It was very busy in the market that day, the donkey cart squeezing past shoved them to the right and pungent smells from the drain turned their heads away to the left. Shah had managed to convince the Sultan to go to the market with promises of enchanting stories.
They came to a stall with a tall and broad merchant who looked like he could have been a palace guard. He was selling apples, barrels and barrels full of them. Shah flitted from one barrel to another until she found the one she wanted.
“Come, Sultan, come!” She gestured excitedly, and he obeyed. “Put your hand inside this barrel.”
The Sultan pulled his silken sleeve up to his elbow and plunged his hand in the deep barrel curiously.
And felt around. And felt around again.
“But there is nothing here. It’s empty!”
“Yes, isn’t that wonderful? You can’t feel anything because there is nothing in there! That Sultan, is how Emptiness feels like”.
The Sultan was puzzled by Shah’s words, but before he could make any sense of what had happened, Shah pulled the Sultan to the ice stand and lifted a block of ice. “Open your hands, o’ Sultan” and the Sultan held out his hands. Shah promptly placed the block into his palms. “Keep it there for the moment”, she ordered.
“But it’s cold!” The Sultan protested.
“Just for a while”, assured Shah, then after four turns of the sandglass, she returned the ice to the vendor. Shah reached for the brooch on her scarf and unpinned it. She lifted both of the Sultan’s palms and pricked them gently all over with the pin of the brooch without bleeding him.
“Do you feel anything, your Highness?”
“You know very well my hands are numb, Shah. I can’t feel the pain”.
“Yes, marvellous! That, Sultan, is how Numbness feels like”.
And so they continued walking until they passed an old beggar, sitting cross-legged by the pillar. He had no arms, so when a well-dressed merchant would pass by, he unfurled his crossed legs and lifted up the wooden bowl with his feet to beg.
An accident must have crushed his arms, necessitating that crude amputation. A sudden misfortune befalling you like that can change your life forever in this harsh and dry sand dunes of Mahderabaad.
Shah looked at the beggar and turned her eyes to the Sultan. “See here this beggar, your Highness”, she grabbed on his arm to slow him down, he was always walking too quickly, “Unlike you, he has no arms. He cannot feel Numbness, or feel even Emptiness, but do you know what?”
The Sultan slowed down his steps, “What, Shah?” Taking a moment to glance at the afore-mentioned beggar, thin, malnourished, just like any other beggars populating this marketplace like fleas. A nobody.
“Out of everyone in this market, he is the one who feels the most because he knows, no matter how hard he prayed for the return of his limbs, he will never get them back”. Shah produced from her pockets two apples she had stolen earlier and handed one to the Sultan, taking a small bite from the other.
“The only thing that he could feel now is Incompleteness, o’ Sultan, and that is the most intense of the three feelings”, Shah answered.
“Why?” The Sultan arched an eyebrow in question, forgetting the apple he grasped tightly in his hand.
“Because unlike Emptiness and Numbness, there is no return of the senses for this beggar, there is no remedy”, Shah replied, and took another bite from the apple.