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from the July/August 2003 issue

from The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad

Men The market was greedy for hope. In the war-torn bazaar there was cheating and there was the hangman's rope.

Sindbad (to a passerby) Do you know where I can find Nofal the merchant?

1st Man I don't know anything.

Sindbad (to another passerby) Have you heard any news of my friend?

2nd Man I don't know anything.

Sindbad (to another) Brother, have you seen Nofal the merchant?

3rd Man The name is familiar.

Sindbad He's a good man.

3rd Man Maybe he was a good man.

Sindbad Wait! The man is lost in the crowd. To another:

Do you have any news of Nofal the merchant?

4th Man They burned his house down.

Sindbad Why?

The man disappears in the crowd. Vahab appears.

Sindbad Vahab! What's happening?

Vahab War!

Sindbad They burnt Nofal's house. Give me a sword.

Vahab You can have the sword of the first person I kill. Wait right here.

Sindbad Vahab--

Vahab disappears into the crowd. Nofal comes forward, exhausted and wounded.

Magician Sindbad, my son.

Sindbad What happened, Nofal?

Magician Take my hand.

Sindbad You're wounded, Nofal.

Magician A friend's dagger cuts deepest; listen--

Sindbad Who did this? Tell me. Who were they?

Magician Listen to me, Sindbad.

He falls to the ground. Sindbad takes his head in his lap.

Sindbad Revenge, revenge.

Magician Don't waste your life with the thought of revenge.

Sindbad Who was it? Just tell me that.

Magician Sindbad, I can tell you more than that. Do you know why they're fighting?

Sindbad No, I just arrived. I don't know anything.

Magician A ruler who wants to secure his power has turned his people against each other, and their anger against themselves. Sindbad, do you see them? Those who sat at each other's tables now sit by each other's corpses.

Men War of ideas, warring tribes, Yellow tents against red, War of kin and blood-ties, war of clans.

Sindbad Who is friend, who is enemy? Who should I fight?

Magician No one. They are simple minded, unfortunate people, Sindbad. Your task is harder than wars. Listen, just in these last few days I've understood--the sun is hiding behind the clouds. Sindbad, go search for the golden jug of joy. Sindbad, happiness is not a lie.

Sindbad It's not a lie? Then you've known it?

Magician There's no time left for me to know it. Go to the island of Sarandib, Sindbad. A few days ago I found a scroll my ancestors had left, a parchment scroll with a map beautifully drawn. It shows an island at Sarandib, and there you will find a jug of joy. Go to Sarandib, Sindbad. Happiness is not a lie.

Sindbad Nofal-!

Magician I have one request in this last moment. Call me "Father." He dies.

Sindbad Listen to me--What island? Where is Sarandib, Nofal? What map, what scroll, what happiness? Answer me--Father, Father.

Vahab approaches, with others.

Vahab Sindbad, a sword for you! Come!

Sindbad Put it down, Vahab.

Vahab These people are our friends, Sindbad. Together we'll kill every last one of those cowards. Take the sword, Sindbad.

Sindbad I'm not fighting any more, Vahab. I'm not fighting.

Vahab What?

1st Group Anxious hearts

2nd Group Do battle

1st Group Blood flows

2nd Group They are killing

1st Group We're raising hell

2nd Group They're raising hell

Vahab What did you say, Sindbad? What did you say?

Sindbad I'm leaving this place.

Vahab Then you're abandoning your brothers?

Sindbad It's better than killing my brothers, Vahab. The sword is no cure for this pain.

Vahab What better cure do you know of?

Sindbad I'm going to bring them happiness.

Vahab What happiness? From where?

Sindbad I don't know yet.

Vahab You're afraid, Sindbad. You're afraid of war. Isn't this an escape?

Sindbad You have the right to think what you want, but I have to go.

Sindbad leaves.

Vahab Come back whenever you get tired; we need someone who can handle a sword well. Sindbad? Come back, Sindbad!

Sindbad (on a platform) There is no turning back, brave sailors, no turning back. Believe me, you won't turn this ship around unless you throw me overboard. For me there is no turning back. The day that my father Nofal lay bleeding from every part of his body, he told me that happiness is not a lie. And we will search out this thing that is not a lie--for those who understand, and for those who now claw at each other, for those whose hard lives are worthless. For this land, where life itself is worthless. I have seen too many heads without bodies, their eyes staring at me, begging for happiness, no longer for themselves but for the loved ones they're leaving behind. I have seen too many headless bodies with hearts cut open, hearts still anxious and longing for days to come. We are going to seek happiness for you and your children. All of us! Because one hand alone is useless. Are you ready?

