.
Assistant: They are all the best.
The old man gestures to Nessim.
Old Man: Go on, then, fix the problem! You are smart enough to find a solution. If you don’t, it’s because you don’t want to. If you want your horse to win the race, you bring out the whip. Don’t spare yourself, Nessim, ride your mind hard, as though your life depended on it! I am growing tired of you.
Engineer: [He’s not happy, but understands what is at stake] Yes, my lord. I’ll do what I can. [He exits]
Old Man: [Threateningly] And I will do what I must.
Assistant: So, which girl?
Old Man: Bring in several. We’ll let him choose.
Assistant: We have seventy-two. Should I bring Rashida?
Old Man: No. She has been a great teacher to the rest of them, but she is a little old now. Though they learned from her, how to talk, how to dance, how to touch, she has taken a few gentle steps past her prime. Her students now surpass her. [Looking towards Ahmed, who is beginning to awaken] He is savage, like Enkidu, he needs a younger, stronger woman.
Assistant: But Shamhat, the naditu, was experienced. Or so the pagan story tells us. Her hands were wiser than Solomon’s mind. She did not tame the wild boy with her body, but with her spirit, which was like deep earth that absorbs days of rain.
Old Man: Bring him a woman who is wise and strong. Then cluster about her others who embody everything she lacks.
Assistant: Who, then, to be the flower amid the leaves? Akilah?
Old Man: No, she is one of the leaves. She thinks too clearly, she can only love him with condescension.
Old Man: She understands, too well, things that are not said. He is too ashamed of himself, he has too many dark secrets. He is sure to close himself to anyone who can peer so easily into his mind.
Old Man: Too fragile.
Old Man: More so. His sins will break her like a hammer smashing on glass. She will start to think of home, and cry.
Old Man: Too much like him. She has been a thief in her own way, trying to steal the world from powerful men with her breasts and her secret place. He will resent her, because he hates who he was.
Assistant: So then, tell me! He is waking up! There are mechanical problems here. He needs to be distracted. The river of honey must be thrust back to be only a minor detail! He must leave here with his soul stamped by the eyes of a woman!
Old Man: Send him A’dab. She will be the flower, and Akilah and Ilham will be the leaves.
Assistant: My lord – A’dab is coming undone.
Old Man: So I’ve heard. But she knows the law. If she speaks the truth to him, I must cut his throat, and her sisters will die, as well. Akilah and Yamha who are her favorites, and her family, also, back in Aqaba. I know she is beyond fearing her own death now, that is how stubborn she is, but she will not be a murderer of her friends. Better to murder people she does not know, by motivating my warriors! By holding up her end of Paradise!
Assistant: She has become cynical, my lord. Even desperate. The other day, Yamha had to stop her from slashing her face with a knife.
Old Man: She tried to kill herself?
Assistant: No, merely to disfigure herself. She cursed her beauty, which was the cause of so many sins.
Old Man: So now we’re sinners, are we? She no longer believes in us?
Assistant: That is what I’m saying.
Old Man: What does she know, anymore, of the world beyond? Poor, foolish girl! What makes her think, when I declare jihad, that I am wrong and the world is right?
Assistant: She found out about the workers buried beyond the mountain. The mass grave. Because of it, she now believes the very opposite of everything you tell her. She is also wondering about the disappearance of Samihah.
Old Man: Who told her about the workers?
Assistant: Aziz. He’s been dealt with.
Old Man: And Samihah? Why doesn’t she believe we let her friend go home, like we told her?
Assistant: She saw the disorder in Samihah’s quarters.
Old Man: Disorder?
Assistant: The girl resisted.
Old Man: But there was no blood?
Assistant: Everyone knows what a cord around the neck can do.
Old Man: And who let her into Samihah’s room before it had been set right?
Assistant: He’s been dealt with.
Old Man: Incompetence! Such a beautiful girl! Most believable of the houri! How many of my warriors have died because they thought they had her to return to! How many kings who resisted my influence were found with a dagger in their heart, because of her, how many princes have been struck down in broad daylight by my boys, because of her eyes! How many wealthy merchants have paid me half their fortune, that they might be spared, because they know my assassins fear nothing! Because of her! Verily, this girl has built my empire! Nessim has made the sacred rivers flow, and she has kissed the lips of those who doubted me; and afterwards, they doubted no more. Incompetence, to lose such a treasure!
Assistant: My lord, you cannot send her to this boy [pointing to Ahmed] The risk is too great. She is no longer loyal, and she is too spirited to be intimidated.
Old Man: Remind her of her friends. Tell her that this kid is a natural-born killer, the world will be better off if he dies. That way, she won’t have sympathy for him, she won’t be afraid to love him.
Assistant: My lord – the risk!
Old Man: [Seizing the assistant by the arm and leading him off stage, followed by his retinue] Hurry! Do as I say! The young assassin-to-be is awake!
Again, the dancers twirl across the stage. The Teacher follows them walking, holding his head with his hands theatrically, in a recognizable gesture of pain.
Ahmed staggers to his feet.
Ahmed: Uhhh. What a strange-tasting drink. What a strange feeling. My head – so light. Dizziness. Uhhh – all these specks of darkness dancing in front of my eyes. I see only pieces of the world. There is some jinn humming in my ear. Damn him, why won’t he stop? My body – is it mine? Did the Old Man kill me? Did he poison me like a stray dog, to cleanse the earth of my kind? [Gradually becoming aware] Where am I? What did he say to me? What is this place? Where am I? I am a piece of lead, floating in the water.
Enter A’dab, Akilah and Ilham. Ahmed draws back in surprise to see them.
Ahmed: God be praised, my nightmare is kind.
Akilah: Welcome to Paradise, Ahmed. Don’t you remember?
Ahmed: Remember what?
Akilah: What Shaikh al Jabal, the Old Man of the Mountain, the Holy One who is Mohammed’s right hand, told you?
Ahmed: Paradise. He said he was going to show me Paradise. God save me, it’s too much! [He shakes himself, trying to drive away his stupor and force himself to a higher level of awareness] But is this really Paradise? Am I dreaming?
Akilah: You know what they say. Pinch yourself.
He does. He is surprised.
Ahmed: I feel it.
Ilham steps up and touches him.
Ilham: Do you feel this?
Ahmed: As if I were awake.
Ilham: You are awake.
Ahmed: But it can’t be!
Akilah: Why not?
Ahmed: It is too beautiful. My life has been so miserable. I – I am so accustomed to being miserable, to being frustrated, to being deceived that I can’t accept this. It can’t be real. Nothing this beautiful is possible. It is not the nature of life. Gardens! Look at them! Trees with fruits!
Ilham picks him one.
Ilham: Here, have one. [He hesitates] Did you want to pick it from the tree yourself?
Ahmed: No, from your hand it will taste twice as sweet as from my own. [He takes a bite] And how did I get here? How is the journey from the earth to Heaven? Did I have to fly past the moon? Did I touch a star on the way?
Ilham: You don’t remember?
Akilah: If he did, he wouldn’t ask.
Ilham: You were brought by an angel, dear Ahmed. Gabriel, himself, carried you here, then flew away. He laid you down as gently as a mother lies a baby in its cradle.
Ahmed: And I must return? To the earth?
Akilah: This time, yes. For your work on the earth is not yet done. This is just a visit, to encourage you. But the next time you come, it will be forever.
Ahmed: And how long do I have to spend here now?
Akilah: A few hours.
Ahmed: Then I must not lose a second! [Looking about himself, wildly] Gardens! Never have I seen trees greener, or fruits more beautiful; they are to fruits what emeralds and rubies are to stones. And over here, a stream, strangely white.
Ilham: Taste from it. [She gives him a gourd] Taste from it.
Ahmed: By God, it is milk! A river of milk! It is as the Koran says!
Akilah: Which of your lord’s favors will you deny?
Ahmed: And over there? Another stream!
Ilham: Taste from it.
Ahmed: God be praised! It’s wine!
Ilham: Which of your lord’s favors will you deny? Have more!
He does. Then he dips his gourd in a third time, and finally staggers towards another stream.
Ahmed: And this stream, here. What delight does it hold in store?
Ilham: Here, let me have the pleasure of serving you.
She dips the gourd into it, then turns so that Ahmed cannot see and switches gourds with Akilah, who has picked up one that was already full and left by the bank of this stream.
Ahmed: God be praised! It tastes like honey! It is a stream of honey!
Ilham: Which of your lord’s favors will you deny?
Ahmed: It is as the Koran says! Verily, Shaikh al Jabal has ‘ins’ with God! He is a holy man! Death is nothing! And are you sure this place is for me? Don’t I deserve the flames of Hell?
Akilah: It is yours once you accept the holy commands of the Sheikh, dear Ahmed, once you swear to do his bidding. For he does God’s work on the earth, and all who serve him are due the rewards of righteousness. What you were before does not matter. What you are from now on is what counts.
Ilham: Which of your lord’s favors would you deny? Come, sit yourself upon soft cushions, Ahmed, let us entertain you. The earth is a hard place, but it has some beautiful compensations. How awful it would be if Heaven were utterly unfamiliar. [She leads him to cushions and sits him down on them, then sits beside him and caresses him]
Ahmed: And can I? Can I? [He means make love to her, but he is afraid to say it] Or is that dirty? God forgive me if I am a transgressor, I always broke the laws of the earth, and I don’t know the laws of Heaven!
Ilham: Go on, you can. [Still he hesitates] Go on. That’s why we’re here.
Ahmed pushes her gently away for a moment, and regards A’dab.
Ahmed: And you, silent woman. Who are you? Why don’t you speak?
A’dab: You did not seem to notice me.
Ahmed: You regard me like an angel from the end of time. As though my sins had already vanquished me. As though it were too late for me to be reborn. You look at me as though I were a stain on the sheet of Paradise. Is it a mistake I’m here? You look like the one who knows.
Akilah: Don’t mind her. The sky uses the night to make the stars stand out. A’dab is our night. She makes Ilham and Akilah shine.
Ahmed: I want to hear her answer.
Akilah and Ilham look at A’dab sternly.
A’dab: Verily, the Koran describes Paradise thusly; and here you are. Truly, this is the prize of the righteous. It has yet to be earned.
Ahmed: And you doubt that I will return? You doubt my courage to serve Shaikh al Jabal faithfully? You doubt that I will succeed in carrying out his orders? In doing honor to his name? In redeeming myself before God?
A’dab: I do not doubt. I am sure that you will do whatever Shaikh al Jabal says, and that nothing will deter you in accomplishing the tasks he gives to you. If he tells you kill two lions with one arrow, you will do it.
Ahmed: You mock me… Come here.
Ahmed: Closer. Let me touch you. [He holds her by the shoulders, roughly] Kiss me. [They kiss] I had to take that kiss, like when I was a thief. Kiss me, again. This time, mean it. You are a whore. [They kiss] A whore for the sake of God. Am I wrong? Didn’t God put you here for me? You give yourself to me, and I pay you by doing God’s work. Kiss me again. [They kiss] Longer. [They kiss again] You close your eyes, as if not to see me.
Akilah: A’dab! Watch out!
Ahmed: Open your eyes! [She does] Look at me! What do you see? [Silence] Tell me!
Ilham: Dear Ahmed, why waste your taste of Paradise with the frozen one? I want to please you. Let me! Hurry, come to me before it’s time to go!
Ahmed: [To A’dab] Tell me! When you look into my eyes, what do you see? A man who is capable of being saved? Or an irredeemable wreck? [After a while] Take me to the edge of Heaven, show me the fires of Hell below. I will leap into them, I will go where I belong! I knew this place was too good for me. [He wipes a tear quickly from his face] The good Sheikh is a fool to think he can untie the great black knot that is in my heart. You are the one who knows, A’dab. You are the one who knows. The others love me because I am here. You only love those who deserve to be here.
A’dab reaches out to touch him.
A’dab: Ahmed, once a thief. Diamonds that fall into the mud are filthy, but they can be washed. I see in your face a hundred crimes, that are searching for purity. Do you have the strength to recover what you lost, what God puts into every man before free will scatters His gifts to the wind? Do you have the strength to go back before the wrong turn you took in your life? To be reborn?
Ahmed: Do I?
