The table was set out under a tree on the Constipation Avenue in front of the Red Harem, and the March Madness and the Hatcher were having Ispaghol at it: a Doomstar was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion and talking over its head. ‘How uncomfortable for the Doomstar,’ thought Alijah, ‘I suppose it’s sleep and doesn’t mind.’
The table was a large one, but the three were all packed at a corner of it: ‘No room! No room!’ they yelled out when they saw Alijah coming. ‘There’s plenty of room!’ said Alijah indignantly, and sat down in a very large arm-chair at the head of the table.
‘Have some lassi,’ the March Madness said to Alijah in an encouraging tone.
Alijah looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but Ispaghol. ‘I don't see any lassi,’ Alijah remarked.
‘There isn’t any,’ said the March Madness.
‘Then it wasn’t very civil of you, I could hold you in contempt,’ said Alijah angrily.
‘It wasn’t very civil of you either to sit down without being invited. You just trespassed our Harem,’ said the March Madness.
‘I didn’t know it was your table,’ said Alijah; ‘it’s laid for a great many more than three.’
‘Well, don’t be so nosy and snooty. Look at yourself first, your hair wants cutting,’ said the Hatcher. He had been looking at Alijah for some time with curiosity, and this was his first speech.
‘You should learn not to make personal remarks,’ Alijah said sternly; ‘it’s very rude--you could get punished.’
The Hatcher opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he said was, ‘Why is a markhor like a drawing board?’
‘Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?’ said the March Madness.
‘Exactly so. You know well, I am the all-knowing, all-seeing!’ Alijah replied.
‘Then you should say what you mean,’ the March Madness went on.
‘I do,’ Alijah hastily replied; ‘at least, I mean what I say--it’s the same thing, you know!’
‘Not the same thing a bit, Alijah!’ said the Hatcher. ‘You might just as well say that “I decide what I think” is the same thing as “I think what I decide!”
‘You might just as well say,’ added the March Madness, ‘that “I want what I see” is the same thing as “I see what I want!”
‘You might just as well say,’ added the Doomstar, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, ‘that “I am what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I am!”
‘It is the same thing with you because you are the all-seeing and all-knowing. I breathe when I sleep is not the same thing as I sleep when I breathe,’ said the Hatcher, and here the conversation dropped. Silence! Pity the Farm, Alijah could not remember much about markhors and drawing boards.
The March Madness was the first to break the silence. ‘What day of the month is it?’ he asked Alijah.
Alijah seemed reflective, and then said ‘The first.’
‘Two days wrong!’ sighed the March Madness. ‘I told you butter wouldn’t suit the works!’ he added looking angrily at the Hatcher.
‘It was the best butter that the hawker could contribute to Alijah’s kitchen,’ the Hatcher meekly replied.
‘Yes, I know just the butter cost us 50,000 guineas but some crumbs must have got in as well,’ the March Madness grumbled: ‘you shouldn’t have put it in with the bread-knife.’
The Hatcher took the watch from Alijah and looked at it gloomily: then he dipped it into his cup of ispaghol, and looked at it again: but he could think of nothing better to say than, ‘It was the best butter, you know.’
Alijah had been watching intently. ‘What a funny watch!’ ‘It tells the day of the month, and doesn’t tell what o’clock it is!’
‘Why should it?’ muttered the Hatcher. ‘Do you want it to also tell you what year it is?’
‘Of course not,’ Alijah replied readily: ‘but that’s because it stays the same year for such a long time.’
‘Which is just the point we’re telling you,’ said the Hatcher.
Alijah felt dreadfully puzzled. The Hatcher’s remark seemed to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English. ‘I know it but I don’t quite understand you,’ Alijah replied.
‘The Doomstar is asleep again,’ said the March Madness, and he poured a little hot ispaghol upon its nose.
The Doomstar shook its head impatiently, and said, without opening its eyes, ‘Of course, of course; just what I was going to remark myself.’
‘So have you guessed the riddle yet?’ the Hatcher said, turning to Alijah again.
‘No, I give it up,’ Alijah replied: ‘what’s the answer?’
‘I haven’t the slightest idea either,’ said the Hatcher.
‘Nor do I,’ said the March Madness.
Alijah sighed wearily. ‘I think you might do something better with the time than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers.’
‘Oh, if you knew Time as well as I do,’ said the Hatcher, ‘you wouldn’t talk about wasting it. Don’t you have other things to do at your farm than to poke us all the time? It’s him.’
‘I don’t know what you mean,’ said Alijah.
‘Of course you don’t!’ the Hatcher said, tossing his head contemptuously. ‘I dare say you never even summoned Time!’
‘Perhaps not,’ Alijah cautiously replied: ‘but I know I have to beat time when I butter with the hawkers.’
‘Ah! that accounts for it,’ said the Hatcher. ‘He won’t stand beating. Now, if you only kept on good terms with him, he’d do almost anything you liked with the clock. For instance, suppose it were nine o’clock in the morning, just time to begin sermons: you’d only have to whisper a hint to Time, and round goes the clock in a jiffy! Half-past one, time for butter!’
‘I only wish it was,’ the March Madness said to itself in a whisper.
‘That would be grand, certainly,’ said Alijah thoughtfully: ‘but then--I shouldn’t be hungry for it, you know.’
‘Not at first, perhaps,’ said the Hatcher: ‘but you could keep it to half-past one as long as you liked.’
‘Is that the way you manage the Harem?’ Alijah asked.
The Hatcher shook his head mournfully. ‘Not I, he does!’ he replied. ‘We quarrelled last Christmas--just before he went mad, you know--’ (pointing with his Ispaghol spoon at the March Madness) ‘--it was at the cabaret given by the Daughter of Chaos, and I had to sing:
“Twinkle, twinkle, little diktat!
How I wonder what you’re at!”
You know the song, perhaps?’
‘I’ve heard something like it,’ said Alijah.
‘It goes on, you know,’ the Hatcher continued --
“Up above the blackfly you fly,
Like ispaghol in the sky.
Here the Doomstar shook itself, and began singing in its sleep: ‘Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle, twinkle, nickels and dimes tinkle--’ and went on so long that they had to pinch it to make it stop.
‘Well, I’d hardly finished the first verse,’ said the Hatcher, ‘when chaos erupted at the cabaret and people shouted, “He’s murdering the time! Off with his head!”’
‘How dreadfully savage!’ exclaimed Alijah.
‘And ever since that,’ the Hatcher went on in a mournful tone, ‘he won’t do a thing I ask! It’s always six o’clock now.’
‘Is that the reason so much ispaghol is put out here?’ Alijah asked.
‘Yes, that’s it,’ said the Hatcher with a sigh: ‘it’s always ispaghol-time for the mind!’
- by M A Wyne 2012-06-19. 1:45 PM ET
After ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ with apologies to Lewis Carroll, as a reflection of today’s political events in Pakistan.