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The Nominalist Library

The Short Stories of Nicholas Hancock
Published by The British Hancock Society
with the permission of the author.

HADITH NUMBER
2687

Our two explosions have scarce destroyed our bodies – nail-ripped, pulverised, deep-baked – when my companion and I find ourselves walking up a gentle slope.
The morning air is refreshing without being cold, the sky a deep Delft blue, and we marvel at the integrity of our bodies.
     Above us rises the swelling hill of the four gardens, and we can already make out the showy domes of the High Pavilions.
     ‘My, this is something else!’ I expatiate.
     ‘No kidding, man!’ is the reply.
     From around us come the whisperings of streams – some of them pellucid water, but others rivers of wine and some of the clearest honey. We stoop to gulp down this sweetness, ecstatically aware that there are no calories here. The fountain of camphor plays beside us, spraying us with its heady sheen. And everywhere stand the palms caressing the air.
     We’re soon among the people – if you can use so insipid a word to describe these radiant beings on their green silk couches. They smile at us, raising gold goblets. ‘Welcome,’ they murmur, swallowing their alcohol-free wine. ‘An eternal welcome.’
     With them sit bashful, dark-eyed virgins, as chaste as the sheltered eggs of ostriches while beautiful young men serve the Blessed with fruits and the flesh of fowls.
     ‘This is going to be a real long holiday,’ I sigh.
     ‘HOW D’YOU KNOW YOU’RE GOING TO STAY?’
     The voice is so unexpected, its timbre so deep and so commanding that we both prostrate ourselves in the golden dust.
     ‘STAND!’
The voice cannot be disobeyed. We stand.
The Gardener is so huge we can barely take him in; strangely, though, he casts no shadow at all.
     One of the outsized toes gives my comrade a playful nudge that sends him flying – though he is soon back on his feet.
The celestial thunder storm above us turns out to be laughter.
     ‘YOU PATHETIC MARTYR! KNOW WHAT? – YOUR KINDERGARTEN APOLOGY FOR A BOMB ONLY KILLED THREE KIDS AND AN OLD MAN – THOUGH I’LL ADMIT HE WAS A SHIA. THINK YOU’RE WELCOME HERE? RETIRE TO THE GARDEN SUBURBS. AT ONCE!’
     The poor man slips tragically away, not even daring to look me in the eye.
     The Gardener turns towards me. ‘AS FOR YOU, YOUNG WOMAN, YOU’RE HEARTILY WELCOME HERE. NOW THAT WAS A BOMB! THEY SAY YOU KILLED THIRTY-FOUR POLICE RECRUITS ALONG WITH A COUPLE OF YANKEE DOGS. NOT BAD FOR AN AFTERNOON’S WORK!’
      The Gardener is turning to leave when I dare put the question to him. ‘Do I get to have seventy-two pretty young men?’
     More hilarious thunder.
    'Do I?’ I insist.
    'TRY TEN FOR A START. ALL THAT NONSENSE ABOUT THE SEVENTY-TWO HOURIS? – A RIGHTLY SUSPECT HADITH. NEITHER THE PROPHET (MAY HIS NAME BE PRAISED) NOR I MYSELF EVER SAID ANYTHING OF THE KIND.’
      Ten veritable pearls of young men are advancing towards me. I have to pinch myself before I realise that I’m truly in paradise.