A’dab: Do you have the strength not to resist?
Ahmed: Not to resist?
A’dab: Not to resist God.
Ahmed: Not to fight?
A’dab: To submit.
Ahmed: My pride.
A’dab: To submit?
Ahmed: Slaves submit.
A’dab: To other men. Heroes submit to God.
Ahmed: Praying is hard for me. I hate to be on my knees.
A’dab: You need to learn.
Ahmed: The Old Man of the Mountain needs me to fight.
A’dab: But first you must pray. Before you dare to hold a sword, you must know what it is like to be on your knees. Underneath the sky.
Ahmed: All my life, I’ve had to fight for everything I got: for food, respect, shelter. No one ever gave anything to me, except for a few coins that were nothing but metallic forms of spit. They burned like acid in my open palm. I don’t want to learn how to be a weakling, A’dab. I won’t expose my throat to dogs.
A’dab: Admit that God is your master, Ahmed. That is the only thing that can save you. Admit that God is your master, and live accordingly. Pray, as the Koran says, open your heart to God so that He may visit you directly, learn the language that He speaks so that you need no translators.
Akilah: [Warning her] A’dab!
A’dab: Do you know, once a Turk told an Arab, "If it pleases God, do what I say", but the translator told the Arab: "It pleases God that you should do as I say", and that is why the Arabs gave their country to the Turks.
A’dab: God be praised! Learn the language God speaks yourself, Ahmed. It is in every man’s heart. Beware of holiness that has been translated.
Ilham: A’dab, you were never the conversationalist. Nothing like an amateur philosopher to poison the well! But you should see her dance, Ahmed, she is an amazing sight. Her body speaks words that her tongue does not know.
Akilah: She dances like Salome, whose ferocious grace decapitated John the Baptist.
A’dab: [Reflecting] How true you are, sister.
Ilham: Dance for him, A’dab! Speak no more, except with your body.
Akilah: Ahmed, holy-warrior-to-be, she is bashful, as the Koran described. You must command her to dance for you, you must save her from her shyness, so that you may know that the pleasures of the earth are nothing compared to the pleasures of Heaven.
Ahmed: [As he receives a gourd of wine from Ilham] Is it true, A’dab? [He drinks]
A’dab: I know how to dance, Lord Ahmed.
Ahmed: Well then –are you not here to please me? [He drinks again] Is my time here not short?
A’dab: If you make the right decisions, your time in Paradise will be never ending.
Akilah: [Warning her, but Ahmed is too drunk to pick up nuances at this point] A’dab!
Ahmed: Well, then, dance for me, A’dab. Let me see you, as God made you. Let my heart be filled with so much joy, that the thrust of the sword is nothing more than the sting of a bee, and the flight of the arrow nothing more than the buzzing of a mosquito; make me so happy, that nothing can keep me from doing God’s work. Write words in my heart with your dancing. Write "Love", "Peace", and "Forever." Go ahead, A’dab, don’t be shy. Don’t hide your beauty, God made it for me, for today.
A’dab: God save us! My beauty is his destiny!
Akilah: Dance, A’dab! You have been commanded.
She prepares herself, disrobing to reveal her very skimpy dancing outfit.
Ahmed: Already, she is dancing!
Akilah: Call the musicians.
Ilham: Musicians! [She claps her hands] Come! To what tune do you dance, A’dab?
A’dab: "The Thread Dance." [Explaining to Ahmed] I call this dance "The Dance of the Unfaithful Coming Back to God." As you sit there, Ahmed, you shall represent the truth of God; and I, I shall be men like you, and women like me.
Ahmed: I don’t understand.
Akilah: Just dance, for God’s sakes, A’dab, just dance!
Ilham: Enough of your words! Do you really think, with a body like that, that he wants to hear you talk?
Ahmed: Dance, A’dab, dance for me! I am hungry for your body’s gift, mad to hear the voice of your hips and breasts whispering into the ear of my soul! Dance for me, A’dab, speak to me with your flesh, with all the eloquence of the woman that you are!
A’dab signals the musicians, then dances for him. In this dance, which incorporates a lot of acting, she dances in a semicircle in front of him, at first dancing contemptuously, seeming to hold him in disdain, turning her back away from him after she has insulted him with her body, and attempting to walk away. But something stops her, an "invisible cord", an unseen tether that will not let her break free of him. She begins to pull against this cord, to try to break loose, but she cannot. Then, little by little, the cord begins to draw inwards, she is like a fish being drawn in on a line, she is resisting him more and more fiercely as she is dragged closer to him, until her resistance becomes violent and desperate, and her helplessness more emphasized. At last, the dance ends in an ecstatic frenzy with her writhing in front of him, and collapsing at his feet, clutching his ankles. She has given herself to him.
Ahmed: God be praised, I can die, now! A’dab you are not in Paradise, you are Paradise! [He drags her up to him and kisses her madly. This time, she responds]
A’dab: Ahmed, my lord! Verily, I did not know who you were until I danced for you!
They kiss again, he is mad with passion.
Akilah signals to the musicians (who we may or may not see) to go, and gestures that Ilham should follow her.
Akilah: Come sister, let us leave the love birds to themselves. Even though she rebels, she still serves Shaikh al Jabal better than the rest of us who try so hard to obey him. She cannot help herself. She cannot hold back love from the afflicted, even though it destroys the world!
Ahmed and A’dab are kissing each other, gripping each other, in the first stages of making love.
A’dab: [Trying to warn Ahmed] I cannot save you, Ahmed! Only God can do that!
Ahmed: Comfort me!
A’dab: [Bewildered by the strength of her feelings for him] How can I love you, so soon? It cannot happen like this!
Ahmed: I love you!
A’dab: I love you!
Ahmed: I love you!
A’dab: What was broken in you, let me see inside you. Through the great hole torn in your disguise, I saw your heart; and it is above the life you have lived!
Ahmed: God be praised! To make a woman like this! God be praised!
Akilah picks up a sheet and drapes it over the lovers.
Akilah: Let him relish his moment of joy. He has had so few, and it may well be his last. Soon, it will be time to mix hashish with wine, and to carry him back into the world. Thanks to A’dab, he will know what it is to live before he dies.
They exit. Lights out, stage is cleared.
Lights on. The dancers whirl across the stage. Enter, the Teacher.
Teacher: I dread to see what follows: now that A’dab’s beauty has captured him! Now that she who chooses love over hate has delivered him to those whose hate is disguised as love! God help us! It is the School of Assassins! How far into the abyss plunge those lost souls that are trying to rise to their feet!
Enter the Captain of the Assassins, several trainees, and Ahmed.
Captain of the Assassins: Welcome, Ahmed. Welcome to the school of the holy warriors. We are your brothers. [He introduces them all to each other] Ahmed. Abdullah. Raschid. Mustaffa. Ali. We are brothers now. God be praised!
All: God be Praised!
Captain: The world is filled with corruption and sin. So our eyes have told us. So our lord and master has informed us. We are here, like the flood God sent to cleanse the earth, when Noah’s people defied Him, and said to each other: "Do not renounce your gods. Do not forsake Wad or Sowa or Yaghuth or Ya’uq or Nasr." And God made the rain fall for forty days and forty nights and the oceans rose up out of their beds and the rivers became holy warriors of the Most Mighty, wielding waters against the unbelievers and the hypocrites, until that wicked civilization was washed away.
All: God be praised!
Captain: Shaikh al Jabal is God’s answer to the corruption of men, and we are the most honored of men to serve him!
All: God be praised! Almighty God, Great God be praised!
Captain: Ahmed. God is most merciful and forgiving. He sends a thousand whispers to the wicked, imploring them to repent, before he raises his hand, at last, to strike them down. Only the obstinate are punished. Only those who have discarded their chances.
Ahmed: I understand.
Captain: Therefore, the severity of our reply is justified.
Ahmed: I understand.
Captain: It is a loving thing to be intolerant of injustice. Otherwise, we are cruel to the oppressed. There are times when to love, Ahmed, we must kill.
Ahmed: I understand.
Trainees: God be praised!
Ahmed: God be praised!
Captain: We are not many, Ahmed. There is a garrison to hold the mountain fortress, the lofty abode of our illustrious Sheikh. Beyond that, we are but a thousand, a thousand to hurl against all the multitudes of the treacherous. Compare us to the armies of the princes of Egypt and Damascus, of Baghdad, of Samarkand, Bokhara and Isfahan, to the hordes of the Seljuks and the Mongols. They have nations, but we have faith. They have more arrows in their quivers than men have seconds in their lives, they have swarms of horses that turn abundant grasslands into deserts as they pass, they have lances that pierce armor as though it were merely skin, and scimitars so sharp that the sheaths they are kept in cry. We have courage.
Trainees: God be praised!
Ahmed: God be praised!
Captain: What we have that makes us greater than them is what we lack. We lack fear.
Trainees: God be praised!
Captain: We have seen Paradise, Ahmed. We know it is real. They doubt, they are not sure. We are certain. They cling to life because Paradise is so far away for them. We long to die, because, for us, Paradise is near. And that is our advantage! Raschid, Mustaffa, Ali, Abdullah! Show him!
Trainees: My lord!
The trainees assume a formation for the purposes of a demonstration. Rashid assumes the role of a prince, Mustaffa is his guard standing right next to him, Abdullah is another guard, posted at some distance from him, and Ali plays the role of the assassin, who is beyond both Abdullah and Mustaffa.
Captain: Behold, Ahmed, a corrupt prince.
Rashid raises his hand.
Captain: Only for now. [Meaning Rashid is truly a righteous man] Next to him, an armed bodyguard.
Mustaffa raises his hand.
Captain: Guarding the only approach to the prince, another bodyguard.
Abdullah raises his hand.
Captain: And beyond the defensive perimeter, our righteous assassin.
Ali raises his hand.
Captain: For the ordinary man, Ahmed, the goal of striking down the evil prince is a daunting one. Obviously, our holy warrior does not want to have to fight his way past the first bodyguard. [Abdullah raises his hand again] Why not? If he must fight him first, the prince will be prematurely alerted by the struggle and have time to escape, or to be aided by the arrival of additional bodyguards. There are many ways for overcoming this obstacle, Ahmed. Disguises, techniques of concealment, modes of behavior. Let us suppose our assassin gets past the first bodyguard without having to betray his intentions. Ali…
Ali smiles to Abdullah, who searches him only perfunctorily, then lets him pass.
Captain: Did you see how relaxed he was? By God, if this was really happening, I swear Ali would be just as calm as he is right now. A sweating, fearful man, of course, would have given himself away. But our man had no fear. He transmitted none of the signals of the desperate to the guard who is trained to recognize such signals. Why not? Because he knows he is going to go straight to Paradise.
Trainees: God be praised!
Captain: Supposing our assassin has gotten this far, brother Ahmed. Now what? From the perspective of an ordinary man, who wishes to survive his exploit, the situation is overwhelming. Our assassin is, in essence, surrounded. If he succeeds in overcoming the prince’s bodyguard [Mustaffa raises his hand], and slaying the prince, how will he escape? His retreat is blocked. [Abdullah raises his hand] As the ordinary man approaches the prince to slay him, his mind will be divided in two, one part focused on the kill, the other part focused on the getaway. As he pulls out his knife to perform the righteous deed, he will already be thinking of fleeing. He will take on what is an incredibly difficult task to begin with, with only half of his mind! [Pause] Verily, this is why the world is filled with evil men! Good men lack the courage to strike them down. But we, Ahmed, are not so ineffective. When we come to kill, we come to kill, not to escape! We come, with all of our mind, not half, to deliver the righteous blow! How is it possible? Because we have walked in the gardens of Paradise. We know it is no illusion; the world we live in now is no more real, and no more loved, than the world beyond our senses. We want to die, Ahmed, we want to go back to Paradise, to leave this imperfect earth, but not until we do our part to make it better than it was. Verily, Ahmed, among all the formidable weapons ever invented by man – the sword, the lance, the arrow, the dagger, the mace-and-chain, the axe, the catapult, flaming naphtha and burning sulfur – there is no weapon that is greater than a clear mind and a heart without fear!
Trainees: God be praised!
Ahmed: God be praised!
