Shortly after the conclusion of the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference at the beginning of 2014, there appeared in the media an announcement for an open position:
“Man or woman wanted for the position of President of the Republic. Applicant must hold Yemeni citizenship, possess excellent reading and writing skills, and be of good character.”
The president, who had submitted his resignation, had gone off to the Canary Islands to spend his retirement there, wishing the Yemeni people all the best of luck.
Within a month of the announcement being posted, everyone in parliament found themselves on the verge of collapse due to the immense pressure. Rumors even grew that one of them had committed suicide, and that another had been saved at the last moment, after having taking poison. All because of the unimaginable numbers of applicants for the prestigious position. The newspapers published detailed statistics showing that the number of applicants had reached forty million, even though the official census indicated that the total number of Yemeni citizens was only about thirty million.
No one was able to explain where those extra millions came from. Even the British Nobel-laureate mathematician who was called in to solve the enigma wasn’t able to do a thing. While in the airport trying to catch the first possible flight out of Yemen he told a BBC reporter that what had happened was surely some sort of devilry!
But this sudden population explosion wasn’t the only cause for worry. The real problem was figuring out how to administer the pre-employment examination to forty million people. The parliament was on the verge of announcing the abolishment of the position, until a marvelous idea came to one of the members of the National Dialogue: to seek out those Yemeni citizens who hadn’t nominated themselves for the position and to select one of them instead.
After months of sifting, they found a citizen who resembled Mahatma Gandhi, and who believed, as Gandhi did, in the principle of non-violence. He was immediately appointed President of the Republic. But he turned out to be too peaceful, and thus didn’t last more than six hours in the position, after which he was hanged in Tahrir Square at the hands of an angry mob.
So they began searching again for someone who hadn’t put him or herself forward as a candidate. They came across an old Black woman who belonged to the Akhdam caste. She resembled Nelson Mandela, and was, like him, wise and forbearing. But she met her death after just one week, stabbed with a janbiya at the hands of a racist young man who opposed her social reforms, which had annulled class privileges.
With great difficulty they were able to find a Yemeni man who hadn’t nominated himself. He was middle-aged, short, and a little bit obese. He resembled the Uruguayan President José Mujica in his integrity and rectitude. However, he only lasted three months in the presidential seat, after which he took a bullet in the temple as he was returning to his humble home on foot.
After careful study, it became clear that there were only fifteen men and women who hadn’t nominated themselves. All eyes turned to them, but they quickly realized the danger of that gaze, so they gave their entire life savings to a Somali pirate to smuggle them out of the country. They left under the cover of darkness on a broken-down ship full of holes, heading for Zeila, and from there to some unknown place. Then they disappeared as easily as yesterday had. Due to these unfortunate events, the Yemeni Parliament decided to dissolve itself, thus washing its hands entirely of the matter of this empty position.
The National Dialogue Conference was reconvened in order to find a way out of the crushing political crisis that the country was going through. The same mathematician was summoned for consultation, and he devised an incredibly intricate test with a degree of difficulty and complexity almost as high as that of Einstein’s theory of relativity. And because it was impossible to understand, the members of the conference approved it unanimously!
When the applicants for the position learned that the chance of passing the test, which was given the name “Moses’ Wandering,” was only one in a million, and that failing the test meant certain death, the number of applicants dropped from forty million to only four thousand!
Enthusiasm burned fiercely in the blood of the wanderers who were physically fit, so they began to race each other. But those idiots were the first to fall, and the desert crushed them between its mighty jaws.
The next day there appeared a magnificent passenger ship, like a five-star hotel, cleaving easily through the sands of the desert and blowing its horn to greet them. On deck there were women strutting about in swimsuits and waving their hands… The men called to the ship to stop, and negotiated the price of tickets. Then a thousand of them boarded the ship, which was supposedly heading to Marib. However, subsequent generations still recount the legendary tale of the mysterious disappearance of a thousand men on an oceangoing ship that never once saw a drop of water.
Then a group of phone booths appeared. Some of the wanderers, their provisions depleted, wanted to call for help so they could leave the hell of the desert. But the phonebooths, whose floors turned out to be quicksand, sucked them all downward, submerging them entirely.
