Captain Kous- Kous Asks A Favor
Captain of the Golden Dawn gives a tip to the Mayor; he also wants the favor returned if he succeeds with the Grand Mufti.
It was the month of April.
When the Turkish fleet landed there was a great rejoicing among the Sleepy Heads who had never seen so many ships all together. The ships were moored in the open sea and the Turks came in so many boats to the Bay of Morphou. They awaited their grand mufti to make his entry.
The Sleepy Heads did not see Turks but as so many Santa Claus whom they had only heard of. If those Turks strutted and preened themselves, so much the better said they. They knew in that case their gifts would be handsome too. Being Sleepy Heads they were waiting to be surprised; and they wondered what kind of gifts would come their way. ’What did it matter? If only we got something free!’ Ask a Sleepy Head if Santa were rich he would say without batting his eyelid, “ Of course he is rich. If he is not, can he give gifts?” They were reasonable people.
From far and wide people came. The musicians brought their instruments to play loud. They played a cheerful melody and then another. The Sleepy Heads kept on playing their instruments while the crowd watched. They were all the time gawking at the great wealth and richness of their ships. Whereas they were dressed in coarse goatskins and wore clogs, the Turks were all dressed in muslin and calf leather. They were a sight to see. So many hours went by and still the Sleepy Heads kept playing. In the end captain of one of the ships motioned the mayor to come closer. He asked the mayor, “ Say fellow, are they musicians?” The mayor proudly answered “ Yes, they are. Every one of them!” He added, “ They belong to The Sleepy Heads’ Band.”
Captain Kous-Kous commanded the ship the ‘Golden Dawn’. He was a man of medium height and with pleasant features. He looked a little down in the mouth as if he was in pain. He wearily asked the mayor,“ What are they playing?” “ Deadbeat” replied the mayor with a flourish.
“ Yes, yes, if you say so” the Turkish captain said,“ but are they keeping time?” “ Sure. “ said the mayor airily. “ Watch how the second fiddle tries to catch up with the kettle drum? Normally the drummer wins hands down. Have no fear sire, the fiddler will get to finish it sooner or later.”
“I wanted to speak to the mayor. Where is your leader?” “ I am the mayor,” Calisthenics bowed politely. The captain introduced himself.” Captain Kous-Kous at your service. The grand mufti wants to have a word with you.” The Turk said.
The mayor of the Sleepy Heads followed him to the boat and there they went together friendly and chattering of this and that. If two total strangers on their first meeting could so freely talk and put each other at ease any talk of war must seem incredible. Is it not? Why would a nice captain like Kous-Kous want to slash a jolly mayor with his scimitar? Or mayor stick the Turk with a stiletto, which he carried only as a part of his Mayoral office? Had any one asked either of them each would have answered, ’No way!’
The captain let himself easily into the ship and helped the mayor to come in. Before the mayor was let into the suite where the grand mufti sat the captain said to him in a whisper, “ Do not ever look at the turban of his Lordship”. The mayor looked at him somewhat confused.
“Why then is he wearing one?”
“I don’t know,” the Turk replied, “But I have seen many who have come to grief on account of his turban.”
“Is it OK if I laugh to his jokes?” asked the mayor and the sea captain stopped in his stride, “laugh! Never!”
The Turk explained the prince had never laughed and death was to anyone who displeased him. He added, ”If he smiles you have nothing to fear. If he frowns of course it would not be the end. But if he is angry, brother I shall not be there to help you!” The captain seemed nervous as they approached the Hall, which led to the suite of the grand mufti.
Prince Al-Wa’sik was a prince by birth. The mere mention of his father would have made many breathless. His father was none other than Suleiman the magnificent and the present sultan had entrusted the entire operation to his half brother. Selim ‘the Sot’ knew the prince, truly enlightened and pious that he was, did not covet his throne. Still, he had in a matter of precaution given him charge over state affairs, which kept him away from the power center. Thus throughout the year he was fighting wars overseas or negotiating with powerful rulers for the weal of the empire. He had acquired sensitivity from his mother an Arabian princess who safely kept herself out of harms way while the sultana held sway. She had pulled her strings from long distance to preserve him as he rose steadily in his career. He rose in time to be recognized by his sire, who elevated him to the powerful rank of grand mufti. After the death of his father he had kept rising without attracting the envy of the powerful. He was given charge of the Operation Stymie. The captain who briefed the mayor as to the many qualities of prince cautioned him, ” Under pain of death do not make any comment about the shape of his head. Death is for any one who displeases him. Understand?” “What makes his head special?”The captain said,”His head is OK. But his turban. Ooh!” Without stopping in his stride he continued,”Don’t ever stare at the turban of his Lordship.You know what is an onion like. And I have seen many. But you take a look at his turban; what does it bring to your mind, but an oversized onion?”The mayor was impressed. “Oh, brother how terrible! A word like ‘onionhead’ can cost your life, He is all too powerful.”
