Why is there no one around? Why is no human being in view? But there are still those in the rooms set aside for them. No changes were visible thus in the quarter where Lord Husayn's kinsmen and women had been kept. From here a cry could be heard, the wailing of a woman, a tragic-sounding tone, laced with pain at what had happened, but the perspective unique as was the voice and the thought being articulated.
“Alas! Where am I, where is Zayneb? The loyal wife of a small businessmen, a man from a poor and impoverished but respectable family? The spouse of an ordinary man who once used to earn a small sum of money through his labors? What did we have to do with royalty and kingly dispositions, with a member of a family descended from royalty, who pursues pleasure and satisfaction; why did I have to be involved with him and his pleasures? Why did I end up in the king's zenana? That Zayneb would be seen inside Medina's holy palace was an astonishing development; that she could be a prisoner in the royal prison of Damascus was an even more amazing twist of fate for her. What do I have to do with this prison? Alas! Alas! If anyone chose to examine the events of my life closely and reflect on what had happened to me, he would find evidence that would lead him to conclude that this unfortunate woman was the prime cause of the ocean of sorrow. It would seem that it was Zayneb who was the chief cause of all these cataclysmic events. Alas! Alas! It was for me that the family of the Prophet of Light, Muhammad, had to suffer such torture! Oh, woe is me! Where will I find a place to be in now? I am a sinner! I am an ogre who had devoured everything! For me the doors of hell are wide open! How agonizing! It was I that induced hatred in Zaada, who had hitherto been so soft a person! It was this unfortunate wretch's beauty that intensified the flame in Zaada's mind till it burnt with double, triple and even five-fold intensity! How much more will this unfortunate and weak heart have to endure? How much will this woman who was so loyal to her husband have to go through? Can the flame that burns in one's mind be doused without one's own spouse? Ultimately, it leaves the spouse and scalds the husband. When one wants something, and if fate has willed that it shall be so, how long does one have to wait for the desire to be fulfilled? To seek is to find then. To satiate Maimuna's wishes, Zaada was necessary. To fulfill what Zaada coveted Maimuna was necessary. In time the two met and both felt that they had struck gold. To find a woman apply poison – oh unbearable deed that one cannot even talk about – poison – poison of the most virulent kind!” (Silence)
She could hear clearly commotion in the city, the clamor of innumerable voices, the frightful din created by the roll of drums being beaten by martial bands. From time to time could be heard slogans that raised the name of Zainul Abedin to the skies. She said to herself softly again, “What is that I hear now? Why such commotion everywhere?” For a long while she strained to hear what was going on and to make sense of events but could not do so. When she looked the other way at the quarters that had been previously been under guard she could not see the sentries posted there any longer. The doors were all wide open. She looked back and saw Bibi Salma, Shaher Banu and Husne Banu sitting down silently, all with pale faces. Only from time to time could she hear Shaher Banu agonizing in a voice full of grief, “My son Zainul; my dear child; where could you be my dearest? Come to my lap again my child!” Zayneb was dumbfounded and stood where she was for a while and then resumed her musings thus:
“Oh – the poison – the poison that was in Zaada's hands! If – unfortunate wretch that I am – I had not been reckoned as belonging to the class of slaves, if she had my beauty, if the husband had been more caring, Zaada would not have administered the poison. She would have then not listened to Maimuna. It is for this unfortunate wretch that the poison came into the scene. I have heard Yazid say that he was out on a deer hunt with his entourage and soldiers when he cast his eyes on me as I stood by the window. So many eyes were eagerly looking at Yazid for favors and yet mine were the eyes that had looked at him with repulsion and had then shut the window. I cannot recall anything about that incident myself; but in his address that wicked man had added that on that fateful day my face was covered to my chin with a small net made of pearls. In my ears I had earrings dangling. Shame on me! Why did I have the window open and why had I been standing there then? It was my position there by the window that has been my undoing. The catastrophe that ensued was because I had stood there, and because I had my face almost bare. It is now that I understand the import of that kingly summon. It is now that I fully grasp the significance of Abdul Jabbar's invitation to the royal palace. It is now that I can see why the royal messenger arrived in our humble abode with the invitation to go to the palace; the knavery that was behind that invitation is now obvious to me. The summons, the attractive way in which the invitation was phrased, and the lavish attention given to him on his arrival at court were all meant for me. But how could Abdul Jabbar have understood Yazid's scheming? Small businessman that he was, how could he not have been seduced by the offer made to him of being made a son-in-law of the king, and of the prospects of happiness beyond all expectations promised by Yazid? A small businessman – someone who is enticed by the prospects of very small amounts of money – he was seduced by the prospects of wedding Princess Saleha and union with a celestial nymph in this world that would give him immense happiness and make him feel bliss of the most ethereal kind. It was the vision of such things happening that made him give up on me although I was blameless in every way. How heartless; how two-faced! Before he had received the summons from royalty how sorry he appeared to be at my suffering, how caring! I was in the kitchen and sweat beads had appeared on my forehead because of the heat emitted from the cooking. Some soot had found its way to parts of my clothes and hands from the coal that I had been using. He held the mirror before me and made me see the reflection of my face in it, saying, “If we had the money would you have to suffer so? Do you think I can bear to see such a sight?” And he went on to express how sorry he was in so many ways, but he gave me proof of exactly how sorry he had become only later. That very day he headed for Damascus. He was received in the palace warmly. And the very moment the proposal came his way he accepted it – sacrificing me in the process. Praise be to Bibi Saleha though! She had the most level-headed response – when one can treat one's only wife in this manner, when one can be enticed by money to abandon the wife who was ever so fond of him, what is there left to believe in anymore? The marriage was denied; he got exactly what he deserved next! It was Yazid who triumphed completely. It was his desire that would be fulfilled. He had used his wiles to find a way of possessing Zayneb. And Abdul Jabbar was left with nothing bur regret at what he had done. He then managed to sneak out of the palace and hide himself amidst people. He became averse to family life and put on the garbs of a fakir. But all is as the Almighty wishes things to be! What fate had in store for me took place. I became a widow. In the prime of my life I was deprived of a husband. And where could I go then? I headed for my paternal home.
“Hardened sinner that he was, Yazid was bent on fulfilling his desire. Without considering the consequences of what he was doing, he resolved to send an emissary. He let it be known that he had everything that a woman desires and did not want for riches or jewelry. Moreover, he could offer to make the woman he desired most his principal queen. But when I heard Lord Hasan's proposal from the emissary I chose him – although it was the last of the proposals conveyed to me by Moslem. I spurned the prospects offered of being the royal consort of the heir apparent of the kingdom of Damascus!”
Fakrul Alam is a Bangladeshi academic, writer and translator. Currently, he is also the Pro- Vice Chancellor, East-West University, Dhaka.