Then a beautiful airline attendant appeared, sitting behind an elegant desk. She said that she was selling plane tickets to one hundred and one cities around the world. One thousand men and women organized themselves into long lines and paid the price of the tickets, expecting a plane to come down from the sky at any minute. But their wait turned out to be very long indeed! An archaeological expedition found their bones in the year 3020, in the very same spot where they had been standing. But their money wasn’t spent in vain, since a plane came and took their bones to their final resting place in the Museum of Humankind in the city of Huzaf, just down the coast from the city of Mokha.
On the third day the wanderers encountered Hanzala ibn Safwan, the prophet who was sent to the people of al-Rass. They asked him to save them from their desert wanderings. He advised that each of them sacrifice one of their organs to atone for their sins. Hardly had he disappeared from sight when a man appeared before them wearing a smart black suit and a crimson tie. In front of him was an enormous refrigerator, the kind you see in supermarkets. He was selling frozen human organs: hearts, kidneys, lungs, livers, tongues and corneas, as well as arms, legs and bones—and all in great shape. One thousand of the wanderers lined up in front of his fridge and started buying the human organs, hoping to cheat fate by sacrificing these borrowed organs instead of one of their own.But the scorching desert sun quickly thawed the frozen pieces of meat and even liquified the wanderers who had bought them as well. A foul swamp was formed from that vile mixture.
The remaining wanderers continued on their way toward Marib in a wretched state of hunger and thirst. They now numbered no more than one hundred.
A merry young man approached them, driving a drove of donkeys. He offered to sell them his donkeys so they could mount them and continue their journey in comfort. In just five minutes the young man sold his fifty donkeys, and then went off counting his pile of cash. But the men and women who bought the donkeys fell victim to a curious delusion: They set out walking, carrying the donkeys on their backs, not sensing the slightest bit of strangeness in the matter! They were only able to carry on this way for an hour or two, however, before they all dropped like flies, dead from exhaustion.
The fifty wanderers who were still alive continued their journey, their throats cleaved with thirst. There appeared to them a young girl in the bloom of youth, with beautiful chrysanthemums growing from her scalp. Behind her stood a man holding a watering can, with which he was watering the flowers, the water flowing down over the girl’s neck and clothes.
They gathered around the girl, offering the man huge sums of money to give them some water to drink. But he refused, so they threw him to the ground and stomped him with their feet until he breathed his last breath. The girl fled, while forty of the wanderers drank from the water in the watering can. Only ten of them refused to drink it.
Not an hour had passed, however, before cactus plants started sprouting from the heads of those who had drunk the water. Small thorns began growing from their ears, nostrils and eyes. Then their skulls split open and they died the worst possible death.
As for the ten who were spared these horrors, they continued on their way, hoping that if death came for them they would at least be allowed to die in peace.
They passed a man holding a fishing rod, its line sunk in the sands. They asked him what he was hoping to catch. “Death,” he answered. Five of them paid him to catch death for them, so he yanked on the rod and pulled a white shroud out of the sand. Then he cast his line again and caught a second. He continued until he had produced all five shrouds, which he then passed to their owners.
Only a few kilometers later, an ifrit as tall as a palm tree appeared to them and forbade them to advance any further. He said that he was hungry, and that he would have to eat half of them in order to assuage his appetite. The five wanderers who had bought the shrouds stepped forward to be eaten, but when he saw the death shrouds tucked under their arms he became visibly annoyed, saying: “I have no appetite for chewing and swallowing those who have no fear of death.” Then he leapt upon and devoured the five who so loved life that they weren’t prepared to die.
The survivors continued along their way, mourning their companions whom the ifrit had eaten. Suddenly, the earth split open and a famous football player appeared to them. He asked which one of them had purchased him. No one answered, so the international football star grew angry. He said that one of them had paid for him and that it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to leave his new manager and go off on his own! One of the five raised his hand, so the brilliant star linked arms with him and together they set off into the high sand dunes. Neither one of them has been seen since.
Then a young woman appeared, wearing a graduation cap and gown and asking where she could find the ballroom for the graduation celebration… One of the wanderers ridiculed her, laughing so hard that he had to lie down on the ground. He said that there was nothing here but sand. But then the young woman took off her cap and pulled out from inside of it a magnificent ballroom. The man who had mocked her made a beeline for the ballroom to make sure that it was really there and not just an optical illusion. Then he disappeared inside of it forever.