Sailors Ready and able!

Abdolah But, Master, what if we don't find it soon? What if it takes....

Sindbad Do you have a son? A brother? A friend? A lover?

Abdolah Yes, Master.

Sindbad Then do it for them. It's the best gift you could bring them.

Ghayur What if the whole year is lost?

Sindbad That year will be lost, no matter where you are. This life has no value. There are trees that live five thousand years longer than you. Do you see, for each branch of that tree you and I are nothing but a moment.

Ghayur That's true, Master.

Sindbad Then let this moment be brilliant, and this worthy search be your reward.

Ghayur I'm ready, Master.

Sindbad All of you?

Sailors We are ready.

Sindbad Remember which country you set out from, and that the land where you were born today has turned to hell. Are you ready?

Sailors With all our hearts.

Sindbad Then know this: from this plundered city, we take nothing. The wages will be small, with little food and very little water. Some days you'll get no more than a handful of bread and this much water. Some days not even bread and water, or maybe just salt fish and sea water. Maybe hunger, maybe hot sun and hard labor. Are you ready?

Sailors We are ready!

Sindbad Brave sailors! I know, I know... If we're going to succeed, then each one of you--what am I saying? Give me an oar too. Beat the drums! Beat them, beat them!

The Magician announces the Third Voyage.

1st Sailor Black clouds, Master!

Sindbad Don't worry, the winds are in our favor. Ghayur, take a reading tonight on the stars. Find Jupiter.

Ghayur Yes, Master.

Sindbad Set a course by Jupiter. Helmsman!

2nd Sailor Yes, Master.

Sindbad Look out for the rapids at the narrow straits. We'll wait there for the tide.

2nd Sailor Yes, Master.

Sindbad Rajab, Jafar, throw the cargo overboard. All of it.

Ghayur Why, Master?

Sindbad We took on cargo to assure the sailors, who dreamt of profits, but now we're headed straight for Sarandib. Throw it all in the sea, so the ship runs lighter.

3rd Sailor Yes, Master.

Sindbad Set turns for sleep and watch duty. Share the food equally and allow one cup of water each. Move aside, man, give me the wheel.

Ghayur Yes, Master.

Sindbad You row.

Ghayur Yes, Master.

Sindbad And now, on the eighteenth day of the third voyage, my heart is full of grief. In the most hidden corner of my heart, love is still awake.

Ghayur Master, we've passed the rapids.

Sindbad Good, Ghayur. Hoist the sails.

Ghayur Hoist the sails!

Sindbad And now, on the nineteenth day of my third voyage -- away from the others, my eyes fill with tears. And no doubt this was due to staring into the sun.

Ghayur This humidity is unbearable.

Sindbad Measure the depth of the waters.

3rd Sailor Yes, Master.

Sindbad And now, on the thirty-seventh day of the third voyage, I see the anxious waves. What if the jug of joy is a myth?

Ghayur Master, we're down to one last chest of provisions, and a single cask of water.

Sindbad And I was contemplating whether happiness is a lie!

Ghayur What are your orders, Master?

Sindbad What's happened, Ghayur?

Ghayur Today, on the sixty-fifth day of the voyage, we've reached the last of the food and water.

Sindbad Reduce the portions. Your bread should fit in the palm of your hand; no more than this much water in your cup.

Ghayur Yes, Master.

Sindbad And I'm thinking, what if it was just a story written on that scroll?

Rajab enters.

Rajab Forgive me, Master, but without my wanting it, I've got a big body. And forgive me, but if I get the same amount of bread and water as the others, without my wanting to, I'll die.

Sindbad You can't endure this?

Rajab Master, I've endured a lot already. But without wanting it, my soul has reached my lips. There's no strength left in me to row.

Sindbad Ghayur, give this man my share.

Rajab I won't accept this, Master.

Sindbad You must. I need you more than I need bread and water.

Rajab I won't accept this, Master.

Sindbad Then what do you want me to do?

Rajab Forgive me, Master, but I don't know.

Sindbad Ghayur, throw my portion into the sea.

Rajab No, Master.

Sindbad Then take it!

Rajab Forgive me, but I can't, Master.

Sindbad Then throw this man into the sea.

