“Jamil, get out of your bed, don’t be so lazy. Milk the goat, collect the eggs, clean the yard. Make yourself useful…” Jamil lived alone with his mother, in a humble house on the poor side of the city, close to the river on the edge of the desert. Jamil was 16 years old. He was a sensitive youth, with curly hair and eyes that shone with an inner fire. “And when you’ve done that, fetch water from the well. And don’t dawdle. Life is not for being idle. There is work to do.”
Every morning Jamil’s mother chided him with these same words, but he didn’t mind. He loved his mother, and he loved his city. But inside him was a burning desire, that even he could not understand. It was a desire for something he didn’t yet know; something wild and magical. He often dreamed of travelling, of seeing the ocean, the mountains, the world beyond the city walls. But the desert was hot and unforgiving, and he had never ventured far beyond his beloved city.
Jamil liked going to the well. There the women often gathered to talk, and laugh and sing as they filled their water bottles and jugs. Sometimes he pulled his flute from his shirt pocket, and played a song. Everyone stopped talking when he played. It was as if the wind even stopped to listen. He played the melodies of the day, of the night, of the soaring eagles, of the sun, the moon, the stars, and of the city; with its rhythms, its bustle, its sorrows and its joys.
After the chores were done, Jamil often walked around the market, full of spices and cloth from far-away places, and copper, iron, silver and gold. He loved the smells, the feel, but most of all, he loved the sounds: the copper beaters, the haggling and the laughter.
Once his head was full of the sounds of the day, he liked to go somewhere quiet, often close to the great river that ran through the city, and he would sit on the bank and play his flute. Sometimes he would still be there until after dark. He would play the boats that came and went – canoes, fishing boats, and large vessels from the sultan’s fleet, with fine white sails. He would play the sunset, play the growing dusk, and then play the stars, as they came out, one by one. On occasion, his mother would find him there late into the night, and she would say: “One day you will fall asleep on that bank, and tumble into the river and drown. Come home with me now. It is late.”
One very hot afternoon there was a clear blue sky with a light breeze, and Jamil wandered along the river bank, seeking some shade by the palace garden wall. The Sultan’s palace was extravagant beyond compare, with towers, corridors, staircases and courtyards, and everywhere within the palace grounds, there was the sound of running water.
A great tamarisk tree was growing against the east wall, and he climbed up into its high branches, from where he could see the gardens of the sultans palace. He saw terraces full of every kind of fruit tree, springs and waterfalls gurgling and tumbling, ponds and lakes full of ducks and swans, plovers and lapwings soaring in to feed and rest at the waters edge. And in the distance, the Sultan’s palace.
Jamil studied the scene with wonder, and then he took out his flute. And he played. He played the grasses, the flowers, the fruits on the trees. He played the fish in the lake. He played the birds.
Princess Halima – the Sultans daughter – loved to walk in the garden. As she strolled around the lake, with her entourage of women companions, there was always the sound of laughter. When Jamil heard Halimas laughter, he thought he had never heard anything so beautiful.
The following day, he returned to his Tamarisk tree. This time, when Princess Halima walked in the garden, she stopped by the lake for a moment to listen to the sound of the flute, and she glanced up in the direction of his perch.
And so it was that Jamil returned every afternoon, and for more than one year, his soulful music could be heard within the gardens of the Sultan’s palace. And each day, the princess strolled around the lake, and every day, she would stop to listen.
When Princess Halima arrived in the garden, Jamil played the way she walked, and as she walked and talked with her companions, he played her smile, her eyes, her hair, her gestures, and he played her laughter.
Then one late afternoon, at the full moon, Jamil was sitting in the branches of the tamarisk tree, and playing his flute. The rising moon was a giant golden apple, over the desert to the east, and he was playing the moonrise. But a strange sensation made him stop his song and turn back towards the garden. The princess was walking directly towards him. She was alone. Finally she stood below the tree and looked up into its high branches.
