Norman Allan
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Art and Fiction

 
Chapter Twenty Three:


The gypsies decamped the next morning for Jujuka. As Yusuf's farm was along that road I took the opportunity of travelling with them and got to ride in the lead wagon with Ishtar and Kali. Soon after we set out the mermaid asked me pointedly why Iíd come to Barbary. I explained that I believed that I had brought the butterflies to Morocco from Roaratuni.

"Youíve been to Roaratuni!" said Kali with surprise and perhaps even a little awe. "Then you know Wheritzat."

"No. I didnít meet anyone while I was there. Just the butterflies."

"So Deofilus is from Roaratuni. Does the Berber know of this?"

"I donít think I told him, but I don't know. Have you been to Roaratuni?"

"No," said Kali. "No one knows anything about Roaratuni. Not even the Lodge."


We wound through the bleak and grassless Rif lands, wound on till evening and till the final hill. Kali reined up. We looked down on the valley where Yusuf's farm nestled. Where the breeze had whispered through the swaying grass now there was desolation. The bare view sent a shiver through me. I pulled the gypsy's coloured patchwork cloak tight about me.

We descended to the farm where Yusuf waited to greet us. I had been uncertain how he would receive me, for I had carried calamity with me, left it with them on my last visit. Also, I was arriving now uninvited with a large party. My uncertainty was assuaged by the warmth of his greeting, but the questioning and hope I read in his eye were troubling. I broke the silence with a lame "I came as soon as I could. I only heard of your troubles last week."

"It is good, Allah be praised, it is good that you are here. Perhaps there is still time, inchallah. There have been signs and portends of your coming. Strange things have led us, Chris Pasha, to look to your return. But you and your friends must be hot and tired, and hungry," he continued. "We will talk later. I am forgetting my manners. Allah! Come inside."


The fatted calf was served. During dinner Yusuf spoke of what had happened since my last visit. The butterflies, Isador and Elenor, had not left the district when my tape-recorder had effed-up. During the months that had followed, wherever and whenever anyone in the valley had made music the butterflies had come and danced and blissed them with their catalytic mind dust.

It was not long after this that the giíme grubs had appeared. At first the childlike caterpillars had amused the Riff Berbers. Why not? They were in those early days in no way a pest: there was kif enough for all. When Yusuf spoke of the Deofilus chrysalis his eyes began to glow. "The chrysali are like jewels, exquisitely patterned like a Goulimine bead, intricate beyond human design."

"In the second year," Yusuf recounted, "the butterflies were abundant. Here, and in the nearby villages, we became familiar with the strange intoxication C.M.D. bestows for if you but hummed a tune softly to yourself a butterfly would likely flutterby and blow you out. Oh, there were those who could not handle it. Some moved out down to Tangiers. Some cleared off to Frankfurt; but those of us who stayed grew more and more in tune with everything."

"But then one morning," Yusuf continued, "perhaps a week before the harvest, I rose early to cast a paternal eye over the North Field's growth. A beautiful morning with languid mists sifting through the valley, rolling slowly on the hillsides, the sun not yet. I reached the brow of the hill and gazed down on the North Field just as the sun broke into the day, but as the daylight slid down into the North Field banishing the shadows to the valley floor, I began to perceive the growing signs that something was ghastly wrong. As the sun rose, so there rose with it the strangest noise, at first imperceptible, but soon like an issue from the very ocean's mouth, a roar, a zizzing, like nothing I have heard before. And looking over to my precious North Field, illumined now in the sun, I saw, or thought I saw, a constant motion, as with the sea. Nothing was still. The whole hillside was alive, washed in a shivering tide."

"I ran down to the valley and splashed across the stream, up the bank and into the North Field. A billion zillion Djni-bugs were grubbing up their fill. Half the leaf was gone: the rest would follow soon. Tears sprang to my eyes to see that priceless crop, the treat of kings, gone all in a day."

"What to do? No one knew, nor know we more today. By harvest time, barely a week later, all our fields had been stripped. We saved only the barest handful by working day and night, and a bumper olive crop was little consolation."


Every year after the crop is gathered all the grass farmers of the Rif journey in pilgrimage to the citadel of El Stone high in the Atlas mountains there to blow thanks to Allah at the harvest festival of Hashishmas.

El Stone is situated deep in the Atlas mountains. The only access a narrow defile winding tortuously ten miles into the heart of the mountains. El Stone itself is a widening of this chasm, a gorge a mile long and a quarter of a mile across, a pit in the mountains hemmed in by sheer-sided three thousand foot high cliff-walls. The cliff-sides have been tunnelled out into a warren of passages and apartments, carved out as the citadel and hide-out of a long line of Berber kings.

It was Hashishmas day when Yusuf reached El Stone. Not all the Rif had been disseminated by the giíme grubs that year so there was smoke enough to stoke the great El Stone water pipe. The El Stone pipe rises over a hundred meters into the air. Its house-sized basin gives issue to a network of tubes that can fill ten thousand lungs in one blast.