Captain: With his whole mind, our assassin approaches the corrupt prince.
Ali approaches Rashid.
Captain: The assassin who is still trapped by thoughts of his own security will be tempted to engage the bodyguard first, to incapacitate him before he attacks the prince. Otherwise, the bodyguard may strike him from behind as he acts against the prince, or surely impede his escape. However, if he seeks to engage the bodyguard first, once again, the prince will be alerted to the danger and may have time to escape. Therefore, our assassin must not attempt to strike the bodyguard, but to bypass him.
Ali comes up to the bodyguard, hands him a piece of paper, then suddenly slips past the distracted bodyguard, and simultaneously materializes a (wooden) knife out of his sleeve and kills the prince.
Captain: God be praised! The deed is done! Because of fearlessness. With fearlessness, a man becomes like the mosquito that penetrates the fortress and lands on the king’s arm. Armies cannot get past the walls, but the mosquito alights upon the king’s flesh and takes the blood that God demands. God be praised!
The trainees all return to their original places now.
Trainees: God be praised!
Ahmed: God be praised!
Captain: We do not have enough men to vanquish the armies of the unjust, Ahmed. But we have fearless men, righteous assassins, who can find a way to kill any leader, any betrayer of God. Our men’s minds are unclouded by fear, Ahmed. Their purpose is not complicated by thoughts of safety. And they are trained to perfection, as you will be. Come here, Mustaffa.
Captain: Look at him, Ahmed. Such a big man. See this part of his hand? [Showing it to Ahmed. The Captain suddenly applies pressure, turns, and drops Mustaffa, who cries out in pain, to the ground. To Mustaffa:] Get up. [To Ahmed] As the body has weak spots, which allow a powerful man to be brought to his knees, so kingdoms and empires have weak spots. The weakest spot of all is the desire of the king to live. Why does he live in a palace filled with servants in the first place? Because he wants to enjoy life. He is, in appearance, the strongest person in his kingdom, but in reality, he is the weakest, because he has the most to lose. More even than the jewels and the gold he owns, more than the rich garments he wears, the priceless art work that decorates his halls, the exquisite foods that lie on his table, and the beautiful women at his side, it is the senses which enable him to enjoy these things that are his most valuable possession, and these come from life. He is a slave to the very thought of life, and this puts him in our power, Ahmed. He doesn’t want to live in fear, but he can’t transcend it, so he must give in to it. By putting pressure on him, the kingdom bends our way. From the princes of the earth we collect tribute; from the wealthy merchants we collect fees. With this money, circulating like blood through the veins of our dream, we, who are all spirit, acquire a body. We, who are only a thousand assassins, Ahmed, by fearing nothing and knowing the principles of strategy better than any prince of the earth, are growing quickly to be giants! God be praised!
Trainees: God be praised!
Ahmed: God be praised!
Captain: With this power, we shall remake the earth!
All: God be praised!
Captain: Thanks to the Old Man of the Mountain, the preserver of the faith, the last standing pillar of righteousness in a fallen world!
All: God be praised!
The dancers whirl across the stage.
Teacher:God be praised; but not the way God is used. Every man, nowadays, throws God’s name around, invokes God’s name to glorify Man’s filth. The good and the vile, the righteous and the corrupt, the saintly and the damned, all say "God" in a way that is indistinguishable. The lips of the upright turn air into the most beautiful of words: "God." The lips of beasts steal the pure breeze, to say: "God." Whose mouth just formed the holy word? "God." "God." Can you tell which was said by a sinner, and which by a holy man?
Verily, we must go beyond the word. The word "God" is like a rider in the distance. Let the rider come closer so you can see his face.
God be praised. God, not the men who attach God to their foulness.
God be praised. The word "God" that is full with God, not the word "God" that is empty, and filled by men’s malice.
My poor, poor Ahmed. How magnificently he has turned around, hurled his useless life to mighty horizons, cut the chains of his shame, discovered the beauty God put in him, embraced his dignity. Beautiful A’dab lit the candle in his abandoned heart by finding who he could be, by walking into the darkness of his eyes. She never meant for this to happen. He is becoming a great man, without knowing that it is inside the prison of a lie.
I watch him through the days, poor Ahmed, who is bathing, to purify himself, in the excrement of a deceiver. My heart mourns for him. The brighter his eyes shine, the more I grieve. Shaikh al Jabal is a genius. He knows how to make men blossom, then to pluck them for dark things.
Again the dancers pass by. This time, A’dab is among them.
We are back now with the training in the school of assassins.
Captain: Listen, my dear brothers, soon to be in Heaven! For every mission, there is a cluster of supporters. We will provide you with the means to contact them. Once you arrive in the location where your return to Paradise is to occur, they will provide you with food, lodging, money for expenses, and intelligence. From them, you will learn the best way to carry out your mission. They will plan the attack; and you will execute it. However, since there is no plan, since the beginning of time, that has ever been put into practice without something unforeseen happening along the way, you must be able to improvise. Since conception and execution are not the same, it is also possible that you will see things, as you advance towards your goal, that the planners did not. For all of this you must be trained: to be single-minded, yet flexible. To be as hard as iron, yet as shapeless as water. With faith in your heart, you shall learn to do what other men call impossible!
Trainees: God be praised!
Ahmed: God be praised!
What follows is almost a ballet, as the Captain demands different performances from his trainees. In all cases, practice weapons are used.
Captain: Knife from the sleeve!
Abdullah slips a knife out of his sleeve and stabs Mustaffa.
Captain: Unseen knife!
Ali seems to hit Rashid with a bare hand, then to come back with the same hand from the other side.
Captain: [Smiling, indicating that Ali should show Ahmed] Show him.
Ali goes over and opens up his hand.
Captain: A tiny but deadly blade. The first slash disrupts and cuts; when he comes back from the other direction, it’s to puncture, not slash. [The captain points to his throat] Right here. You must get the jugular vein. Show him the motion again. [Ali demonstrates, what looks like a punch, but cuts with the concealed blade, then the back stroke which is a stab]
Captain: Poison ring!
Abdullah goes at Mustaffa with a knife, who grasps his wrist, and wrestles with him.
Captain: Separate! [To Ahmed] The attack with the knife was deterred, but who would know, but us?, that it was a mere distraction. The real damage was done by the other hand, as they grappled, with this poison ring. Show him.
Abdullah goes over to Ahmed to show him the ring.
Captain: Do you see the needles? In the field they are coated with poison from a most deadly fish of the sea. Until the scuffle, the ring is covered with a false top, an artificial jewel, to avoid the danger of accidentally scratching yourself. - Here, around Abdullah’s neck. [He shows a locket on a chain. He opens the locket.] Inside, poison. A white powder, bitter to the taste, but quick. A small amount of suffering, compared to the great prize that awaits you for faithfully serving our illustrious Sheikh. If something goes wrong, you must have the ability to deny information to the enemy. The support team should be preserved for another attempt. Other brothers will be sent.
Captain: Street attack. Narrow alleyway. Why do we like that?
Rashid: The target can’t surround himself with a thick mass of defenders, they have to go in column.
Captain: How do you attack, then? From the back?
Rashid: No, front and rear are impossible, that’s where all his bodyguards are. From the side. Flanks are thin, they can’t squeeze all the protection in. We come in from the side: from the door of a house.
Captain: How do you know when to open the door?
Rashid: A spotter. Upstairs or on the roof.
Captain: What does he say?
Rashid: He cheers or praises the one about to die. I know my comrade’s voice.
Ali: Long live Prince Asif!
Rashid: [As he speaks he enacts the attack. Mustaffa pretends to open a door, pulling it in, and Rashid charges out, followed by Mustaffa] I rush out, leap past his bodyguards, and finish him!
Captain: What if you are in a situation where there are too many bodyguards to get to the target?
Abdullah: The bow. A beautiful weapon.
Captain: And if you don’t have such beauty in your grasp? Or the angle isn’t right?
Rashid: You are disguised as one of the bodyguards! You know their passwords, and the names of the officers.
Rashid: The work of the support team.
The captain throws a small heavy purse to Ahmed, who is surprised, but catches it.
Captain: Open it.
Ahmed: Coins of gold! [He tests them, bites them, closes his eyes and "weighs them", for he knows how they ought to feel] My sordid past tells me they’re real.
Captain: An ancient general once said, "If I can get a bag of gold past the gates, I can take the city."
Rashid: As one prince submits, and supplies the tribute we demand, it becomes possible to conquer another. The supreme cleverness of the fox is to have lots of money to throw around.
Captain: But every once in a while there are severe ones who will not kneel down to a gold coin. For them, there are other deceptions.
Mustaffa: Praise. Which of the pompous ones can resist? "O great prince, all hail the great prince!" You walk up to him with flowers, or with hands upraised and eyes of ecstasy, as though to touch him would turn you into gold. Hide hot spices underneath your fingernails, so that when you wish, merely by raising your hands close to your eyes, you can turn your cheeks into waterfalls as though you were moved to a deluge of tears by his majesty. Flattery makes the mind weak. "O great prince! O blessed prince, next to Mohammed in greatness!" [Mustaffa comes up to Abdullah, then suddenly draws out a knife and stabs him.] Go to Hell, where the vain belong!
Ali: Decrepitude. Who fears a cripple? [He begins to hobble about like a man with palsy] Alms for the poor! Great lord, remember what Mohammed said, "Feed the poor! Give alms to the destitute!" The bridge to Heaven is made of generosity. [He approaches Rashid, who is walking by, guarded by Mustaffa and paying him no mind, then suddenly lunges out of his crippled mode and rushes in for the kill] Suddenly, the fish on the beach has become a panther!
Captain: Many times, making the kill depends upon smuggling a weapon past the guards. For all princes love to make a show of sympathy for their people. They hear appeals and grant audiences. Patience is the first gate. For months you may be turned away. Then finally you get the chance. But you will be looked over by the guards before you can see the oppressor.
Abdullah: The poison ring. It looks so harmless.
Rashid: The spear concealed inside a walking stick. Who would deprive the lame man of his cane?
Ali: A blade, carefully placed inside the binding of the Koran.
Captains: Things that do not seem to be weapons.
Mustaffa: Otherwise, we use accomplices…
Captain: The bag of gold. Thanks to its charm, you will find trusted men to bring your weapon in and leave it close by, so that you may recover it and hide it on your person after you have already been examined by the guards.
Mustaffa: Women. Underneath their garments.
Captain: Who will despoil her honor by touching her? Who will expect her, infirm in mind and weak in heart as she is, to be as brave as a lion? She will carry your weapon in for you. After you have passed the guards, she will return it to you.
Rashid begins to gesticulate.
Rashid: Great lord, I fear greatly the men from the moon, they told me yesterday they are coming to take away our women! Yes, the moon is filled with unbelievers, and they are twice the size of men! What shall we do without our women?
Mustaffa: He is mad, keep him away from the king!
Mustaffa and Abdullah seize him, and push him back, as Ali slips past them, then dances with his knife.
Abdullah comes up and is stopped by Mustaffa.
Mustaffa: Put your hands above your head. I need to search you.
Mustaffa begins to frisk him.
Abdullah: How I miss my wife. She used to touch me so sweetly, but now since she died…
Mustaffa grimaces, and sends him on his way.
Mustaffa: Go on.
Abdullah goes forward, then takes out a concealed knife and stabs Ali, who is now the king.
Captain: Sometimes, it is not possible to smuggle in a weapon. Then, what do we do?
Ali: There are weapons all around us. The guards are armed to the teeth. We find one close by, the least vigilant, the most accessible. [He walks towards Rashid, who is now the king, pokes his fingers in Mustaffa’s eyes, seizes his sword, parries a sword blow from Abdullah, who is also a guard, and rushes in to kill Rashid.]
Captain: With training it becomes easy. And now, Ahmed, newest of our brothers, you give it a try. We shall raise Rashid from the dead and make him king, again. Mustaffa, Abdullah and Ali will be his bodyguards. [To the others] Go on, then, give it to him, with a twist.
Mustaffa and Abdullah have their swords drawn and stand menacingly by the king, who wears a sword in his belt. Ali wears only a dagger in his belt, and is not as close to the king as the other guards. Ahmed looks at them, then steps back and turns to the captain.
