The waters are crystal clear. Everything is covered by reeds and seagrass, and water lilies float on the surface. Here, in the south of Iraq, more specifically, in the Hawizeh Marshes, marine vegetation spreads all over a vast territory. It builds the golden houses where the descendants of the Sumerians live, those folks who are said to have crossed the magic emerald doors through which the uproar and babel of the world flees to join a distant past. Twenty square kilometers of permanently submerged ground and over 11,500 kilometers of land lying under water every now and then form the whole extension of this Garden of Eden, which is more commonly referred to as the Water Cities.
It is here in the Water Cities that our hero lives. She belongs to the conservative al-Sawaed tribe and is called the Bedouin because of her contoured eyes and henna-dyed hair, which she always styles into a beautifully shaped bun. She wears the bright colors of the marshland people, which provide her the sophisticated look of historical figures. She works every day from dawn to dusk rowing on the gondola to where the waters run deepest in order to uproot all types of reeds.
And in this magical and legendary realm the Bedouin and Qasem, a boy from the remote southern marshlands with distinct Sumerian features and the tanned skin of the Bedouin people, fell in love, a courtly love, that is. His heart made him rove around in a world rotating on the faint possibility of stealing a glance at her. Qasem spent his days sailing across the marshlands, towing his love-tormented spirit along. His efforts to quench his thirst were to no avail despite all the water he had in the marshes at his disposal. He amused himself by singing ballads and reciting maudlin poems that he stuffed with her name and spewed all over the marshlands. Even the honking goose and the cawing raven seemed able to patch up their differences long enough to agree on the sappiness of it all.
Meanwhile, a silent infatuation took over the Bedouin’s heart. It was an undefiled coy love, which grew stronger with every sigh her beloved placed on his scale pan. Qasem soon started to suffer the consequences of his obsession. Its symptomatic manifestations alternated between a quivering heart and a twitching eye. Furthermore, his besotted soul imprisoned him in an absent mind.
One day, however, a sliver of the arcane world we humans are not allowed to see leaked into the emerald realm, muddying its waters. The lover suddenly vanished into thin air, leaving nothing behind but a blank space to fill up with an active imagination. It was a departure without farewells, the abortion of a barely sketched out promise, a dry wound caused by a knifeless stab. The Bedouin was hence left to endure the pain and sorrow that gained control over her. The mud soon started to grow thicker and the conflict between the Bedouin’s tribe and the tribe of the Lion, which had been kept dormant over generations, flared up and led to a bloodbath.
Finally, the elders intervened, and in order to settle the dispute, they laid down the diyya that had to be paid to the injured party. As a result, the Bedouin was given in marriage to a man belonging to the Lion tribe. Up for choking on her heart, our Bedouin girl had no choice but to assume her fate, meek and compliant. She, therefore, devoted herself to chewing on her misery and licking her wounds.
Time flew mercilessly by until the day arrived when she was to marry a total stranger, to head for the altar and walk straight into a worthless life. She asked herself about the nature of the crime that is ascribed to those hearts yearning to find love. Apparently, it is a crime requiring the punishment of death before any sort of desire can have the chance to sprout and that, surprisingly, drinks directly from the waters of the marshlands. The distressed brides marched, dragging their feet, along with a larger group of women. They feared the barren and desolate future they were bound for, the fate that was awaiting each bride right across the threshold leading to the bedchamber of the perfect stranger of a husband she was being tossed to.
The Bedouin’s heart pounded so fast that it almost jumped out of her chest and into the abyss. It wouldn’t have made a difference anyway; her illusions had been shattered. She commended herself to God and sold him her soul. After all, she had intended to yield only a soul-deprived body to her captor. However, her husband himself seemed quite reluctant to perform by penetrating the wife he had just earned. Ultimately, he entered her, unwrapping the anonymous wife. He didn’t notice that underneath him a suffering heart and a hurting soul keeled over. Meanwhile, she kept battling against the virulent poison in her stomach. But when the veil was lifted, the two souls came together again: Qasem’s and the Bedouin’s.
Written by Amal Al-Ali.