Queen for a Day
(A new version of a piece first published in 2017)
My greetings to you brothers and sisters. There are few things a hukkawati worth his salt loves more than stumble upon a story which falls outside the run-of-the-mill traditions. You know, the Once upon a time … the king offering half his kingdom for a male heir, the star-crossed lovers, the little poor shepherd marrying a princess … the so they ended up happily ever after with many beautiful children. I have lost my enthusiasm for tales such as these, and I have no doubt that sophisticated audience that you are, you’ve stopped relishing such humdrum nonsense. I want to tell- and you want to hear original stories, and if they happen in a strange foreign land, so much the better. And how more exotic can you get than far-flung Scotland. Auld Bonnie Scotland the people call their country. Men wear skirts, and they say_ now I don’t know if it’s true_ women wear no knickers.
In fact I just invented that last bit. The Wilayat sends men to listen to our stories, and if they think we’re introducing themes of a sexual _ or political nature, they call us to the town hall and threaten to take away our licence. But as we are talking about foreign women wearing no knickers, they don’t mind.
My story is indeed set in the land of lochs and salmon, bagpipes and Highland Flings, but the main protagonist is one of our own brothers.
None other than a King, The Emir of oil-rich Suwwariyah.
It might be interesting to tell you the circumstances in which I acquired the rights to the story. Perhaps I was wrong to get involved, but I did not seek that involvement. If at the end you think that I should not have consorted with what after all was a prostitute, then I will shoulder the blame and do penance, and pay ten gold dirhams to the Orphanage.
I have mentioned before that I had the honour to be invited to do my own show at the famous Edinburgh Festival. It is the largest such event in the world. For over a month, the city of Edinburgh hosts, wait for this, not hundreds or thousands of shows in the city, but tens of thousands. There are plays, operas, dances, art exhibitions, street shows, acrobatics, and they come from all over the world. Even shows in strange foreign tongues, with translators or surtitles in English. They even have a sign-language specialist conveying the narration to those deprived of hearing.
Some actor visiting Baghdad once came to listen to one of my stories under the wild oak tree here, and asked me who my agent was. Agent? I asked. He explained. No, I said, I have no agent, I tell my stories, and my audience puts some coins in my box, Khalas! Can I become your agent? he offered. I could not see the point, and shrugged. He explained that he was an actor and theatre director from Scotland. Had I ever done a show abroad? Why yes, I replied, I sometimes take a bus to Tehran or Beyrouth, I’ve even been to Tunis, once or twice to Bombay… Have you been to Europe, he asked. But I speak no European, I said a bit foolishly. I have struggled with English and French for a while, but admitted to no more than a smattering of the languages of Jeffrey Archer or Marcel Proust. It was then that he explained about the simultaneous translations, the surtitles, and the sign language.
A few weeks after the encounter, I got an e-mail from him, and to cut a long story short, he had put me in touch with someone who was keen to have me in the Festival. I was to do three shows a day for 2 weeks at the Assembly Rooms in George Street. Now I am not one to blow my own trumpet …
Actually, my mentor Quayyum bin Quayyum told us that if you did not blow your own trumpet, no one else would. And he taught us how best to do this. Always stress that you hate
blowing your own trumpet.
The first two days the house was nearly empty, but from the third day on it was full house. The papers wrote glowing critics and vaunted the lost tradition of story-telling. People who had come to hear me would often wait for me after a show and ask for my autographs, and some even invited me for a drink. Coffee, I hasten to add.
I am not going to say publicly that following in the footsteps of my mentor I too had become a tippler.
That was how I got to know Marilyn_ her real name was Madeleine_ but no one in her line of work uses their own name. She told me how much she had loved my show, and offered to buy me a coffee.
She really wanted me to sample her favourite single malt, the Glen Aberfyn, but I cannot proclaim publicly that I sometimes indulge in the haram drink, for fear of the people from the wilayat slapping a ban on me.
I was shocked but pleased that she seemed to be hitting on me. I am old enough to be your father, I said at one point. “I’ll tell you one thing, I was told that I had a father fixation,” she said unashamedly, “I think they called it the Electra Complex.”. One thing leading to another, she invited me to her flat Morningside. Her own. A posh apartment which must have cost her a fortune.
I am not going to reveal the intimate details. I’ll let them use their own imagination. But what an unforgettable experience that was. How I liked what she called the blow work.
