Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Tiger River

Falling in love with Saliha; (Apr. 21, 2010)

            I was on assignment in Baghdad that lasted for two years.  I got acquainted with a fallen Indian monarch named Ikbal who decided to settle south of Baghdad to a ruined city that used to be the Persian Capital Ctesiphone.  Ikbal was receiving yearly stipends from the British goverment and he wanted to settle far away from any British presence.  A few visits to Ikbal strengthened our friendship and I would dine and occasionally sleep over.  One night after dinner, we were lying down on couches on the balcony when I heard the tenderest voice singing the story of Antar, a pre-Islamic war hero in the Arabic tribal Peninsula. My visits to Ikbal increased and the Prince sensed the main reason for my new zest.  Songs varied every night but I loved best the melody of song of Antar.

            I found out that this lovely voice was emanating from a cluster of tents outside the walls.  Nomads were parked there for the summer.  One night, I ventured to a nearby forest between the castle and the tents very curious to get a first hand meeting with the voice.  A well was within this little forest of cypress.  A young girl was sitting outside her tent pounding wheat for tomorrow fresh bread and singing all the while.  Then the girl carried a rope on her shoulder that ended with a heavy metal implement, sort of a Rawlplug used on camel feet when not attached to trees.

            The girl walked slowly and steadily to the Tiger River bank then dropped the metal implement on the shore and ventured in the river holding on the other end of the rope to avoid drowning in the fast current of the river.  She removed her robe and head gear and had a bath; then she returned to her tent.  I was hiding behind the castle wall watching the scene. The girl was tall, slender, and had long dark hair.

            A few days later I waited by the well wanting to meet the lovely girl. She arrived and calmly answered a few of my questions. Her name is Saliha and living with her father Mahmoud; her two brothers are married and moved away; her other sister is married to a rich Hussein.  I got to meeting her very frequently by the well and we talked extensively.  Saliha was the most beautiful girl I have met and her calm attitude expressed confidence and intelligence.

            One day, Ikbal sent me a poem to Baghdad telling me that the bird had vanished.  I arrived hurriedly to find the tents all gone.  Saliha didn’t warn me of her impending departure and I spent many months distracted and melancholic.  Then, early next summer, Ikbal dispatched me another poem: The bird is back.  I waited by the well; Saliha heard my horse and calmly laid down her water container that she carried on her shoulder and ran toward me, hugged me and kissed me. We agreed that she would leave with me next night.  I had three horses ready and we rode to Baghdad:  I learned from Saliha that her father would never agree to marry her to a city dweller.

            I spent the most exquisite five months with Saliha:  She never felt out of place and assimilated the new environment.  One day, Saliha’s father paid me a visit: one of the servants of Ikbal had told him my location.  He wanted to talk to his daughter in private. After the father left, Saliha was crying; she refused to tell me the cause of her sadness and knew better not to insist. A month later, a servant fetched me from work; Saliha had left with her father.  At night, I found a bag containing long hair in my bed and a piece of paper saying: “I will mourn you all my life”

            A year later, I was on inspection tour to a dam under construction in southern Iraq. I saw Saliha carrying a small child. She told me that her father had summoned her to care for her dying sister and the kids.  Saliha’s sister died and her dad passed away a month ago. Her father made her promise to marry her brother-in-law Hussein. That is what she did. Before quitting Saliha asked me: “Will you love me forever?” I said “yes I will.” Saliha smiled and never turned back her head.

Note: this story, one of many, was told to a German diplomat in Turkey by Osman Hamid Bey when Osman was in a government assignment in Baghdad in 1869.  The French translated book is titled “An Ottoman in the Orient”




February 2023

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