Khalid, the Coppersmith of Nasiriya

Here is the story promised in my post, “Fourth-​​year Lurker Delurks.” It starts out M/​F, but it’s really about a switch. If you can’t find the humour in a story told with tongue planted firmly in cheek, so to speak, you should prob­a­bly pass over this one.

The Story of Khalid, the Cop­per­smith of Nasiriya

[Trans­lated from the Ara­bic and copy­right by Charles Grimshaw Camp­bell (1912–1953), 1980 reprint of the 1950 edi­tion pub­lished by Macmil­lan, New York, ISBN 0–405-13329–4. The copy you’re read­ing is a bit less blood­thirsty than the printed ver­sion, and with cer­tain details added by myself.]

“Let the name of Mohammed Has­san be writ­ten, that he is the teller of this story.” [Who was of the Muntafiq tribe, of the Lower Euphrates.]

Once, in the days when the Turks ruled Iraq, there was a cop­per­smith of Basra, and Khalid was his name. He was born in Nasiriya, and lived there until the six­teenth year of his life. Then, when his father died, he took his mother and went to Basra and he worked as a cop­per­smith in the bazaar of Umm el Brum, that he might earn enough with which to live. Now, the amount he earned each month from the owner of the cop­per­shop was only enough for food and rent and clothes for his mother and him­self, nor could he save money enough to buy a shop of his own or to marry a wife. And Khalid and his mother lived in a poor house, and she did the cook­ing and all the work of the house was in her hands.

There came a day that the mother of Khalid fell sick and died and was left alone in the house, nor was there any­one to do the cook­ing and the work of the house. As for Khalid, he had to go to work from the ris­ing of the sun until its set­ting, so he could not go to the bazaar to buy veg­eta­bles and meat, nor could he cook his food. He there­fore thought: Since I do not earn enough to keep a ser­vant it is nec­es­sary that I marry a wife, and this course I would surely take if I had the money, since it is incum­bent on a man to take to him­self a wife. But since I have lit­tle money, let me seek out one who is less desired by men for some rea­son, that she may be cheap, and though she may not be per­fect in all the require­ments of a wife, she will at least buy the sup­plies from the mar­ket and cook them and clean the house.

Then Khalid sent for a wise woman who acted as a go-​​between for those about to marry, and he said to her: Know you that my income is small and my cap­i­tal is none and I desire to marry a wife. There­fore seek out one whose father will not require of me more than one gold lira, and if she is lame or has only one eye, it mat­ters not, but let her be able to cook. And the wise woman replied and said: I already know of such a one. Her father requires only a date stone. She is per­fect in fig­ure and in her face she has the beauty of the moon, she can recite poetry, and as for her cook­ing, ver­ily it is said that there is a com­mo­tion in the heav­ens, for it is nec­es­sary to restrain the angels that they come not down to par­take of it when­ever she cooks a dish.

Khalid then said to the wise woman: If she be indeed as you say, then why the date stone? Per­chance her name is dis­hon­oured and such a one I do not want. But the woman said: If she be not a vir­gin, then return her to her father. Ver­ily she is hon­ourable, and as for the rea­son for the date stone, let it be known to you that this girl has the tem­per of a fiery steed, and her father has recently taken a wife of the same age as this girl, and she beats and tor­ments the new wife of her father with­out mercy, nor is there peace in his house. There­fore he will give her to you in mar­riage and her name is Khalila. But she needs a firm hand on the reins. Khalid was happy that he should get a wife beau­ti­ful in face and fig­ure, so he said to the wise woman: It shall be as you say. I shall marry this girl, and I shall con­trol her, nor can her tem­per mat­ter to me, for I am a man, and she is but a woman.

And so the arrange­ments were made and a day came on which Khalid sat in his house and his friends went and brought the girl Khalila to him and he took her in mar­riage. And Khalid’s heart was filled with joy, for he found that the girl was beau­ti­ful of face and beau­ti­ful of fig­ure and he spent the night in the delights and joy of mat­ri­mony, and he was happy and thought: I am only a poor cop­per­smith, yet I have a bride fit for the Sul­tan him­self. And after a few days spent in mar­ried bliss Khalila woke Khalid at the ris­ing of the sun and she said to him: Rise and go to your work, for the house is dirty and it needs clean­ing and atten­tion. And Khalid rose and he went to his work.