Thus out of four thousand candidates there remained only two men and one woman. Just a stone’s throw away they saw a man flipped upside down, his head on the earth, his hands on either side supporting him, and his legs raised upward. The woman asked the man what he was doing. He replied that he suffered from a guilt complex, and was therefore punishing himself by staying in this position from sunup to sundown. One of the two men said to him: “Whatever you do you’ll never forgive yourself.” Hardly had he finished his sentence when he suddenly found himself flipped head over heels, his head glued to the earth and his legs raised upward, unable to right himself. He began to weep and begged his two companions to kill him and deliver him from this torture, but they left him and continued on their way.
When they reached a ravine near Marib, they found an old woman lying on a wooden ladder that was set down on the sand. She was shaking with fear. The woman wanderer asked her what was wrong. The old woman responded that she was afraid of heights and that she didn’t know how to get down… The man laughed at her and told her that the ladder was laid flat, that it wasn’t even standing upright. But the old woman didn’t believe him. So the woman offered to carry the old lady on her back and bring her down. The old woman nodded in agreement, so the woman crouched down next to her and lifted her up onto her back. She then backed down the ladder one step at a time until she reached the bottom. Then she stood up and lowered the old woman down off her back. The old woman thanked her, and then warned her not to look behind her, no matter what she might hear…
The man and the woman continued their journey. Suddenly they heard the roar of a torrential flood coming from behind them. The man looked behind him, then took off running to a high hill. But the woman didn’t turn around. Instead, she restrained herself and refused to panic. The mighty current overtook her, but she let it sweep her away, she didn’t fight it. Suddenly she found the wooden ladder in front of her, so she climbed up atop it. The waters took her to the lake of the Marib Dam, and from there she ascended, then walked along in the light of a full moon. She reached the throne of Bilqis just before daybreak, and sat down upon the black stone.
The Law of Cultural Education, which was applied to students, civil servants, and all military and security personnel. It required each one of them to devote one hundred days a year to spending time in reading rooms, which they were to do from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon.
The Law of the Rules of Proper Behavior, which imposed exorbitant fines on citizens who failed to follow the principles of proper decorum, cleanliness, good-neighborliness and respect for the elderly.
The Law of the Ten Sacrosanct Cities, which caused immense controversy. It contained detailed civil ordinances regarding the conditions for residing in the ten cities. Anyone who violated these ordinances was subject to expulsion. And those who were exiled weren’t allowed to return to the protected cities until ten years had passed, and until they obtained a certificate of good conduct and comportment.
The three laws gradually demonstrated their efficacy, and Saghira succeeded in creating a splendid renaissance for her country. She won the hearts of its citizens, and also won every presidential election that she entered until the year 2050, the year in which she announced her retirement from politics to devote herself instead to reading.
Building Huzaf, Yemen’s new capital, which rose to number eight in the list of the world’s most modern cities; eradicating illiteracy; ending unemployment; achieving the total elimination of qat in Yemen; raising the average per capita income to approximately that of Western Europe;disbanding the army and the intelligence services and instead making do with only the police force;achieving success in reforestation efforts, with Yemen’s arid mountains turned over to forest stretching for hundreds of kilometers, as far as the eye can see; putting cash in ATMs for the needy and placing them in poor neighborhoods, thus ending poverty, begging and homelessness in Yemeni society; lowering the rate of crimes such as theft and fraud to nearly zero; building an undersea tunnel beneath the Bab al-Mandab Strait to connect the continents of Asia and Africa, with statistics indicating that one hundred million passengers have used the tunnel thus far, and millions of tons of goods have crossed between the two continents, with the state treasury bringing in enormous revenue from the project; Yemen’s witnessing a colossal cultural renaissance, with the country now holding twentieth place worldwide in the number of new books published each year; and the ranking of Yemen as one of the top countries in the world in terms of religious tolerance, freedom of conscience, and the peaceful coexistence of diverse religions and sects.
Saghira married a street seller, who continued his profession until the promulgation of the new labor laws, after which he opened up a shop selling household goods. Saghira bore him a daughter, whom she named Amal.
In 2053 Saghira died of a heart attack. The Yemeni people in their entirety turned out for her funeral, and millions cried as they bid her farewell on her final journey.
Perhaps the most eloquent words given on the occasion of her death were spoken by the president who occupied the office after her:
“She has passed. Her picture is hung in every home, her name engraved on every heart. Saghira has departed, having made of us a mature people.”
This story was illustrated by Rofaida Ahmed;
The website was designed and developed by Mohamed al-Iriani and Ahmed al-Hagri.
This project was made possible with the generous support of: