Page 30 - Vladimir Bartol ALAMUT
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32 Vladimir Bartol ALAMUTthe classroom at the last minute. Here’s some blush and black dye for your cheeks and eyebrows. And rosehip oil for perfume. Miriam gave it to me for you. Come on, get up!”She and Sara helped get her ready. Then the three of them left for the classroom.Apama entered, and it was all Halima could do to keep from laugh- ing. But the look in the old woman’s eyes and the ominous silence that descended at her appearance were her warning to be careful. The girls stood up and bowed deeply.The old woman was strangely decked out. Baggy trousers made of black silk flapped around her bony legs. Her halter was red bordered with gold and silver stitching. A small yellow turban with a long heron’s feath- er covered her head, and giant gold hoops encrusted with gems hung from her ears. She wore a necklace of large pearls that had been draped several times around her neck. Her wrists and ankles were adorned with artfully crafted and precious bracelets and anklets. All of this finery only served to highlight her ugliness and decrepitude. On top of it all, she had paint- ed her lips and cheeks a flaming red and shadowed her eyes with black dye so that she truly looked like a living scarecrow. With a wave of her hand she had the girls sit down. Her eyes sought out Halima. Inaudibly she sneered, and then she began to speak in a shrill voice.“You’ve done a good job of getting the little one dressed up. Now if we can just get her to stop staring bug-eyed at people, like some young calf that’s never seen a bull and has no idea what’s coming at her. So listen close and learn something useful. And don’t think for a minute that your companions just dropped out of the sky with what they know. Some of them rutted around harems before coming to my school, but it wasn’t until they came here that they got an inkling of how challenging an art the service of love is. In India, my homeland, instruction begins at the tenderest age. For it’s wisely said that life is short and learning deep. Do you have any idea, poor thing, what a man is? Do you know why that black abomination that brought you to our gardens yesterday isn’t a real man? Speak!”Halima’s whole body was shaking. In desperation, her eyes sought out help from those nearby, but the other girls were all staring at the floor.“I think your tongue has gotten caught in your throat, you hayseed,” the old woman drove at her. “All right, I’ll explain it to you.”

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