The Flies of Wadi Badan
ذباب وادي الباذان
To my friend ARahman, who told me, as his father had told him, that there have always been many flies in Wadi Badan.
الى صديقي عبدالرحمن الذي اخبرني بما سرد له اباه عن كثرة الذباب الذي كان موجودا دائما في وادي الباذان
The flies of Wadi Badan were famous. Why, you might ask should flies, infamously unpopular, be famous at all? And what made them so special in the first place?
Some have argued that it all just came down to ‘being in the right place at the right time’, others maintain that everything always happens in the right place at the right time and insist that it was not so much a question of ‘where and when’, but rather of ‘now and then’. Regardless of the extent to which external agents or even coincidence may have been responsible for the events recounted here, after you hear this story you might well agree that the flies of Wadi Badan deserve to be singled out among all other flies.
But let us begin with a description of Wadi Badan itself. Everyone agrees that the landscape had an important part to play in this story and Wadi Badan truly was a place of outstanding beauty, nestling between the kind of medium sized hills just high enough to cool the air on their summits, but not too high to be hostile to anyone who wanted to settle there. Ancient olive groves, witnesses to civilisations reaching far into the past, clung to the slopes, and cool spring water gently cascaded down from rocky outcrops filling the air with its sweet scent. The flies of Wadi Badan had been resident in this beautiful valley for a long time and they were immensely proud of their home. For hundreds of years their ancestors had lived there, so long that no one could remember, and long enough to accumulate a great number of commemorative days and festive occasions which they loyally observed. One of their favourite past times was to tell stories of their families’ great ancestors to make sure that they would not be forgotten. The life of a fly is short, so they were always telling stories of the waxing and waning fortunes of the members of the many families that had lived in Wadi Badan.
It wasn’t that they thought themselves blessed among all other flies, but they did think they were extraordinarily lucky to call this valley their own, because on top of its spectacular natural beauty, it offered an additional, relatively recent advantage: Humans had some time ago started to visit in great numbers. They came with all their families and sat on pink chairs on shaded terraces, surrounded by trees and water escaping from the rocks, or by the small swimming pool which was usually bursting with children laughing and screaming, all wearing arm bands and plastic rings around their waists. There were tables in shallow basins filled with water where they cooled their feet while they ate and drank, and dotted around were a great number of barbecue stoves which they used to cook their meals. The variety of the foods the humans ate had at first completely intoxicated the flies, they couldn’t decide where to go first to discover another delicious delicacy, but gradually they had developed preferences, some liked to dine with the Badawis, others with the Jarrars, the Arafats or the Shekhshirs. Life really could not have been better and everyone thought it was paradise on earth.
Until one day – and this small, innocuous phrase dear reader, signals the moment when we hold our breath knowing that some kind of change, possibly monumental, is about to occur. After all, this is the nature of stories and the nature of things; everything changes and every change has to begin somewhere. (Sometimes we confidently locate this beginning as a precise point on the graph of our lives, other times it hovers timidly on the fringes of some distant, incomprehensible past.) So one day- and the flies of Wadi Badan would always remember it as a particular day- their lives did undergo a momentous change. It started with a strange smell that drifted over the valley. No one could remember when exactly it had first appeared or indeed who had been the first to notice it, but they all later confirmed that they had smelled something since the late morning of that day. It was a pervasive odour, unknown to them yet in some way oddly familiar, pungent but, alarmingly, not unpleasant, slightly rancid and sweet and damp with wet earth. It drifted in small clouds across the valley, invisible but inescapable, and caused a nervous buzz in the whole population. By the evening the mystery of the smell had been solved. Reports emerged of a sizeable band of large furry creatures that had rampaged through the woods during the previous night and had been sleeping off their exploits during the day in a well-hidden, makeshift camp they had built for themselves. But even more alarming was that these creatures had brought along with them their own company of flies. Not any ordinary flies but a rowdy and aggressive bunch with no manners. Apparently they had already sent out several reconnaissance parties and there had been an unfriendly exchange as one of their own number had approached them.
Things went very quickly from bad to worse. The newcomers had no plans to go anywhere, on the contrary, they showed every intention of making themselves permanently at home in some of the most beautiful spots of Wadi Badan. As for the four legged, heavy-set creatures with sharp fangs at the front of their faces, after consultations with the Elders they had been positively identified as members of a species of wild pig, and a particularly voracious one at that. The evidence for this was only too obvious. Within a few weeks they had shamelessly cut wide trenches through the bottom of the valley with their hooves and their sharp teeth, allowing them to move more quickly from one place to another to wreak even more devastation. While the pigs devoured almost anything they saw, their accomplices mainly fed on the pig’s waste, which the flies of Wadi Badan, being used to a far more varied diet thought extremely uncouth, but, they realised uneasily, there would be no shortage of food for their unwelcome visitors because Wadi Badan was a lush and rich valley. And so the pigs grew fat very quickly while their aggressive companions became more bullish as time went on. They grew more and more brazen in their incursions into the remote corners of the valley, and it seemed nothing would stop them. Day by day they extended their territory, while the flies of Wadi Badan were pushed into a smaller corner of the valley. Gradually even the humans started to stay away and those who did come looked around in apprehension as if expecting trouble, and worse, had begun to wage a brutal and indiscriminate war against any fly they came across. In truth there were now simply too many of them. Humans on the whole can’t distinguish between one fly and the other, and more often than not it was the flies of Wadi Badan who were in the firing line. Concerning the wild pigs however, the humans didn’t take any far reaching measures which surprised the flies greatly, as traditionally humans did not happily share their environment with these kind of creatures. But there it was. Inexplicably, nothing was done, and the situation for the flies of Wadi Badan worsened by the day.
Finally they decided they had to take matters into their own hands. There were many suggestions. Some thought they should seek an alliance with the wasps who, it was hoped, might sting the pigs out of Wadi Badan. If the pigs left, they thought, so would the flies, but there was no enthusiasm on the part of the wasps for this idea. Others talked about poison, but how to administer it?
‘Get the snakes and the spiders to help us’ it was suggested, but even if both the snakes and the spiders agreed, there simply weren’t enough of them to poison even one of the pigs. Another idea was based on observations that the intruder flies had a habit of whispering into the pig’s ears.