At the set­ting of the sun the cop­per­smiths in the bazaar of Umm el Brum closed their shops and Khalid’s mas­ter per­mit­ted him to go and return to his home. And Khalid entered his house and he stood and rubbed his eyes, for he thought he was in a dream and that what he saw could not be true. For his house was car­peted with the most beau­ti­ful car­pet made of silk, and it was truly worth not less than one hun­dred gold liras, and on it stood chairs and tables made of the finest woods, and on the tables were dishes and vases of sil­ver. And Khalid saw that his house looked richer than that of the wealth­i­est mer­chant in Basra, and he was amazed at what he saw.

And he said to his wife Khalila: From whence is this wealth? She replied and said: Did you think that I was going to live in a mud hut with no car­pet, and with chairs and tables of white deal, and with dishes of earth­en­ware? I am of gen­tle birth and I need del­i­cate and beau­ti­ful things. There­fore have I pledged your credit and brought these few poor things we need, and even this was dif­fi­cult, for the mer­chants did not seem to think much of your abil­ity to pay. And Khalid became angry and he said: Woman, what have you done? Know you it will take me fifty years to pay for this mer­chan­dise? She replied: Am I then to live in squalor? Are you not a man that you can­not pay for the needs of the house?

Then Khalid’s fury grew, and it was in his thoughts that he should switch his wife, and he picked up a stick and got in a few blows on her, but when he put out his hand to hold her in one place that he might beat her the bet­ter, she bit his wrist to the bone, and it became appar­ent to Khalid that his wife had indeed the tem­per of a fiery steed.

The night passed in fight­ing and quar­relling and in the morn­ing Khalid’s face was cov­ered with scratches from the finger-​​nails of his wife, and as for Khalila, her back was wealed and lower down was yel­low from blows, and her eyes were red from tears, and her throat raw from shout­ing and scream­ing and cry­ing. And at the ris­ing of the sun Khalila stayed in her bed, and she refused to make the break­fast for Khalid, and he went to this work hun­gry and empty, with­out even a sip of tea.

Khalid sat in the shop of the cop­per­smith and he fash­ioned ves­sels of cop­per and brass accord­ing to the orders of his mas­ter, but his heart was full of sad­ness and grief, and he thought: It was bet­ter that I had not mar­ried this girl, for now I am indebted to the extent of sev­eral hun­dred gold liras, whereas before I did not owe a sin­gle cop­per coin. And as for my food, she will not pre­pare it, for she is a fine lady. And at the set­ting of the sun Khalid sought out a wise woman who lived in the mar­ket and he said to her: My state is thus and thus. How can I tame my wife and make her obe­di­ent to me?

The woman thought much and she ques­tioned Khalid con­cern­ing the nights of bliss, for she was an expert in these mat­ters, and she said: When you go to your house you shall refrain from your wife and remain far from her, and this shall be for many days. Then shall you arrange to marry another wife, but I promise you that she will come to her senses and be obe­di­ent to you before this happens.

Khalid returned to his house and he entered, but he did not greet his wife. Instead he went to the car­pet and stroked it with his hand and he said: O lovely car­pet, how beau­ti­ful is your silken pile, how gay your colours. Ver­ily, beauty is reserved to car­pets only, nor do women have any share of it, for women are all alike. They have hair as black as a spider’s legs, a pair of eyes sim­i­lar to the eyes of a dog, mouths like mon­keys’ mouths, breasts like the udders of a water buf­falo, and their skin is the colour of mud. How, then, can a man love a woman? But you, dear car­pet, are of many gay colours, you have the colour of red roses, the blue of the morn­ing sky, the green of young grass, and the yel­low sheen of gold. What is more, you have the pre­cious gift of silence, nor do you speak in shrill tones as do the cats when they fight in the moon­light. And that night and on the next night and on every night Khalid rolled up the car­pet and took it with him to bed, nor did he speak to his wife. And as for Khalila, she thought: Unhappy is my lot, for I am mar­ried to a madman.

