The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
The Fun of The Fair
The Fun of The Fair.
It all arose from my unfortunate predilection for poking my bandicootish proboscis into Gyppo business, and the sale of a watermelon. I wanted that melon. But Abdul Morsey wanted my backsheech in return for his watermelon, and certainly it was bigger, and had a more intricate hieroglyph scratched on it than Houssien's.
"Two piastre", Abdul said, and Houssien rushed in with his crying, "Jarnie! Jarnie! Him misquoise watermelon! Dis one quoise! Two piastre!" Then there was a scrum. A whirl of black legs, and two moving picture black heads. a flying laundry of white cloth and a whirlwind of dust. The bags of melons were forgotten by all but a couple of onlookers. Abdul ceased tearing and hung up a limp hand. His thumb was dislocated. Houssien picked up two empty bags, looked bewildered, and then became broken Englishly voluble. It was some discourse. There were references to the mund-ane things of this life and......
I attended to Abdul's thumb. A hardly-won certificate of proficiency in first aid protects me, and besides, I am a family man.
That evening I got leave. The orderlies in our mess are an obliging four or five, belonging to the Camel Corps, and I had an early tea. Ismailia was my objective and a sailing boat on Lake Timsah the crux of the position. But this was the time of Bairam, when the Mohammedan has three days of week-end jollity after his forty-eight days' fasting, and I was arrested at the vacant square just beyond the Bridge of Sighs. There was a sight! A glittering cheap jack stall with multi-colored wares and reflecting mirrors, presided over by a huge black growth of Egyptian symmetry, and his counter was crowded by eager children. All the colours of all the rainbows, from Noah's down to the Mad Mullah's, encompassed the construction and moved in ant-like masses on the picnic ground.
Then smote my senses a merry-go-round. It was some whirligig. I tried to compute the years since its fashioning. It had a canvas roof of thirty thousand years of wear and war. And not a patch was ever put on. It had a huge, untrimmed pole for a centre support, and from its roof ribs hung on iron bars, fashioned by Tubal Cain in his odd spare moments. These weary bars carried the remains of wooden horses.
There were other things—strolling players, ice-cream barrows, swinging chairs, the great, tall garden variety of swing, ox waggons, and little blind donkeys—at least, I think they were blind. Then there were bustle and clamour and confusion. And bright-eyed young women, with noserings and earrings of gold, and gleaming teeth set in laughing mouths, and bright beads and gaudy dress, silver anklets and Soudan feet. Sedate grandpas, seated on boxes, swapped reminiscences. The strolling players got me, as did the combatants at single-sticks. The players were four, two men and two women. I'll take the strollers one by one, though they were all four pock-marked. The singer was a middle-aged bint of much proportion. She had forgotten the tune, but that didn't matter. She improvised. Only three tones in her range, and one of them she didn't use. The other big, black woman took round the hat, and I dropped in a piastre. She beamed. I became interested in the huge men. One had a reed instrument which had originally been cut by order of Joseph the Dreamer, to feed Pharaoh's lean bull.
Some silly old man servant made a flute or a whistle of it, and it has been handed down from father to son. Once, I think, it was used as a bullock-whip handle and did a trip across the Sahara and back. When it wasn't goading the ox, it was used as a bivvy prop. It is played out, anyhow; but it was doing duty. The time that came from it was syncopate and quite different from that of the bint's made-up serenade.
The contestants were so awkwardly graceful tangoing gorillas! I left them, too. I found a be-fezzed chap from the French quarter. "Bon jour," I hazarded. "Bon jour, monsieur." His face brightened. "The festival, Sergeant, it est tres bien. eh!" "Tres bien est tres joli", I said "Australie"? he questioned. "Mais, yes," I said. ''En Australee etes vous un soldat?" ''Non, en Australie je suis un maitre de l'ecole!" Then he used English. "It is astonishing," he said, "so many of you, and so handsome. You are big fighters."
I'll tell you about the mosque if you like. It was near it.... in its big black shadow, that I saw again Houssien, of the melon. He wanted me, because I had put in Abdul's dislocated thumb, and he showed me the "lions" of Ismailia.