Jamil greeted her with his music. He played the soft gentleness of her skin, her mysteriousness, her playfulness, and as he played, his soul reached out from deep within him, and her soul arose to meet his, and then their two souls touched….
That night, Jamil was in a fever. His life could never be the same again. He was in love with a princess. But he was the poor son of a widow, with no chance of ever really knowing her. What was he to do?
He wandered around the market. The traders were sitting by their small fires, drinking glasses of thick mint tea, and talking about the day. Jamil found it comforting to listen to the bubble of conversation from these men of the desert. Under the bright moonlight, they cast shadows against the tent walls where they slept.
“Have you ever seen The Magician’s black tent?” One of the men asked. There was an excitement of emotion from the others. Some said they didn’t believe the stories, but one old man said he had seen it, and he had even spoken to the magician. “You will only meet him if you are destined to it. And you will never know where to find him. But the stories say that he will appear in the north at the dark of the moon.”
“Well I hope I never meet him” said another. “They say he is a black magician. And that he can change your soul.” These words resounded in Jamil’s thoughts. He replayed them over and over. Now he knew what he must do. He would leave his beloved city in search of the magician, and he would ask him to change his soul, so that he could be a wealthy prince, able to be a suitor for the Princess Halima, and he would win her hand.
Jamil stumbled off from the gathered men. It was late, and under the full moon, and in the cool of the night, he felt more awake and more sure than he had ever been. He ran to the north gate of the city, and when he arrived there, he stared out over the desert, that stretched ahead of him as far as he could see. With hardly a thought for his home, his mother, or the life he had lived for these seventeen years, he began to walk towards the north, towards the black magician, and towards an uncertain future.
Onwards he walked, following the north star throughout the night. When the moon began to sink back towards horizon, and the day dawned, he continued to follow his instinct. After the sunrise, and the day became hot, he found a place to rest, in the shade of some rocks, and he slept a fitful sleep. In his sleep, he remembered the moment when his soul touched Halima’s, and for a brief moment they were united. He replayed the words of the old trader. “The magician can change a person’s soul.”
By day he rested, and by night he walked. He found water in the wadis and small creeks, but he ate nothing. As the days passed, Jamil became weaker, more confused. Some days, he found no shade, and he could not sleep. Each night the moon rose later and was smaller, until it was only a sliver, and the night sky was aflame with a firmament of stars.
Then finally, there was no moon at all. Jamil stumbled forward in almost utter darkness. Without moonlight, he could see no further than the next step, and he felt bewildered, lost and frightened. “What was I thinking, to leave my home? My mother. She will be sick with worry. And now I am utterly lost and alone in the desert. What will become of me?”
In that moment, Jamil stumbled against an obstruction in his path. It was a tent, black as the night itself. He picked himself up, and he saw the tent door was slightly open, and inside was lit by candlelight. He knocked on the part open door, but no-one answered. So he pushed the door, and inside he saw it was furnished with the finest carpets and hangings, and cushions for sitting. He smelled some food cooking on a stove, and felt compelled to enter. Once inside, he felt a great tiredness overcome him. Then a voice said: “Good evening, Jamil. Welcome. Sit. Rest.” A bowl of warm broth was placed in his hands. He ate the broth, and then he slept.
When he woke it was still night. He sat up from his cushioned bed, and across from him sat an old, wise looking man, with a long grey beard and fine black garments. The magician said in a warm and kind voice: “So now, Jamil. Tell me. How can I help you?”
Jamil spilled out his story. He told of his life, his mother, his dead father, his love of his city, his love of music. He told of the well, the riverbank, and the tamarisk tree. He told of the palace gardens, the lakes, and of the princess. He told the black magician of the moment when his soul reached out and touched Halima’s, and how his life could never be the same again.
The magician listened. And when the story was done he asked: And what do you want from me? Jamil told the magician what he had heard from the old trader in the market on the night of the full moon; that the magician could change a person’s soul. “And that is what you want?” Asked the magician. “Yes” replied Jamil. “I want the soul of a rich and noble prince. I want to be received by the Sultan, and to present myself as a suitor, and then I want to win her heart.”
