Now, now, young people, calm down! Pass the refreshments around while I start the first part of our story.
It was your Grandpa’s eyes! The first time we saw each other it was market day in my village. He was assisting his father who was selling Persian carpets. His eyes snagged mine as I was passing by and the sand in the hourglass stood still. An unexplainable energy surged up from his body and slammed into mine squeezing my heart powerfully. At that very moment I knew we had been together for eons. It just took us 17 years to find each other again this time.
But ours was a very difficult situation, you see, because our families belonged to different religions. About his family, the elders of my village said they were the corruptors of the true faith, but their clerics said the same thing about mine!
---“But that’s really stupid!”
Yes, I agree, but please, Daliyah, don’t interrupt me. Let's finish the story first and you can ask questions afterwards. Ok?
---“I'm sorry, Grandma.”
We couldn't ever marry, we couldn't be seen together, we couldn't talk to each other! Even our brief eye encounter had lasted too long. There was a nearby cedar tree with an open knothole. I looked up at the tree. No words were necessary. We just renewed our ancient mind meld.
To not arouse suspicion, I did nothing for three days. Then I wrote my name on a slip of paper and passing the tree on my way to the village well, I inserted the note into the knothole. Two days later, again on my way to the well, I retrieved the reply. This is how we learned each other's names!
We continued to use the knothole to communicate for 6 months, but of course, we were found out. It happened in the most innocent way. "Out of the mouths of babes", they say. It was little Adiba who noticed me slip the note into the tree. After I had gone down to the well, she took the note out to play. Her mother, Zubaidah, saw the note and asked where she had found it. The bird was out of the cage... Zubaidah called on my mother privately. She did not want to raise a scandal. She knew the penalty for the crime.
The next day my mother waited until everyone had left the house. It was she and I, alone now. You kids never heard such a scolding! She even beat me! Then she got down on her knees and begged me to forget your Grandpa and she warned me of the penalty. I couldn't believe such things were still going on. Not a single woman had suffered the penalty in our village during my lifetime.
Nevertheless, she instilled enough fear in me that I held back for two weeks. I didn't have to explain anything to Grandpa Sayyid. Through our mind meld he knew my silence was due to circumstances beyond my control, but after those two weeks, I was completely heartbroken. I decided to risk leaving a note in the tree once again. We had never really met and I just wanted to say goodbye.
It didn't work. To my dismay, the village headman himself saw me slip the note in the tree! He ran towards me, grabbed me by the wrist, and shouted out loud that I was a slut who had disgraced my family...
Ok, now it’s my turn, Grandma. "O, ye of little faith!"
What Grandma Amah didn't know was that during those two weeks while she lay low, I was already looking for a solution to our dilemma. I went to see the Sufi wise man, Jalal al Din. He was a very strange person, you know… I hadn’t even opened my mouth to begin to describe the problem when he started to rant about the incredible stupidity of the villagers' petty religious taboos, while in the rear of his mountain cave he rummaged through the most unimaginable odds and ends until he found a tiny, delicately carved sandalwood box.
"Come, Sayyid, I need to see how things stand," he said.
He began intoning an ancient chant and I felt a presence in the cave with us; a whoosh of wind, and my hair stood on end! Jalal went into a trance and spoke prophetically: "Your beloved Amah will not be able to resist any longer. Tomorrow will be the day. You must be prepared! You must arrive on time to rescue her from the stupid wrath of the men of the village who will attempt to punish her for loving you!"
The trance wound down. Jalal again went to the back of the cave to rummage among his things and brought me a leather bag filled with coins.
"Take this gold, go to the city, and buy the fastest running horse you can find," he told me. "Now let me show you what is in this box. You must pay attention very carefully to learn how this works because it will be your only way out. This is a… well... let’s call it a talisman, for want of a better word, with very special powers. It can remove you from this here and now to any then and there, whether in the past or in the future. A nice young couple from the future came to visit me long ago and gave it to me as a gift. It’s a long story…but never mind… I’ve been to such strange times and places you couldn’t even imagine! Anyway, I knew you were coming and I was saving it for just this day. My advice is: go to the future, son. Hopefully you will find a time where you and your Amah can love each other without fear."
He opened the box and took out a cylindrical object attached to a cord. Placing the cord around my neck he bade me hold it with both hands, saying, "Notice that it has a wheel within a wheel. If you turn the outer wheel to the right of the center point, you and everything and anybody physically attached to you will be removed into the future. If you turn it to the left, you go to the past. Go ahead; try it."
"But if I go into another time right now, how will I get back to save Amah?” I queried.
He replied, “Don’t worry. I haven’t told you the magic words yet!”
So I tried moving the wheel to the right of the center and then to the left to get the feel of it. “Seems easy enough,” I thought.
