Stephanie Faris

The Lullaby Dance

She’s beautiful you know, as she sings the lullaby. “Laa-ilah-ha-illa llah. Kalimat…” Even in the tattered granny-print caftan she wears for comfort, she’s beautiful. Her lusciously thick hair swings to the lullaby rhythm. Her long fingers, nails bitten to the quick, grip the cradle as she rocks it endlessly. Those eyes of hers pull at you, mesmerize you.

My Beauty had always lived in the shadows, fiercely protected by her grandparents and family. They lived in a mansion of a villa in the lusciously green, seaside suburb of Westbay; a beautiful man-made oasis that colorfully contrasted to the dry, shadowed-dunes of the desert, only an hour’s drive away. All well-connected families lived in Westbay. The high sturdy walls of her fenced-in villa formed the outer protection; each pillar as guarded and as silent as her family. The men of her family went to Mosque every Friday. They went together, they prayed together and they left together. Their greetings and wishes to us were as distant as they were. We should have been angry; instead we were intrigued by the mystery. We whispered the stories surreptitiously as we sat around our desert fire that flickered eerie shadows on our white tents. Shadows that moved in and out of the irritable camels restlessly tethered to the tent poles. Shadowed and secret looks; faces distorted as we leaned closer to the fire; faces unrecognisable and made grotesque as the fire’s shadows caressed our faces, mouths moved with spewed snippets of gossip …”she is an expert with the dagger”  …  “she likes to walk the gardens naked under the crescent moon” … “I hear she whips her maid”. Shadows and words floated away with the dying fire’s smoke. We men all talked in the shadows when we could without really knowing … just snippets we had heard from the women … intriguing.

My family lived opposite them. Our mansion was wide and open. Windows reflected the turquoise sea. Alien trees and plants recklessly grew to meet impulsive needs. It was a surprise to me to discover that our two families were related.

I was at home, sitting with the women as they gossiped about last night’s wedding. All the men had gone hunting. I am not a hunter. I pursued the mystery of beauty – art, music, literature, religion. No nation was safe from my curiosity; I was not safe from my father’s disgust. The women sat in the opulent, Persian-carpeted majelis; heavy gold drapes hid the sunlight, cloying incense burned as the mothers combed their daughters’ hair, and idly discussed the mysterious Noor. Bored woman, vicious in their envy of her mystery … their gossip as rhythmic and vigorous as the hair-brushing..  “What type of whore wears a dagger?” … “no shame, that red, low cut, high slit dress”  … “no jewelry to distract from the cleavage” … “The girl did not even cover up properly when the men came”. I left that cloying room as they chattered on about suitable marriage partners for me. It always happened after a wedding. I took no notice.

Yet I would have loved to have glimpsed this intrusive, mysterious Noor. I could just imagine how she had danced; a beautiful, mysterious, snake-like dance; rhythmic like the Egyptian cobra. I would have loved to know the secret surrounding her. How did her parents really die? Was there some truth to the rumours? I gazed out of my window, stared at her villa hoping the answers would somehow appear. It was my other pursuit in life – wondering about her … Is her hair soft? Did her breasts rise gently out of her low cut dress last night? Are her nails long and polished? Was her body soft and moisturized? My thoughts as usual overpowered me and took me to places no good Muslim man should enter.

And now I am married to her, my beautiful, cold wife Noor. No answers to the questions about her parents – it was part of the marriage contract. I could have said no, but her mystery was part of the rhythm of my life.

Her angry wind-breath rocks this cradle in time to the high-pitched singsong lullaby. It is uncomfortable being tied up in it, but Inshallah, it has always been a way of calming her. Too long tonight though, the rocking and the wind-song lullaby. Too long.

Hamdillah it has stopped.

I look down, there is blood seeping from my chest; no pain!  Why is the handle of her dagger coming out of me? I see her parents at the foot of the cradle. I move towards them as they beckon to me; wordlessly calling to me; I look for Noor. I am confused. I move about the room with her parents, but my bleeding, painless body is in the cradle … Why is Noor singing her lullaby as she ecstatically dances her snake–like dance around the cradle?

And now I know the truth about her dead parents.