Ahmed: My lord, I can get the dagger off Ali, but Mustaffa and Abdullah have swords and are too far away from Ali to take by surprise. In a best case scenario, I’ll be facing two swords with a dagger. And if the king draws his sword, three.
Captain: This isn’t a chess game, Ahmed, you can’t just sit down and study the board. Everything happens in a split second. By now, you would already be bound hand and foot and headed to the torture chamber. Let instinct guide you. Though a dog may outsmart a lion, it avails him not. Be a lion, Ahmed. Even if the dog is in a better position, you will outfight him. Go on, try again.
Rashid: Go on, brother. Don’t falter. Don’t let us down. [Pointing to himself] Corrupt kings, such as I, are meant to die.
Again Ahmed approaches. Suddenly he pulls Ali’s dagger out of the sheath as he simultaneously pushes him down. Mustaffa and Abdullah face him with swords. Ahmed spins the knife around to hold it by the blade and hurls it at Mustaffa. Mustaffa falls, and Ahmed rushes forward, bends down as if to seize the sword Mustaffa has dropped, then, as Abdullah expects that, Ahmed surprises him by avoiding Abdullah’s sword cut, seizing his arm, twisting it as he turns him, and removing the sword from his hand. He now exchanges a couple of blows with Rashid, then lands the death blow.
All of the warriors rise to their feet, and give a victory cheer, a tremulous cheer of encouragement for the new recruit, as they dance around with their arms in the air.
Captain: God be praised, we have a fighter among us! God be praised!
Trainees: God be praised! [They add another tremulous shout, before saying, once more] God be praised!
One by one, the warriors come forward to hug him, each saying "God Be Praised!" as they do so, to which he responds in kind.
Captain: We have here, with us, a diamond in the rough. Once he learns the secrets we have devised, once the diamond is cut to perfection, he will be equal to the task of killing anyone. Anyone! No throne will be safe. No man, not even in the middle of his army!
Trainees: God be praised!
Captain: He will learn the straw!
Rashid produces a bent straw and puts it in his mouth.
Captain: By means of it, he will hide beneath lakes, he will cross rivers and moats unseen.
Trainees: God be praised!
Captain: He will learn the rope and hook!
Mustaffa produces a rope with a hook tied to the end, and casts it upwards.
Captain: By means of it, he will scale walls as if he were a lizard!
Trainees: God be praised!
Captain: He will learn the walk of the spider!
Abdullah takes some crinkly, noisy material in his hands, and begins to press it with his hands to show how much noise it makes. (This sound may need to be amplified or fabricated for the audience.)
Abdullah: Behold – the carpet of warning which the wary king lays down before his bedchamber!
Abdullah lays a strip of the material down in front of Ali, who walks across it, carefully, without making a noise. (In reality, the "carpet of noise" is laid in such a way that he may appear to walk across it from the vantage point of the audience without actually doing so.)
Captain: By means of the spider’s walk, our man will pass unheard through strongholds of the wicked, until, at last, his dagger is over the heart of the accursed enemy.
Trainees: God be praised! [Again they give the tremulous shout]
Captain: Today, with this great new acquisition, with this daring brother who God has granted to our cause, we grow from a shrub into a tree. A tree of righteousness which shall tower over the damned. God be praised!
All: God be praised!
They go, and the scene is cleared.
The dancers whirl across the stage, with A’dab.
Teacher enters with a bow and arrows.
Teacher: Days pass. Weeks. Months. They train him well. He learns what it is to have brothers. Fear keeps most men from being brothers. These men have no fear, they know the blood in their veins is only for a moment and there is no time to be petty. They lift each other out of the pit of who they were before. The touch of paradise is not forgotten. There is no reason to be anything but noble. There is no disbelief to cripple them. They are great men who long to make the world better. But to make the world better, you must know it. The Old Man of the Mountain has become their eyes, and that is the scratch on their beauty.
He takes out an arrow from the quiver he has brought with him.
Teacher: Such a well-crafted arrow. So straight and balanced a shaft, heavy enough to stay true in the wind, light enough to travel far: and a perfect point at the end, sharp, precise, utterly determined to pierce wrongdoing. Ah, but what are you, most perfect of arrows, but the slave of the bow? And if the bow is imperfect, what becomes of your perfection? [The Teacher fits an arrow into the bow.] You are built to do God’s work, but the bow that fires you is ungodly. What then, righteous arrow, becomes of your righteousness? What then, soulful man, becomes of your soul? [He turns away from the audience and fires the arrow] Sometimes, lost men are found too soon! Sometimes, the overcoming of one’s sins is too abrupt! Sometimes, it is better to be homeless among choices, than to know! Sometimes, it is better to bear being damned for a little while longer, than to be saved at dawn. The evening is a better time to be saved. – But the fault is mine. I live too far from men. The road that leads to my house is too long for those who are dying. God forgive me, I am the sinner, here! - And now, young Ahmed goes to meet the false prophet who will send him to Hell! The glorious arrow has come to give itself to the twisted bow! God forgive me! It’s all my fault!
Exit Teacher. The dancers whirl across the stage, with A’dab.
The Old Man of the Mountain is sitting on a throne. There are attendants with him, as Ahmed is led forth by the Captain to visit him.
Ahmed bows down to him, as he arrives.
Old Man: Rise up, my son, the glory of God be with you. You have been reborn within my mountain. The scoundrel you were has given way to a man of dignity and purpose. It is time, at last, for you to undertake your great mission; to make the world better, and at the same time, to leave it for a better one. I see in your eyes that you are ready.
Ahmed: Yes, my lord. I am joyful and strident, exuberant and solemn, grateful and furious. I am ecstatic with the glory of God, and enraged by the imperfections of the world. I have looked upon the beautiful face of humankind, and seen it scarred by the slash of injustice. I have looked into the purse of the widow and seen it empty. I have dreamt the Koran as a city with a great square in the middle, and seen that square deserted. I am ready to do your bidding, great lord and master: to repay my debt to God for who I was; to consolidate my rebirth with righteous deeds. I know, now, all the tricks of the violent to turn the tables on the violent. I will clean the house of man. I am yours, great Lord Hassan, Shaikh al Jabal, to do with as you will. I await your command.
Old Man: Call me "Father", son.
Ahmed: I dare not.
Old Man: Go ahead. [Ahmed hesitates] Go ahead.
Ahmed: [whispers] Father.
Old Man: Louder.
Ahmed: Father. [The emotion pushes him over the edge, he falls to his knees, sobbing] Father! Father!
Old Man: [Coming over to embrace him] You have a father now.
After a moment, as Ahmed composes himself, they separate.
Old Man: [To an attendant] Give him the sword.
The attendant hands him a scimitar.
Ahmed looks at it, amazed by its beauty.
Old Man: It is for the way there. Once you are in the location, you will have to leave it with your support. You won’t be able to get near the prince with it.
Ahmed: It is beautiful. It is like a poem, made by the lips of death. It is the shape of justice in a world that doesn’t care. [He puts it in his sheath] I will treat it with honor, like an unwed girl.
Old Man: Give him the ring. [He is given the poison ring] Give him the dagger. [He is given one] The other. [Another dagger] Give him the bag. [He is given a travel bag, to sling over his shoulder] It has everything you will need for the journey. Except for this. [The old man produces a small bag] Give it to him.
Ahmed: [Looking into it] It’s a fortune.
Old Man: Enough to get the job done. [He produces a necklace with a locket] Give him this.
Ahmed: [putting it around his neck] I promise you, they won’t take me alive.
Old Man: I know they won’t. Not you. - You love her, don’t you?
Ahmed: My lord?
Old Man: A’dab.
Ahmed: [After a moment] I think of her every day.
Old Man: She is beautiful, is she not? And she waits for you.
Ahmed: What is right, and what is God’s will, should be done without any thought of reward.
Old Man: Even God, Himself, does not ask that of Man. He knows how hard is the path of righteousness, how savage are the ways of temptation. That is why A’dab was shown to you. And she waits for you, Ahmed, on the other side of your sacrifice.
Ahmed: I think of her every day. She is no mere woman.
Old Man: She is a perfect creation, combining everything that is sweet about woman with what is greater than human existence.
Ahmed: I felt, when I saw her, that I was in a daze. My perceptions were broken by her beauty, my head was split open, I did not know who I was. I was bewildered as if I was looking at a ghost.
Old Man: "Thou shalt have bliss that no eye has ever seen, that no ear has heard of, that has never even crossed the human mind."
Ahmed: Verily, she was not of this earth, where women either threw themselves at me, or despised me. Where they either bared their bodies for a penny, or locked themselves behind castles of garments and flagellated me with contempt better saved for a rat eating garbage. A’dab! A lady of the fog, made of flesh! I never imagined such a mixture of passion and virtue, wildness and righteousness, high-mindedness and forgiveness. [Agreeing with the Old Man] I want to see her again, my father. Soon. I know it is beyond lust, it is divine.
Old Man: My son, do not forget. Who you were before you came here will not be vanquished until you accomplish your task. If you should fail, you will be damned for who you could not rise above. If you should succeed, verily, the vision you had of Paradise will become your eternity. You and A’dab shall spend forever at each other’s side, and never weary of each other. Every kiss shall be like the first, every sigh shall be like a new word, spoken for the first time.
Ahmed: I know I shall never tire of her. I see, in her, a thousand A’dabs, no one of which betrays the other, each of which has a different flavor. I see in her endless branches, that can keep pace with infinity. I know she held me in her arms but for a moment, but that moment did not lie. God help me, as I have been a sinner, I have also been astute, and her body did not deceive me, her eyes told me the truth.
Old Man: To see her again, my son, you must succeed.
Ahmed: I will succeed, father. Failure is not an option. My soul is at stake. I stand between fire and gardens, between coldness and love. Between empty streets, and arms that hold her. I will succeed, father. Have no doubt. Whatever is the task you give me, it shall be done.
Old Man: Your task, my dear son Ahmed, will be to slay a wicked man who defies me. A powerful prince who will not comply with our call to purify. He neither pays his share of the holy tax we have levied upon kings for the benefit of the unfortunate, nor does he deign to implement the laws we have urged him to accept on behalf of the universal principles of generosity and virtue. He hides well his evil behind gestures of magnanimity, he dusts his copper heart with gold. He dupes his people to stand beside him, though he betrays them with every breath of air he robs from God. Already have we lost seven brothers in attempting to punish him, and suffered the loss of one support group. He is the specter of resistance which we must crush if we are to save the world.
Ahmed: I am ready, my lord, to rid the earth of this tyrant.
Old Man: Across the desert, then, you must go, my son, past the infidel armies of the Christian Crusaders, to his kingdom that still resists the invader’s Cross, yet at the same time betrays the Crescent Moon. Verily, who is more of an unbeliever, the infidel who comes to pillage the faithful, or the believer who is corrupt? With half a heart, the greatest towers fall. I am here to resuscitate the most beautiful gift ever given to Man, not to let it die.
Ahmed: I shall purify the defense of the faith, my lord. The sinner shall not prevail. I shall, in one irrevocable moment, send him to Hell and leap into Paradise!
Old Man: His name is Prince Farook, my son. Prince Farook, betrayer of the faith. Will you let me down? I, who struggle against all odds to right the world? Will you let me down?
Ahmed: Never, father! Never!
Old Man: [Indicating an attendant] Mas’ud will be your guide. He will take you to the kingdom of the evil Farook, and put you in touch with your support group. Farewell, my son. We will be separated, but only for a moment. In Heaven, we will meet again.
Ahmed: [Passionately embracing him one last time] Father!
Old Man: Son!
Mas’ud: [To Ahmed] Come.
Ahmed does, but then he breaks away, and he and the Captain embrace.
Captain: Farewell, my brilliant student! Great, redeemed soul! Lover of man, master of the knife!
Ahmed: Thank you! Thank you, my lord for all you’ve taught me!
Captain: We’ll meet again in Heaven, brother. God be praised!
Ahmed: God be praised!
All: God be praised!
Ahmed turns one last time to look at the Old Man as he follows Mas’ud.
Ahmed: God be praised.
Old Man: God be praised.
The Others: God be praised!
