Posted by: Rajesh Shukla | March 22, 2012

Prophet Muhammad Oasis in desert and the business of prostitution

“Here is a she-camel (women): she has a right of watering, And ye have a right to water<severally> “-Ash-Shuara 
God! There is no God but the king Mohammed the prostutor, supreme! –An-naml 
“Bitches! Don’t be arrogant against Mohammed, but submit your ass-es for deliverance” –ibid
“Those who reject Faith will suffer from the rejection and those who are faithful will spread their couch “—Ar RUM

“There is no god but God!” Bilal shouts. And his fellows join in: “Ya Allah!” Mahammad  looks angry. “Will the faithful hear the Messenger?” They fall silent, scuffing their feet in the dust.

“He asks for Allah’s approval of Lat, Uzza and Manat. In return, he gives his guarantee that we will be tolerated, even officially recognized; as a mark of which, I am to be elected to the council of Jahilia.<Brothel’s town> That’s the offer.”

Salman : “It’s a trap. If you go up Coney and come down with such a Message, he’ll ask, how could you make Gibreel provide just the right revelation? He’ll be able to call you a charlatan, a fake.” Muhammad shakes his head. “You know, Salman, that I have learned how to listen. This _listening_ is not of the ordinary kind; it’s also a kind of asking. Often, when Gibreel comes, it’s as if he knows what’s in my heart. It feels to me, most times, as if he comes from within my heart: from within my deepest places, frommy soul.”

“Or it’s a different trap,” Salman persists. “How long have we been reciting the creed you brought us? There is no god but God. What are we if we abandon it now? This weakens us, renders us absurd. We cease to be dangerous. Nobody will ever take us seriously again.”

Muhammad says listen: “If we quarrel, there’s no hope.” He tries to raise the discussion to the theological level. “It is not suggested that Allah accept the three as his equals. Not even Lat. Only that they be given some sort of intermediary, lesser status.”

“Like devils,” Bilal bursts out.

“No,” Salman the Persian gets the point. “Like archangels. The Grandee’s a clever man.”

“Angels and devils,” Muhammad says. “Shaitan and Gibreel. We all, already, accept their existence, halfway between God and man.

Abu Simbelasks that we admit just three more to this great company. Just three, and, he indicates, all Prostitute’s souls will be ours.”

“And the House will be cleansed of statues?” Salman asks. Muhammad replies that this was not specified. Salman shakes his head.

“This is being done to destroy you.” And Bilal adds: “God cannot be four.” And Khalid, close to tears: “Messenger, what are you saying? Lat, Manat, Uzza — they’re all _females!_ For pity’s sake! Are we to have goddesses now? Those old cranes, herons, hags?” Misery strain fatigue, etched deeply into the Prophet’s face. Which Hamza, like a soldier on a battlefield comforting a wounded friend, cups between his hands. “We can’t sort this out for you, nephew,” he says. “Climb the mountain. Go ask Gibreel.”
Story begins after this, but before proceeding into the story contemplate on what Foucault has to say about “oasis of desert”. He was an authentic philosopher “ archaeologist”, he did spend his many years in Arabian desert to understand it. He taught philosophy in Arabia. Rushdie’s point can’t be cancelled easily. He wrote his text as a plateau that progresses gradually towards hell and criminality. Hell is created in the labyrinthine space called “heterotopias” created by Mohammad, prostitutes and his soldiers. 

[The heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible. Thus it is that the theater brings onto the rectangle of the stage, one after the other, a whole series of places that are foreign to one another; thus it is that the cinema is a very odd rectangular room, at the end of which, on a two-dimensional screen, one sees the projection of a three-dimensional space, but perhaps the oldest example of these heterotopias that take the form of contradictory sites is the garden. We must not forget that in the Orient the garden, an astonishing creation that is now a thousand years old, had very deep and seemingly superimposed meanings. The traditional garden of the Persians was a sacred space that was supposed to bring together inside its rectangle four parts representing the four parts of the world, with a space still more sacred than the others that were like an umbilicus, the navel of the world at its center (the basin and water fountain were there); and all the vegetation of the garden was supposed to come together in this space, in this sort of microcosm. As for carpets, they were originally reproductions of gardens (the garden is a rug onto which the whole world comes to enact its symbolic perfection, and the rug is a sort of garden that can move across space). The garden is the smallest parcel of the world and then it is the totality of the world. The garden has been a sort of happy, universalizing heterotopia since the beginnings of antiquity (our modern zoological gardens spring from that source]

