Edition 2: The Narrow Gate by Daniel Pearlman
Abu Melek enjoys all the priviledges of being a merchant of the Middle East, and why should he not? But he should beware his indolent attitudes, because the desert is all about survival of the fittest and compromising the caravan is not an option. SY
Abu Melek had much desert still to cross before reaching Baghdad with his caravan-load of silks, spices, gems and women from the East. Was there anything better than the life of a merchant? Every night he took pleasure in his goods—occasionally damaging a roll of silk or breaking an excessively delicate spine in his ardor (affordable losses all). He could eat his kaleb halwa and have it too!
Abu traveled longer in the heat of day than custom prescribed. Time being money, the days thus gained more than offset the losses incurred: inferior camels and women of weak constitution, tidbits tossed to the ever-present jackals. Pushing his troupe to the limits raised not a hackle among his sword-wielding guards, for they too had their nightly pick of the seventy black-haired beauties that had lasted thus far.
Zafraan, Abu’s favorite mount, stood out in girth from all the other camels, matching his rider in this regard, for Abu did not stint, during long desert journeys, on yogurt, dates, and exotic eastern sweets. Zafraan suddenly raised his head as shouts of jubilation raced through the caravan. Mahmoud, Abu’s personal guard, galloped up beside him, pointing. Far ahead, Abu saw a minaret. This was no mirage.
“We are approaching the Needle’s Eye Oasis,” said Mahmoud. “We have never stopped here before.”
“And we would not if we hadn’t bypassed two others,” said Abu Melek.
“It comes just in time. Many of the camels are on their last legs,” said Mahmoud, his scimitar glinting.
The oasis, aptly named, could be entered through a single gate only, and an extraordinarily narrow one at that. Abu Melek waited as a dozen camels, their panniers removed, passed through before him. Finally, when he himself advanced, Zafraan shied and squealed. His gut was stuck in the passage.
“Onward, you weakling!” shouted Abu, whipping his mount repeatedly. Neither the beating, nor the slaps and cries of guards and camel-drivers, did any good. Abu, finally, dismounting with difficulty from the rear, got down between Zafraan’s trembling back legs and pushed and pushed at his stomach. Cursing and pushing, he shivered suddenly as a stream of urine anointed his head, then proceeded to soak him completely.
“Drag this dog away!” Abu commanded.
This his men managed to accomplish, but only after considerable struggle. Abu Melek then sized up the gate, but even as he rushed it, it seemed to be shrinking. “Push me through, you idiots!” he cried. They pushed, they even smeared the bricks with ghee, but the merchant could not slip through. Exhausted, they dragged him out and placed him on a stool, where he watched his entire caravan pass in silence through the gate.
“All right, Mahmoud. Do something! I don’t find this amusing.”
Backing slowly away through the gate, Mahmoud bowed and beckoned Abu to follow.
“Damn your dead ancestors!” screamed Abu as the heavy gate shut behind Mahmoud. In answer to the merchant’s cry came the yapping, whining barks of a pack of jackals.
Dan Pearlman got his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at Columbia University and went on to become an Ezra Pound specialist, publishing The Barb of Time: On The Unity of Ezra Pound’s Cantos with Oxford University Press. He soon moved to Spain, where he wrote a couple of novels (1971-74). Afterwards he returned to academic life. Since 1980, Pearlman has been a professor of English at the University of Rhode Island with teaching specialties in creative writing and modern American poetry.
Pearlman has published over fifty stories and novellas in magazines such as The Florida Review, Spectrum,New England Review, Quarterly West, The MacGuffin, and anthologies such as Semiotext(e), Synergy, Simulations, The Year’s Best Fantastic Fiction (1996), Going Postal, and Imaginings (Pocket Books).
His principal books of fiction to date are THE FINAL DREAM & OTHER FICTIONS (Permeable Press, 1995); a novel, BLACK FLAMES (White Pine Press, 1997); a second collection, THE BEST-KNOWN MAN IN THE WORLD & OTHER MISFITS (Aardwolf Press, 2001); a second novel, MEMINI ([Prime]/Wildside, 2003); and a third collection, A GIANT IN THE HOUSE & OTHER EXCESSES (Merry Blacksmith, October 2011).