As Ahmed leaves…
Old Man: She waits for you. [Ahmed turns to look to the Old Man one last time, who explains:] A’dab!
Exit all, clear the stage.
The dancers whirl across the stage.
A’dab walk out, and sits down at the front of the stage, she seems melancholy, forlorn. The Teacher walks out onto the stage behind her and a bit past her; he remains standing, looking at her.
A’dab: [Looking in a hand mirror, talking to herself] Who are you? What are you? This counts as beautiful? This, for which men throw away their souls? What have I done to him? With these eyes…
[She begins to sing, in Arabic fashion]:
With these eyes that only wanted to love
with these eyes
stolen from me
by the darkness of the world
my discarded hope
like dust brushed off of a cloak
nothing I gave him
belongs to me
My love is a black horse
he rides it to sin
my white dove died in his arms
in his arms
Because a cruel man came between us
God help him! God help him!
Make him forget me
[She speaks]: May my prayers be stronger than my love
[Sings one more line]: than my love
She discards her mirror and seems to be crying, as she buries her head in her hands.
Teacher: Your tears, child, commend you to God.
She looks up at him, startled.
A’dab: Who are you? How did you get here?
He whirls once and looks at her.
A’dab: Who are you? [He doesn’t answer. He whirls again.] Who are you?!
Teacher: My child: I am the one who lives between the lines of the Holy Book, which is where God breathes. I am the one who has the mind to understand the page. I am the one who reads the chapters of the heart, so that I can understand the chapters of the Book. I am the one who comes under the crack in the door, and through the open window. I am the one who is as close as a thought, the one who spears cannot find. I am the one who is hungry when the plate is full, which is when most men starve. I am the one who grows like a flower from tears. You have turned me into the most beautiful of flowers.
A’dab: You are a jinn?
Teacher: No bottle can contain me.
A’dab: You are the wind?
Teacher: No wall can keep me out.
A’dab: You are God? [Correcting herself]: God’s messenger?
Teacher: I am the hands of a blind man trying to feel God’s face. [He gestures everywhere]
A’dab: You are a holy man.
Teacher: I am what God gave you to understand him.
A’dab: Why are you here?
Teacher: Because I love him also.
Teacher: Our friend. Who is more beautiful than he who was in pieces and has put himself back together?
A’dab: I have destroyed him, master.
Teacher: I am not your master. I am your despair which is becoming wine.
A’dab: Master, I killed him by letting myself feel. After that, I could not withhold myself. I loved the others because I was the slave of Shaikh al Jabal. I tried to find something in them that would let me be kind to them. I loved Ahmed because I was the slave of his great need, because he wanted more than my body. Even though he reached it through my body, he wanted more.
Teacher: [Gently, he touches her eyes] These are the windows that let light into his heart. [Gently he touches her lips, which she opens as he does] These are the doors that let him back into the world. [He touches her ears] These are what proved to him that he was not alone. [Indicating, discreetly, with both hands, the rest of her body] This is the garden he dreamt of, of which the other garden is nothing but a shadow.
A’dab: Verily, I am no more than Eve, who corrupted Adam. For what purpose did God make my eyes, my hair, my face, my hips, my mind? To destroy men? To tear them away from God? I am not one of the houri, Master, or it would be right that I loved him. I am not the reward of the just, but the mirage of the damned. I am a false prize, in a false Garden: a Paradise that steals men from Paradise. To try to return to this Heaven, he will lose the real one! I did not want to participate, but I was walking in the dark, I fell into the hole of his suffering with my heart that can’t see a wound without wanting to bind it. As I looked deeper into his pain, I saw his greatness. I saw that his limp came from nobility. He was the lion I had always dreamt of, as I lay alone in the night with my pillow stained with tears of pretending. I could not hold back. I succumbed to the fantasy, the fantasy that something pure could happen in a place of sin, I bounded like a gazelle away from the consequences. I have ruined him! Better that he had remained a thief, and threatened no more than the coins in people’s pockets! The fire must be less hot for half a man, than for one who is whole!
Teacher: As you loved him, you tried to warn him. You told him the parable of the translator. Verily, you will not destroy him unless he wants to be destroyed. If he follows your advice, dear A’dab, he will be saved.
A’dab: My advice was like a ship smashed by the storm of my kisses, Master, it sank beneath the sea of our love. He will remember nothing but my passion; it seemed to contradict the warning. First I said, "Be wary!", and then I loved him. Wasn’t it a way of saying, "Never mind"?
Teacher: You warned him.
A’dab: Look at me! [She indicates her body] Have you ever seen such a deadly weapon?
Teacher: Giver of life.
A’dab: A dagger, made of flesh!
Teacher: A ray of hope, shining into the night.
A’dab: A poison needle to scratch the righteous with their desire.
Teacher: Your laments raise you to Heaven. Though you dance in a false Paradise, your dancing leads to the true Paradise. The choice of what you mean is his. You warned him, A’dab. You warned him. You healed the lame. But where the lame walk with their new feet is their decision. It is men’s Will which damns them or commends them to God, A’dab.
A’dab: I am Delilah. I am Salome.
Teacher: You are not. You are A’dab, a well of sweet water in the desert.
A’dab: I need to talk to him, Master. I need to talk to Ahmed. To make sure he understands. I must save him from my love. I must save his soul. He believes, to see me again, that he must do the Old Man’s bidding. But that will send him straight to the flames of Hell, for the Old Man serves Satan, though he uses the words of an angel. Shaikh Hassan’s mouth and hand are not the same. He lusts for power and wealth, he is a robber who hides behind God. He is a thief, who has stolen the Koran. He does not distinguish between the corrupt and the righteous, he chooses his enemies on the basis of what he hopes to wrest from them.
Teacher: Ahmed is beyond your physical reach, A’dab. Can you escape this mountain?
A’dab: It is surrounded by guards. The penalty for trying to flee is death. Verily, this Paradise has no exit, it is as timeless as Hell!
Teacher: And if you could escape, how would you overtake him? I saw him ride away last night on a mighty horse, it needed only wings to be the legendary Pegasus. Can you ride a horse?
A’dab: Master, I am a dancing girl, not a soldier.
Teacher: Then there is only one way you can reach him.
A’dab: How? A letter?
Teacher: Who would carry it?
A’dab: [If that is not the answer, then what is?] How?
Teacher: As you were trying to reach him when I came…
A’dab: Through prayer?
Teacher: Was not your song a prayer to God?
A’dab: To save him…
Teacher: You must not stop praying.
A’dab: A prayer? It has no substance, it’s like vapor.
Teacher: Then why do you pray?
A’dab: Because I have nothing else.
Teacher: You doubt that your prayer has a voice?
A’dab: Master, for years I have been a body. [She grabs a fold of her skin] Flesh. I have lived in a Paradise that was built by engineers. I have seen them bring in the milk, the honey, seen the screwpumps that replenish the sacred rivers that were made by men, seen sweaty workers under the gardens laboring to turn the cranks. I, myself, have mixed hashish into the wine of the believers, the hashishin, the assassins, and seen servants of Hassan, rather than angels, carry them in and out of Paradise.
Teacher: And does that invalidate Paradise? A man who casts a bronze model of the sun, beside a silver moon – does that take the sun and moon out of the sky, my child? A man who makes a bird out of jade – does he kill the bird who is sitting in the tree? Because the jade bird is just a piece of pretty stone, does the real bird cease to fly? When a man describes the woman he loves, does her body vanish, does she become only the words on his page? Do her lips kiss no more, does she sing no more, and cry no more? [Pause] My dear child, I know you want to hold his hand, to look into his eyes. But he is no longer within your physical reach. Sweet A’dab, torment yourself no more. God’s Will be done. Prayers travel faster than galloping horses, faster than birds rushing through the sky. Faster than the rain comes down, faster than lightning strikes, faster than a memory ambushes a lonely heart, sitting in darkness. Prayers are everywhere, they shrink the seas so that a thought can step over them as though they were mere puddles, they sew together the rifts and canyons of the earth, so that there are no barriers, they end separation, because all Mind is joined together and everything is immersed in God. Pray for the man you love, A’dab. Do not cease loving him, it is not your love that threatens him; love him more than ever, love him too much for him to misunderstand your love! Pray that he will not lose his soul, A’dab, trying to reach you; and you two, who met in a false Paradise, will meet again in the Paradise that is true! Is it not what the Koran says? "But he who performs good deeds, whether man or a woman, and is a believer, will surely enter Paradise, and none shall be deprived of an iota of their reward."
A’dab throws herself at his feet and clutches his ankles.
A’dab: Thank you, Master! Thank you!
Teacher: God be praised!
A’dab: God be praised! – God be praised!
The dancers whirl across the stage. Exit A’dab and the Teacher.
In a moment, the dancers pass by again, accompanied by A’dab. Then the teacher comes out.
Teacher: Would that it were not so, but Ahmed is so skillful, and so well guided by Mas’ud, that he reaches his destination swiftly. A’dab is on her knees all day long, but he has not yet heard her. It seems he is looking straight ahead, which is the greatest sin a man can commit in a complicated world. The one he loves is no longer behind him, she is in front of him, now, on the other side of a river of darkness. To get to her, he must cross over it. Who is a mere prince to get in the way of a love like this?
Enter two support team members.
Support Chief: Word is, he is almost here.
Support Lieutenant: God be praised. They say he has passed through Hell without so much as tingeing his hair.
Support Chief: He had to go through the desert without water. The Crusaders controlled the wells. Mas’ud was stung by a scorpion, and for three days, Ahmed had to guide the guide. Near the Crusader’s castle, there was a fight. They thought he was a spy for the Turks. He slew two knights. Mas’ud saw it.
Support Lt.: God be praised. Scouts for Farook spotted them. They had heard rumors of assassins coming out of the desert. But Ahmed and Mas’ud lost them, they doubled back through a stream bed, and came out over a sheet of sandstone to conceal the place where they had emerged. After they cleared the rock, Ahmed covered over their tracks for a hundred yards beyond it.
Support Chief: God be praised. They taught him well.
Support Lt.: The door! They’re here, my lord! They’re here!
Enter Mas’ud and Ahmed.
Support Chief: Brothers, welcome!
Support Lt.: Welcome brothers!
Mas’ud: Brothers! We’re here!
Ahmed: Such a beautiful house, in which to spend but a single night!
They exchange embraces.
Support Chief: Sit, sit my brothers, on these cushions. Soft cushions after hard saddles. We have water to quench your thirst, and dates and figs. You must be exhausted.
They sit and accept what is offered.
Support Lt.: You must be tired to the point of madness.
Ahmed: By no means, brother. Last night, we were well accommodated by the brother whose door is painted green. We slept like the dead. Today, we are refreshed beyond measure.
Support Lieutenant: What exploits on your way here!
Ahmed: It is nothing to boast of. My orders were to come here as invisibly as the wind. My triumphs were, therefore, failures. When discretion is your aim, glory is a flaw. However, no one saw my face. Thank God!
Support Chief: What a perfectionist! Praise God, this one is likely to succeed where the others have failed!
Support Lt.: Are you ready to strike tomorrow?
Ahmed: If you have prepared the plan.
Support Chief: You are ready to enter Paradise?
Ahmed: I am, though a strange thing has happened.
Support Chief: Which is?
Ahmed: While we were resting one night on the way here, looking up into the sky, I beheld the stars, and suddenly they struck me as they never had before. They have always impressed me; but this time they overwhelmed me. There seemed to be a sky within the sky, coming out of the sky that was old, and the stars were all new, not the same ones that were there yesterday, and they were speaking to me, and I could understand their language, which was light. And they told me, there are worlds within the world that you have never seen. Today is the first day of your life. And I thought it a shame to die so soon after being born. And I wondered, how will the sky look from Paradise?
Support Chief: As you want it to, brother.
Ahmed: And the way I want it to, will it be as beautiful as the way it is?
Support Chief: It sounds to me, as if it is time to do the deed.
Support Lt.: God be praised! Not soon enough! Ahmed, you cannot forget the evil Prince Farook.
Ahmed: Coming here, we have heard the people speak well of him.
Support Lt.: Little do they know.
Support Chief: They are deceived!
Support Lt.: His spies are everywhere, and the people fear to speak the truth!