“Are you sure?” Asked the magician. “I have never been so sure of anything” replied Jamil. “But it is a serious thing, to change your soul. You will not be the same afterwards. And it can never be reversed, except and only if – someone who loves you for who you are has protected and kept your soul safe.” “It is what I want” “So be it”. In that moment, there was a swirl of lights and sounds within the tent, and a feeling of a thousand insects buzzing around Jamil’s head. He felt his past, his memories, his thoughts, his songs all dancing within that swirling cloud. His head began to swim. Then the sound stopped, and there was silence. The face of the magician became larger, so large that it filled the tent. The magician smiled at Jamil and he said. “Now only one thing remains. You must give up something.” “I have nothing,” said Jamil, “but whatever I have, I will release it.” “You must give me your flute. And when you leave here, you must go to the east, the south and the west, and then your journey will be complete.” Jamil handed over his flute, and when it passed from his hand, the magician said: “It is done” and Jamil fell into a deep, deep sleep, just as the clock in the magician’s tent was striking midnight.
When Jamil awoke, he found himself alone. The black tent had gone. He was lying under a date palm tree, by an oasis. He was wearing woven silk and cotton garments, and tethered to the tree was a fine horse. In his pockets there was a pouch of precious stones, diamonds and gold coins. He mounted the horse, and rode off towards the east, and an unknown future.
The days passed. Jamil discovered a new confidence, and a sharp perception. When he came across a caravan of traders, he decided to travel with them for while, and soon he was trading goods. The chief had no son of his own, and he saw in Jamil a boy who was quick witted, and astute. He taught him all the tricks of the road. For three years, they travelled many miles, along the spice trails, to Constantinople and beyond. Jamil learned everything about trade; how to judge the value of cloth, or the weight of a barrel of spice, and he became rich. He had a thousand camels, a hundred horses, and caskets full of gold and silver.
After three years, Jamil realised it was time to part ways with his mentor and guide, and with his caravan of horses and men, he began a journey South. In the open savannahs, Jamil traded horses for lands, sheep and goats, and built a farm. Then for three years he learned the ways of the land and he accumulated lands that stretched as far as the horizon in all directions, and he became known as Demuzi, the Shepherd King.
But then the dark cloud of war descended on the desert, and the lands filled with soldiers. Barbarians were marching from the north and the people had to defend themselves. Damuzi travelled West with his horses and his men, and he took up arms. He learned the arts of warfare, and he fought in many battles. He became known as the Prince of the Desert, with a thousand loyal men, and horses.
One day, news came that the great city was under siege, and that it would soon fall. Demuzi, the Prince of the Desert gathered his men, and they rode like the wind to the city. On the day they arrived, the Sultan’s was about to surrender in the hope of sparing his people. The outer defences had been breached, and the barbarian army was marching towards the city walls. From the West came a cloud of dust, and the great army of the Prince of the Desert descend upon the barbarians. The battle raged for three days, and when it was over, peace reined once more within the city, and Demuzi was hailed as their saviour.
The gates were flung open, and rose petals lined the boulevard that lead to the palace. A crowd assembled outside the palace to hail the arrival of the Prince of the Desert, and his generals. They rode in through the palace gates, and greeted the Sultan, who bowed to him as an equal. The crowd hushed, as the Sultan declared in his booming voice: “You have saved us from the barbarians. Our city is your city. Whatever you wish, it is my command.” Demuzi stepped down from his horse, and he bowed to the Sultan. “Thank you great lord. The one thing I desire is to meet your daughter, Halima, and if she finds me to her liking, to become her husband”
The Sultan replied: “Nothing would give me greater pleasure.” The next day, it was arranged for Damuzi to meet Princess Halima, in the palace gardens, by the lake, in the sight of the great tamarisk tree. The years had changed her. Years without laughter had altered her expression. She was now the picture of sadness. Damuzi stared at her incredulously. “My Lord,” she said in a quiet voice, “I am grateful for your attention. And I will do my father’s bidding. But I have to tell you that although I can marry you, I am unable to love. For my heart was lost to another long ago.”
