When the first shadows of the evening caught up with him, Khursheed was sprawled on the floor of his mud-and-stone hut trying to write a love poem.
Getting one’s hands on ink and paper in 10th century Persia was no easy task but, being a saqi, Khursheed made sure to offer the first morning's helpings of fresh water from the large clay pot he hauled daily on his back to the imam of the neighborhood mosque. That helped.
It did not hurt his pockets either to chase men on their way home after a night at the pub. Shiraz was known for its good, strong wines and a sip of cool, fresh water after a night of drinking was handsomely rewarded. But for this, he had to hurry to the spring he frequented to fill his zeer before it got dark.
Early on, when Khursheed took over the trade from his father, he chose the furthest watering hole from their village to service his clients from. His father berated him saying that by the time Khursheed got around to bringing his haul into town, all the other saqis would have sold their water and no one would be thirsty anymore.
But Khursheed knew better. He had discovered that water spring many years ago while still a young boy. He was at that age when young boys long to discover the world and throw down markers for future reference. And that discovery served him well.
It was a summer day and he had strayed away from his friends, walking aimlessly. Khursheed was getting tired and looked around for a place to rest when he noticed a deer treading carefully towards a clearing between mounds of sand and stone.
He followed it, quietly, and saw the watering hole. Khursheed waited until the animal had its fill and then approached, shooing it away. It was hot and he was thirsty but that water tasted like no other. Khursheed was not smart but he knew people would pay money to drink it. And he became the town’s best saqi.
But now it was beginning to get dark and he had to hurry. He did not want a repeat incident with Ghafla. The ghoulah typically frequented the spring after sunset to have her last drink before going to sleep till dawn.
Once, Khursheed was late and she caught him filling his zeer. She lurched at him and with one swoop he was in her mouth struggling to free himself from between her massive teeth. After what seemed to Khursheed like an eternity, she spat him out and he flew for two and a half hours before he fell into a green lush.
Khursheed thought that the ghoulah must have felt sorry for him and did not eat him, what with his bad leg and one good eye. He knew that monsters have a certain empathy for human frailty; after all, they were not always monsters. But still, better not test his luck twice with Ghaflah.
Khursheed’s hand began to tremble as he started writing his poem to Najla, his beloved:
Gentle breath of dawn, smiling eye of sunrise, whose heart will it be today when a whiff of your jasmine hair dances along your footsteps in our narrow streets?
How many stars follow you home every night and how many moons beg your pardon every time their light touches your cheek?
Khursheed folded the paper carefully and shoved it in his sharwal. He will show it to the imam first thing in the morning when he hands him his cup of fresh water and solicit his input and advice on future action with Najla. Hopefully, it will not earn him a smack on the head like last time.
Saqi -an Arabic word denoting the old profession of someone who hauls water on his back in a large clay pot and sells it to passersby by the cupful.
Zeer -an Arabic word describing a large clay pot used to store and cool water.
Ghaflah -an Arabic word for negligence and heedlessness, also means short nap, used here as a name for a female ghoul.
Ghoul -a mythological monster or demon that dwells in burial grounds and other uninhabited places (ghoulah is the female noun).
Najla -an old Arabic name for a female with wide, beautiful eyes.
Sharwal -loose fitting and baggy cloth trousers.