Support Chief: He is in the pay of the Christian Crusaders.
Ahmed: I saw, on my way here, the graves of a hundred of his warriors who fell in battle against the Crusaders.
Support Chief: He led them poorly. He fed them to the infidels, he threw them like meat to the dogs. Now, he does not challenge the unbelievers. He lets them rule Muslim lands. Is not his apathy a form of unbelief?
Support Lt.: Verily, he is a master of ruses.
Support Chief: He dresses his agents as beggars, and showers them with coins. The people are impressed, but the treasure merely goes back to the royal family. His generosity is a sham, a fountain without water. Meanwhile, he does not give a penny to our Lord and Master, Lord Hassan ibn Saba, beloved Shaikh al Jabal, who is the protector of the faith, the pillar of Islam. The one who clothes orphans and feeds the poor. Farook is nothing but a deceiver!
Support Lt.: He marches the army of his heart seven times through the pass, that it seem seven times the size it is. Verily, he is treacherous! He degrades God by posing as a righteous man.
Ahmed: Then not all, in the world, is as it seems?
Support Chief: Assassin, is the blade of your mind still sharp? Seven dedicated men have died already! Seven committed assassins! One who is half-hearted shall surely not succeed where they have failed!
Ahmed: My lord, whatever discomforts may seek to distract me in my final moments, I know that she is waiting for me. She will make everything all right, she will make everything end well. She will hold me, and I will be able to bear anything I have done. The way she holds me: I could slay Solomon, and still live with myself. If she is there to hold me…
Support Chief: Brother Ahmed, what our Lord Shaikh al Jabal commands is just and holy. He sees more than we do, just like a hawk in flight. We see the world from the ground, he sees it from the sky.
Ahmed: Let us not delay. Let us not let my memory of A’dab lose any of its luster, as memories do when they recede. I am ready, by God! What is the plan? I have, here, my daggers and my poison ring.
Support Chief: Brave Ahmed. Listen closely. The success of your mission will depend on it. You will join those who line up outside the palace tomorrow morning seeking an audience with the prince. You will play the part of a lame man. The blind, the lame, and the afflicted believe in his lies, and seek to throw themselves before him to kiss his feet; they superstitiously believe that to come into close contact with his goodness, for so they misperceive this evil man, will endear them to God, who will remove their handicaps and let them live as normal men.
Ahmed: Farook is a healer, then?
Support Lt.: Not at all: he, himself, tells the people he has no power, for he loves to feign modesty; but they will not believe him.
Support Chief: The more afflicted you are, the better the chance you will have of seeing him.
Support Lt.: So spare no pains to make yourself look pathetic.
Support Chief: Brother Ahmed, after so many attempts at assassination, his guards will search you, and search you well. They search everyone who comes into the royal chamber, even his closest advisers!
Support Lt.: This means you cannot risk attempting to smuggle in your daggers.
Ahmed: Then I suppose it must be by the poison ring that I kill him. You have the poison here? You have tested it on a goat? I have the ring, I am told you keep the poison…
Support Chief: Brother Ahmed, a previous assassin wore the ring. They know about it, now. They check rings, they check jewelry, they check canes, they check brooches and pins.
Support Lt.: And they will check the locket around your neck. You cannot smuggle in the poison to kill yourself, either, Ahmed which means that you must die fighting. Otherwise, it will be torture. The pain will be beyond anything you have ever imagined. And we will have to abandon this fine house, and start from scratch.
Ahmed: So then, I will have to procure my weapon from one of the guards. I will have to surprise him by suddenly leaping at him, after taking him off guard by hobbling about like a cripple. I’ve done it a thousand times in practice. I will do it again tomorrow.
Support Chief: Behind the prince’s throne, Brother Ahmed, there hangs a sword, a perfect scimitar. They say it was carried by one of Mohammed’s followers to Medina during the Hijira: by a warrior willing to die for the Prophet when his fortunes were at their low tide, and it seemed as though the truth he had brought into the world might be lost forever. It, therefore, represents the highest principle of devotion to the faith.
Support Lt.: The perfect weapon with which to strike down a hypocrite and betrayer of Islam!
Support Chief: How dare he hang such a holy relic on a wall of sin!
Support Lt.: How fitting that it should be used to cut him down!
Ahmed: And my hand – my hand shall hold this weapon?
Support Chief: By means of it, the deceiver shall die.
Ahmed: This sword that defended the Prophet when the world was against him? When men threw stones at him that made him bleed? When men laughed at him and spit at him, and drew their swords against his light?
Support Chief: Verily, Brother Ahmed, it is that very sword. And your hand shall be the one to hold it to strike down an evil man, to cleanse the faith, and make it new. Your hand, Ahmed, which used to pick pockets! So great is God that he can redeem such a man! Glory to God! God be praised!
Support Lt. and Mas’ud: God be praised!
Ahmed: God be praised!
Support Chief: Tonight, Ahmed, you will eat neither too much nor too little and you will drink only water. Tomorrow, in spite of this careful diet, you will be lame; and then, in the last seconds of your life, you will be a tiger. The woman you love is nearly close enough to kiss your cheek. Let nothing keep you from her.
All except Ahmed: God be praised!
Ahmed: Praise God!
They leave, and clear everything. Ahmed lies down to sleep with a blanket.
The dancers whirl across the stage.
Enter Teacher and A’dab.
A’dab: Master, he does not hear me. I have been praying day and night for his liberation, but I sense no change in him. I asked Ilham, whose intuition is greater than mine, whose eyes see into the darkness. She says she knows nothing.
Teacher: She sees less than you, A’dab, because she is more practical. Though her heart could hear the petals of a rose unfold, she hears only the danger of the Old Man: the tread of his heavy footsteps in her soul. No one feels the truth of Ahmed more than you do, sweet one, one of fire. You hear his heartbeat across the desert.
A’dab: Master, you said our prayers could reach him!
Teacher: My child, Almighty God has heard our cries of despair, our tears that became prayers! He has shown Ahmed contradictions that could awaken him: pieces of the real world that do not fit within his murderous perspective. Verily, there are enemies of God, and there are the maligned. There are invaders and transgressors, and there are the misrepresented. Prince Farook is not the rightful target of a holy war. And Shaikh al Jabal lacks the moral stature to declare jihad. Like flowers that lead to Heaven, God has thrown doubts in Ahmed’s path. See how restlessly he sleeps!
Observing him tossing and turning:
A’dab: He suffers!
Teacher: His suffering is our hope! Come, A’dab, come with me. Quickly! Let us visit him in his dreams. God has opened a door from our praying lips to his unquiet heart. Come, let us visit him before the single-minded dawn visits him with a sky that is as red as blood!
They walk closer to him.
A’dab: Ahmed, my love! My inspiration! My redeemer, who turned my slavery into freedom. No longer do the chains of captivity bind me, I am yours; your rebirth released me.
Ahmed: [Muttering] A’dab! My love, my angel, great God’s gift to the righteous! Most exalted of the houri! Is it you?
A’dab: None other! The one who loves you most.
Ahmed: Beloved one! You are as close as the slash of a scimitar. I will not fail you. I will not delay our meeting.
A’dab: Ahmed, if you love me, you must spare the prince! He is a good man. If you do not believe it, you must certainly believe that he is no worse than the man who sent you to kill him! Ahmed: do not hurry so to meet me in Paradise! By rushing you will lose me, and I will lose you! In this hard world, in which I am a slave locked inside a mountain of lies, there is no possibility that we will ever meet again. Our love is for the next life, my love. For the pure place, made by God’s hand, where gardens flourish beyond the power of the damned. There, a love that had no place on the earth shall have endless expanses for laughter and caresses, for companionship that never ends. To hold me forever, Ahmed, you must give me up tomorrow!
Ahmed: The face I love, the voice! I am but two sword-blows away from Paradise! The one that slays the prince, and the one by which I am felled. Tomorrow, I will dance in a forest of steel, thinking of you, until the moment a sharpened blade delivers me to arms that make the earth pale!
A’dab: Ahmed, don’t kill for my sake. The road to my heart is not made of blood!
Ahmed: So lonely to face the world by myself, to be the only one in the palace who hates the prince! To be the only one in an entire country who is not deceived! But no, I am not alone. She is with me, every step of the way, the one who I will die to meet! The one who will turn my screams of pain into wings!
A’dab: [Turning to the Teacher] Master, he does not hear me! He hears only my voice, not what it says! I am locked in the prison of his mission, Master, his unflinching purpose. The part of my beauty he needs to kill is with him, the part of my beauty that is telling him ‘No’ is bound like a prisoner! He does not know me!
Teacher: He knows you, A’dab. Your soul is revealed by your eyes. But the truth will not come to him in an instant. It is walking through the wilderness of what the Old Man has tried to make of him. He is still deciphering the full meaning of your soul, A’dab, breaking it like a code, reaching deeper into the nuances of your compassion, your understanding. Will he decipher it in time, before he loses you in his desperate attempt to win you?
A’dab: Master, please, do something, say something! You are wise, I am only beautiful.
Teacher: Your beauty would not be what it is, if there were not wisdom in it. What would the sun look like without its light, shining from within? It would be nothing but a giant, empty bag floating in the sky.
A’dab: Master, do something!
Teacher: [Speaking to Ahmed] Ahmed. Ahmed, my dear friend. Awake! Awake from this dream of righteousness, and be righteous! Listen, and listen well, for tomorrow the fate of your soul is at stake. Your immortal soul, that which turns the buzzing of the fly into gold. Write a good deed and it lasts forever: write a sin and bear, forever, the grief of being tiny. Ahmed, you were born to be vast! Do not destroy yourself for a reward. Even if that reward is Heaven, itself!
Ahmed: It is that voice, again. That voice that denies me peace!
Teacher: The peace of the lost!
Ahmed: I have already been saved. Go away! Let me sleep!
Teacher: You have been misled.
Ahmed: I have an old man. I have a teacher! I do not need another!
Teacher: That Old Man is false. This old man [pointing to himself] is true.
Ahmed: You lie!
Teacher: Do you doubt me?
Teacher: Praise God! He has not lost his power to doubt.
Ahmed: Who are you, come to bother me again? Go away; you’re a liar!
Teacher: Why don’t you believe me, Ahmed? Isn’t it right to believe everything that a kindly old man tells you? Isn’t it right to believe everything that an impassioned man tells you, a man who is convinced? Verily, listen, Ahmed, I can quote the Koran: "Glory to God! Exalted be He above their idols!" Shall you believe me, then, merely because I have eyes to read and a tongue to speak? Verily, Ahmed, a myna bird can say holy things!
Ahmed: Who are you?
Teacher: Faith we grant to God for all He has given to us: the seas that make us brave and the sky filled with stars that makes us humble and reflective; the mountains, and the stone to build with that comes from them, which make us strong and durable in the defense of principles; the breath of life that gives us joys the dust lacks, and the fire of mind that lets us recognize the majesty of the gift, which is how we found God. Faith to God we grant for all he has given. Faith to God we owe. But to men we do not grant faith, but demand proof. Otherwise, we quickly become fools.
Ahmed: He speaks well! This disturbing visitor in the night!
Teacher: Ahmed. Shaikh al Jabal has told you that Prince Farook must die, for he is a sinful man. And yet: as you have seen, his people speak well of him, and the sick and infirm come to him from all quarters because they believe his goodness will endear them to God. Verily, there is no man who comes for the blessing of a devil. Besides this, did not Shaikh al Jabal tell you that the prince is a friend of the infidels, and yet, have you not seen proof of his resistance? Have you not looked upon the graves of his warriors, and comprehended that he has withstood their invasion and stands resolutely on the front line of the war against them?
Ahmed: He is a deceiver.
Teacher: Or are you deceived?
Ahmed: He covers his tracks. He is the vilest of foxes.
Teacher: And what should make you discount the evidence of your eyes?
Ahmed: The supporters of Hassan have seen through his façade.
Teacher: But have you seen through theirs?
Ahmed: Go away!