‘They’re giving them instructions. That’s for sure! Let’s do the same. Let’s tell them to go away’, they said. A brave youngster did succeed in getting close enough to one of the pig’s ears to shout orders to leave immediately into it, but his efforts were completely ignored. In the end, everyone conceded they needed a truce of some sort urgently, and an envoy was sent out to deliver a message requesting a meeting. The envoy did not return for several days and when he finally came back he was missing half a wing and two legs and reported that he had been brutally interrogated for hours on end but wouldn’t say anything more than that. However, a date and place for a meeting had been agreed upon eventually and it took place at an intersection of two newly dug trenches. The results were disastrous. The invader flies simply laughed in their faces and told them to go home and stop complaining, while the pigs looked menacing and munched their way through the remaining surrounding vegetation. Dejected, their party returned to their only stronghold left, the upper terraces of the garden of the humans. There they put on a brave face and continued with their daily rituals and even their storytelling as best they could, but they lived under a heavy cloud that overshadowed all their lives.
It was only by pure chance that one hazy summer morning one of the eldest flies, a venerable old former chief who had long retreated into a world of his own was overheard by his great great-granddaughter mumbling to himself as he ambled along a stalk of grass.
‘I know.…the DIRECTORATE, but I couldn’t go. I was…I was …going to ….they would have fixed it… DIRECTORATE of ….of ADJUSTMENT and DEPORTMENT….yes…DAD’
‘What directorate, what’s adjustment, what’s deportment?’ the young fly asked. The old chief turned to her, somewhat disturbed in his reverie but mollified when he saw it was his favourite great great-granddaughter. ‘Ah, but it’s a secret, my dear’, he whispered conspiratorially, you mustn’t say anything to anyone.
‘Why shouldn’t I say anything to anyone, granddad?’ The young fly knew her great-great- grandfather well and flashed her eyes at him.
‘No one knows’, the old fly looked wistfully into the distance.
‘Tell me, please, it’s a story I’ve never heard’.
‘Ah, well it’s not a story, my love. It’s real.’
‘But all stories are real, aren’t they?
‘This one is more real than the others’. The old chief turned to continue walking, but the young fly stopped him.
‘Please, please tell me. Maybe it can help us with our problems.’
‘Oh granddad you must know about all the terrible things that have been happening here. But even if you don’t, please believe me that we need any help we can get. Tell me the story!
The old fly looked at her for a long time. ‘Very well then. I was talking’, and his voice fell to a whisper, ‘about a place called the Directorate of Adjustment and Deportment. Or maybe it’s Directorate of Adjusting Deportment. And maybe it’s not even a place. Anyway, no one knows what it is or where it is. But they sometimes fix things.
The young fly looked at him wide-eyed. ‘They fix things?’
‘What kind of things?’
‘Anything. You know, if you’re really not happy about something, they can change it. But first you’ve got to send them a letter.’
‘Let’s send them a letter. Please,’ the young fly cried. ‘We need help, we really do. Oh granddad, where do we send the letter to?’
‘Well that’s just the thing. There‘s a post box.. But you’ve got to find it. And that’s no easy task, because no one knows where it is. They say it’s red, or maybe yellow. But not many have the heart to go and look for it.’
‘I will go. I’ll find it and if it takes me all my life.’
‘That’s very brave of you.’ Something seemed to have stirred his memory and he returned to looking wistfully into the distance, while the young fly immediately flew to tell the elders of what she had heard.
‘Three words, the old fly shouted after her, ‘three words only.’
‘We have never heard of such an institution’, the elders said and looked at each other meaningfully. The old chief was well known for making up stories as he went along.
‘Let me go and look for the post box. We won’t lose anything trying’ the young fly implored them.
‘We can lose you’ they said looking at her with concern. ‘Besides, you know that the old chief’s mind is not what it was, and he is always making things up. We simply cannot risk losing any more of our young especially not on a wild goose chase after some directorate no one knows anything about.
‘But what if it does exist? And what if they really could help us?
The Elders looked at each other again. As she stood before them, her wings flashing with all the colours of the rainbow in the sunlight, she looked particularly beautiful. Her eyes were large and blazing with passion and they realised that no amount of reason was going to stop her.
The young fly, sensing victory continued.
‘Who else is helping us? No one! And are we helping ourselves? Please help me write a letter, I can’t do this by myself. Besides I need your blessing. ’
They all thought that this crazy mission was almost certainly going to lead to the young fly’s death but if she was not allowed to go, she might equally as likely lose her life trying to fight off the intruders. And so, they eventually agreed that a letter should be written containing three words which might move the probably imaginary directorate of adjustment and deportment to act on their behalf, if a post box could be found that would enable the letter to be delivered.
Life in Wadi Badan had become so difficult, that many tried to ignore the situation as much as they possibly could but they found it impossible. Many went willingly to their deaths, in a desperate bid to drive the intruders out of the valley. All the old stories they told were now laced with a sense of sadness and longing and new stories mostly spoke of battles lost and lost again with little hope for change. So when word about the letter got out, there was not much appetite initially among the population for writing letters to unknown recipients, but the young fly campaigned tirelessly and gradually, as more and more of them started to participate in the discussion of what these three words should be, the idea that there might be a solution to the crisis spurred them on. You might think writing a letter with only three words could be easily accomplished, but they sat for hours deliberating which words would be the best to use. Some thought they needed to describe the situation with a key phrase like, ‘death by invasion’, but this wasn’t deemed specific enough; on the other hand something like ‘pigs, flies, death’ just did not tell the whole story either. In the end one of the young fly’s cousins who had not said very much up until then stood up and said:
‘What’s the reason for our request? What is it that we want? He looked around.
‘Well, it’s easy really. We need help. We Need Help! There we have our three words.’
‘But how can anyone decide whether to help us without knowing the circumstances?’ some argued, but they were overruled as the majority felt it was the most important thing to say in this whole matter so in the end, these were the words they wrote and signed with their name: The Flies of Wadi Badan.
