Friday, 6 September 2013

The Enamored Well

If thou be maiden without stain
Or lad till now unversed in love,
That yet no knife has cut or fire burnt,
Nor dog has bit, then not in vain
To this old well-head turn and look within,
And down a little pebble throw;
At the night's noon, that milk-white hour
When the moon full-grown,
Doth ride through heaven like a houri fair
In her full loveliness,
And when the troubled circles cease
If in the mirror thou shalt see
The face of one look'st up to thee
As thou at it look'st down,
Then know for sure thy true love's face,
This magic well reveals to thee.

I shall tell you a tale of love with which the magic Well of the Bats has much to do. Know then that once upon a time, long ago, there lived in the Bait al-kertliya a rich, widowed lady with her daughter Lutfiya, a maiden as fair as a full moon and simple and sweet as a flower. At the same time there dwelt in a house over the way a handsome youth called Ameen, like Lutfiya that only child of his mother, who was also a widow.

Now, much to both parents regret, their young ones showed no desire to marry, being yet scarce acquainted with love and cautious by nature. Having heard of each others loveliness and yet how averse to be wed, the young ones interest was aroused, Lutfiya found herself deeply in love with her vision of Ameen just as he was with his fancy of her. All day Ameen would sit thus, gazing out through  the mashrabiya at  the house over the way, watching and waiting, but no door opened, nor even a window though indeed, unknown to him, Lutfiya, even as he, was all the while peeping through a chink in the hope that she might spy young Ameen. Thus sat they, sighing these two, each unknown to the other.

Now one day Lutifiya, after some hesitation, arose and, pulling a shawl that was by her over her head. Across the court-yard she ran to the well in the corner, the Well of the Bats, that magic well of which I have told you how, in the days of old Noah when the Ark was stranded here on hill Yushkur, the last waters of the Flood subsided into its depth, endowing them with miraculous and amorous powers. and the Sultan of  the Dijnn who resides amid his treasure at the depth within this well.

Now Lutifiya had head those legends and, for that reason, had always been frightened of the well so that she could scarce bring herself to look down into it, half hoping as she did, yet half fearing to see, as many had told her she might, her lover's reflection therein. On this occasion, though frightened as ever, she none the less could not resist hastily looking down into the well-shaft, for she hoped to see Ameen gazing up at her. But no such sight met her eyes, for as she looked down, lo and behold! those waters that reflected her own face awoke and were agitated because of the beauty cast upon them and, becoming enamored for her loveliness, they rose and swelled up till they filled the whole shaft of the well to the very top and then they flowed over. Now indeed was Lutifiya alarmed, as well she might be, for the waters began to embrace her feet! With a cry, she turned to escape and, she ran, her shawl fell from her head on to her shoulder. Cross the court she ran, out into the street.

Ameen was gazing, as he become his wont, out through the lattice of a window, when all of a sudden he saw the great eastern door of Bait al-Kretliya thrown open, and out ran a maiden, frightened and he saw how the waves kissed her feet as she ran.

 Ameen hurried down and reached the street in time to see Lutifya turn the corner of the wall of Ibn Tulun mosque that stands adjacent to the Bait al-Kretliya, moving as if her feet are not touching the ground and by the time she reached the spiral minaret, Lutifya was above the ground. Tiny fingers, sharp like claws, carried her to safety. Her body was lifted up high towards the top of the spiral minaret above the raging flood, unable to catch its prey, on rushed these waters, mad with desire, tumbling over and over till they came to the foot of the hill and were lost in the Khalig, the ancient canal that flowed through Cairo in those days and into the great River Nile.

When Ameen reached the base of the minaret he could only hear a muffled voice coming from beyond the spiral minaret, from the direction of the great River Nile. One word calling again and again, until it faded away and he can no longer hear anything: "Lutfiya, Lutfiya."

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