The Haunted House
Masha Allah! So many people come to watch and listen to this stuttering old hukkawati rambling on. Shukran, shukran bezaf. May Allah give me the vigour and energy plus the wit to make my tale vibrate and resonate for such an enlightened audience as your good selves. Before I start let me hope that you found everything you were looking for in the market and paid a fair price. I know prices are always rising, it goes against the laws formulated by our revered Abu Rayhan Al Biruni who told us that dates fell downwards because of the force of gravity. Prices do not obey Al Biruni’s laws, but sadly wages do. Wages go down, but prices go up. Against the laws of gravity. Al Biruni would despair.
A little self deprecation after a piece that went well like the one about wages, works in the favour of the hukkawati.
But who am I? Just an old storyteller who gets out of breath halfway through my narration. Who gets his adjectives mixed up, who forgets essential bits of the story.
They are shaking their heads in disagreement, as I hoped they would. Of course I never get my adjectives mixed up. And I have the memory of an elephant.
But today I have a tale of such freshness for you, it will keep my breath going nicely. Insha Allah.
You’ve all seen the ruins of the haunted house on the bend of the Tigris in Al Mansour. It was badly damaged by American bombs. You, good people, seem too young to have seen it in its full splendour…
Oh you have sir? So you will confirm that in its glory days it was the prettiest riverside villa in the whole of Baghdad. You do? Thank you.
Three-storeyed, pink turrets at either end, arched windows to let the light in. What a facade! Marble steps leading to the main door, a pond with gardens all round. That’s just the outside. As for what it was like inside I will let you use your imagination, for I had never had the privilege of seeing it.
Anyway it was built by Yusuf bin Bilal Al Watani who first saw it in a dream. He was one of the richest merchants in Baghdad, so money was no object. Hasanan Al Rahal was the Caliph’s own architect, but he allowed him to design for people he trusted, and Al Watani was one of his closest advisers on matters financial. And if I were given to fanning the flames of gossip, I’d be telling you of their habit of meeting in the palace where they shared many a bottle of Shirazi. But my lips are sealed on this subject. Relevant to my tale is only the fact that Al Rahal designed the villa according to Al Watani’s dream. When the construction was finished, people would flock in from other parts of El Iraq to come admire the marvel. Many were the nouveaux riches citizens of Baghdad who took inspiration from Al Rahal’s masterpiece to create their own dream house, but however much they tried, irrespective of the large fortunes they spent, none deserved a second look.
Al Watani and his three wives and eight children moved in the sumptuous place with their servants and slaves, and from what I heard they led a happy life full of enjoyment and merriment. People looked up to him as never before.
I said he had three wives, didn’t I? I’m sure that with your intelligence I don’t have to tell you what’s gonna happen next. Our sainted prophet, on whom be peace, allowed us four wives, you are thinking, so surely Al Watani with only three wives felt that there was something missing in his life. His friends nicknamed him The Bachelor because of that. Namely the non-existence of a fourth wife. You’re right ladies and gentlemen, that’s exactly it, you’ve read his mind.
A little flattery is always useful. It costs the hukkawati nothing, and earns him some indulgence when he falls short. Not that I, with my acknowledged genius for story-telling ever fall short.
With his excellent reputation and, let us admit it, his wealth, it was not difficult for him to find that lucky woman. She was called Zubeida Binte Mhammad Al Qureishi. Poets have sung her beauty and accomplishments. Jade green eyes, high cheekbones, silky jet black hair, and a body … no ladies and gentlemen, I am not allowed to go that way, I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. Al Watani was besotted with her the moment he cast eyes on her. They say she was quick-witted and had the gift of repartee. On their first night together, the over-excited middle-aged bridegroom approached his new wife and said, ‘My lovely gazelle, let us now do what Allah wants a husband and wife to do to produce the fruit of our union. Think upon it, I have the reputation of being the most astute man in Baghdad, and as I can see for myself, you are the most beautiful peri on our planet. I shudder to think what gifts our son will have.’ He laughed happily, ‘My intelligence plus your beauty, Allah be praised!’ At this point, Zubeida raised her lovely eyes to him and said, ‘My husband, can you guarantee that he will not have my intelligence and your beauty?’ Al Watani was taken aback, he was not used to his wives responding to his words of wisdom, but he also recognised her spirit, and nodded to himself. ‘If it is the will of Allah, we will accept whoever he deems fit to send and say, Shukran Allah Taala.’
