whose prayers

by Nariman Youssef

from Rabih Alameddine’s The Hakawati..

(originally in English)

“Reveal yourself to me.” Othman knelt before his wife on one knee. “Show your beauty, my life.” Layla took off her marriage veil, and a dazzled Othman wept. “If I prayed to Lady Zainab every second of my life, I would not be able to show how grateful I am. If I offered my life in gratitude, it would not suffice. You are the most lovely being ever to have graced my miserable life. I am humbled by your charms.”
“And you, my husband, are most eloquent,” Layla said. “Come.”
She pulled him to her and kissed him with a passion that surprised him. She undressed him while he fumbled with her knots. She laid him on the bed, his head on the pillow, and continued kissing him. He tried to remove her robe. “Relax,” she whispered from above. Soon she descended upon him. He unleashed a cry of ecstasy that mingled with the laughter in the halls outside their room. “You are my husband,” she said. “Mine.” And she poked and pinched places he did not know existed. His next cry was of joy mixed with pain.
“Wait,” he shouted, but she did not.
“No,” he said, but he did not mean it.
“But,” Othman said, “you are not a virgin.”
Her face registered surprise. “I never claimed to be.”
“No,” he said. “No. That cannot be. Lady Zainab picked you for me.”
“So?”
“Only the devout pray at the shrine.”
“Do not be foolish,” she said. “I have been praying all my life. What has virginity got to do with it? Do you not remember me?” She pulled up her left sleeve and showed him the brand. “I thought that was why you married me.”
“Oh, no,” he moaned. “What kind of dove were you?”
“Luscious,” she said, affronted. “Please.”
“My life is over. I will be the mockery of every man in Egypt.”
“You will be the envy of every man in Egypt.”
“I was supposed to marry a virgin.”
“And you were not supposed to be one.”
“Do not whisper of it to anyone,” he pleaded.
“You are my husband,” she said. “Your shame is my shame, and mine is yours. I will never betray you, and you will never betray me. We share honor.”
Othman covered his eyes. “I am being punished for all the wrongs I have committed.”
“Punished?” Layla asked, aghast. “You think marrying me is punishment? Keep thinking that and I will show you what actual punishment is. If you ever consider that I am not your ideal partner, even if the thought only crosses your mind, I will turn your life into a nightmare. You will think you are in the seventh circle of hell, married to Afreet-Jehanam. Punishment, bah. I am Layla, your ideal wife, your perfect love. Practice saying it every moment of your life. Lady Zainab offered you to me. She is never wrong. You are the perfect man for me.”
“But you are not what I asked for,” Othman objected.
“What you asked for? Has it occurred to you that the Lady was answering my prayers, not yours? I did not ask for a husband. I prayed for a companion, a partner, someone to share my joy. I had given up my profession, and I was bored. I asked Lady Zainab to point out a friend who could make me laugh, who could tell me stories, who could take me on an adventure. And she appeared before me. ‘Listen to me, my daughter,’ she said. ‘You have served me well and brought me joy. I will reward you with your ideal husband. He is God’s servant, and was one long before his vows to me. He is a trickster and serves to bring a smile to His face. If your future husband can polish the dust off God’s heart, surely yours will glimmer for eternity.’”
“She said that?”
“And your mother approached me as the Lady ended her speech. You are the answer to my prayers. I do not know whether I am the answer to yours, but you had better believe that I am, for my prayers require that you love me and make me happy, and it shall be so.”
Othman’s smile appeared slowly, and then the frown returned.
“How can I face the morning with a clean sheet?” he asked.
She closed her cinnamon eyes and shook her head. “You are childish and have much to learn.” She took his left hand. She kissed it, drew her dagger, and held it before him. “They want to witness the blood of a virgin. We can give it to them.” He nodded, gave her permission. She made a shallow cut in his wrist. She kissed him. “Bleed for me, my husband.” She kissed him again. “I mark you as you have marked me.”

من رواية الحكواتي للكاتب الأمريكي اللبناني ربيع علم الدين…

“اظهريلي جمالك.” قال عثمان وهو راكع على ركبة واحدة. “خليني أشوفك يا حياتي.” رفعت ليلى طرحتها، وبكى عثمان من التأثر والفرح. “أنا لو ندرت حياتي كلها مش هاقضّي السيدة زينب شكر. مهما عملت مش هاقدر أعبر عن امتناني. انتي أحلى حاجة حصلت لي. انتي زينة وجودي اللي كان قبلك تعيس. ما أجملك.”

“وما أجمل كلامك يا زوجي. تعالى.”