Gibreel dreamed a Curtain: <Heterotopias -third principle>

The Curtain, _Hijab_, was the name of the most popular brothel in Jahilia, an enormous palazzo of date–palms in water—tinkling courtyards, surrounded by chambers that interlocked in bewildering mosaic patterns, permeated by labyrinthine corridors which had been deliberately decorated to look alike, each of them bearing the same calligraphic invocations to Love, each carpeted with identical rugs, each with a large stone urn positioned against a wall. None of The Curtain’s clients could ever find their way, without help, either into the rooms of their favoured courtesan or back again to the street. In this way the girls were protected from unwanted guests and the business ensured payment before departure. Large Circassian eunuchs, dressed after the ludicrous fashion of lamp–genies, escorted the visitors to their goals and back again, sometimes with the help of balls of string. It was a soft windowless universe of draperies, ruled over by the ancient and nameless Madam of the Curtain whose guttural utterances from the secrecy of a chair shrouded in black veils had acquired, over the years, something of the oracular. Neither her staff nor her clients were able to disobey that sibylline voice that was, in a way, the profane antithesis of Mahound’s sacred utterances in a larger, more easily penetrable tent not so very far away. So that when the raddled poet Baal prostrated himself before her and begged for help, her decision to hide him and save his life as an act of nostalgia for the beautiful, lively and wicked youth he had once been was accepted without question; and when Khalid’s guards arrived to search the premises the eunuchs led them on a dizzy journey around that overground catacomb of contradictions and irreconcilable routes, until the soldiers’ heads were spinning, and after looking inside thirty-nine stone urns and finding nothing but unguents and pickles they left, cursing heavily, never suspecting that there was a fortieth corridor down which they had never been taken, a fortieth urn inside which there hid, like a thief, the quivering, pajama-wetting poet whom they sought.

After that the Madam had the eunuchs dye the poet’s skin until it was blue-black, and his hair as well, and dressing him in the pantaloons and turban of a djinn she ordered him to begin a body-building course, since his lack of condition would certainly arouse suspicions if he didn’t tone up fast.

Baal’s sojourn “behind The Curtain” by no means deprived him of information about events outside; quite the reverse, in fact, because in the course of his eunuchly duties he stood guard outside the pleasure-chambers and heard the customers’ gossip. The absolute indiscretion of their tongues, induced by the gay abandon of the whores’ caresses and by the clients’ knowledge that their secrets would be kept, gave the eavesdropping poet, myopic and hard of hearing as he was, a better insight into contemporary affairs than he could possibly have gained if he’d still been free to wander the newly puritanical streets of the town. The deafness was a problem sometimes; it meant that there were gaps in his knowledge, because the customers frequently lowered their voices and whispered; but it also minimized the prurient element in his listenings–in, since he was unable to hear the murmurings that accompanied fornication, except, of course, at such moments in which ecstatic clients or feigning workers raised their voices in cries of real or synthetic joy.

What Baal learned at The Curtain:

From the disgruntled butcher Ibrahim came the news that in spite of the new ban on pork the skin-deep converts of Jahilia were flocking to his back door to buy the forbidden meat in secret, “sales are up,” he murmured while mounting his chosen lady, “black pork prices are high; but damn it, these new rules have made my work eough. A pig is not an easy animal to slaughter in secret, without noise,” and thereupon he began some squealing of his own, for reasons, it is to be presumed, of pleasure rather than pain. — And the grocer, Musa, confessed to another of The Curtain’s horizontal staff that the old habits were hard to break, and when he was sure nobody was listening he still said a prayer or two to “my lifelong favourite, Manat, and sometimes, what to do, Al-Lat as well; you can’t beat a female goddess, they’ve got attributes the boys can’t match,” after which he, too, fell upon the earthly imitations of these attributes with a will. So it was that faded, fading Baal learned in his bitterness that no imperium is absolute, no victory complete. And, slowly, the criticisms of Mahound began.

Baal had begun to change. The news of the destruction of the great temple of Al-Lat at Taif, which came to his ears punctuated by the grunts of the covert pig-sticker Ibrahim, had plunged him into a deep sadness, because even in the high days of his young cynicism his love of the goddess had been genuine, perhaps his only genuine emotion, and her fall revealed to him the hollowness of a life in which the only true love had been felt for a lump of stone that couldn’t fight back. When the first, sharp edge of grief had been dulled, Baal became convinced that Al-Lat’s fall meant that his own end was not far away. He lost that strange sense of safety that life at The Curtain had briefly inspired in him; but the returning knowledge of his impermanence, of certain discovery followed by equally certain death, did not, interestingly enough, make him afraid. After a lifetime of dedicated cowardice he found to his great surprise that the effect of the approach of death really did enable him to taste the sweetness of life, and he wondered at the paradox of having his eyes opened to such a truth in that house of costly lies. And what was the truth? It was that Al-Lat was dead — had never lived — but that didn’t make Mahound a prophet. In sum, Baal had arrived at godlessness. He began, stumblingly, to move beyond the idea of gods and leaders and rules, and to perceive that his story was so mixed up with Mahound’s that some great resolution was necessary. That this resolution would in all probability mean his death neither shocked nor bothered him overmuch; and when Musa the grocer grumbled  one day about the twelve wives” of the Prophet, _one rule for him, another for us_, Baal understood the form his final confrontation with Submission would have to take.

The girls of The Curtain — it was only by convention that they were referred to as “girls”, as the eldest was a woman well into her fifties, while the youngest, at fifteen, was more experienced than many fifty-year-olds — had grown fond of this shambling Baal, and in point of fact they enjoyed having a eunuch-who wasn’t, so that out of working hours they would tease him deliciously, flaunting their bodies before him, placing their breasts against his lips, twining their legs around his waist, kissing one another passionately just an inch away from his face, until the ashy writer was hopelessly aroused; whereupon they would laugh at his stiffness and mock him into blushing, quivering detumescence; or, very occasionally, and when he had given up all expectation of such a thing, they would depute one of their number to satisfy, free of charge, the lust they had awakened. In this way, like a myopic, blinking, tame bull, the poet passed his days, laying his head in women’s laps, brooding on death and revenge, unable to say whether he was the most contented or the wretchedest man alive.

It was during one of these playful sessions at the end of a working day, when the girls were alone with their eunuchs and their wine, that Baal heard the youngest talking about her client, the grocer, Musa. “That one!” she said. “He’s got a bee in his bonnet about the Prophet’s wives. He’s so annoyed about them that he gets excited just by mentioning their names. He tells me that I personally am the

spitting image of Ayesha herself, and she’s His Nibs’s favourite, as all are aware. So there.”

The fifty-year-old courtesan butted in. “Listen, those women in that harem, the men don’t talk about anything else these days. No wonder Mahound secluded them, but it’s only made things worse. People fantasize more about what they can’t see.”

Especially in this town, Baal thought; above all in our Jahilia of the licentious ways, where until Mahound arrived with his rule book the women dressed brightly, and all the talk was of fucking and money, money and sex, and not just the talk, either.

He said to the youngest whore: “Why don’t you pretend for him?”


“Musa. If Ayesha gives him such a thrill, why not become his private and personal Ayesha?”

“God,” the girl said. “If they heard you say that they’d boil your balls in butter.”

How many wives? Twelve, and one old lady, long dead. How many whores behind The Curtain? Twelve again; and, secret on her black–tented throne, the ancient Madam, still defying death. Where there is no belief, there is no blasphemy. Baal told the Madam of his idea; she settled matters in her voice of a laryngitic frog. “It is very dangerous,” she pronounced, “but it could be damn good for

business. We will go carefully; but we will go.”

