Into Shariyar's Private Pit
By Tom Schwartz
As it happens, it didn’t happen. Abu’s journey to London within his mother’s womb was like an amniotic bounce castle. The ship, an old whaler captained by the not-yet-born’s father Sinbad, roiled and lurched northwest around the Horn of Africa, dodging tariffs, navies and cyclones in the year of Band Aid, “I’ll be back”, Thatcher’s second term and England’s peak unemployment.
A small fortune was paid to pass through the Suez Canal. Some of the crew, accustomed to sailing for profit and adventure, threatened mutiny, shouting at the captain things like “This personal journey, we take at a great loss” and “With a baby at the helm, we’re stall and sink”. But Simbat’s eye wasn’t looking and, as a master bargainer he mollified them with money, liquor and shoreleave. The bride endured three long months of afternoon, evening, night and morning sickness as the boy was forming fingers and toes. They ate canned food and she stared into the grey ocean.
One lovely layover in Italy, the Nubian beauty with the burgeoning baby bump basked in Mediterranean luxury. Sinbad bought a leather eyepatch before hard-selling some illegally acquired coffee to Reggio Calabrian businessmen. His new wife was massaged and dined on strange, new shellfish. From her beach chair in Italy’s heel she considered London; top of the world with its fair opportunities, tolerance and common sense. She expected community and opportunity.
The imperial capitol loomed akin to dar es Salaam’s delta harbor but far more massive. The sea seemed to funnel in. A three-point turn and they landed at Harwich International Port.
The new family disembarked directly to taxis and left a rowdy crew to fend for themselves in the only pub hearty enough to host such a crew. The family ascended apoplectically to London to rent an urban apartment. Simbad paid for a generation and the best things that foreign capitol could buy but he didn’t promise devotion, honesty or presence and she didn’t expect. Abu’s birth, along with Simbad's money, gave the Akra family a strong legal anchor on English soil but while Abu was still in diapers, Simbat returned to the high seas.
Abu Akra spent his childhood at his mother’s breast, imagining his father with a cryptic key, sailing against gales towards treasure, blasting sea monsters and shipwrecked, as literary Sinbad was. His illusory father is, the folk hero who floats alone on the open sea, clinging to a plank. Abu imagined Simbat washing up on razor sharp rocks, and climbing to a forbidden island.
Looking for fruit he treks to a impassable white barrier rising up to the sky. Our hero steps back to see, as from an ant to a albatross, a colossal egg which moments later hatches into a monstrous chick to chomp at his head. He jams it's beak open with a tree trunk and hides in wait for mother bird.
A short time later he rides perched upon her foot as the landing gear of a jet, with baggy pants billowing high above the sea. His arcane key is lost but the bird can bring him to the gates of the underworld where he meets legendary shades. He flies over mountains and towards a chasm. A long and funneling queue of gorgeous young brides wielding axes, rusty blades and pitchforks. Thousands of young beauties, in lingerie wait inline on the spiraling trail into the chasm.
At the inverted peak, frozen in place is King Shariyar, naked but for bondage and shrieking that for 1001 late mornings previewed this hell. “I'd seen it all... in my dreams...” he wails. Items of torture scatter the rocky pit.
Simbat begs Sharriyar’s pardon, “King of muses demise, help me recover a lost key.”
Shariyar bargains back, “Trade for your first born.” His torture has made him a demon.
“Foolish king with a bird for a cock!” in chorus from the harem. “Neither you, this sailor, nor Satan has claim on souls and you’ve got no keys. Use your imaginary key to unlock your iron maiden Ahahakamakamaha”.
Simbat turns to leave but King Shariyar wails, “Wait!” through fiery whiplashes. “Last in line... here is hell, I'll only go deeper. But maybe, one who waits, beyond these spiteful specters if she helps, my Scheherazade holds many keys. Go ask, but also give a message for me. Tell her to beat a drum, so that I might hear when she draws near.”
Simbat nods and turns away. The steed has flown the pit. The steep spiral up is aplomb with royal babes dressed in nightclothes, burlesque and oriental styles. They garnish rusty blades and clang chains. He shudders and begins to climb the narrow path passing many thousands of furious women, “pardon me Miss.”