She had wanted to become an actress, she told me, and had started a course at Drama School, but do not judge her: As she had no income, she took the advice of a friend and signed for an Escort Service. I do not know if we do the same thing here, so I will need to explain. The working girl registers at the agency, after paying a fee, and … calling a camel a dromedary … or as the English says, calling a spade a spade … Madeleine ended up providing sexual services for a fee. The agency then demands a percentage of what her customer pays her. Or him, for there is a great demand for young males as well.
And when she told me how much she made working perhaps three or four days a week, even after paying the commission, I told her, at that rate Miss Madeleine, you will be owning your own theatre in a year’s time. She explained that she was lucky in her handler. Calling a camel a dromedary, her entremetteuse.
In our part of the world, it would be considered shameful to work in the sex trade in any capacity. You would be called a pander, a pimp, a whore, a prostitute, but I was told that in civilised countries it was considered a business. There are no shameful businesses, just good businessmen and bad businessmen. Or in this case businesswoman.
Madeleine_ or Marilyn was talking about Mrs Baxby-Hollowbright, who had been educated in Kilkgraston’s, Scotland’s best public school for girls. Her father was running the family-owned Glen Aberfyn distillery, Scotland’s premier Malt Whisky producer.
Madeleine was very keen to tell me about one of her most memorable punts, and
naturally, always wanting to learn new stories, I hanged on to every word she said, often asking her to explain as my English is not as good as I would have liked.
Or half as good as I like people to think.
Mrs Baxby-Hollowbright promised that it was going to be one of the most lucrative punts she would ever have. The top agent in the business had only recently agreed to take her on, but only on a temporary basis, she had stressed. Dealing with the seriously rich, billionaires, ministers, A-list Hollywood stars, top industrialists and even princes, she could not afford to take any chances.
She scrupulously spelled out all the details of the tryst. That woman was probably the most professional person one could ever hope to meet, Madeleine said admiratively. Were she a neurosurgeon, your brain could not have been in better hands. But obviously she had worked out that there was more money in the line of business that she had chosen. With the experience and training she was acquiring everyday, she knew that one day she would be running Aberfyn distillery.
Toby came to pick her up at her flat in Balcares Street, and said that it would be a ninety-minute drive to Auchteralmond, near Perth. It used to be the seat of the Duke of Aberfoyle, but apparently it had changed hands eight years ago for forty-eight million pounds.
The new owner is no less a person than a King! The Emir of oil-rich Suwwariyah.
Turrets and minarets have been added, against the express wishes of the natives, although the nearest of them lived over three miles away. Extensive renovations have made the place unrecognisable. It is surrounded by acres of rich woodland, teeming with capercaillies, martens, red squirrels, deer and Scottish wild cats. And mushrooms, specially the prized chantrels, which are exported to Italy, Toby told her. The Emir is said to like spending summer here, often with some of his seventeen wives and concubines. Just why he wants to pay for sex as well, Madeleine could not understand.
“ When I was sixteen”, she confided, “ I thought the world held no more secrets for me, I knew it all, but with every year that passes, I learn more things, and I’ve been discovering each year, how much less I know than I did the year before.” I have to tell you that she was a thinking person. I ended up admiring her intellect.
The luxury she found was incredible. Once inside, one could not take a step without bumping into an antique vase or a life-sized silver or golden animal of some sort. There were gazelles, rabbits, falcons, foxes, with eyes of jade, amethyst and in the case of one rabbit, diamond. There was even an authentic looking camel in massive gold, weighing over three tons, she guessed. The furniture were all lined with gold trimmings. The floor was the best Carara marble slabs separated by18-carat gold linings. In the bathrooms the taps were of solid gold; the handles on the doors were of antique ivory. The net result was garish, she told me.
To her amazement, Toby delivered her into the hands of about a dozen Oriental females with the youngest about sixteen and the oldest about sixty five. They were all alluringly dressed in colourful silk robes and weighed down by jewellery. Some had hennaed tattoos on their faces, and most of them seemed pretty jolly and good-natured. They did not all speak English, but some spoke it better than me.
Our husband the Emir is doing salaat at the moment, someone said, and another whispered to her that salaat meant prayers. He will see you at four o’clock. She shrugged, was in no hurry.