The fifteen-year-old whispered something in the grocer’s ear. At once a light began to shine in his eyes. “Tell me everything,” he begged. “Your childhood, your favourite toys, Solomon”s-horses and the rest, tell me how you played the tambourine and the Prophet came to watch.” She told him, and then he asked about her deflowering at the age of twelve, and she told him that, and afterwards he paid double the normal fee, because “it’s been the best time of my life”. “We’ll have to be careful of heart conditions,” the Madam said to Baa!.

o o o

When the news got around Jahilia that the whores of The Curtain had each assumed the identity of one of Mahound’s wives, the clandestine excitement of the city’s males was intense; yet, so afraid were they of discovery, both because they would surely lose their lives if Mahound or his lieutenants ever found out that they had been involved in such irreverences, and because of their desire that the new service at The Curtain be maintained, that the secret was kept from the authorities. In those days Mahound had returned with his wives to Yathrib, preferring the cool oasis climate of the north to Jahilia’s heat. The city had been left in the care of General Khalid, from whom things were easily concealed. For a time Mahound had considered telling Khalid to have all the brothels of Jahilia closed down, butAbu Simbel had advised him against so precipitate an act. “Jahilians are new converts,” he pointed out. “Take things slowly.”

Mahound, most pragmatic of Prophets, had agreed to a period of transition. So, in the Prophet’s absence, the men of Jahilia flocked to The Curtain, which experienced a three hundred per cent increase in business. For obvious reasons it was not politic to form a queue in the street, and so on many days a line of men curled around the innermost courtyard of the brothel, rotating about its centrally positioned Fountain of Love much as pilgrims rotated for other reasons around the ancient Black Stone. All customers of The Curtain were issued with masks, and Baal, watching the circling masked figures from a high balcony, was satisfied. There were more ways than one of refusing to Submit.

In the months that followed, the staff of The Curtain warmed to the new task. The fifteen-year-old whore “Ayesha” was the most popular with the paying public, just as her namesake was with Mahound, and like the Ayesha who was living chastely in her apartment in the harem quarters of the great mosque at Yathrib, this Jahilian Ayesha began to be jealous of her preeminent status of Best Beloved.

She resented it when any of her “sisters” seemed to be experiencing an increase in visitors, or receiving exceptionally generous tips. The oldest, fattest whore, who had taken the name of “Sawdah”, would tell her visitors and she had plenty, many of the men of Jahilia seeking her out for her maternal and also grateful charms — the story of how Mahound had married her and Ayesha, on the same day, when Ayesha was just a child. “In the two of us,” she would say, exciting men terribly, “he found the two halves of his dead first wife: the child, and the mother, too.” The whore “Hafsah” grew as hot-tempered as her namesake, and as the twelve entered into the spirit of their roles the alliances in the brothel came to mirror the political cliques at the Yathrib mosque; “Ayesha” and “Hafsah”, for example, engaged in constant, petty rivalries against the two haughtiest whores, who had always been thought a bit stuck-up by the others and who had chosen for themselves the most aristocratic identities, becoming “Umm Salamah the Makhzumite” and, snootiest of all, “Ramlah”, whose namesake, the eleventh wife of Mahound, was the daughter of Abu Simbel and Hind. And there was a “Zainab bint Jahsh”, and a “Juwairiyah”, named after the bride captured on a military expedition, and a “Rehana the Jew”, a “Safia” and a “Maimunah”, and, most erotic of all the whores, who knew tricks she refused to teach to competitive “Ayesha”: the glamorous Egyptian, “Mary the Copt”. Strangest of all was the whore who had taken the name of “Zainab bint Khuzaimah”, knowing that this wife of Mahound had recently died. The necrophilia of her lovers, who forbade her to make any movements, was one of the more unsavoury aspects of the new regime at The Curtain. But business was business, and this, too, was a need that the courtesans fulfilled.

By the end of the first year the twelve had grown so skilful in their roles that their previous selves began to fade away. Baal, more myopic and deafer by the month, saw the shapes of the girls moving past him, their edges blurred, their images somehow doubled, like shadows superimposed on shadows. The girls began to entertain new notions about Baal, too. In that age it was customary for a whore, on entering her profession, to take the kind of husband who wouldn’t give her any trouble — a mountain, maybe, or a fountain, or a bush — so that she could adopt, for form’s sake, the title of a married woman. At The Curtain, the rule was that all the girls married the Love Spout in the central courtyard, but now a kind of rebellion was brewing, and the day came when the prostitutes went together to the Madam to announce that now that they had begun to think of themselves as the wives of the Prophet they required a better grade of husband than some spurting stone, which was almost idolatrous, after all; and to say that they had decided that they would all become the brides of the bumbler, Baal. At first the Madam tried to talk them out of it, but when she saw that the girls meant business she conceded the point, and told them to send the writer in to see her. With many giggles and nudges the twelve courtesans escorted the shambling poet into the throne room. When Baal heard the plan his heart began to thump so erratically that he lost his balance and fell, and “Ayesha” screamed in her fright: “O God, we’re going to be his widows before we even get to be his wives.”