One asks, “Who’s this pimp?”
Others chime in, “Our fat husband?”
“How’s he sprung loose?”
“Let’s slash his belly!”
Simbat takes some accidental hits but asserts, “Ma’am, I’m but a traveler. Your King awaits your vengeance.”
A dark and pretty shade, wearing her bridal veil and little else wails lustily, “Aiiii! What little use, robbed of virginity and life and for what? What do I get for lost time?” she seductively closes in but Simbat weaves left and dodges the kiss. Her momentum's thrown into the pit but she transforms into a genie with a whisp of blue vapor for a bottom half. She's hovering and utters a terrifying scream.
“Yes’m, quite unfair,” Simbat replies hastily with one eyes on the path. He climbs and climbs out of the pit, past the violated brides and towards an sonic oasis of lyrical musings. Simbat sees the end of the queue where the scornful wives are turned away from one of such a different nature. A woman sits tall with a peaceful, fair face, calm eyes and an exquisite lyre. She wears turquoise and scarlet garments, a saffron headdress and plays for Simbat as their eyes meet she sings,
To pass the gate take an ear, or meet your fate as you draw near.
Peel the outside and cook the inside, eat the outside and throw away the inside.
Shining in flossy rows under husky shell. Don’t ask for it plainly. I’ll never tell.
Peel the outside and cook the inside. Eat the outside and throw away the inside.
Did Sindibad guess the riddle? Did you? It was one of the sacred grains given to re-foster a mature civilization in it’s own cradle. Ours- millet, teff, quinoa and sorgum- are gracing the tables of your overpriced restaurants while this one dehydrates African plains as the cattle make quick work of the land. After a few high mass generations, more mouths to starve.
Simbat guesses correctly and takes an ear to the hidden tomb, deep inside a long cave. The bone notes chill our hero as he's scrambling across skeletons to the door. It's a corn keyhole and there’s a slot opening on the doorjam. Simbat picks up a wolf’s lower jawbone, plugs it with kernels and tracts it in to flush the hull. The door rises. Our hero tip-toes between tripwires, allowing poison darts to retain tension within their slings. Treasure is across the hall glowing but in the space between lies peril.
Inside of a big hole is a rotten corpse, impaled on a spike and still wearing his fatigues. Shards of tile break away to the pit below and threaten more trap floors. The treasure across is null. It’s blasphemous and costly.
As Abu’s childhood passed, Simbat the father visited less and less. Abu was fourteen when his mother died. He waited for his father to return. As a teen in an orphanage for Muslim boys he brooded, drank and managed decent enough marks to enroll at Kensington University. He lied to girls and begged for Allah’s forgiveness. Fridays spanned the gamut between unspeakable holiness by daylight and treacherous depravity at night. At sometime, he was lost to London, Islam and his family but not to the world.
Whether self-consciousness, self-loathing or self-discovery was the cause of his defect isn’t known by his absentee father or myself, his maternal grandmother. Although his father and I know of the mysterious past of Abu Akra, we don't know his big ideas, targets and motivations. His journey to the Levent isn't entirely fictitious or serious and from the onset, I’m not about to reveal if my grandson is one of the 2000 UK citizens who’ve abandoned first world privilege to fight for Islamic State. He, like the author, is motivated by money, adventure, sex, recognition, righteousness, and personal history.
And who am I? I am Kahina, Abu’s grandmother and psychic guardian angel. Why do I tell this story and from where? Well child, I sit under the old gate in Stone Town, where he was conceived.
Time exhales it’s history. Not all stories can be held between the covers of books. Some tales are too rich to be anything other than told without attracting greedy pirates or dangerous colonists to pillage and surreptitiously pilfer the nuggets, and the beginning of some stories are lost to history. How can a hero play his roll if he doesn't know his own beginnings? As his grandmother, Abu’s origin can of course be traced to me and my heathen husband, as well as that old junk rig and his kin but allow me to open the story in my daughter’s tribe. In the spring of 1984…