There was a city, the pride of Arabia, ruled by a Sultan called Myrrha Haajj. By guile and by force he’d gathered the wealth of Africa within his palace walls. His desires were his possessions. And of his possessions his most beloved was the garden he displayed to any and all who visited him. Yet this was the one possession he could not keep. After winter, the garden he cared for both day and night fell to ruin. Not a single blade, leaf, or flower could withstand autumn’s thin breath. All crumpled to nothing. The Sultan brooded winter after winter. It seemed there was nothing to be done.
Still his wealth was admired by all who visited him. It might have been so always if legend of his garden hadn’t reached the ears of summer. She is a vain and proud season. Yet if she is proud she is also generous, willing to lavish on all things her warmth and abundance. So when she arrived late one day, almost autumn, she was pleased and flattered by the garden of Haajj. In the shape of a beautiful woman, wearing an embroidered flowing gown, she appeared in the garden itself. There she so enjoyed its beauty she remained well into the start of autumn. Haajj was delighted. He questioned all his servants to find out who she was. Yet so soon as he went to find her she vanished and nothing he did made her reappear. Autumn never touched the garden.
When summer finally did leave Haajj hardly spoke. His garden crumpled into layers of leaves and wrinkled petals. His prize possession turned to sticks and twigs. He soon began to plot a way to keep summer in his garden forever. He commanded his people to build a tower – the tallest ever built. At its top would be a room filled with the garden’s fruits. Hand woven tapestries would hang from the walls and ceiling. Rugs of the softest and thickest wool layered the floor. A mattress filled with the petals of the desert poppy would be laid in the room’s middle. When it was finished, the tower could be seen from hundreds of miles around; and from the tower as much land could be seen. Most importantly, however, the Sultan’s garden could be seen in all its beauty.
Every day Haajj climbed the long spiral staircase hoping to find summer lodged in the room. As it happened, when autumn was about to begin, summer came again to visit the Sultan’s garden. She quickly went to the tower, always eager to see what she hadn’t seen before, and she peered into its topmost room. You couldn’t have seen her had you been there. You might have felt a warm breeze or the sun might have suddenly broken through the window. You might have smelled the outdoors – its warmth, its moisture, its feeling of growth. As it was, she entered the room; and being sure no one else was there, she once again assumed a woman’s figure. She lay down on the mattress, spread her rich golden hair to both sides, and, contented, allowed herself to sleep. Still, when Haajj climbed the long stairway, he saw nothing. Even so he suspected she was there. The garden did not crumple. Autumn had not come. The room was full of the earth’s fragrances. He quickly and quietly ran down the stairs.
“Quickly! Quickly! Quickly!” He gathered his most skilled craftsmen. “Summer is in the tower. I know! I did not see her yet I know. You must all do as I have told you. Be quick! She will not know what to do at first, so you must be quick or else. Go! Go! Go!”
Haajj was the cleverest of Sultans. He knew well how to trap summer. He had thought long and many nights. Iron might imprison a man or woman but its bars could never imprison summer. He could have shuttered the windows and yet, the slightest gap, and she would escape as easily as warmth escapes in winter. Glass! What a clever man the Sultan was! Only glass could capture summer. So it was that he sent his craftsmen to seal the tower’s windows. Summer would stay! His garden would be forever free of autumn.
When summer woke, wanting to see the garden, she went from window to window. Yet each one was covered by glass. She had never been trapped before. She only understood slowly. And once she did, she wept. Water gathered on the glass and the window panes. All the plants and furnishings in the room were gradually covered in a warm dew. It was a strange sight. It puzzled the Sultan when he first peered into the room. Yet he did not think of tears. His selfishness consumed his heart. He thought only of his beautiful garden while summer wept.
As autumn turned to winter word spread quickly. Winter hadn’t touched Haajj’s garden! More and more came to visit. Haajj’s vanity joyed in victory. Haajj, at last, possessed a treasure no one but he could claim. Travelers came from the world over just to spend a day in the garden’s groves. Haajj delighted in its display. And yet, having enough, he soon wanted more. A garden wasn’t enough. In his tower he had captured summer. What did she look like? Was she as beautiful as legend? What secrets did she possess? What could he learn? These questions soon consumed Haajj. His garden was entirely forgotten. Then, one night, he climbed the long stairs to the top of the tower.
“Where are you?” he asked at the threshold to her room. “I have stared into your room countless hours and still I cannot find you anywhere. Why don’t you show yourself? Perhaps only women may behold you. Yet I have felt you. You sweetened my skin when I lay in the summer fields. You were my blanket when I owned no blankets. You embraced my wonder. You sang me to my dreams. You gave drink to my desire. You dressed my heart with joy. Won’t you show yourself to me?”
She did not appear. Haajj was answered only by the water which dripped from every edge of the room. “I know you are there,” he said finally. “Will I ever let you go? I don’t think I will. No. I will never let you go. You will let me see you someday. I have patience.” Yet Haajj didn’t have patience. He slept little that night. And he was miserable when morning came. His servants said nothing. They knew when the Sultan was angry.
Continued: The Second of Several Parts