Teacher: Did not you see too much desperation in their efforts to condemn the prince? To condemn a sinner should be effortless and natural. Did you not see too much discomfort in their explanations, did they not thrash about like men drowning in the sea? You who have the eagle eyes to detect every weakness in the enemy, to detect any unlocked gate, any unguarded weapon, any defect in a suit of armor, did you fail to note the anxiety which your nearness to the truth provoked in them?
Ahmed: Leave me alone, old man. I need my sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a hard day.
Teacher: You see everything which helps you to achieve your objective, but nothing of what gives birth to your objective! Tomorrow, Ahmed, you will slay the tree, but the forest will devour you!
Ahmed: Leave me alone! I am not like other men, to go into a battle with a trembling hand! Damn the conscience, which is fear’s back door!
Teacher: Fear is not the question, my tormented friend!
Ahmed: Not tormented till you came!
Teacher: You have already proved your bravery a hundred times over. Do not kill a good man just to stay on top of the mountain of courage. Fear is not at stake; justice is.
Ahmed: Damn you!
Teacher: Do not kill an innocent man!
Enter the Old Man of the Mountain, the Captain, and Ahmed’s assassin brothers, who will now join in the dream sequence.
A’dab: Oh no! God help us! There are too many doors into a man’s dreams! The power of men who have tricked us into loving them is as strong as the pleas of the righteous!
Old Man: Beloved Ahmed, my son. It is normal that on the night before a great mission, on the eve of proving yourself to God, you should be tried by doubts, tested by restlessness, tempted by Satan who seeks to bind you to flesh, to the fruits of trees that last only for a day.
Captain: Courage, my brilliant student! Do not shatter my pride!
Fellow Assassins: Courage, brother! Do not make us die alone! We, too, shall face missions such as yours in the near future, and we will not falter. Let no one be late for the appointment. We shall meet again in the land of the brave, and be as brothers for the rest of time!
Old Man: My son. Is it not true your own father deserted you? For him, you were not good enough, not worthy enough to remain at home for. He engendered you, by accident, like an animal at a watering hole, then left you with a poor good mother who did not have the strength to raise you. And then, my son, is it not true that you who had given in to the vices of the unwanted, came upon the means of your resurrection, one who without the pleasure of engendering you assumed the responsibility of making you anew? And since then, have I not been a father to you, my son? I, who am Mohammed’s right hand in the world, have I not taken you under my wing and blessed you with the fatherly affection you never had? And have I now not laid before you a glorious opportunity to go to Heaven, while others continue to languish in the misery of the earth? Have I not shown you the beautiful virgin who is the perfect match of your soul, the one who God has kept for you, since the beginning of time, in anticipation of the righteous deed which you are about to perform?
Teacher: Ahmed, don’t listen to him! Verily, a serpent speaks!
Old Man: Heed not the whispers of inquietude! Heed not the voices of fear that come to take you from God, and break a father’s heart! For my son, I have placed all my trust in you; you cannot let me down!
Captain: He will not let us down, my lord! We trained him well! We turned a petty thief into God’s tiger!
Fellow Assassins: God be praised! He will make us proud!
Teacher: Make God proud, Ahmed! Not these men!
Ahmed: They are my brothers!
Teacher: Also deceived! Does loyalty to men command you to sin against God!
Ahmed: How can I let them die alone? Soon, they, too, will be leaping upon swords!
Teacher: Love them by being the first to break away from a lie! Love them, by being the trailblazer on the path of righteousness! Solidarity cannot be preserved by sin! Free them, Ahmed, free them by showing them the way! If it is too late for them, show future generations!
Old Man: Verily, at the hour of salvation, all manner of demons shall shout in your ear. The closer one is to God, the more luscious the interventions they shall devise! The more clever the ruses they shall invent to undermine the one chance God has given you to be redeemed! Women who will rot, treasures which will rust, food which is nothing more than sand from the desert lifted to your lips. But by persevering on the frightful, God-given path, one shall win rewards that do not fade like the afternoon. All daylight ends, but just deeds build a timeless palace in the land of nothing, a palace whose doors are closed to the fearful. In the bosom of a single moment, beats the heart of all eternity. Your moment, dear Ahmed, is tomorrow!
Teacher: He lies! He is a false prophet! He wraps a dreadful sin in beautiful true words. He give you a shining lake, dear Ahmed, but within that lake, there is a deadly fish that devours men! How audacious! He speaks disparagingly of demons, being one!
Old Man: Do not listen to that voice, my son. It is the voice of fright, inventing morals to disguise itself.
Teacher: God help us! [Looking up to the sky] Save us from a man who says he serves you!
Ahmed: The voices! They are too much! They are tearing me apart! I am like a man bound to horses, pulling me in different directions!
Old Man: Do not let the evil one cripple you with pity, my son! Do not succumb to mercy! Is it compassionate to spare the lion? What of the children he comes to devour?!
Teacher: He is not holy, Ahmed, this man who urges you to kill! He does not do the work of God, but of his own pride!
Ahmed: I need to sleep!
Old Man: Verily, who has showed you Paradise, my son? Who has brought you to its gardens, and to its dark-eyed virgins? Who has showed you the living promises of the Koran?
Teacher: Fake! It’s all fake!
Old Man: Verily, would God grant me the power to open the door to Paradise were I not holy, were I not in his service? Would he let a deceiver and a snake guard the gateway to the most beautiful and holy reward which he has pledged to the faithful?
Teacher: It is not real! What he showed you was false!
Old Man: Is A’dab not real? Is she not as real as anything you remember, my son?
A’dab: God forgive me! It is once again my name that he invokes! My heart and soul, flung into the dirt!
Ahmed: Father, my life is like a world of worthless memories, painful memories and shameful memories, it is like land flooded by the water, with only one peak that stands above the flood. And that peak is her, the peak of me loving her. No, my lord, her lips were not false. Her gentleness, which also had strength, was no dream, no figment of the imagination.
Old Man: She is your prize, Ahmed. One sword, one bolt of lightning flashing from a man’s arm. Nothing more, only that, and you will be back together.
A’dab: No! Ahmed, don’t listen to him! Don’t destroy our chance to love!
Ahmed: I will find her, father. I will fight for her. With gratitude in my heart to you for placing her down in the middle of my barren life. Verily, as God gave the moon and the stars to the night, which before that was utterly empty and dark, so you gave her to me. With her warmth, which did not cringe from me, you dashed the void into a million pieces.
Ahmed and the Old Man embrace.
A’dab: He honors me and destroys me! [To Teacher] He is not listening to me, master! I hurl my truth at him, but my true nature does not reach him!
Teacher: Your true nature has reached him. That is why he loves you, A’dab. But he has not yet seen how to apply your true nature to his actions. What you mean is audible, and a part of his life, already, but its implications are not yet clear to him. He is like a poet, immersed in writing, when the wind begins to blow outside his window. He hears it but has not yet registered it. It is in his mind, and perhaps it is even affecting the words he writes, becoming a part of his poem, the mood that fills his page; but he has not yet become aware of it, or recognized it as the wind. It is just there.
A’dab: And what good does the blowing wind do, if he does not know it is there?
Teacher: It is slowly cleansing him, A’dab.
Teacher: Tomorrow, he must look up from the paper on which he is writing the perfect crime, and say, "It is the wind!" Or a great soul is lost!
Old Man’s Followers: God be praised! We have not lost him! His Will remains!
Teacher: God be praised! The deed is not yet done!
A’dab: Only a few more hours till it is!
Teacher: A few more hours to pray!
Exit all. The dancers whirl across the stage.
Enter four bodyguards, and a crowd of people who wish to see the king, including Ahmed.
Enter Teacher and A’dab.
Teacher: "Awake! for morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light."
So the poet greeted the dawn of a world that is filled with doom.
It is the Prince’s palace, the day of the great decision. For the killer, of course, there must be no decision. It must already have been made. There must be no looking back, no second-guessing. Doubt must be in its grave. Right or wrong, there can only be looking straight ahead.
A’dab: Master. He has showed up at the palace. What can stop him now, so well trained as he is? Trained not to think.
Teacher: Now, my sweet one, only the eyes of the prince. Your eyes have made Ahmed capable of love, compassion, nobility. Now he must see something in the prince’s eyes that will stay his ruthless hand. Something you have made him capable of seeing.
A’dab: Master. These men are trained not to look into the eyes of those they kill, unless it is a part of their deception. Otherwise, they are told to avoid looking at the eyes, which can break their concentration. The best killing is always done in a trance. Eyes are a distraction. "The last shield" as it is said. This, I’ve heard from the guards who keep us in the mountain. "Survey everything, do not let anything suck you in."
Teacher: Men sometimes fall down, A’dab. Maybe if all our hours of prayers can accomplish just one thing, he will look up, for one second, and see a man!
The guards are frisking the crowd that slowly enters. Ahmed has assumed the part of a badly lame cripple, and plays the part well.
Teacher: How helpless the tiger seems! Who will note his claws?
Prince’s Guard 1: And you, what is your name? [He begins to frisk him]
PG 1: And what business brings you to see the prince?
Ahmed: They say our great prince loves the unfortunate, and that God loves him. I pray that by being near to him, God may take pity on me, and help me to walk like other men, to have twice the happiness of others who take their blessings for granted.
PG 1: And why should you have twice the happiness of others?
Ahmed: That I may finally have something to share with the world! For the man whose cup is empty cannot quench the thirst of his brothers; but he whose cup is full can quench the thirst of many.
Teacher: He does not bat an eye! All this time, they are looking him over. He does not sweat or falter in his speech.
A’dab: He is a warrior! Great glory and great shame!
PG 1: Pass to the third waiting room.
Guard 1 indicates to Guard 3 that he should escort Ahmed to waiting room 3, which is the front of the stage. There the two of them wait together, as the other members of the crowd are led off stage, presumably to other waiting areas.
Teacher: And now, they let time work on him. Why has he been singled out? Why is he alone? Why is the guard looking at him so intently? Do they detect something that makes them eager to play cat and mouse?
A’dab: Ahmed pretends not to notice. To be joyful with anticipation: soon he will be seeing the prince! He has nerves of steel. I can’t help loving him as he comes closer to losing his soul.
Teacher: Something is surely afoot. In the other room, the guards have made a fire in a basket. The smoke, it is drifting their way.
PG 3: [To Ahmed] Wait here, one minute. I smell smoke. Do you smell it?
Ahmed: Yes. It is smoke.
PG 3: Wait here. [The guard goes off stage as if to check it out. A moment later, he comes running back, motioning Ahmed to follow him] Hurry it’s a fire! It’s spreading, hurry, follow me! [He starts to run towards off stage. Ahmed is hobbling after him.] Hurry, we’ll be burned alive, it’s spreading to the exit! Run, faster, fool, or we’ll die! [Ahmed continues to hobble desperately.] Damn you, burn then you miserable cripple, I can’t wait for one as slow as you! [He disappears off stage and Ahmed continues hobbling after him. Another guard appears from off stage, overtakes Ahmed from behind, and passes him as he, too, flees in panic.]
A’dab: Master, what is happening?
Teacher: A’dab: the one you love is the master, not I. What a great man! Those who use him don’t deserve him!
A’dab: What do you mean? What’s going on?
Guard 3 enters with his arm around Ahmed.
Guard 3: I am sorry, Ahmed, good friend. But there have been plots lately, you have not heard of them? A vile cult of assassins that wishes to rule the world. To impoverish kingdoms, to bleed them with taxes and empty the coffers of princes. To cover the earth with the shadow of their greed. They have tried to kill our prince seven times, and we have heard that they intend to try yet again.
Ahmed: May God protect him! Then the fire, master – it was not real?
Guard 3: Good man, it was only a test to make sure you were really lame! God be praised: the turtle, running for his life, could run no faster than a turtle!
Ahmed: God be praised! And you, stalwart server of the prince. Pray tell, what is your name?
Guard 3: Jawad. Come, good cripple. The prince is nearly ready. Come, I will place you in the front of the line, directly after the petitioners who were promised an appointment last week.
Again they leave the stage.
Teacher: Nerves of steel. They have not broken him. His mind is sharp, his Will is like a stone, you could throw it off of a cliff and a thousand years from now, they would find it there unchanged. It does not bode well for us, A’dab. He is the perfect warrior! The prince’s guards are vigilant and clever, but he eludes them. He comes closer to breaking our hearts every moment; closer to damning his soul.