“Who is this prince, so worthy of your love?” asked Demuzi, with a heavy heart. “Oh he was no prince, only a poor widows son. But for me he was my everything. He used to come to the garden wall, and climb a tall tamarisk tree, and he played his flute. He played the grasses, he played the flowers, and he played the fruits on the trees. He played the fish in the lake. He played the birds. And as he played, his sweet soul reached out and caressed the things that he played. I used to love to walk within the garden, to stroll around the lake with my companions and we were always laughing. The first time I heard Jamil play his flute, I thought I had never heard anything so beautiful. The following day, I returned and I saw him in the tree, and he made my very heart smile and sing. Every afternoon after that I returned to see him and to hear his enchantment. He played the way I walked. He played my smile, my eyes, my hair, my gestures, and he played my laughter.
Then one late afternoon, at the full moon, he was sitting in the branches of the tamarisk tree. The moon was a giant golden apple, rising over the desert to the east, and the boy was playing the moon rise. I walked right up to the tree, and I was looking up towards him. I was alone. He greeted me with his music. He played my look, my gentleness, my mysteriousness, my playfulness, and as he played, I felt his soul reach out from deep within him, and I felt my soul rise up to meet his, and then our two souls touched….
On that fateful night of the full moon, so long ago now, something changed in me. I could think only of the boy in the tree, and his magical enchanting flute music, and the moment when his soul had reached down and touched mine. The next day, I whiled away the time until I could take my afternoon walk in the palace gardens. As we walked towards the lake I told my most trusted servant about the boy and what had happened under the moon. But that day was different. No music. No presence in the tamarisk tree. I returned later as the moon rose, but still no sign of him. Each day I returned, and each day was the same. And as the days passed, I became more sick with worry. What had happened to my flute boy, whose soul had met and touched my own?
As the weeks passed, finally, I succumbed to grief. On the night of the dark moon, exactly at midnight, I awoke in a fright, and I knew something terrible happened. From that moment onwards, I no longer searched the tamarisk tree for my flute boy. I begged my father to allow me to go out into the city. With my trusted maid-servant, I searched the market, and I spoke to the women at the well. Yes, they knew the boy who played the flute. His name was Jamil, and they told me where he lived. I went to Jamil’s humble home. His mother was sitting in the courtyard, wailing with grief. “My son, my son. He is gone, never to return. My son, my son. He has tumbled into the river and drowned. Jamil, Jamil. You have left your poor mother. Jamil, Jamil. You are gone. You are gone.” The tears rolled down her face. And I was struck with a sudden sharp pain of grief in my heart. I returned to the palace, and took to my bed, and I remained there for a year and a day.
As time passed, I realised that life offered me nothing, and I had to heal my broken heart. My servants had told me about a great healer of souls, a magician, who could be found in the north, in the desert. I went there, on the dark moon night, and I encountered the Black Magician. Inside his tent, I told him my story. I told him about my broken heart, and my longing for what was promised, but now could never be. Finally, he told me to be patient, to wait, and he gave me this.” The princess took out a silk wrap, and she unwrapped it, and within it was a flute. “Since that time I have taken solace by learning to play, and when I play, I always think of poor Jamil, and I play his bright eyes, his curly hair, his warm smile and his strong body.”
And she began to play. And when she played, it was as if even the wind was listening. The swans and ducks on the lake joined in, and the whole garden became a chorus. Suddenly, there was a swirl of lights and sounds, and a feeling of a thousand insects buzzing around Damuzi’s head. He felt his past, his memories, his thoughts, his songs, all dancing within that swirling cloud. His head began to swim. Then the sound stopped, and there was silence. He saw the face of the magician, so large it filled the sky. The magician smiled at Jamil: And he said. “It is done.