Now, let it be known to you that in those days the Turk­ish Gov­er­nor of Basra kept a spy at Bagh­dad, that he might receive infor­ma­tion and warn­ing that he be not sur­prised by his supe­ri­ors, for truly the rev­enue of Basra was great, and the Gov­er­nor took more than three-​​quarters of it for him­self and for the expenses of his house, and the remain­der he sent to Bagh­dad, say­ing: Basra is but a poor city.

One day the Gov­er­nor received a let­ter from his spy at Bagh­dad, and the let­ter read as follows:

O hon­oured and respected Gov­er­nor, Let it be known to you that through the exer­cise of my secret trade I have dis­cov­ered that a spy has been sent to Basra, and he has been ordered to report on your admin­is­tra­tion, and on the sev­eral rev­enues of the City. And as for his name, I know it not, and even if I knew it, then it would be of no value, for he would change it. But he is said to be such a man as would work as a smith or arti­san, and I enjoin Your Hon­our to be on your guard against this dan­ger­ous man.

The Gov­er­nor read the let­ter and his face turned as pale as milk, and he sent for his agents and spies, of whom he had many in the City of Basra, that they might inform him which of the mer­chants hid and con­cealed their wealth from him. And he said: Go to the bazaars and to the mar­kets and make full enquiries con­cern­ing the smiths and arti­sans in this City, and inform me of one who is not a native of this place, and who is dif­fer­ent from what he appears to be.

The spies and agents went off to exe­cute the orders of their mas­ter the Gov­er­nor, and for a whole week they made dis­creet enquiries in the bazaars and coffee-​​houses and they came back and reported to their mas­ter and they said: We have enquired dili­gently con­cern­ing every smith and arti­san of this City, and we have found one who says he comes from Nasiriya, and his name is Khalid. But these facts may be false, and he is cer­tainly other than he appears to be. For though he is only a poor cop­per­smith earn­ing less than one gold lira a month, yet his house is fur­nished in a richer fash­ion than is your palace, and his wife goes to the mar­ket and she buys silken car­pets and sil­ver ves­sels worth hun­dreds of gold liras with­out a thought to the price.

The Gov­er­nor dis­missed them from his pres­ence, and he thought: Ver­ily this is he, for no doubt he was given a bag of gold for his expenses, and he has mis­ap­pro­pri­ated the money for his own ends. And the Gov­er­nor sent for his sec­re­tary, and this man enjoyed the fullest con­fi­dence of his mas­ter, and he said to his faith­ful sec­re­tary: The sit­u­a­tion is thus and thus. Let us kill this dan­ger­ous man.

But the sec­re­tary thought for a long time, and then he spoke after this fash­ion: To kill him would be folly, for another might come in his place. The Gov­ern­ment has many hands and many eyes. Let us rather do another thing, let us incline this man to our side, for it is said that the heart of a man may be turned either by women or by gold. And the Gov­er­nor agreed with his sec­re­tary and approved his words.

So the next day the sec­re­tary of the Gov­er­nor went to the mar­ket of the cop­per­smiths and he went to the shop in which Khalid worked. And the mas­ter of the shop was pleased at his dis­tin­guished vis­i­tor, and he ordered a glass of tea from the coffee-​​house. But the sec­re­tary did not speak to the mas­ter of the shop. He turned to Khalid, and he exam­ined the cop­per bowl he was mak­ing, and he said: This indeed the best work­man in Basra. And the mas­ter of the shop thought: Has the Governor’s sec­re­tary been attracted by the eyes of our Khalid, for that bowl is no bet­ter and no worse than hun­dreds of oth­ers in this bazaar?

Then the sec­re­tary spoke and said: Know you that my mas­ter, the Gov­er­nor, is always care­ful of the wel­fare of the peo­ple of Basra, and he is a lover of artis­tic and beau­ti­ful things, and he has heard that some of the cop­per ves­sels in the houses of the peo­ple of Basra are lack­ing in beauty and in skill­ful work­man­ship. There­fore has he com­manded me that I find the most skill­ful cop­per­smith in Basra, that he may be appointed Inspec­tor of Cop­per­smiths, and after due enquiry I find that you are indeed the best. I there­fore appoint you Inspec­tor of Cop­per­smiths at a salary of one hun­dred gold liras per month, and your duty shall be to inspect and license the cop­per­smiths of Basra, and you may charge them such fees as you deem suitable.

