ALEPPO – NORTHERN SYRIA, 1979.
Jamilah – meaning in Arabic, beautiful, graceful, lovely – lives in a small apartment building in an unfashionable district of Aleppo, with her parents and younger sister. She is an obedient Moslem girl, living according to the guide-lines laid down by the Sharia; she never appears in public without her burka and is scrupulous about her diet and hygiene habits; she washes herself at least twice a day as prescribed by Koranic law. Unfortunately there is a shortage of water in their part of the city and so she only manages to have a bath once a week. She makes a ritual of this, waiting till the rest of the family have gone out to the market on Saturday mornings, and then filling up the tub with water, taking off her robe and stepping delicately into the cool liquid; with her long black hair and her olive-toned skin she is like a painting by Ingres; she lies back and closes her eyes …
Suddenly there is loud crack, the whole building shakes and water slops out of the bath. Jamilah immediately realizes that a tremor has occurred that could pressage an earthquake. Terrified she starts to rise from the water … at that moment, a neighbor, Hassan, is passing the door of her apartment; he bursts into the hall then into the bathroom just as Jamilah is stepping out of the bath, her nude body gleaming in the half-light: instinctively, in her modesty and shame, her hands cover her … (can you guess what? … No, you’ve guessed wrong), her hands fly up to cover her face.
TWICKENHAM – SOUTH-WEST LONDON, 1979.
Charley woke up that Saturday morning and stretched luxuriously. His girlfriend Bella was sitting at the kitchen table, eating a slice of toast and reading the paper; in the background the TV was saying …. and we interrupt this program with some breaking news: there has been a major earthquake in northern Syria; the quake, measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale, struck the city of Aleppo this morning; so far the authorities are saying that 250 people have been killed but the death toll is bound to rise …
– Turn that thing off, will you please; don’t you realize Bel that today’s the big day of my demonstration.
– What! You’re not really going through with that stunt, are you? People will just think you’re another exhibitionist, just one more mad streaker; they just won’t get it! Look, let’s look it up in the dictionary: streak, streak of luck etc. here we are: Streak.ing verb intr. = the non-sexual act of taking off one’s clothes and running naked through a public place. Well you can count me out, I’m not going to be shown up in front of my friends …
– I just want to get some free publicity for our stand on the Environment and the Green Party.
Not for the first time in their relationship did it occur to Bella that her boyfriend was a bit of a head-case; she was having serious doubts about his sanity – maybe it was time to dump him.
So Charley went alone to the game – a semi-final of the League Cup, Spurs v Liverpool at White Hart Lane, a classic confrontation. He passed innocently through the turnstiles and picked his way to his place on the benches near the edge of the pitch. He had chosen half-time to make his move; he felt completely calm and his face was impassive; only his eyes betrayed him, showing the rich glint of lunacy. The whistle blew for the end of the first half; as the players were leaving the pitch Charley took off all his clothes and ran naked on to the pitch. The rest is history. The TV cameras soon picked him up, streaking down the side of the field, to be quickly joined by the security team which flanked him in a curiously protective tableau.
And then CLICK – the famous iconic photograph was taken and syndicated throughout the western world. Let us examine this image: the pose is heroic and sublime, the white naked man with his arms outstretched and his handsome bearded profile staring sideways at the face of the policeman who is covering his private parts with his helmet. The image is suggestive of a Renaissance painting – Michael Angelo could have drawn that pose, in fact it reminds one of The Creation of Man on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Man pointing limply at God (a bit gay)? Or it is redolent of a scene by Leonardo de Vinci – Jesus being helped by the Roman soldiers towards his crucifixion – forgive them Father, for they know not what they do… (Charley sees himself essentially as a martyr for his cause and, in his mad way, glories in the publicity – streaking is, after all, a form of perversion).
ALEPPO (two weeks later)
Hassan had managed to bundle Jamilah out of the building before the main quake struck, and both were saved. Her family was also safe in the market, but they had lost all their possessions. They now live in a tent village provided by the Red Crescent. They are used to crisis-management and count themselves lucky to be alive (Allah be praised). About half the inhabitants of the poorly-built apartment block, including Jamilah’s uncle and aunt, had been killed. Two tents down the row live Hassan and his family. His parents regard Jamilah’s rescue by Hassan as a sign from God and both families agree that Hassan and Jamilah should be betrothed. Out of tragedy comes joy. What the betrothed couple thinks of all this is neither here nor there – the old traditional ways are the best.
So tomorrow Hassan is going to be formally introduced to Jamilah. Hassan is curious about the girl; he hardly knows her; after all, he hasn’t yet even seen her face!