A little teasing is called for here.
I was saying, he took her by the hand and gently walked her to the bed he had ordered from France specially for the occasion. He had given instructions for subtle amounts of Ethiopian loban be lit to smoulder in the corners of the bedroom, and attar gul from Ispahan sprinkled on the pillows and sheets.
Look at them, ready to hang out their tongues, but they know that there are some subjects I am not allowed by the wilayat to broach. I need to use detours, hints and suggestions. Our teachers taught us the nasibs and Qasidahs of Hijazi; our mu’allim spoke at length of the Italian Decameron, but we have become very prude. I don’t want my licence taken from me. Now I am not allowed to describe the beauty of a woman’s parts, but we find means of circumventing this obstacle.
Al Watani began by removing her veil and tossed it away. The silk was of such gossamer fineness that it floated away like a small wave. He then unbuttoned her khamis, and his eyes began blinking a thousand times a minute as the rays from her treasures entered his eyes. His lips began quavering, and a single tear drop trickled down his left cheek, he did not know why. He could not understand why his hands were trembling. He had done what he was about to do a good few thousand times before, why should the sight of this young woman cause such emotions in him, he could not understand. Perhaps for the first time in his life he was falling in love, he thought. Love! Half curse and half blessing.
They are hoping that I will forget myself, but I know full well that if I do, someone will rush to the wali and report me. I make a great show of taking a deep breath at this juncture.
Ya Allah, he sighed, feasting his eyes on the reclining peri, now as bare as the day she was born. Can we really sample a taste of Jannat on this wretched earth?
A long pause to let their imagination run riot.
When they did what they were meant to do, it felt like it was the first time for both of them.
It’s not often that my audience bursts into applause. I savour the moment.
And what was bound to happen happened, Allah be praised. The angel Jibril appeared to Al Watani in a dream and broke the news to him that he was going to be a father for the ninth time, and not that he did not trust Jibril, but the Caliph had put his own personal physician at the disposition of three or four people he considered friends, and Hakim Marwan el Mansur the tabib confirmed the angel’s message. When pressed on whether it was going to be a boy, he replied, ‘Yes, I can guarantee that, but only with a probability of half.’ Al Watani was ecstatic, and distributed one ton of baklava to the whole Al Mansur neighbourhood.
I love experimenting with different styles of narration.
Sadly a week later, Zubeida lost the baby. I am afraid I am not allowed to go into details.
Obviously it was necessary to tell them about Al Watani and the lost baby, but the story of the haunted pink really begins here.
In our country … I am not telling you anything you are not fully aware of … people have theories about everything, and sadly we also like to talk about our conjectures as if they were truths from the Hadith. It is not surprising that as Al Watani was besotted with Zubeida, the first three wives were not overfond of her… that’s putting it mildly. Now, as nobody but Hakim Marwan knew the cause of her death, and did not share it with the rest of the world, tongues began to wag. First there was talk of the three wives putting poison in her food and killing her. People began talking about this as if it were the confirmed truth. Which did not stop another account a few weeks later, to the effect that the three wives had hired the services of a Zeitoon the witch, to put a curse on her, which made her slip on the marble floor and crack her skull. This second version gained as much traction as the first, and indeed superseded it, although there were many who believed both alternatives, the first one in the morning and the second one in the evening. A bit like people who believed Al Biruni’s theory of the planetary system, but still thought the moon was made of marzibania. Perhaps we will never know what really happened, but about what happened next, there is perfect unanimity.
Al Watani could not bear the sight of the house on which he had set such store. He wanted to get rid of it, and of course, astute businessman that he was, he wanted the best price he could get as well. He had visited Merchant Abu Himla, who doubled up as broker, facilitating many a business transaction, from buying and selling houses for the citizens of Bagdad to the importation of cattle and caprines from Hindustan. The Merchant had said he would put his head on the chopping board if he could not wangle at least half a lakh for the pink palace. As you know in those days the currency here was the Indian rupee, and a lakh is one hundred thousand of them. Fifty thousand rupees would be worth twenty million dinars today.
And Haji Idris, possibly the third or fourth richest man in Baghdad, who had always “jealoused” that house promised himself that he would become its next legal owner. Money was of no consideration for a man of his means.