Rajab I'm not ready for that, Master, not ever.

Sindbad So will you accept or not ?

Rajab Without my wanting it, Master, you've forced me. How can I repay you, Master?

Sindbad By rowing.

Rajab Yes, Master.

He leaves.

Sindbad And I'm asking myself, what if that scroll wasn't right? And I see, on the sixty eighth day of the journey, that my sailors have no more strength to row.

Ghayur The watchman sees nothing?

2nd Sailor Nothing but the sea.

Sindbad On the seventy-first day, I'm hanging between life and death, oblivious to everyone. (Suddenly to the Magician) You--weren't you there . . . ?

Magician What of it?

Sindbad In that state, didn't I see you? Weren't you there? (The Magician laughs) I'm on the edge of death, and each one of my sailors has fallen, half burnt under the sun. I ask myself if I've deceived them. And the ship moves on, without captain, without course, without oars. The blazing sun, sun, sun. I search for some meaning; how sweet was the hope of those first days, the dreams of the jug of joy. But sweeter than that was the shout that cried--

2nd Sailor Land ahoy!

3rd Sailor Land, Master! Land!

Sindbad rises with difficulty.

Sindbad Give it your last strength, men! Land! Is this Sarandib?

All remain motionless. Ghayur comes forward.

Ghayur I bear witness. Moment by moment, I witnessed his desperate search. I, who never knew my own parents, asked him once about the jug of joy. He said it was a golden jug in which a wise man had captured his own voice. And when you removed the seal, it would tell you secrets.

Everyone moves again.

3rd Sailor We've searched the entire island, Master. It's hopeless.

Sindbad That ravine in the mountain, what do you see there, Ghayur?

Ghayur Only a ravine.

Sindbad That's the one place we haven't searched.

Ghayur The natives say there are flying snakes there, master, lots of them, and strange bats that scream endlessly.

Sindbad These words give me hope. Let's go.

3rd Sailor Look over there, a rock with a man's face.

2nd Sailor It looks like an ogre.

3rd Sailor An ogre that's laughing, but you can't hear it.

2nd Sailor Master, a two-headed snake.

Sindbad Kill it!

Sailors Kill it!

Sindbad Let's go.

3rd Sailor This cave has a strange mouth. I wouldn't trust anything in here.

Ghayur What am I seeing! It's unbelievable! All these pots of different colors!

3rd Sailor Treasure. Treasure.

Sailors rush toward the pots.

Sindbad Stop.

Shouts of the sailors, quarreling over the jewels.

Don't touch anything. Stop.

With sword drawn, he stands between them.

Who told you to raise your fists against your brother? Or you? Or you? Throw that whip aside. Drop that stone, man!

1st Sailor We want the jewels, Master.

2nd Sailor This is what we were searching for, Master. At least it's not a dream.

Sindbad What do you mean?

3rd Sailor Well, that happiness....

Pause. 1st Sailor comes forward.

1st Sailor Yes, all this happened in Sarandib. I - the son of a diver from the Gulf of Gomnaman-- witnessed it all. Afterward, there was a lot said about the buried treasure and the snakes. Bitter rumors, but the truth was even more bitter.

Sindbad and others are searching.

Sindbad You made a mess of this with your fighting. The pots have spilled. Strings of pearls are broken. This bow with the emerald emblem is broken in half.

2nd Sailor Master, there's no golden jug anywhere.

Sindbad There must be. Keep searching.

3rd Sailor Master, we can't see in the dark.

Sindbad Use your hands.

1st Sailor Are you sure about this, Master?

Sindbad It's a jug, like a clay water jug but made of gold, with strange writing on it and a voice with secrets trapped inside. Do you understand?

Ghayur It's not here, Master.

Sindbad Here it is!

Ghayur That's not it, Master. That's just a clay pot.

Sindbad A clay pot?

Ghayur It's broken, Master. It broke in the fight.

Sindbad (Throws it aside) An empty clay pot that broke in the fight.

Ghayur Is this it, Master? A jug with a lead seal.

Sindbad No. For sure that's not it. Keep looking.

2nd Sailor Master, we've searched everywhere. It's not here.

Sindbad Shut up.

1st Sailor It's not here, Master. You can see for yourself. Pause.

Sindbad Yes, I see. (He draws aside) Then it wasn't . . . Then it isn't . . . Then the jug of joy was a lie. It's a lie.

Ghayur What shall we do, Master?

Sindbad Do what you want.

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