Khalid heard the words of the sec­re­tary, and his heart was filled with a great joy, and as for the mas­ter of the shop, he thought: I knew that Khalid was a hand­some young man, but I never thought that he would come to this, for it must be his beauty that the sec­re­tary admires, for as for his skill, it is not great.

Khalid thanked the sec­re­tary and he got up and left the coppersmith’s shop, nor did he con­tinue to work. And he went to his house to tell his wife to pack the fur­ni­ture that they might move from the mud house to a house of mar­ble and fine stones. And Khalid entered his house and he said to his wife: Pack the car­pet and fur­ni­ture that we may move to a palace fit for our high estate.

Khalila heard the words of her hus­band and her heart was filled with grief, and she thought: Truly I have dri­ven this poor man mad, for he is only a poor cop­per­smith unable to find the money for even this house. Yet he talks of mov­ing to a palace. How unlucky is my lot, for even if he divorces me, who will marry a divorced woman? And it appears that I shall spend my life mar­ried to a mad­man, and never again shall I taste the joys of marriage.

So Khalila cast her­self to her husband’s feet, and her body vibrated with sobs, and she said: O my hus­band, only be as you were on the night of our wed­ding, and you may take a stick and switch me as much as your heart desires, for I merit a beat­ing. And Khalid thought: She indeed mer­its a beat­ing, and if I do this to her she will be obe­di­ent in future.

And Khalid was mind­ful of the advice of the wise woman. So he said: Khalila my wife, go to the bazaar and bring back a switch such as the dri­vers use on their camels. Pur­chase a sec­ond also, in case the first one breaks before I am through. But Khalila con­tin­ued her sobs, and implored her hus­band: But she knows we have no camels. Let it be you who pur­chases the switches, as many as your heart desires. For the woman of the bazaar will ask no ques­tions of a man. And for answer he raised his wife to her feet.

And Khalid required his wife to lead the way to the bazaar, and bade her show him many switches, test­ing them in the air. The bazaar was crowded as is usual after the heat of the day was past. Nearly every per­son watched the exam­i­na­tion of the switches, and loud dis­putes broke out as to the fierce­ness and strength of this switch or that. But none spoke to or ques­tioned the cop­per­smith or his wife, for this was a fam­ily mat­ter. And Khalila’s father, and his wife, arrived just as Khalila was bar­gain­ing the price of the three switches her hus­band had cho­sen. He greeted Khalid as his son, kiss­ing him thrice on each cheek as is still the cus­tom. He gave praise to God, and enquired after his health. Khalid called for tea, and the two men vis­ited in the shade whilst the town buzzed around them.

Khalila’s father later arose, wish­ing him well in his new sta­tion. Khalid called for his wife, to accom­pany her home from the mar­ket. He paid no fur­ther notice to Khalila’s father lead­ing the throng behind them, or to the delighted smile on her step-mother’s face. And Khalila, eyes cast to the ground, fol­lowed her hus­band, car­ry­ing her hard-​​won switches home.

The young cop­per­smith led his wife into the mud hut, and soon was heard the splat­ting of switch on bare skin. But not one word of protest was heard, nor any sound of resis­tance. Many words were spo­ken, and screamed, and tear­fully promised, but they were only of love and devo­tion and… obedience.

Long after the sun had set, Khalid returned out­side once more, and much of the vil­lage joined in his hap­pi­ness. Khalid lifted the switch in his hand and gave it unto Khalila’s father, say­ing: The third switch has some use left in it. Go with my bless­ing, O father. And the father returned his salute, and said: Thank you, my son. The Elder has learned from the Younger, and the switch shall be worn out before the night has passed, that my daugh­ter need not be jeal­ous of my wife, nor my wife of your wife.

The very next day, Khalid took his wife and he moved to a fine house and he spent many years in the enjoy­ment of love and in draw­ing the emol­u­ments of his high office. And Khalila returned his love exceed­ingly and she obeyed him in every­thing, and as for the Gov­er­nor of Basra, he was happy for he thought that he had inclined the heart of the Gov­ern­ment spy towards him. And as for the real spy, he was never heard of, for he was set on and killed by the Maadan on his way to Basra, and they took from his body his bag of gold, nor did the Gov­ern­ment send another spy in his place.

tabs-top

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>