He was a very esteemed Baghdadi, and many of you would have heard about him. He had dealings with the Caliph, supplying the palace with silks from China and jewellery from Europe. It was his dream one day to build a better and bigger mansion than the famous pink palace, but with too many other commitments, he knew that it would not be for another five years or so, when he would leave his affairs in the hands of his nephew Ali Hasan. He already had four wives, and he was preoccupied with gaining a fifth one. He had heard that the Imam’s daughter was the most beautiful woman in the whole of El Iraq, and being a pious Muslim who would never break the laws of the Quran, he would have to divorce one of the four first. And this conundrum was causing him sleepless nights.
So when he heard that the pink palace was for sale, he swore to himself that he would outbid anybody in order to land that prize. He contacted Abu Himla to indicate his interest, and the merchant began by saying, ‘I’m sorry El Hadj, you’re too late, I’ve already accepted an offer from … obviously I can’t name him. We agreed on fifty grand.’ These were astute businessmen, which means that ordinary folks like us cannot hope to understand their language. ’So,’ Haji idris said, ‘even if I offer sixty grand, I have no hope of_’ Abu Himla took Haji Idris by the hand, and looking him in the eyes said, ‘Actually, El Hadj, I did not exactly accept his offer. All I said was that I expected Al Watani to be happy with his offer. If your offer is firm, I can already give you my word the deal is on.’ Haji Idris was not an easy man to bamboozle. ‘No, Effendi Himla, all I said was I might offer sixty grand.’ He did not believe a word of what the Merchant said, but it was true he was willing to outbid anyone.
He summoned his nephew Ali Hasan, who was a wizard with numbers and acted as his financial adviser, and asked him to arrange for the funds to be available at short notice. The young man began laughing. My uncle, he said, did you say sixty grand? That house is never worth even half of that. If Abu Himla says he has an offer of fifty grand, he’s an even bigger liar than me! Just do as I say my boy, he said sternly. Ali Hasan nodded meekly.
But that was not the end of the affair. He made enquiries and learnt that no one had made an offer of fifty grand. There were tentative negotiations which had led nowhere. He confronted Abu Himla and told him that he knew he was bluffing. “I’ll part with forty thousand rupees for the property,” he said. Not one paisa more. Abu Himla shook his head, and Haji Idris left in a puff.
I need a rest now, I’ve been going on without taking breath. If I don’t watch it I’m going to trip over and say contradictory things, and start jabbering. Take a deep breath.
Yes, yes. Don’t grumble. Have I ever let you down? Now where was I? Oh yes. Ali Hasan had been staying at his house since he returned from Cairo, where he had gone on business for his uncle, and he came out to greet Haji Idris. The young man was bubbling with enthusiasm.
‘Uncle,’ he said, ‘I’ve been looking at our problem from all angles, and I ended up by asking myself, ‘why is Al Watani selling?’
‘Well, eh …,’ began Haji Idris, ‘he … no, he doesn’t need money … eh … I don’t know.’
‘Well, I’ll enlighten you.’ And he reminded Idris of the passing of Zubeida.
‘Yes, I can see that her death might have triggered the decision to sell. So what?’
‘All I’m saying is that once he’s made up his mind to get rid of the house, he will be after a quick sale.’
‘Do you think so? Why?’
‘Every hour he has to be under the roof of the house where his beloved died becomes an ordeal for him.’
‘I think you’re right. But if what you say is true why didn’t Abu Himla_’
‘Accept your offer of forty grand?’ Then he said, ‘but he will dear uncle, he will, mark my word.’
‘Oh beloved son of my beloved sister Humayraa, may your tongue be sprayed with honey for these welcome words!’
But Abu Himla did not budge. And Haji Idris was shocked when a trusted friend told him that three other Baghdadis had joined the fray, and that there was every reason for the asking price to rocket.
There is no way I’m letting that house slip through my fingers, the Haji confided to his nephew. As you know, I am worth a few lakhs, and I could spend two or three lakhs and it would scarcely make any difference to me.
Ali Hasan was horrified. With all due respect dear uncle, have you gone mad? Three lakhs for this gaudy tasteless hovel?
Nephew, you’ve not been listening. I didn’t say I was rushing to Abu Himla to offer him three lakhs. All I said was I am in a position of so doing.