But where to find the post box to post the letter in the first place? They went back to the old chief and asked him, but he only looked wistfully into the distance and said ‘straight, straight ahead,’ over and over again. ‘Straight ahead could be anywhere’, they shouted at him, but it was no good. Eventually someone remarked that it probably didn’t matter in which direction one flew, eventually one would always come to a post box. It was all just a question of distance. ‘Yes’, they said, ‘but it has to be right post box. And how will you know when you don’t even know what it looks like, except that it might be red, or orange! ‘
In the end the young fly decided she was just going try her luck and fly south, a direction they took rarely because it was deemed to be very hot that way. She managed to quash any objections because, she convincingly argued, there was a much greater chance in finding something unknown in a place that was unknown. There had also been concerns about the size of the letter. It was, as one might imagine, very small, and in the miraculous event that the young fly found the post box, how could she be sure that it could even be seen by whoever came to pick up the post?
‘I will make sure, that once I find the post box, the letter will be delivered’, the young fly told them as she finally prepared to leave. She did not carry much with her, except the letter and a small satchel of food supplies that would last her for a few days.
She flew south over the valley’s ravaged landscape, pockmarked by craters, and lined by a tight grid of trenches of dry and lifeless earth. She could hardly bear to look down at her home which from up high looked like somebody had built a gigantic graveyard overnight, in which the land itself and everything on it had been unceremoniously buried. Finally she left the valley and came to a great desert; she continued without resting until she arrived at the shores of a vast ocean. There she stopped and ate some of the food she had brought with her. She had never seen so much water before and a distance so far away but she knew there was no turning back now, so after a short rest she took a deep breath and launched herself into the unknown. She flew and flew, never has any fly flown so far, but all she cared about was to reach land. Finally on the morning of the third day she saw a faint outline ahead of her on the horizon, and a while later she spotted a sea gull hovering high above. She knew then that land was not too far away and carried on with renewed energy and hope. The outline grew more and more distinct until she could make out a coast line with sandy beaches, bordered by what looked like a dense forest. But as she approached the shore, a stiff wind suddenly came rushing at her from the direction of the land and pushed her relentlessly back out to sea. Try as she might she could not overcome the force of the wind and eventually became so exhausted that she let herself drop onto the waves. Flies do not do well in salt water, and as she bobbed up and down with the waves in agony, she thought what a strange and lonely death she would die out here, and what a pity it was that she had not found her destination.
This story, although hovering on the brink of a disastrous ending is, as I’m sure you are suspecting, dear reader, not over yet. And what’s more, we can count ourselves lucky in more than one way. While we are merely experiencing the end of a paragraph, the last bit of air exhaled before our story takes a new breath, the young fly on the other hand found herself bobbing on the cusp between life and death. ‘Far too early’ she thought, ‘no, it cannot be, this is not the end, no please’; her tears mingled with the salt water, ‘no, I don’t want to die alone.’ Determined as she was to remain conscious as long as she could, she fought with all her strength, but finally her eyes closed and she passed out. What she experienced, if anything, during that time we shall never know; but since we have to rely on our young heroine as the sole source of the next part of the story, let us hurry on to the point in time that concerns us most: the moment when she returned from the solitary oblivion of unconsciousness. She found herself perched on a small pebble in the middle of a sandy beach. ‘I am alive! It’s a miracle!’ But there it was, life, light, the sun that had not let her body go cold and radiated its warmth all over her. ‘Thank you sun’ she said aloud, ‘thank you so much’, and as she closed her eyes and listened to the sound of the waves she felt peaceful like never before. But she knew she could not stop for long because she had a mission. She had to find the post box, come what may. To her great relief she still had the letter tucked under her wing so she started heading for the forest that stretched into the distance either side of her as far as he could see. ‘I have been flying in a straight line so far, so I might as well continue in the same way’, she thought but as she came closer to the treeline she saw that this was not the kind of woodland that she was used to. Back home the trees played with the light, here they devoured it. The tall trees with dark green fleshy leaves formed a wall willing unwelcome visitors to stay out. ‘But I am small, and I won’t disturb anyone I promise’ she mumbled as she left the sun behind and flew into the darkness. Suddenly it became very cold and it struck her that she couldn’t hear the sound of the waves any more. There was an eerie silence all around her, as if there was not a living thing anywhere in this forest. Still, she flew on, but since she couldn’t see the sun any longer she soon lost her sense of time, and after a while she didn’t know what time of day or night it was or how long she had been flying. Every now and then she did encounter other creatures, once she was almost eaten by a large bird who pursued her for some time and another time she just managed to escape the long sticky tongue of a frog that shot out at her as she rested on a small mushroom.
The forest didn’t seem to end and nowhere during her journey so far had she seen any signs of a post box. As she flew on through the dense, lightless canopy, the impossibility of her mission loomed larger and larger in her mind. Eventually only the determination that she was not going to die in this forsaken place now after having already cheated death once, spurred her on. But she couldn’t help thinking herself a foolish adventuress, her life made futile by a hopeless quest.
She became more and more exhausted, and now fought against an overwhelming desire to lie down on the ground and surrender herself to her fate, whatever it might turn out to be. Several times she had flown into branches and fallen to the ground and she thought that next time she would simply not be able to get up again. But then she noticed that ahead of her the darkness did not seem as dense and that every now and again small patches of clover had started to appear. Then she passed a ray of sunlight caught on the side of a branch and then the dense undergrowth opened out into a small clearing.
Should we draw out this moment, dear listener, the moment we have all been waiting for impatiently? No, let us not hesitate any longer: there, in the middle of the clearing was a brightly coloured red wooden box that had the word ‘letters’ written on it. The young fly’s heart beat so fast it almost burst out of her chest. ‘I found it, I really found it. This has got to be it.’ There was not a soul around to share her joy so she crazily flew a few circles around the post box but found she was too exhausted even to celebrate, so she alighted in the grass beside the box. After having refreshed herself with the last of her provisions she gingerly approached the box and peered inside through a small slit at the top. It was empty. She hovered beside the box for several moments before she finally took out the letter from under her wing and carefully placed it inside. Then she flew on to a nearby branch from where she could see the box and waited.