Tradition has it that the El Stone pipe was built by the Wandering Jew who wandered into El Stone and was seized by the bandit king, Hassan the thirteenth, the fat and terrible. This latter day Pharaoh set the Jew to work on the monumental pipe single handed. It was decades in construction.


Dinner being finished, Yusuf interrupted his story to express his shame that he had no kif to offer his guests. With this Carlo placed several grams of the Syhed Hadji Berber's Turkish hashish on the table - and Yusuf brought over the household hookah.

Whilst Yusuf prepared the pipe, Kali informed Chris that the Berber, Sa.id, was Wandering Jew's son. After he finished the pipe the Wanderer had slipped off into the desert, but he left behind more than the pipe. He left behind a little Hassan whom he had secretly sired by the wife of the King Hassan.

"And he, Syed Berber; heís the next and the last king of El Stone?" Chris asked.

"Yes," said Kali. "This last Hassan, our friend Sy.id ruled as the Old Man of the Mountain for forty years before he left for Europe and America to found the Company. He left El Stone in the hands of the Caliphs who maintain it on his behalf and on behalf of the Rif Berbers who celebrate Hashishmas there." Which brought us back to Yusuf's story."


It was Hashishmas day when Yusuf reached El Stone. The great pipe was already alight. Several thousand celebrants sat round the pipe in row upon row of concentric rings partoking. To work the pipe at all, everyone must toke together. The pipe sets up a rhythm. Exhaling the festivants contract, bending forward. Inhaling they straighten. When the festivants cease to toke, a fragrant white cloud of smoke puffs from the vast bowl high in the air as if squeezed forth by the festivants in their forward contraction. The cloud puffs rhythmically skywards and rises to Allah. The pipe and those plugged in function as one vast organism: a pulsing, smoke emitting, flower. As the company of smokers exhales, so the fire driven draught blows through the pipe's vents whispering the song of gentle breezes: "shshsh". As the celebrants toke in, first one hears the hiss of the fire itself: "zzz"; but soon this is lost, for as the wind swells within the stem the whole pipe begins to reverberate, to resonate, booming out a mighty "OM", while in the background the basin bubbles a random tune. This then is the thunderous music of El Stone: "sh.az.AUM..."


"It must have been the music of the pipe which called them," Yusuf continued. "Millions of butterflies called in an instant from every corner of the Rif by the thunderous voice of the pipe. Suddenly the air was dense with the subtle light of the luminous dust and the butterflies, themselves lucent, weaving patterns in rainbow hues. The whole pulsed full with meaning. The celebrants were sent to new realms, ensnared and entranced. Some later remembered seeing faces. Some remembered smelling flowers. Some remembered hearing voices. All remembered sensing music, a music none could fathom.

"I brought back a small remembrance of a voice," said Yusuf. "A phrase, or couplet. "Chris Pasha will return with his name half changed and set the balance right again." So tell me, Pasha," Yusuf asked hopefully, "have you changed your name?"

I shook my head and we all sat despondent. Silence palled over us.

"I have a thought," piped Carlo after some while. "It's not a very good one."

"Enter," said Kali.

"Well, it's this: if Deofilus courts to music, maybe if you stopped making music, just for a while, maybe they'd stop reproducing."

"Yes," said Yusuf sadly. "We tried this, but to no avail. The God's wings find music everywhere; in the chirping of the birds and of the mountain streams, in the lowing of cattle, or the bleating of sheep, or even in the tramping of their feet."

"You must not despair," counselled the mermaid. "There is an answer."

"What?" asked several.

"Ah. You must find it."

"There must be an answer," I echoed, "after all, there's no problem in Roaratuni..." I dropped my hands into his lap, smack. "Thereís no problem in Roaratuni!" I said excitedly. "Nirvana grows everywhere. That's it!".

"What's what," asked Kali. "Explain yourself, honey."

I tried to marshal my thoughts. "It's like the spiny prickly pear. Have you ever heard of there? Itís some cactus that someone took to Australia, for decoration I guess, and it ran amok threatening to turn Australia into a big pin cushion. So they went and checked out the homeland of the cactus, wherever that is, and they found this moth, Cactoblastus, that ate the pear. Well, its grub did. So they took some out to Australia and nowadays there are only a few of each. They're in balance, ecologically. Obviously we've got the same sort of thing going here. What we need is to find the natural "biological control" of the Deofilus caterpillars. There must be one, or several predators, in Roaratuni. Why, I bet the boomfowl just gobbles them up."

I leaped to my feet to proclaim my intention of starting out for Roaratuni in the morning.

Yusuf, smiling, placed a restraining hand on my shoulder. "There are preparations to be made."

It was decided to set the following day aside to provision the expedition, and the day after to relax and have fun, and to set off on the third morning. Carlo, the robot, offered to accompany me across the desert Chris. Ishtar said she'd come too, but not across the desert. She'd swim round the coast with the fin and meet us on some river bank. I worried we might miss her. "I'll miss you too," she said.



please submit illustrations to normanallandr@yahoo.ca

Chapter Twenty Four