The Al Haji had been having sleepless nights ever since he had taken a decision to buy the pink palace. And once again he was tossing in his bed at half past two one morning, his head humming with conjectures, hypotheses, recollections of past transactions. He began to speak incoherently. Ah, that pink delight! So many windows to let the world in. To see the vistas of the universe. All I need is money. What’s money? You can’t take it with you when Allah summons you to Jannat. Will I earn a place in Jannat? I’ve been a good man, I’ve hardly ever missed my salaats. I’ve done my duty as a good Muslim, have done the pilgrimage. Twice! If I fail to buy that house I think I’ll lose my mind. What would people think of me. He couldn’t even beat that one-eyed rascal Rashid Al Khurra the grain dealer. That arriviste! I must not let that happen. How will I be able to look my enemies in the eye? I will be the laughing stock of the whole of Baghdad! Al Watani is a fool. Why sell his house? Couldn’t he just get another wife instead? It’s not all that difficult. In the arms of a beautiful woman you forget all your woes. But they say his Zubeida was like a peri. The other wives jealoused her. If it is true that they arranged a little accident, then clearly her ruh, her soul can’t be at peace … then maybe her shabh , her ghost is restless, maybe … maybe. Just at that point the muezzin began giving the azaan call for the dawn prayers. Although he was exhausted through sleeplessness, he dragged himself out of bed. Allah, he said to himself, thou hast shown me the light.
Which he had! Or perhaps it might have been Shaitan.
Our beloved teacher Quayyum bin Quayyum never stopped repeating that the difference between a common garden storyteller and a hukkawati worthy of the name lies in the manner that one keeps their audience on the hook. One will blurt out the punchline or turning point, another type will go on and on until the audience loses interest. The best hukkawati knows how long to play with the listeners before revealing the point.
As it was Friday, he knew that early in the morning the Blind Beggar would turn up. He needed him to put his new-born scheme in action. When he arrived the El Hadj came out to greet him, and to the man’s amazement invited him in his office, and invited him to sit on his best cushions. The Blind Beggar was known for speaking his mind. “Al Hadj,” he said, “usually when I visit you scarcely respond to my greetings, so why am I suddenly flavour of the month?” Haji Idris was also known for his frankness. “You’re right, blind man, I need your services.” First he called a servant and ordered him to get a nargile going. When they sat down to indulge in the smoke, he told the servant to go fetch some tea from the kitchen. After a few inhalations, the Haji explained that he wanted the beggar to come with him to Al Mansur to see the pink palace. “And don’t begin by telling me that you’re blind and can’t see. The whole world knows you’re a scheming liar.” The beggar shrugged and laughed.
“You call me liar, El Hadj, but so are you. When you are doing a business transaction, you don’t tell your client what you really paid for what you’re selling, you double the price. He knows it, and you know he knows it, but that’s OK. It’s the same with me, my supposed blindness is like your multiplying your buying price by two.”
Blind man, Haji Idris said, you are a philosopher. For the favour I’m asking, I shall of course be happy to pay you. The man was happy to help, he assured the el Hadj.
“I’ll send word to you when I’m ready,” he told the man.
He then called Ali Hasan, and asked him about the Chinese firecrackers they had imported. The nephew said he was sorry, but the idea had not caught on. The large stock on which they had hoped to make a killing was becoming damp and would be useless before long.
‘I’m glad to hear that,’ Haji Idris said to his nephew’s amazement.
‘I’ll explain,’ he told the young man. ‘You see, it was you who put the idea into my head in the first place, when you said that because Al Watani’s wife died in mysterious circumstances, he would want a quick sale. I took your idea further. If the poor woman died before her time, then her shabh must be restless.
‘Her ghost? Indeed, yes uncle,’ agreed Ali Hasan, ‘so her ghost is back on the scene.’
El Hadj Idris gave a non-committal grudge.
‘Is she … is it?’ his nephew pressed on. Haji Idris laughed happily.
‘No,’ he explained, ‘but we will make her.’ The young man was still bemused, and Haji Idris decided to release him.
I mean, I decided to release my audience. I think I toyed with them enough.
‘After what you and I are going to do, Al Watani will pay us to take that cursed house from his hands.’
Ali Hasan began finally to understand the Haji’s drift.
‘Uncle, you mean … ah I see, is that where the Chinese crackers come into play?’