It wasn’t very long, before a white rabbit wearing a dark green bullet proof waist coat hopped into the clearing.  He looked around, went to the post box, produced a large silver key, unlocked the lid and peered inside. The young fly noticed with immense excitement that on the back of his waist coat was written the word: DAD. She dared not breathe and carefully edged closer in order to see if the rabbit took her letter. But before she could come close enough the rabbit slammed the lid shut and ran back into the forest. She simply had to make sure the letter was going to be delivered so she found herself following the rabbit in pursuit. She quickly caught up with him, and being careful not to be seen or heard, she stayed on his heels. It wasn’t easy because the rabbit ran extremely fast, and the forest still seemed to have no end, but eventually, he stopped in front of a large tree. It was a tree unlike any the young fly had ever seen before. Gigantic and of interminable age, it reached far into the sky, so high that she couldn’t see its top branches. At the bottom, where two of its roots met, there was a small rabbit hole and in a well-practised manner and without any hesitation the rabbit dived in head first. Almost immediately he disappeared and the young fly had no option but to follow.
She found herself in a short narrow tunnel that opened out into a tall, long corridor with doors on either side. She could just make out the rabbit hurrying along, his long ears flapping behind him. As fast and as quiet as she could she followed him and almost collided with him when he suddenly stopped in front of one of the doors, one of a seemingly interminable number, all made from a metal-like silvery shiny substance and all without a door handle. The rabbit pulled a big stop watch out of one of several pockets of his waist coat, looked at it, then knocked three times, and waited. And then, taking a small step forward, he walked right through the door as if it wasn’t there. The young fly, bewildered and desperate, closed her eyes and clung on to the rabbit’s tail, just as it started to disappear.
‘What’s the point of having a door if you can just walk through it’ she thought. When she opened them again she found herself in a small room, so small that the rabbit, now sitting on his haunches, filled almost half of it. In the middle, next to the rabbit’s right leg, there was a tiny table and two equally tiny chairs opposite each other on either side. Every surface in the room, the floor, the walls and the furniture had the same silvery sheen, as if made from the same material as the corridor and the doors.
‘Please get off my tail, you are tickling me’, the rabbit suddenly said looking over his shoulder straight at her.
‘I’m so sorry’, the young fly stammered and dropped to the floor beside him, ‘I didn’t know you…
‘Of course I knew you were there’, the rabbit interrupted her and looked at his watch again.
‘We are early, for a change.’ He chuckled, obviously pleased with himself.
‘Please, make yourself comfortable.’ He motioned her to one of the chairs and the young fly obediently perched right at the front of the seat.
‘Sshhh’. Don’t use up time unnecessarily.’
She fell silent and the rabbit started counting quietly and very slowly.
‘One’. There was a long pause.
‘Two’. Another, even longer pause. On the word ‘three’ he reached over to the wall on her left, pulled a silver door handle out of another one of his pockets and held it against the wall, where to her amazement a door appeared which he opened with a great flourish.
‘The general secretary’, he announced as pompously as is possible for someone squeezed into a room far too small for their own size.
The young fly couldn’t believe her eyes, when a silver trolley rolled in at great speed, slammed into the opposite wall, bounced back, rolled backwards and came to a standstill beside the table. On the trolley there was a silver plate and on the plate a large piece of pastry, and not just any pastry. It was a piece of kenafeh, a sweet delicacy that was very popular in her home. On top of the kenafeh, and the young fly had to blink several times to convince herself she was not seeing things, sat none other than her great great-grandfather, the old chief, chewing away happily at the sugary crust.
‘Ah, here you are my love’, he said his mouth full, ‘I thought they’d never find you.’
The young fly was speechless.
‘Would you like some kenafeh? Please, help yourself.’
The young fly shook her head.
‘Please, I insist. Do have some, it’s really very good. Almost like at home.’ Instead of waiting for an answer he helped himself to another piece.
‘You are…the General Secretary of the directorate…?’, the young fly eventually managed say after she found her voice again.
‘Apparently so’, the old chief laughed.
‘Oh it’s only for now, isn’t that right, sir?’ He turned to the white rabbit who looked at his watch again and said:
‘Precisely three minutes past midnight’.
‘Oh good, then we can begin.’ The old chief wiped his mouth daintily, launched himself from the top of the kenafeh and landed on the chair opposite the young fly.
‘I declare this time officially in progress’, the rabbit said and positioned himself behind her.
He took out a small silver wallet and put it on the table.
‘Here is your post Sir.
‘Thank you very much.’ The old chief took the wallet, opened it, and the young fly held her breath. He looked inside, and took out - her letter.
‘You found it’ she cried and looked at the rabbit who coolly raised his paw in a gesture that clearly stated that there was nothing so unusual about that. In the meantime the old chief had opened the letter and was looking at it.
‘Yes, very good’, he said.
‘But Grandad, surely you already knew what was in the letter. We talked about it enough back home’.
‘That was then. This is now. And I am the General Secretary before I am your great great-grandfather.
‘But grandad, I don’t understand’, why you are here. How is it possible?’
‘I’m here because you are here, that’s probably the simplest way to put it, and actually, I can’t tell you much more than that, except, that time is of the essence. Isn’t that right, Mr. Rabbit?’
‘Quite so’, the rabbit confirmed.
Excellent! Without further delay then, please, tell us about your journey. But you must have a piece of this delicious pastry before you start. .
So the young fly found herself chewing on the most delicious kanefeh she had ever tasted, while she told the story of her journey through the desert, across the sea, and through the dark forest, leaving out nothing. Every now and then the old chief interrupted her with exclamations of ‘extraordinary and ‘ that’s the way to do it’, while the white rabbit, who now had on a pair of glasses, made copious notes in a silver folder.
‘Very good’, the old chief said when the young fly had finished her story.
‘I’m proud of you.’
‘So what about us, I mean what about everybody back home?’
‘Yes, yes of course, that’s why we’re all here. But I really must congratulate you on your amazing journey. Quite something. Up there with the best of them you are, my little grand granddaughter, really very good.’
‘Thank you,’ the young fly mumbled and didn’t know what else to say.
‘Did you enjoy the trip?’ he asked her eagerly.
‘Yes, well, it was amazing’, she replied carefully, ‘but home is best’.
The old chief smiled at her and his face lit up as his eyes shone with affection.
‘Then let us get down to business.’ The rabbit said and cleared his throat.
‘By the powers of the Directorate of Adjustment and Deportment invested in the General Secretary we hereby grant you adjustment of one instant in the affairs of…’ he paused for effect. ‘…the flies of Wadi Badan’. Then he took a small piece of silver paper from his inside his folder, handed it to the young fly and said, pointing at the bottom: ‘
‘Sign here, please.
