At the corner of a lofty housetop overlooking a great part of Cairo, a woman stood with arms uplifted and solemnly addressed a crow which seemed about to settle. The bird, as if the meaning of the chant had reached him, turned in the air with clumsy flapping, and withdrew, rising to join the hundreds of his kind which circled high above the city bathed in early sunlight. The woman shook her fist at his receding shape, glass bracelets tinkling on her strong brown arm. She sighed, “The curse of God on thy religion, O thou faithless messenger!” then, with a laugh, turned round to join the group of slave-girls, her companions, sent up to lay out herbs to dry upon the roof. These had watched her invocation of the crow with knowing grins. But one, a young Circassian, who sat watching while the others worked, betrayed surprise and asked the meaning of the little ceremony.
At that there was much giggling.
“Knowest thou not, O flower? It is the woman’s secret!”
“Secret of secrets, all unknown of men!”
“By Allah, men know nothing of it. In sh´Allah, they will be astonished some day!”
“O Hind, relate the story! Our honey, our gazelle, Gulbeyzah, has not heard it.”
Thus urged, the one who had adjured the crow, a free servant of the house, obsequious towards the slaves, its pampered children, explained as she knelt down again to work:
“In the name of Allah, thus it is related: Know, O my sweet, that, in the days of our lord Noah (may God bless him), after the flood, the men and women were in equal numbers and on equal terms. What then? Why, naturally they began disputing which should have the right to choose in marriage and, as the race increased, enjoy more mates than one. The men gave judgment on their own behalf, as usual; and when the women made polite objection, turned and beat them. What was to be done? The case was thus: the men were stronger than the women, but there exists One stronger than the men—Allah Most High. The women sought recourse to Allah’s judgment; but—O calamity!—by ill advice they made the crow their messenger. The crow flew off towards Heaven, carrying their dear petition in his claws, and from that day to this he brings no answer. But God is everliving and most merciful; a thousand years with Him seem but an hour. Perhaps He does but hold our favour over, as might a son of Adam, till the evening for reflection, to grant it at the last. In sh´Allah!”