‘Exactly. My boy you’ll go far, mark my word.’
Haji Idris knew that the best time for putting his plan in practice was between the full moon and the new moon, when the nights were at their darkest. This gave him and Ali Hasan time to prepare everything, and on the appointed day, just after the evening salaat, the Blind Man arrived.
He had instructed the stable boy Imran to give Baraka his hay punctually all day, and change the water regularly. Healthy horses eat often but only a little at a time. Imran then prepared the caleche, hitching Baraka to its frame. Al Haji asked Ali Hasan to drive. The Blind man loved riding coaches and had rarely ridden in one, so he was excited. In a box Ali Hasan had a small stock of firecrackers and Lucifer matches. He also had a grindstone, comprising of a cylindrical slab of sandstone fitted with a handle for turning, mounted on a wooden frame. It was Ali Hassan’s idea to use a knife on this to make sparks.
When they reached Al Mansur, the Haji directed Ali towards a little copse that he thought would be ideal for his spectacle.
In Quayyum Bin Quayyum’s academy, we were taught how to control our voice to resonate with the narration. When you speak of ghosts and such matters, you need to control your breath and pause before saying each syllable. This gives the impression that what you are narrating is happening now, at the very moment you are holding forth.
Haji Idris .. lit .. a wooden torch with a resinous… paste at its end … put his finger to his mouth … to demand utter silence, and … tiptoed along, mutely demanding… his two companions to follow him. He made … for … the stump … of an … oak tree … that he had spotted … when he … was … investigating the site … a week before.
Ali Hasan put the grinder together, and directed the blind man to start turning the spindle, and when it was going with a whirr, the young man placed a a small metallic rod on the rim of the turning stone, and sparks started flying in all directions, accompanied by surprisingly loud whine. He passed the metal rod to his uncle, and with firm fingers lit a firecracker. Its wick caught the flame, and half of it had burnt away, the young man threw it up, and they all watched it explode with a loud bang. The horse Baraka took fright and emitted a few equine whines, which though not part of the plan helped enhance it. There was little doubt that the neighbourhood had heard the cacophony and seen the flames emerging from the firecrackers which followed. When they were satisfied that what they had planned had worked, they sneaked away in their caleche, although it was difficult to pacify Baraka. El Hadj grabbed his bandukya and fired a few rounds to add to the pandemonium.
I know Al Hadj did not have a gun when he started, but hope no one picked on this. I am becoming careless with age, The brain suffers from wear and tear like everything else. I have to watch it. If you lose credibility, you don’t eat.
When they got back home, El Haji told the blind man: Blind man, now it’s your turn.
The blind man had agreed to disseminate the rumour that the pink mansion was haunted, and he had grown hoarse with the telling and retelling of the story, and when he made his way to Haji Idris’ house the next Friday morning, the wives, Maimouna, Aissa and Sayida Fatimah the senior wife, who had heard echoes of the rumour wanted confirmation.
‘Blind man,’ the Sayida said, ‘have you heard about the pink mansion?’
‘Not only have I heard,’ he said with a little laugh, but I happened to be in the vicinity one night and saw everything.’
At this Maimouna burst out laughing,
‘If you’re blind,’ she challenged him, ‘how did you see anything?’
But the blind man was ready for her.
‘Young madam,’ he said, ‘you have eyes, so you see with your eyes. You are fortunate. So what do you expect blind people to do when you are looking at things and seeing them? Just answer me.’ And before the young wife could open her mouth, he had his response.
‘Blind people see with what gifts Allah gave us. We see with our heart, with our soul, with our brains.’
It was Aissa who put an end to this sterile argument.
‘Blind man, no matter what you saw with, just tell us.’
‘That day, I had been working in Al Mansur until late-’
‘Hannh,’ sneered Maimouna, ‘you call begging working?’
‘Maimouna, habibi,’ entreated Aissa, ‘don’t interrupt, let him get on with his tale.’
‘You mean his lies.’
The Sayida had to shush her. ‘Go on blind man,’ she said with authority.