A’dab: Verily, I am as cursed as Helen, who dragged a thousand warships into the sea, and burned down a city, with the involuntary might of her beauty! Why do men call what I am beautiful? I am only a human being whose heart aches, who wants peace! What do men see in me that makes them torment me like this? Verily, I am a sinner for not killing myself long ago!
Teacher: It is no longer your battle, A’dab, it is his. You have done your part, and it is not as you say. You have ennobled the earth, not lowered it. To have killed yourself would have been a sin; it would have been as if the sunflower vowed never to open, to despoil the fields that it shines in, to steal the color from Creation.
A’dab: Master, you spew philosophy into the world, but the fact is, a good man is about to die. Two good men, and one soul! That is the bounty my net draws from the sea! That is the gift of the sunflower to man!
Teacher: Pray, cease your unjust fury and love yourself, A’dab, so that your prayers may have power! A man, to leap high, needs solid ground beneath him, not quicksand. That your prayers may be heard, A’dab, realize that you are worthy of being heard!
Set up the stage with the prince’s throne, two guards standing on either side of the throne, and two guards (including Jawad) in front of the crowd, which is kept at a considerable distance from the prince. Ahmed is third in line. Behind the throne, we see the hanging sword. Enter, also, a herald.
Herald: Beloved people, subjects of the munificent Prince Farook, behold your prince!
Enter the prince, as the people shout out, "God be praised! Long live the noble Farook, joy of our hearts, pride of our land!" They kneel and bow their heads down, then kneel upright again.
Prince Farook raises his hands smiling.
Farook: My beloved people, kneel to God, not to me! Rise up, these are times that need men who stand on their feet! I welcome you to my palace, with gratitude, for without a people, there is no prince. Whatever glory is mine comes from you. I pray that God will guide me to serve you justly today, with compassion for your problems yet also understanding of the principles that govern kingdoms: principles of law, rooted in the supremacy of what is good for all of us over what is good for only a few. May your private wishes and our public needs be harmonious. God be praised!
All: God be praised!
Farook: I ask nothing from you today, my beloved people, except patience. That I may judge wisely, I need time. To all who are here, I will lend the ear of a prince.
All: God be praised!
Farook: God be praised!
He sits down on his throne, and the first petitioner is led up to him by the herald. He bows down, then speaks to Farook, but we do not hear their matter.
Crowd Member 1: [Talking to crowd member 2, both behind Ahmed, who listens to them] God be praised, we get to see the prince! I am sure he will remedy our problems!
Crowd Member 2: Praise God, Prince Farook is wise and he is fair! If he rules against me, I will know that I was wrong, and that the kingdom is stronger for me not getting my way.
Crowd Member 3: [Joining in] Glory to our prince! What a brave man! How much he cares for us! Any other king would have closed his doors by now, would have denied us an audience because of the threat of the assassins. He risks death by letting us through his doors, sometimes for nothing more than to settle a dispute about a donkey or a fruit tree. So much the happiness of his quarrelling children means to him!
Crowed Member 1: [To Ahmed] Good luck, brother. If you do not walk after seeing him, it is because God has woven your lameness into the very fabric of the universe. Then, it could not be unraveled without making the stars fall out of the sky and the sea rise up out of its bed, without making the sun set fire to the fields and the mountains fall down upon the cities. My dear brother, you will know if you walk away from here a cripple, that you have saved the earth by being lame, that your lameness is an indispensable part of Creation, that you are, in fact, the very pillar of everything that exists, that holds up the roof of life. [He pats Ahmed on the back]
Ahmed: Glory to the prince!
Crowd: God be praised! May you walk again!
A’dab: God be praised! May his lame soul walk again! Surely, Master, there is hope! The way these people talk! This ocean of good will that surrounds him! Ahmed cannot be impervious to it!
Teacher: They do not see beneath his well-trained face, the tumult! His head is filled with angels who don’t know which way to turn! The clamor of indecision thunders in his brain. He is confused!
A’dab: Praise God! He is in our reach! Confusion is the sweat by which man rids himself of the fever of certainty!
Teacher: Other choices blossom in the stark world of thinking that you know everything.
A’dab: Confusion is the mightiest of the angels! It will deliver him!
Teacher: Unless poor Ahmed chooses killing as his remedy for the confusion. How well the knife simplifies the world! How many choices does it eliminate! The desperation of not being sure, the fury of realizing you may be wrong, the fear that without your mistake you are lost, without bearings in the wasteland of life, may all be channeled into the deadly blow! Kill the doubt, kill yourself, kill the enemy! Stab the pain! The weak man flees from his confusion with the simplest choice, which is to kill, to wield the dagger with even more savagery than he intended; the great man struggles to find the right choice.
A’dab: Ahmed is a great man. He will wake up!
Teacher: Unless he uses all his power to dig a tunnel through what he sees to the deed he came to do!
A’dab: Let it not be so!
Teacher: May wisdom find a way into his heart, past his strength.
The first petitioner leaves the prince, happy with the results, as the second is brought forward by the herald, leaving Ahmed first in line.
Petitioner 1: [As he leaves] God be praised, our prince is just!
Crowd Member 1: You got what you wanted?
Petitioner 1: Not what I wanted, but what I deserved. We have our very own Solomon!
Crowd: Praise God!
Petitioner 1: [As he departs] Praise God!
Teacher: A’dab, my old heart cannot endure this struggle! Look at him, now, his eyes are hardening, he is trying to shut out what is around him!
A’dab: He is clinging to the thought of me!
Teacher: There is not much time left for him to discover who you really are! - And now we do not even seem to be in his mind at all. He looks around him as he seems not to look, taking everything in. The guards, the sword behind the throne. It looks difficult: to get past the guards, to reach and draw the historic scimitar that is hanging behind the throne, to fight his way to the prince. Can you see it in his eyes? There is a vision in his mind, unfolding, he is seeing what he plans to do. He is charting his way to you!
A’dab: God forbid!
Enter the Old Man and the assassin crew, beside the Teacher and A’dab.
Assassins: [Various] Praise God, he will not fail! Go on, Ahmed! No backing out now! A’dab is waiting for you! Your father watches! Your brothers’ eyes shine with admiration! Shut out the voices of the weak! Ignore the banter of fools! You are the eyes of an unclear world, only you see! You are the hawk of justice, flung from God’s arm, at the sins of man!
A’dab: Go! Go out of his head!
Teacher: Away, corrupters! Leave this man to God!
Assassins: The task! There is no more to the world than the task! All the water of the world has boiled down to one cup! To one righteous act!
A’dab: Leave him alone!
Assassins: Don’t listen to her! Don’t listen to the one who waits for you! Do not be deceived by her words, it is your fear that has put those words into her mouth! Be brave my son! The sting of a bee! The bite of a mosquito!
The other petitioner goes away smiling, and waving a paper to the others.
Teacher: Ahmed has not yet been called. But in his mind, he is going to run through the crime one time. He is going to try it out in his imagination, to see if he can get away with it. He is going to visualize it, to test it with a final lethal fantasy. His focus is narrowing. Men who are determined have no hearing.
A’dab: Ahmed! Ahmed! He doesn’t hear me!
The herald motions Ahmed forward. Ahmed hobbles up to the throne, and kneels.
Then, suddenly, he leaps up, pushing past a guard who he knocks down, rushing to the scimitar hanging behind the wall, and drawing the sword.
As he strikes blows at the guard who is still standing to drive him away from the prince, he shouts: "Jawad, quick!" Jawad, who was in front of the crowd, is already rushing forward to help (while the other guard who was with him remains behind to control the crowd, from which a threat might emerge). By calling to Jawad, and making it seem like he is a part of the plot, Ahmed diverts the attention of the fallen guard, who has climbed back to his feet, and tricks him into rushing against Jawad instead of Ahmed.
Jawad cries, ‘Wait! Stop!’ as the guard engages him. The guard cries, ‘Traitor!’
Ahmed drives the other guard back enough to get a slash in against the prince who has finally reacted and risen to escape, as he shouts, ‘Quick, get me a weapon!"
Ahmed raises his hand in triumph, exclaiming, ‘And now I go to the one I love!"
A’dab: God help us!
Teacher: God help us! You love a tiger, not a man!
Now, the actors from the scene reassemble themselves. The prince is still talking to the second petitioner, with Ahmed first in line.
Assassins: God be praised, he is a mighty warrior of God! He will triumph where all the others failed!
A’dab: [Weeping] No, master! No! He is too brilliant to be saved!
Teacher: What a genius. I must praise him as I mourn for him. He sees that even with the scimitar he will be overmatched. And so, he pretends Jawad, whose name he learned by cleverness, is on his side. He calls Jawad to his aid, and when the guard by the throne sees Jawad running forward, he believes it is to attack the prince, not to save him! And so, this guard’s sword is drawn away to fight one of his own, leaving Ahmed with only one man to fight. And the prince, who did not wear a sword to listen to his people, for the sword represents power, and he wishes to embody justice… [He is overcome by emotion]
A’dab: Master, and what Ahmed saw in his mind, will that be what happens?
Teacher: What he envisioned he is capable of, my dear A’dab, grieving angel of a lost man, light of Paradise.
A’dab: And can we not save him now?
Old Man: He is ours!
Teacher: Go to Hell!
Old Man: He is ours!
A’dab: Can we save him yet?
Teacher: His eyes! The prince’s eyes!
Old Man: He will not look at them. He has been trained. He sees only a shape that is to be slashed! A fleeing deer that must be brought down!
Teacher: [Emotional, ready to weep] His eyes!
A’dab: His eyes! The prince’s eyes!
Teacher: Pray that he looks just once! With the heart you cleaned! Thanks to you, he can recognize goodness.
Old Man: Pride, my son! Pride! Make your father proud of you! You will not fail! You will be the best!
Teacher: Make God proud, and forget about this man!
The second petitioner leaves, waving his paper in the air and smiling to the crowd as he departs, just as he did before Ahmed’s vision.
Teacher: Pray! Pray A’dab! Pray as you have never prayed before!
She and the Teacher fall to their knees, their hands raised to Heaven, as Ahmed limps up to the throne.
A’dab: Oh God, please, if you never listen to me again, I beg you, please, listen to me just this once! Deter him! Break the spell I have cast over him, save his soul! Free him of my misused beauty! Make him spurn me, rise above me, leave me behind! Save his soul! For a false Paradise, he would close the door to the Paradise that is real! Rescue him, I beg you! Drive me from his mind, let him see the nobility in the prince’s eyes. Let him not decide until he looks!
Teacher: Praise God, you who have made the world, please let this man find you! Save him from his skill. May he be holy, not effective!
A’dab: May he be effective in understanding what is right.
The prince and Ahmed look into each other’s eyes, as Ahmed kneels at his feet.
Farook: What would you have, dear man?
Ahmed: The power to walk again, my lord.
Farook: I am not God, dear man. I am a prince. Say your prayers. I shall add you to mine.
Ahmed: Will you touch me?
Old Man: He is waiting too long!
Farook: My hands do not hold the power to heal. That is God’s power.
Ahmed: And yet, I would be touched in spite of it.
Gently Farook touches him.
Farook: Dear God, please help this man if it is within your Will and the design of the Universe supports it. I can see how troubled he has been. I can see how much he has suffered. One more man who can walk could change the world.
Ahmed: Thank you, my lord.
Old Man: What is happening here?
Teacher: Yes, what is happening here?
Ahmed: A’dab, I love you not so well as what is right. Because I love you, I know what’s right.
A’dab: He loves something more than me. God be praised! It means he is worthy of my love!
A’dab and the Teacher embrace.
Ahmed walks away from the throne without a limp. Everyone in the palace is startled.
Crowd: He walks! He walks!
Farook: You walk!
Ahmed turns to face him.
Ahmed: Verily, my prince, I have beheld you and seen the sword of Mohammed’s loyal guard which hangs upon your wall. I am lame no more.
Farook: God be praised!
Crowd: God be praised!
Ahmed: God be praised!
Teacher: God be praised.
A’dab: [Still holding onto the Teacher, but slowly sinking to her knees from the emotion of it] God be praised.
Creative Safehouse Contents