Jalal continued, “Ok, now for the magic words. Listen carefully! If you forget, you’ll be stuck in whatever time you are in and that could be very inconvenient… Ready? Ok. The magic words are: ACTIVATE TIME TRAVEL PROGRAM.”
“Strange words indeed”, I thought. “Time travel is simple enough, but what is a ‘program’?” I repeated the magic words over and over in my mind for about thirty grains of sand and Jalal woke me from my musing, “Now, get going! First the horse. Hurry! As soon as you have the animal, ride to the village at full speed. May the Universe favor you!”
Now my Beloved, let me continue…
At the headman’s shouting, the entire village stopped all activity and ran towards the tree. He still had me by the wrist. Try as I could I was unable to escape his powerful grip! The women gathered in a group across the dusty street. There was my mother, weeping and wailing hysterically, while my aunts, cousins, sisters, and the ladies from next door tried in vain to calm her and comfort her.
The men gathered around the headman who began the formal accusation. “This woman is a disgrace to our village! She has been consorting with a disgusting, God-forsaken corruptor of the faith! I have been watching her closely. I have the damning evidence in my hand! Just this morning she slipped a note into the tree for him to find!” he said as I continued to struggle to try to free my wrist to no avail. “Come here, Abdul Malik! Read what the note says for everyone to hear!”
Abdul opened the crumpled piece of paper and solemnly proclaimed, “The garbage heap!”
There were a few titters…
“Be quiet, you fools!” said the headman angrily. “The intent is quite clear. It’s ‘meet me by the garbage heap outside the village!’”
At this there were murmurs of assent that got louder and louder. I continued to struggle and my veil fell down! I quickly tried to replace it with my free hand; two different struggles at the same time… The women continued to moan and wail. I could hear my mother’s usually sweet voice floating above their chorus in a desperate, dissonant descant.
“Look at her!” said the headman mockingly. “She’s compounding her dishonor by showing her face! What shame! We must blot out this evil from our midst! Ali! Abu! Come here and help me subdue this wanton woman!”
Ali and Abu were the two most disgusting thugs in the village and true to type they proceeded to pummel and punch me, and slap my face. I doubled over and was dazed and left off struggling for a dram of sand. My ears were ringing but I knew the headman had ordered the men to start gathering the stones…
After a while, the headman shouted, “You! Aminah! You gave birth to this whore! Stop your wailing lest I conclude that it was you who taught her and you get stoned today, too!” Then, with a sneer he called out, “Alright, Hamal; you and your sons, come here! You must be the first to cast for she has dishonored you most basely!”
My father and two brothers walked slowly to the rock heap. They had no choice. If they did not cast the first stones, they would suffer death by the sword for treason. They all grabbed stones. With tears running down his sun-baked face, my father cried out to God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, and suddenly there were murmurs and then screams from the ladies’ side.
Your turn, Grandpa.
Yes! It was I, arriving upon my stallion Bashir! The men were momentarily stunned. I rode right into the crowd, grabbed your Grandma by the waist, heaved her up behind me, and took off like a bolt of lighting toward the hill nearby! But of course the headman urged the men to pursue us and as soon as we reached the top they were already a fourth of the way up! I reined Bashir in, slipped my hand into my tunic and pulled out the talisman that had been hanging from my neck since Jalal put it on me.
In my haste I didn’t remember right from left! I just turned it and said: “Operate time travel program.” Nothing happened! What was I doing wrong? Meanwhile the men were coming closer; they were already half way up the hill by then!
“Sayyid, let´s keep going! Grandma cried. “Wait, my sweet, I need to think a minute”, I replied.
Hmmm. Maybe it’s the words. I said operate. That’s it! Not operate! Activate!
“Hold on tight and move with me, little one”, and then I uttered the correct magic words: “Activate time travel program!”
There was a rushing wind and our last view was a glimpse of the open-mouthed, incredulous, astonished faces of the men as they came over the brow of the hill and witnessed our disappearance into thin air!
Now, if you've been on a ship in stormy seas, then you know a little about what it felt like to be whirled through the tunnels of time, where our entire surroundings and all the sounds were blurred into a blinding and deafening jumble and then, wham! Our substance, steed and all, coalesced into a very different landscape! We were no longer atop a hill, but I knew it was the same place because the river was still where it had always been. The area where we landed, so to speak, was now a tiny clearing surrounded by a thick jungle of weirdly shaped plants and trees that I had never seen before! We began hearing strange, frightening animal sounds, terrible loud roars and rumbles, really, and suddenly two infernal looking lizard-like creatures running on two feet came bounding into the clearing, the larger one chasing the smaller one!
In a split second I realized we had gone far away into the distant past, when dragon lizards ruled the Earth and I grabbed hold of the talisman, hastily turned it to the right and said the magic words once again. Ugh! Another stomach wrenching journey to some other time!