The mayor nodded. “ Is there something which will please the grand mufti?” He asked feeling a little afraid. “ Oh yes,” said the captain with a knowing smile. “ Tulips are his passion. A mere word will make him break out in goose pimples.” The mayor rubbed his hands as if he knew he could get away. “ My neck is in no danger of being broken.” The mayor said with obvious relief. “ I know of a thing of two about tulips. I am a tulip fancier myself.” The captain felt somewhat relieved, “A tulip fancier ah! What do you know of tulips?”
“ You have lips. So have I. We have two lips” said Calisthenics grandly. “ That will do.” Kouskous for the first time smiled, “ I am impressed. “ Do you grow tulips around these parts?”
“O Brother, Don’t you have eyes?,” the mayor asked, “Look at my lips. How well they fit. Can you imagine me without two lips. They grow well here.”
Before this information could sink in Calisthenics added, “We wet it with our wines and wipe it clean with bread.”
The captain sniffed and said, “ I guess you are right. But I thought tulips were something of a horticultural talking point?” “A point well taken!” the mayor said with a bow. Kous-Kous said, “Fancy meeting a tulip grower here. You have to make an impression on the grand mufti. That is what counts.”
“ Not my two lips?” The mayor played it up.
Captain Kous-Kous suddenly became nervous and he said, “ He in there,’ pointing to the Hall,’ is very dangerous. His name means Terrible Eyes. There is death in them eyes.” The captain stopped short and turned to the mayor, “Let us be positive. If he is happy with you, Ah, then your fortune is made.” The captain whispered, “ If every thing goes well you can do me a favor.”
“Come, ask me?” Calisthenics asked. “Do not forget to say something good about me during the interview. I am waiting for a promotion which is long over due.” He added,“ I Captain Kous- Kous believes in returning the favor. Scratch me I shall scratch your back.”
“Oh sure!” The mayor said, ” Consider it as done.”
Captain Kous- Kous was a sea captain and not one blessed with a bright mind. Just the same he had a mind always to help those who needed help. Kous- Kous walked over to the guards who stood before the anteroom. “ The mayor is here.” One of the guards went inside and after a while returned. The captain before he took leave said,” Put in a word for me. Captain Kous- Kous is the name. Remember, on pain of death no mention of the word, Onion Head. That is one word, which makes him mad. Understand?”
At his point the gong struck. Hearing the sudden sound the captain almost panicked. He just made off. The guard motioned the mayor to enter. Before he could recover from his daze he was in. He reeled to step on rich Persian carpets and the sight of the grand mufti made it still worse. He did not for a moment or two know whether he was going or coming. So confused he was. The figure who sat on the carpet at the far end of the suite, with his elbow leaning on a large cushion was fierce and he said, “Enter!” His heart sank a little to realize that he had forgotten that word which he was not supposed to say. It was a long walk and he was careful not to stumble. At every step he was searching his memory for that one word. “Bulkhead? Minion? Or is it Dome? He rattled many words and discarded them all. “Oh no. it may never come back. I lost it.” The grand mufti was fair of form except for his turban, which was unusually large. Quickly he noted that his turban gave his head the shape of an onion head. “ Ah I got it!” Calisthenics exclaimed, “ Onionhead ! That was the word I should not speak on pain of death. The captain said so.” All the way to the platform where the grand mufti sat he kept reminding himself, “I must not say Onionhead whatever happens. Onionhead is the word.”
The prince beckoned him to approach still closer. The mayor did. He bowed politely. The Turk asked him to sit. He introduced himself. “Who are you?” Mayor Onionhead, sire!” The hapless mayor realized his mistake only after the words flew out of his mouth. It was out. ‘Nothing can get it back. Awful.’ The mayor blanched. He dared not look at the eyes of his host. ‘They must be like daggers now!’ Calisthenics shuddered,“ But I am a tulip fancier.” He bellowed with all his might. He thought that by shouting the word ‘tulip’ he might drown the words he had mistakenly said. There fell a dead silence. Then the grand mufti laughed. He laughed so hard that the wooden beams of the hall echoed it. The guards peeped. So did the executioner who had a large broad sword. He was laughing which burst out all at once. A full blown laughter and it shook his lithe muscular princely frame. “ This is a scream,” The Turk said, “ You made me laugh for the first time!”