‘I studied English at Oxford University,’ one pretty young thing informed her. ‘Mind you I only got a third class degree …’ she admitted.
‘And you only got that because our husband donated six hundred thousand pounds
to make a library,’ another one teased good-naturedly.
‘Was always partying, I was,’ the first one conceded with a shrug. They asked her questions about Edinburgh. The oldest checked something with younger wife and asked, ‘Tell us about working as a sharmuta.’ A prostitute, someone translated for her. ‘Must be very interesting, another wife mused aloud. Madeleine was taken aback. ‘When did you start?’ another one asked.
‘Not so many years ago.’ The old queen looked at her coldly and turning to the others
said something in Arabic with a sneer directed at her person.
They left one by one with the exception of two of the youngest ones who spoke perfect English. They told her they were Zubeida and Fawziyyah. They giggled as they told her that she was going to become their new wife. She frowned, pretending she had no idea of what she was talking about, but Baxby-Hollowbright had indeed mentioned that little detail.
‘Whenever the Emir gets married, we call his new bride our wife.’
‘Did you not know that our husband will marry you today?’ She pretended ignorance and shook my head. They giggled some more.
‘Be good to him,’ Fawziyyah said, and Zubeida nodded gravely, saying, ‘He’s such a good husband.’
Madeleine/ Marilyn was then led to an indoors swimming pool. A hamam, they told her. An older woman undressed her and helped her wash herself in the rose-scented water. ‘I saw myself as a character from the Arabian Nights,’ my new friend confided with a merry laugh. She was then sprinkled with attar, her eyes daubed with kohl, and she was fitted with a silk robe in aquamarine blue, and bedecked with pearl and gold necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings. Thus weighed down, she was then led into a study, where a bearded man in his fifties and a young interpreter welcomed her. The older man said something in Arabic, which the younger chap translated.
‘You know his majesty will do you the honour of marrying you, do you?’ she nodded.
‘What you perhaps don’t know is that he cannot marry a kaffir.’
‘A kafir?’ What’s that when it is at home, she wondered.
‘An unbeliever,’ the younger man reading her thought said with an apologetic smile.
‘An idolater, a worshipper of stones and eater of pig meat,’ the older man added venomously.
Madeleine forced a smile on her lips.
‘So you will need to be converted to the true faith?’ She nodded.
‘The Faheem will teach you the words which will purify you and make you into a
good Muslim woman.’ The interpreter then turning to her, said, ‘You will need to repeat these holy words after him.’
‘La…’ the faheem said, pointedly looking at soon-to-be-saved kaffir.
‘La…’ she repeated tentatively. They both nodded encouragingly.
‘Ilaha…’ She repeated it, ‘Ilaha…’
‘No,’ screamed both men.
‘Rasoolullah! Rasgoola is a sweet,’ said the interpreter kindly.
‘Say it again in one go,’ instructed the interpreter. And Madeleine was surprised that she got it right. After a fashion. God is great and Muhammad is his prophet, the interpreter explained.
‘Marhaba, marhaba,’ said the Faheem. He raised his hands above his head and recited some verses.
‘What exactly does marhaba mean?’ Madeleine asked me whilst recounting her tale to me. I explained that it meant welcome, something people said when they heard good news.
‘He’s welcoming you into the true faith. Your name is now Farhana. Sheikha Farhana Bint Yusuf,’ he informed the new convert. He noticed the unasked question on her face and came to her rescue, ‘We were informed that your father was called Joseph. Bint Yusuf means daughter of Joseph.’
The faheem then said something to her, but looking above her head, and the interpreter explained.
‘He is saying that as the Emir is a good Muslim, he cannot … eh … take a
prostitute to his bed. It is strictly forbidden in our religion. He can only sleep with you if you become his wife, and the reason why you had to convert to Islam is that he cannot marry an idolater, a non-believer. You understand?’ Madeleine nodded.
She was now fit and clean enough to be taken into the presence of His Majesty. He put aside his prayer beads and offered her his hand to kiss. She told her that, and she had to make a huge effort not to giggle. He spoke good English with a thick Arabic accent. He was thickset and had dumpy legs. His nose was aquiline if a little on the prominent side, and his dark brown eyes, nesting in dark rings would be quite frightening to people who did not know that he was a king. She was pleasantly surprised that he spoke in a gentle and melodious voice though. He told her that he had been to Sandhurst, and used to be a top-notch polo player.