The young fly signed her name where the rabbit had told her to, but she couldn’t see any writing on the rest of the paper.
‘What am I signing’, she asked and turned to the rabbit, who was looming over her officiously.
‘It’s your exit ticket, that’s all. So you can find your way back. I will take you as far as the post box, but from then on you’ll be on your own again. Now, follow me, there is no more time to lose.’
‘But grandad’, the young fly protested but as she turned round again she saw that the old chief as well as the trolley with the kanefeh had disappeared.
‘Where has he gone?’ she cried.
‘Come, no time to lose, hold on to my tail, if you must’ the rabbit said. Without any protest the young fly obeyed and she had to hold on tight as the rabbit turned around to face the wall behind them. She could just make out the outline of the door, before they passed through the silvery surface as before. But this time the door opened out not into the long corridor as she had expected, but into sunlight. The last rays of the evening were playing on the leaves of a wild jasmine bush just beyond the rabbit hole she had encountered before.
‘There we are’, the rabbit said, smiling. ‘A neat short cut, don’t you think. Now let’s go before it gets too dark.’
The young fly kept on clinging on to the rabbit’s tail, as he ran into the forest.
‘Why are you wearing a bullet proof vest?’ She had to shout as the rabbit was making a lot of noise crashing through the undergrowth.
‘Safer these days’, the rabbit shouted back and didn’t say anything more after that, so they stopped talking. Surprisingly soon they arrived in the clearing where the red post box still stood. The rabbit went straight to it, opened the lid with his key again and took out a small bundle wrapped in silver cloth.
‘Here you are’ he said and gave the bundle to the young fly.
‘Inside you will find three things, a reed flute, a small box and a pen. Take them back to your home. When you get there, tell your visitors that you are ready to make peace and ask them to cease all acts of aggression against you immediately.
‘Neither side will agree to this, the young fly thought with a sinking heart.
‘Don’t worry’, the rabbit said. If your offer is not accepted, take out the flute and think of the most beautiful thing you ever heard. Then play the flute, with all your heart.
‘But I don’t play the flute’.
‘Don’t worry’, the rabbit said, ‘you will. If after this they still do not accept, take the box and think of the most beautiful thing you have ever seen. Then open it and let its content come out. If they still refuse, then you take the pen and write the first word that comes into your head. Now go. Everything will turn out for the best.’
And with these words the rabbit hurried back into the forest and the young fly found herself alone again. She unwrapped the bundle carefully and inside she found, just as the rabbit had said, a silver flute, a small silver box and a silver pen. How beautiful they are, the young fly thought and quickly closed the bundle again, as she realised she couldn’t keep her eyes open anymore. The next moment, she dropped to the ground beside the post box where she instantly fell into a deep sleep.
Dear reader, if you can’t believe what happened to our heroine, don’t worry! You are not alone. Many stories are not believed, yet they survive as insistently just as our heroine has done, against all odds, such is the nature of the world as it lives by our imagination and our dreams. So let us return to her, at the precise moment she awoke the next morning feeling greatly refreshed. She stretched all her limbs, drank some water, some sugary flower nectar and readied herself to start the long journey back home, making sure the little bundle she had been given was safely tucked away under her wings. She flew back through the forest that didn’t seem quite as dark as before and didn’t feel quite so cold either. She flew and flew and found that there were no interruptions to her journey this time; no one chased her or tried to eat her, and before she knew it she reached the shores of the ocean. She flew towards the sinking sun and the same wind that had almost prevented her from reaching land before now blew her out on to the sea and carried her across all the way until she reached the desert on the other side. She flew on and on until finally, when she could hardly keep her eyes open any longer from hunger and exhaustion she saw the gently sloping mountains of Wadi Badan in the distance.
It was evening when she finally arrived and her heart sank. She could hardly recognise the landscape. The places of her childhood were gone. Large areas of waste land where the pigs had completely eaten away all the vegetation strategically surrounded tall, ugly fortified structures from which their fly occupiers presumably had a view of the whole valley. Other places had been covered with sand and most of the homes her people had lived in were now surrounded by the new growing population of the invaders. But what was worst, she couldn’t see any of her brothers and sisters, only the wild pigs and their hated fly masters who were patrolling the whole valley as the sun was going down. Where was everyone? She did not dare to draw attention to herself so she waited until it was dark, and then finally she found them. They were huddled in little groups, hidden in the undergrowth on the highest terrace of the people’s garden. And when she looked at the faces staring at her with fear and incomprehension, she realised with horror that they didn’t know her and that she didn’t recognise any of their faces.
‘How can it be’, she thought feverishly, but there was no doubt. She had been away far longer than she had thought.
‘Oh grandad, why didn’t you tell me about this?’ she whispered to herself, ‘you should have warned me. Everyone I knew gone, and you too.’ At the thought, tears started to roll down her cheeks and she collapsed right in front of them. The flies of Wadi Badan, sensing that she was one of them, slowly came closer and stood around her not quite knowing what to do.
‘Please don’t be afraid’, she told them after she had regained her composure.
‘I don’t know if you know about me, but I am the one who flew out to post the letter to the Directorate of ….’
There was a cry and a commotion and somebody pushed through to the front.
‘Is that really you?’ an ancient fly cried and as soon as he saw her, took hold of her and hugged her tightly, all the while shouting, ‘I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it. It is really her!’ As she looked into his face she suddenly recognised him. It was her youngest cousin. ‘How long have I been away’, she asked him, how long, how can it be..?’
‘You have been away for a long time, long time, almost two lifetimes. We thought you had perished.’ The old fly sighed. ‘We even held a funeral for you. Everyone cried, including me, and that says something as you know, because I never cry. And he hugged her again
‘Well, but that’s all in the past.’ Anyway, I am the last of the flies alive at the time you left. I was very young then, remember, I was the one who came up with the three words we put in the letter.‘ He turned to the others.
‘It’s Nour. She has come back.’
It took some time before the flies realised that for once something good had happened to them, and then everyone was beside themselves with excitement because of course they had all heard about her and her mission. But they also realised she needed food and rest so they led her to the quietest spot they could find, an old rabbit burrow deep underground, where she slept for a long time. When she woke the next day she found a feast had been prepared in her honour. During the course of that evening she told them what had happened to her and in honour of her bravery several songs were composed and sung which to this day every fly in Wadi Badan knows by heart. But when she told them that she had been instructed to arrange a meeting with the other flies and make an offer of peace, they looked at her with a mixture of disgust and pity.