“ So this is what it is to laugh?” The Turk asked loud. Being unused to laughter he tried a few more times.” No it does not sound good.” Of course the prince felt laughing but laughing for nothing was not good. ‘Laughter and jokes go together; like horse and carriage!’ the grand mufti mused.
“ Go on tell me another and make me laugh!” the Turk urged the mayor. “What can an Onionhead do that a coat of paint cannot do? The mayor began.
” You tell me, make me laugh, Go on.” The Turk interrupted waving his hand as if he could not wait. The mayor said,” A coat of paint you can peel but you try peeling an Onionhead,” Calisthenics took time out and added the punch line,” you are sure to lose your head.” Did that make the Turk laugh? Of course he laughed harder and he almost doubled with it till he thought his stomach would burst. He thought laughter was all the time hiding within. He thought it was not his fault he never could laugh. ‘Only if I had heard something funny before’. He was in a wonder.
The mayor was sure enjoying himself. “What is the difference between my bald spot and my arm?”
“You tell me,” the prince said straightening up.
The mayor could see the prince was in a good mood looking forward to let himself go. Showing his crown Calisthenics said,” On my head there are no split ends but,” shaking his hand loosely he continued,” my arm has a split end!” he said. “Ho Ho your fingers!” The Turk got the joke. The mayor stopped. He thought too many jokes in one go were as a no go. So he waited now for the Turk to say something.
The grand mufti asked finally, ” Do you sleep with all these jokes?” “Who wants to go to bed with a bagful of jokes?” Calisthenics asked, “ Give me a good night’s sleep and it is in the bag!,” He said snapping his fingers “just like that!” The mayor thought it all a dream. He pinched himself to make sure. It was real. He made the grand mufti laugh for the first time. He could not believe it. “Onion head, uh,uh” The Turk rolled again in mirth. He said,” My physicians said it was impossible”. He excused himself to inform his wives who were in another part of the ship.
When the Turk had gone a fellow in dirty clothes and with a clean-shaven head adorned only by a felt cap peeped in. Looking around to see that the grand mufti was out he entered boldly and said, “Who are you?” “Mayor Calisthenics. And who are you?”
“Mullah Murad Mahoud, “ said the stranger,” I wasn’t expecting interruption.”
“That makes two of us.”
“You know who I am?” he glared.” I can smell your presence.“ the mayor said under his breath. The newcomer asked,“ Where Grand Mufti Al- Wa’sik has gone to?” “I have no idea. He did not tell me.” Mayor Calisthenics replied.
“Did he go in long strides or with short steps?”
“With a laugh he went.” Calisthenics replied.
“Laugh? Impossible!” Mullah Murad was sure, “ He has no use for laughter. He is a Turk!” The mullah was angry. “Laugh once, Allah hears you O stranger, But laugh twice, you are committing blasphemy. So watch out!” Hearing footsteps he hurriedly disappeared.
The fellow came second time leading a black bear and the mayor was taken aback at its size. “ The bear is under my care. I can make him do what I will!” He had never seen such a beast. “ Can you make the beast laugh, O mullah?” “ What for?” “So I may grin and bear it. Laughing is forbidden, no?”
At that point a rat gallivanted across the carpeted hall and the mayor thought it had no sense of respect; Mahoud saw him too and he said, ”Kill him!” The next moment the bear just reached out its muscular and hairy paw to dispatch the unfortunate rat to the next world. The mayor shuddered to confront the evil glint in the eye of the mullah. He said, ”All I need to give him a command and it is done!” The mayor knew it was a veiled threat. From that point Calisthenics ignored him.
To his relief the grand mufti came in and it surprised the guest to see the way the mullah changed over. The prince told him something and hastily he left the hall with the lumbering giant. Conversationally Al-Wa’sik said the bear was his pet. “I call him No Malice. You don’t care for pets?” “Of course I do.” Said the mayor with a serious face,” Except when I am in a pet.” His host laughed politely. The mayor did not mention about the little drama the animal played in his absence.
Quickly the two got to converse. The prince spoke about his tulips and the mayor was passionate about trekking. Calisthenics realized the prince was hard pressed for time. He was called up again by a guard, who came in and whispered something into his ears. The prince first frowned and smiled weakly to say,” This is a matter of compassion. Allah requite me kindly for this.” He got up and left.
After half an hour he came back. He had the look of a man who had earned his place among mankind by such deeds as worthy of a human being. He said,” Two young boys were almost at the point of drowning. One of my men saved them; and they are even now being attended to. By my personal physician.”
Calisthenics asked if they could speak. “At least their names?” The grand mufti replied,” I will lead you to them and you can satisfy yourself and may be your presence would be of comfort.” The mayor straightaway followed his host into the private chambers of the prince.