‘I would offer you something to drink, but as you’re a Muslim now, you are bound to refuse, so I won’t.’ He then rang a bell, and a young man dressed like an English waiter at Dorchester or the like entered. They exchanged a few words in Arabic, and he disappeared.
‘I need my fix now,’ he said enigmatically. Madeleine waited, and the waiter came back with a tray containing a bottle of vodka and a large syringe. He noticed her surprise and smiled.
‘In our sainted Quran, it is said, O ye Faithfuls, let not one drop of alcohol touch your lips. I flatter myself that I am a good Muslim,’ he nodded happily. The young man filled the syringe with the vodka, folded the sleeves of his majesty’s robes and displayed the huge needle. The Emir nodded.
‘Maybe our Sheikha would like some? It is allowed.’ It took the Sheikha a whole second to figure out who the Sheikha was. She demurred. As the needle went into his flabby arms, he closed his eyes and gave a sigh of ecstasy. When the contents of syringe had been transferred, he opened his eyes and smiled beatifically, shaking his head.
‘It’s an incredible feeling, I am telling you. First you get the benefits of chemistry and then you have the knowledge that you had not displeased our prophet — Peace be upon him!- by breaking none of his commandment.’
After a short while, he rang the bell again, and this time the faheem and the interpreter walked in. They invited the Scotswoman to take a seat in a small circle, with her seated opposite her husband-to-be.
‘First, Farhana Bint Yusuf, are you willing to accept me as you spouse?’ She nodded.
‘No, say ana aqbal. Say it to the faheem.’ She said the phrase.
‘We are now officially engaged to be married,’ the Emir said happily. Suddenly her fiancé took her hand, and said, ‘If it pleases Allah, let us get married then.’ She nodded.
‘I am sure we will be very happy for as long as we’re together.’ Madeleine said with a smile and nodded. The faheem took a solemn air, and chanted some phrases in Arabic, and the bride was told to say Qubool, after which they all congratulated her on her auspicious day.
‘You are now my lawful wedded wife in the eyes of Allah,’ the Emir said happily, ‘Marhaba!’
‘Allah has now granted you His permission to do whatever a husband and a wife
can do,’ said the faheem kindly.
Madeleine’s husband then gave instructions to the young waiter who went out, and came back five minutes later with a tray containing milk shakes, baclava and other sweetmeats, and bottles of lemonade, dripping dew. The bride indicated that she had no desire to partake of anything.
‘You will need all your strength for what is about to happen,’ her new husband said kindly.
‘I feel perfectly fit, your Majesty,’ she said laughing, but he insisted on putting a piece of baclava in her mouth.
‘We’re ready. Let me proceed to fulfil my conjugal duty…’ and standing up, he elegantly offered me his hand and led his bride to the chamber.
When he undressed, she noticed that his tool was no more than adequate, but it was firm and erect. He saw her put-on look of admiration, which she had learnt from Baxby-Hollowbright, when she underwent a whole week’s training learning the tricks of the trade, and nodded happily.
‘If I did not earn one and a half million pounds in petroleum royalties every day, I could earn my living advertising Viagra, eh?’ he said with a self-congratulatory laugh. She had to force herself to appear genuine as nodded emphatically, opening wide her eyes.
They spent two hours closeted in the bridal chamber. Suddenly he got up, and said, ‘Because I just got married, it does not mean that I have forgotten my duties to Allah. It is almost time for the Maghrib Salaat. I need to pray.’ As an afterthought, he added, ‘Maghrib means Sunset.’
They showered together and she got dressed, after which they went back to the room where they were married, where the faheem and the interpreter were waiting for them. You know what is going to happen now? the Emir husband asked kindly, she nodded, and was invited to take the same seat that she had sat on a couple of hours before in order to be married.
The Emir looked at her sadly, and in a solemn voice, said, ‘I repudiate you, I repudiate you, I repudiate you.’ The faheem recited a verse, and pronounced them ex-man-and-wife.
She was required to return all the jewellery and finery that she had been given, and Toby drove her back to Balcares Street, five thousand pounds the richer.
Since you were a queen for a day, I told her, after what you and I did, I could say that I was king for a day.
They seem to have thoroughly enjoyed this one. They always like the naughty stories best.
Thank you for listening to my story with such attention.