But he recovered: his heart regained its composure. And, having no option, he agreed to the twelvefold proposal. The Madam then married them all off herself, and in that den of degeneracy, that anti-mosque, that labyrinth of profanity, Baal became the husband of the wives of the former businessman, Mahound.

His wives now made plain to him that they expected him to fulfil his husbandly duties in every particular, and worked out a rota system under which he could spend a day with each of the girls in turn (at The Curtain, day and night were inverted, the night being for business and the day for rest). No sooner had he embarked upon this arduous programme than they called a meeting at which he was told that he ought to start behaving a little more like the “real” husband, that is, Mahound. “Why can’t you change your name like the rest of us?” bad-tempered “Hafsah” demanded, but at this Baal drew the line. “It may not be much to be proud of,” he insisted, “but it’s my name. What’s more, I don’t work with the clients here. There’s no business reason for such a change.” “Well, anyhow,” the voluptuous “Mary the Copt” shrugged, “name or no name, we want you to start acting like him.”

“I don’t know much about,” Baal began to protest, but “Ayesha”, who really was the most attractive of them all, or so he had commenced to feel of late, made a delightful moue. “Honestly, husband,” she cajoled him. “It’s not so tough. We just want you to, you know. Be the boss.”

It turned out that the whores of The Curtain were the most old-fashioned and conventional women in Jahilia. Their work, which could so easily have made them cynical and disillusioned (and they were, of course, capable of entertaining ferocious notions about their visitors), had turned them into dreamers instead. Sequestered from the outside world, they had conceived a fantasy of “ordinary life” in which they wanted nothing more than to be the obedient, and — yes — submissive helpmeets of a man who was wise, loving and strong. That is to say: the years of enacting the fantasies of men had finally corrupted their dreams, so that even in their hearts of hearts they wished to turn themselves into the oldest male fantasy of all. The added spice of acting out the home life of the Prophet had got them all into a state of high excitement, and the bemused Baal discovered what it was to have twelve women competing for his favours, for the beneficence of his smile, as they washed his feet and dried them with their hair, as they oiled his body and danced for him, and in a thousand ways enacted the dream–marriage they had never really thought they would have.

It was irresistible. He began to find the confidence to order them about, to adjudicate between them, to punish them when he was angry. Once when their quarrelling irritated him he forswore them all for a month. When he went to see “Ayesha” after twenty-nine nights she teased him for not having been able to stay away. “That month was only twenty-nine days long,” he replied. Once he was caught with “Mary the Copt” by “Hafsah”, in “Hafsah’s” quarters and on “Ayesha’s” day. He begged “Hafsah” not to tell “Ayesha”, with whom he had fallen in love; but she told her anyway and Baal had to stay away from “Mary” of the fair skin and curly hair for quite a time after that. In short, he had fallen prey to the seductions of becoming the secret, profane mirror of Mahound; and he had begun, once again, to write.

The poetry that came was the sweetest he had ever written. Sometimes when he was with Ayesha he felt a slowness come over him, a heaviness, and he had to lie down. “It’s strange,” he told her. “It is as if I see myself standing beside myself. And I can make him, the standing one, speak; then I get up and write down his verses.” These artistic slownesses of Baal were much admired by his wives. Once, tired, he dozed off in an armchair in the chambers of “Umm Salamah the Makhzumite”. When he woke, hours later, his body ached, his neck and shoulders were full of knots, and he berated Umm Salamah: “Why didn’t you wake me?” She answered: “I was afraid to, in case the verses were coming to you.” He shook his head. “Don’t worry about that. The only woman in whose company the verses come is ‘Ayesha’, not you.”