شدته ناحيتها. فاجئته الشهوة في بوستها. بدأت تخلع عنه ملابسه واحتاس هو في عُقَد فستانها. نيّمته على السرير، حطّت راسه على المخدة، وفضلت تبوسه. حاول هو يعرّيها. “سيبلى نفسك خاالص.” همست له من فوق، وشوية ونزلت عليه. اختلطت صرخة متعته بدوشة المعازيم اللي لسه ماروّحوش. “انت زوجي.. لي وحدي.” لمست وقرصت أماكن من جسمه ما كانش داري أصلاً بوجودها. صرخته التالية اختلط فيها الألم مع المتعة.

زعق. “استنِّي.” وماسمعتهوش.

“لأ ..” وماسمعش نفسه.

“لكن.. انتي مش بكر.”

بانت عليها المفاجأة .”وهو أنا كنت ادعيت اني بكر.”

” لأ .. لأ .. بس ازاي؟ دي السيدة زينب اللي اختارتك لي.”

“وبعدين؟”

“والمؤمنين بس هم اللي بيصلوا عند الضريح.”

“ما تبقاش عبيط. أنا طول عمري باصلي عند الضريح. ده ماله ومال موضوع البكارة؟ وبعدين انت مش فاكرني؟”

رفعت كمها الشمال وأظهرت له الوصمة. “ده أنا كنت فاكرة انك عشان كده تجوزتني.”

“يانهار اسود. لأ .. أي نوع من اليمامات كنتي؟”

“اليمامات الفاتنات طبعاً.” قالت كأنه أهانها، “عندك شك؟”

“أنا كده حياتي انتهت. هاكون مهزأة كل رجالة مصر.”

“هتكون موضع حسد كل رجال مصر.”

“أنا كنت فاكرك بكر.”

“وأنا ما كنتش فاكراك.”

رجاها، “اوعي تقولي لحد.”

“أنت زوجي. عارك هو عاري، واللي يخصني يخصك. انت مش هتخونني، وأنا مش هاخونك. شرفك وشرفي واحد.”

غطّى عثمان عينيه. “أنا باتعاقب على كل الغلط اللي عملته في حياتي.”

“بتتعاقب؟” شهقت ليلى. “انت شايف ان جوازك مني عقاب؟ استمر على التفكير ده وانا هاوريك ايه هو العقاب. لو عمرك شكّيت في اني شريكة حياتك المثالية، لو الفكرة عدت بس في خيالك، أنا هاحوّل حياتك كابوس. هتلاقي نفسك في الدايرة السابعة من جهنم، متجوز عفريت جهنم شخصيا. بتتعاقب؟ ها! ده أنا ليلى. أنا امرأتك المثالية وحبك المكتمل. اتعوّد انك تقول ده في كل لحظة من حياتك.السيدة زينب بعتتك ليّ. والسيدة مابتغلطش. انت الراجل المثالي بالنسبة لي.”

“بس مش انتي اللي أنا طلبته!”

“اللي انت طلبته؟ وماخطرش في بالك ان السيدة استجابت لدعوتي أنا، مش لدعوتك انت؟ أنا ما دعتش تبعتلي زوج. طلبت منها صاحب.. شريك.. حد أقسم معاه فرحتي.. بعد مابطّلت شغل كنت حاسة بالزهق، فطلبت من السيدة زينب تبعتلي حد يخليني أضحك، يحكيلي حواديت، ياخدني في مغامرات. ظهرِت السيدة قدامي وقالتلي: اسمعي يا بنيّتي، انت أحسنتي خدمتي وجبتيلي الفرحة، وانا هاكافئك بالزوج المثالي. عبد من عباد الله وكان بيخدمه من قبل ما يعاهدني بزمان. هو كان نصّاب ومحتال ودوره رسم الابتسامة على وجهه تعالى. فإذا كان عريسك قدر ينفض الغبار عن قلبه الكريم، يبقى أكيد انتي قلبك هينوّر ليوم الدين.”

“هي قالت كده؟”

“آه. وأول مالسيدة خلصت كلامها لقيت والدتك جَيّالي. انت كنت إجابة دعوتي. ماعرفش لو أنا إجابة دعوتك، بس أحسن لك تصدق ده. ماهو عشان أنا دعوتي تكون اتحققت لازم انت كمان تكون بتحبني وعايز تسعدني. يبقى أكيد ده اللي هيكون.”

ابتدت ابتسامة عثمان بطيئة. بس رجع كشّر لما افتكر، “هاواجه الصباحية ازاي بملاية سرير نظيفة؟”

غمضت ليلى عينيها اللي بلون القرفة وهزت راسها. “انت شكلك عيّل ولسه قدامك كتير تتعلمه.” أخدت ايده الشمال في إيدها. باستها وسحبت خنجرها ومسكته قدامه. “هم عايزين دم بكر. هندّيهم اللي هم عايزينه.” أذن لها بهزة من راسه. قربت الخنجر من كفه وجرحته جرح سطحي. بوسة. “انزف عشاني يا روحي.” وكمان بوسة. “دلوقتي وصمتك على دراعي ووصمتي على كفك.”