‘It’s not possible’ they said. We have tried. They don’t listen to us. And in any case, we hate them too much
‘It is the only way’, she replied firmly. ‘If we don’t, my journey will have been in vain.’
So an emissary was sent out who wise from previous experiences, rather than risk a personal encounter, tied a message to a tree near a newly dug trench where he knew it would be found. The message requested a meeting in the middle of the old olive grove half way up the mountain the following day late afternoon to discuss ‘the future.’ They did not receive a reply for several hours but finally, to everyone’s surprise, a note of acceptance was found tied to the same tree.
Silence reigned as the two parties gathered opposite each other on the next day among the shade of the delicate silver leaves of the ancient trees. The large, well organised army of intruder flies positioned themselves in a long impenetrable line, and faced a straggly band of the decimated flies of Wadi Badan, not all of whom had turned up because some of them were simply too afraid. The young fly’s old cousin however, despite his age had insisted he would come too. Finally, when everyone seemed to be present, and the air was so leaden from the tension between the two parties that even the cicadas fell silent, the young fly and a small group of elders including her cousin gathered their courage and stepped forward. Her cousin spoke and his voice rang out clearly across the valley: ‘Thank you for agreeing to this meeting’ he began, and was met with silence. He drew himself up to his full height, supporting himself with a cane, and continued.
‘Many of you have been borne here, it is your home. Many of you will not remember as I do when your kind first came here. Many of you will not remember how beautiful this valley once was. It makes me sad. Because if you did, we might not be enemies. Look around you. Our home, our home, is becoming an ugly place with all the trenches and holes you are making. Do you love this valley? Because if you do, learn to love us too, we are part of it and always will be, no matter how many trenches you make. This is our home, too, and has been for a long time. Let us live as considerate neighbours. Tell those pigs to stop destroying this valley. Let us share it as equals…’
The leader of the fly army, who had not come forward to meet them interrupted him: ‘We are doing what we must to ensure our survival. The trenches are ugly. The pigs are a nuisance. But if you stopped making trouble we wouldn’t need them. And as far as your home is concerned, according to the stories of our ancestors we were here before you. It was a long time ago, that’s true, and we left but, now we’re back. This is our home. I sympathise with you, but the truth is, let’s be honest, we are stronger than you and we have no need to meet any demand you make of us. I believe it would be best for all of us if you left and looked for somewhere else to live. It’s no big deal. We’ve had to do it many times before in the past.’
His words produced gasps of shock and indignation among the flies of Wadi Badan. But her cousin did not lose his composure.
‘Then perhaps you don’t know what it’s like to have buried your father and your father’s father and many generations before them in the same soil. Their bones are the earth you walk on.’
The fly leader stared at him. ‘There is nothing more to say.’ He turned around, and signalled his army to prepare to leave. The flies of Wadi Badan looked at each other. ‘We told you so’, they said to the young fly. ‘You see what they are like. They are not listening’.
‘Don’t leave, please’, she shouted after the departing army, but received no answer. Now the young fly knew her moment had come. She unwrapped the bundle again, took out the silver flute and thought of a morning long ago when by chance she had overheard the achingly beautiful song of a strange bird who had sat outside her home only but a short while before he flew off never to return.
Then she raised the flute to her mouth and began to play. A simple melody, three notes descending slowly, the third note lingering on her breath and then rising upwards like a question, before dying away gently. To the flies of Wadi Badan it was the sweetest sound they had ever heard. It filled the air around them, soft but insistent, permeating even the ancient rocks around them. And when she reached the top note of the next phrase, they began to notice that the ranks of the departing fly army seemed to be disintegrating. They had stopped and dropped their weapons and were wandering towards the sound of the flute with smiles on their faces.
‘Look’, her cousin shouted. ‘They are listening, keep playing’.
But the leader of the fly army acted quickly.
‘Cover your ears’, now’, they heard him shout, as he raced around trying to control his mesmerized troops, holding his front legs to his ears. The young fly continued playing. The leader threw a hate filled glance at her, but she didn’t stop. Half entranced and half bemused the flies of Wadi Badan watched, as more and of the enemy flies stood around with their weapons wedged awkwardly under their front legs while covering their ears, awaiting further instructions.
‘Keep on playing’, they told the young fly, ‘maybe they’ll change their minds.’
But it soon became clear to them that the leader had no intentions to do any such thing. As soon as he had restored order among his troops, he motioned them to retreat. The flies of Wadi Badan watched as the last of them turned the corner on the path that led down the hill. Only then the young fly, who was exhausted, stopped playing. No one was able to say anything for a while as the sound of the flute lingered like a silent plea.
‘That was so beautiful’ one of the elders said, ‘but now they will be really angry.’
‘Let’s go before they come back and kill us all right here and now’ her cousin urged and since no one objected they flew off as fast as they could back to their last stronghold in the human’s garden.
And sure enough, the next day, the alarm was raised early in the morning. A large division of the enemy army had been seen buzzing around the pigs making them ram their bodies against the gate the humans had built as part of a fence around their garden. The young fly and a small group of the bravest among them rushed to the scene. This was the final push they had long been dreading and when they arrived their worst fears were confirmed. It was no good. The gate could not withstand the force of a band of hungry wild pigs. They broke through and were now roaming around freely and shamelessly, knocking over chairs and tables, rolling and splashing around in the shallow basins which turned the water a dusty brown, and helping themselves to anything edible they could find. Their fly masters sat silently on the branches of the surrounding trees and watched. Not taking any chances, they were wearing tight fitting, sound proof helmets that covered their whole head. They had never seemed as menacing as they did now, communicating with each other only with looks and gestures in a code they had obviously rehearsed well. ‘Please tell your pigs to stop destroying our lives’, the flies of Wadi Badan shouted in desperation but then realised they would not be heard. So the young fly flew into the middle of the fray, clutching the little box she had been given. This was the moment the enemy had been waiting for. In tight formation they swooped towards her, she could see their eyes filled with hatred.
‘Quickly, open the box’, she heard someone shout.