Two years and a day after Baal began his life at The Curtain, one of Ayesha’s clients recognized him in spite of the dyed skin, pantaloons and body-building exercises. Baal was stationed outside Ayesha’s room when the client emerged, pointed right at him and shouted: “So this is where you got to!” Ayesha came running, her eyes blazing with fear. But Baal said, “It’s all right. He won’t make any trouble.” He invited Salman the Persian to his own quarters and uncorked a bottle of the sweet wine made with uncrushed grapes which the Jahilians had begun to make when they found out that it wasn’t forbidden by what they had started disrespectfully calling the Rule Book.

“I came because I’m finally leaving this infernal city,” Salman said, “and I wanted one moment of pleasure out of it after all the years of shit.” After Bilal had interceded for him in the name of their old friendship the immigrant had found work as a letterwriter and all-purpose scribe, sitting cross–legged by the roadside in the main street of the financial district. His cynicism and despair had been burnished by the sun. “People write to tell lies,” he said, drinking quickly. “So a professional liar makes an excellent living. My love letters and business correspondence became famous as the best in town because of my gift for inventing beautiful falsehoods that involved only the tiniest departure from the facts. As a result I have managed to save enough for my trip home in just two years. Home!  The old country! I’m off tomorrow, and not a minute too soon.”

As the bottle emptied Salman began once again to talk, as Baa! had known he would, about the source of all his ills, the Messenger and his message. He told Baal about a quarrel between Mahound and Ayesha, recounting the rumour as if it were incontrovertible fact.

“That girl couldn’t stomach it that her husband wanted so many other women,” he said. “He talked about necessity, political alliances and so on, but she wasn’t fooled. Who can blame her? Finally he went into — what else? — one of his trances, and out he came with a message from the archangel. Gibreel had recited verses giving him full divine support. God’s own permission to luck as many women as he liked. So there: what could poor Ayesha say against the verses of God? You know what she did say? This: ‘Your God certainly jumps to it when you need him to fix things up for you.’ Well! If it hadn’t been Ayesha, who knows what he’d have done, but none of the others would have dared in the first place.” Baal let him run on without interruption. The sexual aspects of Submission exercised the Persian a good deal: “Unhealthy,” he pronounced. “All this segregation. No good will come of it.”

At length Baal did start arguing, and Salman was astonished to hear the poet taking Mahound’s side: “You can see his point of view,” Baal reasoned. “If families offer him brides and he refuses he creates enemies, — and besides, he’s a special man and one can see the argument for special dispensations, — and as for locking them up, well, what a dishonour it would be if anything bad happened to one of them! Listen, if you lived in here, you wouldn’t think a little less sexual freedom was such a bad thing, — for the common people,I mean.”

“Your brain’s gone,” Salman said flatly. “You’ve been out of the sun too long. Or maybe that costume makes you talk like a clown.”

Baal was pretty tipsy by this time, and began some hot retort, but Salman raised an unsteady hand. “Don’t want to fight,” he said. “Lemme tell you instead. Hottest story in town. Whoowhoo! And it’s relevant to whatch, whatchyou say.”

Salman’s story: Ayesha and the Prophet had gone on an expedition to a far-flung village, and on the way back to Yathrib their party had camped in the dunes for the night. Camp was struck in the dark before the dawn. At the last moment Ayesha was obliged by a call of nature to rush out of sight into a hollow. While she was away her litter–bearers picked up her palanquin and marched off. She was a light woman, and, failing to notice much difference in the weight of that heavy palanquin, they assumed she was inside. Ayesha returned after relieving herself to find herself alone, and who knows what might have befallen her if a young man, a certain Safwan, had not chanced to pass by on his camel . . . Safwan brought Ayesha back to Yathrib safe and sound; at which point tongues began to wag, not least in the harem, where opportunities to weaken Ayesha’s power were eagerly seized by her opponents. The two young people had been alone in the desert for many hours, and it was hinted, more and more loudly, that Safwan was a dashingly handsome fellow, and the Prophet was much older than the young woman, after all, and might she not therefore have been attracted to someone closer to her own age? “Quite a scandal,” Salman commented, happily.

“What will Mahound do?” Baal wanted to know.

