Cold sweat plastered Faruq's robe to his back as he paced the width of his room. They were all as good as dead. When the wish scribes caught wind that something had indeed gone wrong, Faruq was certain they would do away with his whole family to cover up their mistake.
And he could no longer deny that something was very wrong.
Just that morning he had watched his father release a man whom he claimed wasn't skilled enough at engraving. The man begged―it was well known that his wife was sick and he had three very young children―but his father had been unmoved, calmly arguing that he could make more money if he paid the wages toward someone more skilled. When unnerving logic failed to sway the poor man, the order was given to remove him from the workshop. His father's calm face held not one wrinkle of anger. It was nothing like the big-hearted man Faruq had grown up with, but like someone else, someone crueler, wore his father like a skin. Faruq didn't miss the glances that passed between the others as the man was led out, shaking with tears running down his wan face.
Goosebumps prickled all along Faruq's arms at the memory. He ceased pacing and put a hand to the rough brick of the wall, hanging his head. Even now, High Scribe Maleek could be scribing a wish to get rid of his family. Faruq swallowed. This was all his fault and he had to find a way to save them. He'd already lost Kadeen.
That evening, he carefully picked his way down the wide staircase that led to the ground floor, his arms full of books. They were teachings in ethics and morality from the most respected philosophers in the kingdom. He left a couple in the main lounge, in the sitting room, one in the solar off the main entrance, one on a bench in the garden, and took one with him to the dining room. At dinner he began reading, and as he hoped, his mother chided him.
"Faruq, must you read at the table?"
"I'm sorry Mama, it's just this book is so interesting!"
His mother squinted at him. "Since when do you like books? And what is so interesting that you can't tear your eyes away to put some food in your mouth?"
Faruq grinned and plowed on.
"These are some writings on the morality of man by Adil."
"Is that right?" asked his father. Adil was a popular philosopher among the elite, and Faruq knew his father felt the need to keep up to date on those sorts of things now that he spent his days fraternizing with the wealthy.
"Yes! He says that though we may debate it, there are certain actions that are funda...fun-da-mun-ta-ly wrong all over the world. Murder, for example, and incest."
"I see," said his father.
"Let me read you this part. He says, 'Excess...excessive, uh, excessive self-interest is...perhaps...ah. Excessive self-interest is perhaps the most under...under...'"
"Oh give it here, Faruq," said Thamina, and she snatched the book from him. "Excessive self-interest is perhaps the most underestimated of all evils. Imagine a society in which all people acted without regard for the suffering and hardship of others, where no man spared a thought for his neighbor, his brother, even his own mother. Surely such a society would collapse into chaos."
Faruq's shoulders tensed as he looked around the table at his parents and his sister.
"Well, clearly," said his mother.
"This is true..." his sister said slowly.
His father held his chin between his thumb and forefinger, deep in thought. "I think that this Adil is a wise man."
Faruq couldn't contain his grin of excitement and relief. The family he had grown up with and loved was still there somewhere, and with hard work, he could reach them.
"So we could take that to mean that it is our duty, as a part of society, to avoid causing suffering to others, don't you agree?"
"I suppose you are right Faruq," said his sister.
"Indeed," said his father. His mother nodded thoughtfully before she said, "now put down that book at the table, its terrible manners."
Things were going well. He'd heard nothing from the wish scribes, nor seen any guards near his home. And his family seemed receptive to his teachings, though Faruq found he had to work very hard to impart said teachings.
When one day he caught sight of an apprentice sweating and struggling under the weight of an obscene load of palm wood, it turned out Faruq's father had told the young man to carry it because it would take too long to saddle and load a camel. So Faruq had to patiently remind his father that carrying such a heavy load would likely cause the young man permanent damage.
"I suppose," said his father with a shrug, and he sent the man away to get a camel.
When Thamina berated their cook's daughter, Samira, because the poor little girl couldn't read a note not to touch the fledgling plant his sister was trying to grow in her room, Faruq reminded her that most people didn't have the benefit of their education in letters, to which he was a rewarded with a sage nod from Thamina and a "Yes, Faruq, you're right."
But then there were times such as when he walked into the library to add the books he'd just bought to their growing collection, and found his mother attempting to use Samira as a stepping stool.
The girl was down on all fours, and when his mother placed a foot on her back and pushed off from the ground, transferring her hefty weight, Samira cried out.
"Mama, no!" Faruq yelled and rushed over. Another few seconds and she would surely break the child's back. He pulled his mother down.
"Faruq! What is it?"
"You cannot step on Samira like that, mama."
"Sa-this child!" He said, gesturing to Samira who stood stooped, with tears swimming in her big eyes.
His mother looked confused. "But how else will I reach that book?" she said, pointing.
Faruq fought down his alarm and frustration. His words were slow and deliberate. "Use a step stool, Mama."
"It's all the way on the other side of the room! Samira is right here."
"She is too small to support your weight, Mama."
"Nonsense! She was supporting me just fine. Get back down, Samira."
"No! Look, Mama, wait and I will get you the stool."
"There is no need, Faruq. I said get down, Samira."
The girl whimpered and slowly crouched. Faraq glanced frantically between the two. If he left to get the stool his mother would simply step on the girl again.
"I'll do it," he said. "Go, Samira."
The girl stood, nodded, and scurried away.
"Well, I suppose it doesn't matter who it is," said his mother. Faruq got down on his hands and knees, and winced as she climbed up. She was not light. His back ached, his arms shook and sweat trickled down his face as she took her time perusing the shelf. No way would Samira have been able to withstand it.
Finally she dropped down and breezed out of the library without giving Faruq so much as a glance.
Faruq slumped to a heap on the carpet, still shaking but no longer from exertion. He couldn't imagine what would have happened if he hadn't been there to save Samira. He couldn't watch his whole family at all times, and he was worried that someday, one of them would do something reprehensible.
He would soon find that he was right to worry.
YOU ARE READING
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