‘The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen’, she thought in panic and suddenly the image of her great great-grandfather appeared before her, the look in his eyes the very last time she had seen him. The flies came closer and closer, still in mid-air she fumbled with the little catch on the box and finally managed to open it, feeling herself swallowed up by the sound of their furious buzzing. As soon as the lid had come up, a white mist rose out of the box that quickly gathered itself into a translucent, moving shape of delicate and immense beauty. The flies of Wadi Badan were transfixed. Neither material nor immaterial, neither air nor substance it undulated and curled gently above and around them in a delicate dance and they could feel the pulses of rhythm that animated the wondrous apparition. The young fly thought she caught fleeting glimpses of her grandfather’s face in the swirling shape and in her delight almost forgot about the army of flies that had been all around her only a moment before. And suddenly she realised that they had lost all interest in her. Everyone seemed to be equally bewitched by the spectacle. Flies on both sides were perching wherever they could, open mouthed, watching the dancing shape. The leader of the enemy flies howled in frustration, and motioning his troops to pull their helmets over their faces, he ordered them to cover their eyes. Many of them did so reluctantly, some blatantly disobeyed his order but after he struck them hard with his long stick, they did as they were told. Having to hold on to one another because they couldn’t see, they followed him and flew out of sight into a nearby thicket of bushes. As soon as they had disappeared the shape floated upwards and then slowly started to disintegrate and fade away.
‘I hope they will stop now and make peace with us’, the young fly thought half scared to death and half elated at the thought of an end to this terrible conflict. She had landed on the roof of a small kiosk the humans had built and as she looked down she saw a number of the pigs, who seemed oblivious to everything that had happened. She scrutinized the surrounding area and saw only her cousin, perched on top of a barbecue stove, leaning on his cane. ‘That was quite something,’ he shouted across to her.
‘Where is everyone else?’ she shouted back.
‘Just left. Trying to save what there is to save.’ She flew over to him and together they surveyed the scene of the most recent devastation. ‘Maybe this is the end’ she said hopefully.
But she was wrong. The enemy flies were still not in a mood to make peace. Later that day, it was just getting dark, they came back. The young fly and her cousin had been watching the sleepy pigs all day from a safe hiding place next to one of the springs just by the entrance to the garden.
‘These flies are resourceful, I must give them that’, the young fly thought grimly as they
watched them advance onto the terrace in their usual tight formation. As well as their
helmets, they were now wearing impressively large goggles, presumably to filter out any
unwanted visions. Despite looking extremely menacing it struck her as an entirely
unnecessary and foolhardy precaution, since it was a well-known fact that flies don’t see
well in the dark. But as she looked up she saw that the moon happened to be particularly
large that night and hung like a searchlight in the sky. Under its pale silvery gaze they could
see the fly army splitting into groups, surrounding the pigs and shouting into their ears.
Then suddenly, without warning, the wild pigs charged. They ran straight towards the last
stronghold of the flies of Wadi Badan, up some wooden stairs, across a small bridge onto
the second terrace and towards the uppermost level. Terrified, the young fly and her cousin
who had difficulties keeping up with her flew ahead of them to warn their own. Everyone
had assembled ready to defend the last remnants of their home, and they already knew.
‘Quickly, where is the pen you were given’, they shouted when they saw her. Take it out
now and write the most important word you have ever written in your life. ’ They tried to
remain as calm as they could, for their and for her benefit but it was hard under the
circumstances, and they couldn’t hide the panic in their voices. The young fly fumbled for
the peninside the bundle. ‘Please be quiet, let me think’, she cried. ‘No,
don’t think’, one of the elders said. But they were quiet, which only made the sound of the
approaching pigs even more frightening. ‘What shall I write’ the young fly thought
feverishly as she held the pen over a dried leaf, which they had brought so she could write
on it. Then she knew. She turned away from them and wrote.
As soon as she had finished writing she lifted the pen, and then everything around them suddenly became very still. The rumbling noise of the pigs’ hooves that had been shaking the ground stopped. There was a peaceful silence they had not heard for a long time, and no one dared break it. Finally it was the young fly who could not keep quiet any longer. ‘Well’, she said. ‘I can’t hear them anymore. Shall we see what happened to them?’ They carefully climbed down from their stronghold and soon they were met with the most unexpected sight. The pigs, their breath still hot and laboured from the recent exertions, were lying around peacefully, some had fallen asleep, others were half-heartedly chewing morsels of food. Their fly masters on the other hand seemed to have lost all sense of purpose. They were crawling around aimlessly among the pigs with blank expressions on their faces. They looked most peculiar, with their goggles and helmets weighing their heads down, as if they were looking for something on the ground. As the flies of Wadi Badan approached, some of the pigs looked up for a second but did not show any further interest in them. ‘What happened?’ they asked each other but no one had a ready answer. Even as they got closer the flies did not seem to acknowledge their presence. Some of them had stopped and were taking off their head gear, looking at it incredulously. Among them the young fly suddenly spotted their leader.
‘Let me talk to him’, she told the others, who gasped at the prospect, but she was already making her way towards him.
‘Who are you,’ the fly croaked, when he saw her. ‘Where am I?’
She looked straight at him. He stared back at her and she immediately realised that something about him had fundamentally changed. He did not recognise her. But how was this possible?
‘You are in Wadi Badan’ she told him.
‘Who are you?’ the fly croaked again.
‘He doesn’t remember anything ’ somebody whispered loudly. Someone else at the back of their group giggled. The young fly went up close to him, carefully took one his front legs and shook it. He didn’t resist.
‘Who are you?’ he insisted.
‘I am a fly of Wadi Badan’ the young fly said.
‘Who am I?’
The young fly did not immediately answer. She looked around, and her cousin who had been standing right behind her, joined her. Slowly, pronouncing each word carefully he said: ‘You and your kind have been our guests here.’
There was an audible sigh from the others behind them.
The leader of the flies shuddered and after a long pause replied:
‘I don’t remember where we came from.’
The flies of Wadi Badan couldn’t make up their minds if this was good or bad news.
‘I am sorry’ her cousin said and turned to the elders. ‘What shall we do?’
No one had any immediate answer, so they stood silently and warily watched their former enemy.
‘And what about them?’ the young fly pointed to the wild pigs who were peacefully and lazily grooming themselves, seemingly unaware of what had happened to their allies.
‘If we let them all stay’, one of the elders finally said quietly, ‘how do we know that they will not revert to their old ways before long?’