My Lord Sayyid, allow me to continue, please.
He hasn’t described the half of it. If it was stomach wrenching for him, imagine me! I was fighting down the nausea and was terrified to the bone when those monsters came out of the trees! I squeezed Grandpa so tight, I heard him choke and cough while he uttered the magic formula. Oh, dear! Poor man! But he acted just in the nick of time! He wasn’t fully familiarized with the procedure, but he saved us from peril once again!
On this occasion we came into another strange time in the same place where what looked to me like metal boxes were running on wheels back and forth by themselves, playing very loud trumpets at us as we solidified into the middle of it all. Of course, the horse spooked and started running down the street with us holding on for dear life while Grandpa did his best to gain control! Oh, my! If there ever was a good horseman it was your Grandpa Sayyid! Bashir rode on and on, but after about 200 grains of sand he was no longer out of control. At last we reached a more peaceful place, where there were trees with benches under them and people walking with dogs attached to chains! We thought that most remarkable, since in our village and everywhere as far as I could remember, dogs were considered unclean! We stopped here and the people looked at us strangely; just as strangely as we looked at them I suppose… The women’s legs, arms, heads, and faces were uncovered and the men walked by without blinking an eye! And there we were, wrapped in dusty, homespun clothes from head to foot, but through it all my veil was very properly covering my face!
My turn, Amah, honey!
This time was much better than the time of the dragon lizards, so we decided to stay here. However, we had a horse, no food, and no place to stay. Perhaps we could find people of our own country here... We took Bashir further into what we later learned was a park and when no one was looking we let him loose to graze while we tried to find our way. We walked and walked until we saw what looked like a minaret behind some smaller buildings. We hurried in that direction.
The door was ajar! We went up the steps and entered. The young man inside was very surprised when he saw us. I greeted him, but he held up his hand as if to say wait and then signaled us to follow him. We went to a room way to the back. He knocked and a musty, old voice said "Come in!" The young man went inside and we heard him tell the Mullah: "There is a very odd, dusty couple here, sir, and they seem to speak an ancient form of our language." The Mullah answered, "Ah, yes! Don't just stand there with your mouth agape! Bring them in! I've been expecting them!"
So in we went, your Grandma and I, and to our utter surprise, there was Jalal al Din! A lot older and greyer to be sure, but nevertheless, it was he!
"What took you so long, Sayyid?" he said. "I was afraid you hadn't made it in time, but I see my fears were completely unfounded, for here you are with your lovely bride to be! Yes, you two have a lot of catching up to do so that you will be able to live in this time. Things are so modern these days! But let's not waste any more time! I will marry you forthwith and you can take it from there! Let's see...since both sets of parents are long dead, there's no need for negotiations or for asking anybody's consent. I'll be your protecting wali, Amah, and I am also a qadi, so I am qualified to draw up the contract. In fact, I already have it here. And since you, Sayyid, don't have a dinar to your name I'll take care of the mahr and you can pay me back, if you insist, when you get a job."
Jalal handed me a sheaf of papers which I later found to be the currency of date, and I handed them tenderly to your Grandma, who looked at them strangely, but nevertheless proceeded to stuff them into her top underwear...
"Now to the marriage ceremony", Jalal continued. "We need two witnesses. Omar, go get Jamal. And while they return, let me get the sacred book."
Omar and Jamal returned quite quickly. Obviously they knew better than to dally when Jalal was in a hurry! They had barely entered the room when Jalal continued. "Praise be to God, by whatever name "He" may be called! But to satisfy human frailty I will stick to the traditional forms. The Quran says, 'It is Allah Who has created man from water: then has He established relationships of lineage and marriage: for your Lord has power over all things.' And He reminds us of His great favors: 'And among His signs is that He created for you of yourselves spouses that you may live in joy with them, and He has set between you love and mercy. Surely in that are signs for those who reflect.'"
Now your Grandma and I needed no prompting with the wedding vows. We had wanted this so strongly for so long, we both knew them from memory!
"I, Amah, offer you myself in marriage in accordance with the instructions of the Holy Qur'an and the Holy Prophet, peace and blessing be upon Him. I pledge, in honesty and with sincerity, to be for you an obedient and faithful wife."
"I, Sayyid, pledge, in honesty and sincerity, to be for you a loyal and helpful husband."
I'll never forget Jamal's final words of blessing: "You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore. You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days. Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of the Supreme Being".
At last we had found a time for us!
And the rest is history: I started working in a shoe factory, we learned how to live in our new environment, your parents were born, grew up, found mates of their own, and here you are!
----"But, Grandpa!" queried Daliyah's older brother, Firas. "What happened to Bashir?"
Oh... Jalal sent Omar to the park to bring him back and we found him a good home at a stud farm where there was a genetic engineering program going on, but that's a different story...