‘As I said, it was late and I did not want to risk my life walking back home in the dark night, what with thieves and cutthroats waiting at all corners. In Al Mansur, I know a little copse with soft thyme and as the night was warm, I thought that I’d lie down and sleep on the bed Allah provided for me. I had no sooner closed my eyes than I heard a wail. Like somebody in pain crying for help. That’s no ordinary human voice, I told myself, it’s a ghost. As I was under the shadow of Al Watani’s pink mansion, where his lovely wife Zubeida met with an untimely death, I immediately realised that it was her. I mean her shabh! The Quran says that when someone dies before their time, their ruh becomes restless when they find the gate of Jannat closed.’
‘Blind man,’ Maimouna said, ‘I’ve read the Quran many times, and I have never come
across that passage.’
‘Maimouna, habibi,’ the Sayida entreated, ‘let him get on. Everybody knows about ghosts returning to the place of their death _’
‘Shukhran. sayida, as I was saying, Madam Zubeida had come back. But as happens, she had not come back alone!’
‘Really?’ said Aissa who had begun to be scared.
‘I tell you, there was an army … all right, a small army … of other ghosts she had met at the gate, who likes her weren’t allowed inside, joined by djinns and efrits always ready to cause mischief … anyway, they all started wailing. cackling with laughter, weeping tears of woe, shouting, swearing. These creatures spout fire and I saw the flames shoot across the skies, heard blasts like bombs exploding. As a sinless man, I know no fear, so I just looked and … what shall I say? Looked and enjoyed it.’
‘So blind man.’ the Sayida asked, ‘you’re saying the house is haunted?’
‘I’ll swear it on the Quran,’ he said solemnly. May Allah have mercy on his soul for taking his name in vain.
I could go on and on with examples of how the blind man went all over Baghdad spreading the false rumour, but the story one tells depends on the audience. I can see that I have already achieved my purpose, so I’ll just move on.
In a matter of days, the story of the haunting of the pink house was all over Baghdad. More people came forward and swore that with their own eyes they saw the ghosts spout fire and make their satanic rackets. One or two sceptics denied that Allah would allow ghosts to come down to our earth to cause grief to his flock. If you believe in Allah, then you must believe in ghosts, or you’re a blasphemer, they were told. It did not take long for the whole of Baghdad to come to believe that the beautiful Zubeida had been poisoned by the other wives and that her shabh was seeking revenge, by visiting and terrifying them every night. It was reported that the wives swore that they had nothing to do with her death, but yes, she did indeed visit them every night with a rabble of ghosts she had met at the gate of Jannat.
They had persuaded their husband to put on an exorcising ceremony with recitations of qasidahs and feeding of beggars, but this only served to convince the remaining sceptics of the veracity of the rumours the Haji and his nephew had started, with the help of the blind beggar.
My friends, what do you think happened next? Haji Idris got the mansion for a good price?
I’ll tell you. He approached the El Hadj, and asked him if his offer of half a lakh was still on the table.
‘No my friend. Everybody knows that the house is haunted, I can’t part with so much money for a haunted house.’
‘It’s never haunted, it’s a rumour …’
‘If it’s untrue, than why have you moved your own wives to your other house in Kharkh?’
To cut a long story short, Al Watani sold the Al Hadj the pink palace for a token one Rupee.
His fiendish plan had worked then, I hear you say. Not so fast my friends.
With light steps he went home to his wives.
‘Habibis,’ he told them, ‘your useless husband has got a piece of good news for you. Believe me, I am always trying to find ways of increasing your happiness. I mean you know that.’
‘Is that why you’re gonna take another wife?’ He was shocked to hear that, and he began stammering.
‘No … who t-told you that lie? I’ll strangle that young villain Ali Hasan.’
‘Let him speak,’ ordered the Sayida.
‘I’ve only bought you the most prized property in Al Mansur, and we’re moving there next tomorrow.’
‘You mean that haunted house?’ chorused Maimouna and Aissa?
Haji Idris screamed with laughter on hearing this.
‘Na, na, na … you don’t know how clever your husband is! The house is never haunted. It’s a rumour Ali Hasan and I started. With the Blind Beggar. I won’t go into details.’
‘They say Zubeida’s ghost, her shabh comes down from gehenna every night with a cohort of other ghosts, djinns and efrits_’
’Never! Ask Ali Hasan. Remember those firecrackers we ordered from China? People here wouldn’t buy them. We _’
Again I could go on and on, but the effect I wanted to create has been achieved.
‘You move in there with your new wife,’ the women chorused, ‘we’re staying put here!’