‘Was there anything in your instructions about what we should do now’, someone else said to the young fly. She shook her head.
Just then they heard a commotion nearby. There was a splash and a squeal and then they
saw flashing lights. Humans had arrived. They had obviously heard their gate being smashed
and had come to investigate. The lights came closer and when the humans saw the
pigs they started to shout and try to chase them away with sticks. One of the pigs had fallen
into the swimming pool and was thrashing around in terror. The humans went to the edge
of the pool and eventually pulled it out, but once it was out of the water they released
it and it ran away after its brothers who had already bolted as quickly as they could. They were chased out of the garden but ended up loitering around outside, seemingly unsure of what to do. The humans seemed agitated but were obviously in no mood to deal with the disturbing presence on the other side of the fence, and instead set about tidying up the mess the pigs had left behind. In all this time, they had not paid any attention to the flies. But then humans don’t notice flies unless they are annoyed by them, and especially not at night. Suddenly the young fly had an idea.
‘Will you excuse us for a moment’, she said to the leader of the flies, who was busy trying to revive his former army. She turned to her cousin and the other elders and spoke to them briefly. They listened and nodded. Then she went up to the leader and looked him straight in the eyes.
‘You wanted me to tell you who you are. This is what we know. You are the leader of these flies. You were passing by our valley some time ago and we invited you, because you told us that you could talk to the pigs.’
The other fly looked at her in amazement. ‘The pigs?’
‘These pigs have been causing a great disturbance in our valley and you agreed to tell them to behave and take them back to where they came from.’
‘We can really talk to them?’ the fly rasped.
‘Yes, and they listen to you.’
‘And we agreed to help you?’
‘Yes, you did’, said the young fly firmly.
‘But something happened. What has happened to us?’
‘I don’t know, she replied.
Dear reader, quite understandably, our young fly did not know by what mysterious means DAD, the elusive directorate had intervened in their lives. And the truth is, neither will we because this story will not tell us. It is not unusual, and it’s not the first time we have not understood something. But under the circumstances I hope you will agree that it was quite understandable that the young fly was not going to divulge the details of what she did know of the terrible times they had all shared. History, as we all know, can be told in many ways, but as a rule the whole of it is never told and in this case, well, would you not have done the same?
But now there was a silence during which all the flies of Wadi Badan held their breath.
‘I have to believe you, I have no choice ’ the fly leader said eventually, ‘but I don’t understand what happened. How could I simply forget who I once was? Am I sick? Have we eaten something strange? And what about these strange helmets?
‘I don’t know’, the young fly said and met his gaze.
‘And how is it possible that we can talk to these pigs?
‘We saw you do it.’
‘What did I say to them and…?’
Her cousin interrupted him.
‘Why don’t you try it again? Let’s see if you can still talk with them.’
The three of them flew the short distance to where the pigs were still milling around and the fly leader went up close to the nearest, it was a female, speaking softly into her ear.
Immediately the pig lay down on the ground and closed her eyes.
‘I told her to go to sleep.’ The fly leader said and looked completely baffled but convinced.
They returned to the terrace where the flies of Wadi Badan had begun handing out what little refreshments they had stored away to the dazed former enemy troops.
‘We will leave you to decide what you want to do’ her cousin said to the leader. ‘We are sorry that you are now in this predicament but we shall always be grateful to you, if you still agree to help us. If you need some of you to remain here, especially those too frail to travel, they are most welcome. We will of course give you plenty of provisions on your journey. Tell us in the morning what you have decided.
The fly leader nodded in agreement. As for the flies of Wadi Badan, they retired to their stronghold but no one was able to sleep. Instead they nervously sipped water and waited.
Just after sunrise, the fly leader came back with his answer. ‘I have told everyone what you said. We are all suffering from the same affliction, and we see no better option than to accept your kind offer. We decided that some of us will remain here and the others will lead these pigs to another place, far from here. And may we remain friends for a long time.’
The whole rest of the morning passed as if in a dream. The flies of Wadi Badan collected as many provisions as they could find, leaving them with almost nothing, but they didn’t care. They worked silently and efficiently, making a great mound of food in the middle of the lower terrace. Finally, they watched as the leader and a many of his former army tucked it all under their wings and swarmed off towards the pigs who were still wandering around aimlessly outside the garden.
The flies of Wadi Badan followed them, not wanting to miss anything. They watched them quickly rounding up of the pigs and whispering instructions into their ears. The pigs, grateful finally to be told what to do again, immediately obeyed and trotted off towards the Northern end of the valley, accompanied by their guides. The flies of Wadi Badan did not take their eyes off them and even the humans who had remained behind clearing the debris from their garden stopped to look. As so often, they had no idea that their lives too were to change again, this time for the better. Finally, the last of the pig’s tails disappeared around the corner of the road leading out of the valley - and it must be said, dear reader, that a pig’s tail is not often the harbinger of big news, but this time it certainly was. The moment had finally arrived. The heavy cloud that had been choking them for so long lifted all at once. The air cleared, the sound of the birds rose into the sky and the water from the cascading springs sparkled in the sunshine.
‘What was the word you wrote?’ they asked the young fly, and she smiled and said. ‘What do you think I wrote? I wrote what I most wanted in all the world at that moment. ‘
Dear reader, this story clearly did eventually travel beyond the borders of Wadi Badan. How could it not, especially since the DAD only intervenes very rarely in the general management of life on earth, and any such intervention becomes a matter of interest to everyone, which is why we know about it in the first place.
Now the flies of Wadi Badan have got used again to the return of peace to their valley. Change can be a great shock to the system when it happens, as it invariably always does - eventually. So at first they simply could not believe it. They flew around for days and weeks visiting all the places that had been forbidden to them. They held parties and more parties, at least ten new days of celebration and commemoration were announced and they constantly hugged each other. As for the many of their former foe who had remained, the slates of their past were as clear as spring water, the memories of their lives lost to them. But this did not stop them from acquiring new memories, which resulted in many of them forming promising friendships with their hosts and soon it became difficult to distinguish between them all.
There is nothing more to say for now except, the pigs have so far not returned and the fame of the flies of Wadi Badan is growing.
 Most of you will already be familiar with another white rabbit who appears in a very famous story; this however was not the same white rabbit, but a distant cousin.