“O, he’s done it,” Salman replied. “Same as ever. He saw his pet, the archangel, and then informed one and all that Gibreel had exonerated Ayesha.” Salman spread his arms in worldly resignation. “And this time, mister, the lady didn’t complain about the convenience of the verses.”

Salman the Persian left the next morning with a northbound camel-train. When he left Baal at The Curtain, he embraced the poet, kissed him on both cheeks and said: “Maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s better to keep out of the daylight. I hope it lasts.” Baa! replied:

“And I hope you find home, and that there is something there to love.” Salman’s face went blank. He opened his mouth, shut it again, and left.

“Ayesha” came to Baal’s room for reassurance. “He won’t spill out the secret when he’s drunk?” she asked, caressing Baal’s hair. “He gets through a lot of wine.”

Baal said: “Nothing is ever going to be the same again.” Salman’s visit had wakened him from the dream into which he had slowly subsided during his years at The Curtain, and he couldn’t go back to sleep.

“Of course it will,” Ayesha urged. “It will. You’ll see.”

Baal shook his head and made the only prophetic remark of his life. “Something big is going to happen,” he foretold. “A man can’t hide behind skirts forever.”

The next day Mahound returned to Jahilia and soldiers came to inform the Madam of The Curtain that the period of transition was at an end. The brothels were to be closed, with immediate effect. Enough was enough. From behind her drapes, the Madam requested that the soldiers withdraw for an hour in the name of propriety to enable the guests to leave, and such was the inexperience of the officer in charge of the vice-squad that he agreed. The Madam sent her eunuchs to inform the girls and escort the clients out by a back door. “Please apologize to them for the interruption,” she ordered the eunuchs, “and say that in the circumstances, no charge will be made.”

They were her last words. When the alarmed girls, all talking at once, crowded into the throne room to see if the worst were really true, she made no answer to their terrified questions, are we out of work, how do we eat, will we go to jail, what’s to become of us, –until “Ayesha” screwed up her courage and did what none of them had ever dared attempt. When she threw back the black hangings they saw a dead woman who might have been fifty or a hundred and twenty-five years old, no more than three feet tall, looking like a big doll, curled up in a cushionladen wickerwork chair, clutching the empty poison-bottle in her fist.

“Now that you’ve started,” Baal said, coming into the room, “you may as well take all the curtains down. No point trying to keep the sun out any more.”

o o o

The young vice-squad officer, Umar, allowed himself to display a rather petulant bad temper when he found out about the suicide of the brothel-keeper. “Well, if we can’t hang the boss, we’ll just have to make do with the workers,” he shouted, and ordered his men to place the “tarts” under close arrest, a task the men performed with zeal. The women made a noise and kicked out at their captors, but the eunuchs stood and watched without twitching a muscle, because Umar had said to them: “They want the cunts to be put on trial, but I’ve no instructions about you. So if you don’t want to lose your heads as well as your balls, keep out of this.” Eunuchs failed to defend the women of The Curtain while soldiers wrestled them to the ground; and among the eunuchs was Baa!, of the dyed skin and poetry. Just before the youngest “cunt” or “slit” was gagged, she yelled: “Husband, for God’s sake, help us, if you are a man.” The vice-squad captain was amused. “Which of you is her husband?” he asked, staring carefully into each turban-topped face. “Come on, own up. What’s it like to watch the world with your wife?”

Baal fixed his gaze on infinity to avoid “Ayesha’s” glares as well as Umar’s narrowed eyes. The officer stopped in front of him. “Is it you?”

“Sir, you understand, it’s just a term,” Baal lied. “They like to joke, the girls. They call us their husbands because we, we. .

Without warning, Umar grabbed him by the genitals and squeezed. “Because you can’t be,” he said. “Husbands, eh. Not bad.”

When the pain subsided, Baal saw that the women had gone. Umar gave the eunuchs a word of advice on his way out. “Get lost,” he suggested. “Tomorrow I may have orders about you. Not many people get lucky two days running.”

When the girls of The Curtain had been taken away, the eunuchs sat down and wept uncontrollably by the Fountain of Love. But  Baal, full of shame, did not cry.

o o o
–Satanic Verses  , Salman Rushdie


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