Author’s Note: The next 12 days I will be sharing excerpts from the first part of my novel-in-progress, tentatively titled “The Thieving Pot.” It is loosely based on the Palestinian folktale, “Tunjur, Tunjur,” a story about a pot that comes to life and wreaks havoc on her neighbors with her deception and theft.
The Thieving Pot
Zara soon realized that raising her own child was much different than having many of them visit. While Tunjur did not eat food the way Zara did, she needed to have ingredients prepared under her lid on a regular basis; the process of creating food fueled her, and now that she was conscious, she no longer needed fire to cook her food. But it also led to damage and the need for upkeep: Zara cleaned and polished Tunjur every day, and she had to have a boiling water bath every few days. Zara also had to be careful of how long she allowed liquid or food to boil inside Tunjur because she would whistle in pain when the heat was too intense. Occasionally, Zara picked the flakes from Tunjur’s body, and she would have to hold her with her other arm to keep her daughter from squirming.
But Zara was used to chores and keeping busy with housework so the greater burden came from Tunjur’s incessant curiosity. It had been years since any children lived in this house, and Tunjur’s questions never seemed to stop. Zara cobbled together some answer to these topics that she could not remember ever devoting a single thought to, but she always had a follow up that went deeper such as, “Why do I have to stay upstairs while you talk to your customers downstairs?” or why Tunjur could not go out onto the courtyard to speak to their neighbors.
Zara wanted to keep Tunjur a secret; she feared the gossip about her daughter, and, worse, that someone might take Tunjur away, believing that she was a spawn of Shaytan, but she only said, “The world is full of danger; I do not want anyone to hurt you, habibti.”
She nearly cringed when she heard herself say these words; she recalled the many times that her own Yama and Baba told her the same whenever they wanted to dash her desires.
This explanation did not satisfy Tunjur either. Zara warned her to keep quiet so their neighbors would not hear another being in their home. “Yama, do you not want people to see because I looked different from them?” Tunjur asked. Zara did not take Tunjur outside, but she knew that Tunjur peeked through the cracks of the doors to eavesdrop on their neighbors, enough so that she knew that everyone who could move and speak looked like her mother rather than her.
Zara clicked her tongue and shook her head. “Laa, it is better to be different, but people cannot be trusted.”
Tunjur also noticed that their neighbors had many people in their houses, including mothers, fathers, children, aunts, uncles, and nieces, and she thought that would be wonderful to have so many people to talk to, especially because Yama spent much of the day sewing and embroidering.
“I love you more than a thousand relatives combined,” Zara said to Tunjur, recalling the pressures and criticism that dominated her life when her house was full. “And I don’t weigh you down with suffocating expectations.”
But Zara loved Tunjur and her presence. At dusk, when Farah rolled up her wares and prepared food, she would explain all the ingredients to Tunjur at first; after a few months, and a monotonous diet, Tunjur could name and describe each one herself as she held her lid up and closed her eyes. And sometimes she had pleasant questions like where the stars came from and what they did when they retired in the daylight. Of course, Zara did not know the answer, but she told her daughter that the stars all returned with their mother the Moon once they were done lighting the night for the earth.
By this time, Tunjur understood the malleability and invention that comes with fiction, so she offered up her own theory. “What if the stars are really jinn in the sky, and we can only see them because the moon has a special light that illuminates them?”
Zara shrugged. “Perhaps. But why would jinn stay still for so long?”
Tunjur’s eyes stretched, and she smiled at her mother’s interest. “The Moon has them frozen so that they can watch over us, protect us, and tell on the sinners so God knows who has done wrong.”
Zara shook her head and chuckled, amused at her daughter’s view of the world. “My parents told me that we have angels who record every sin, and that we answer for them once we die and go back to God.”
“So then why are so many people still committing sins all the time? They only make sure other people can’t see them, but God can see everything no matter what.”
Zara narrowed her eyes and held her daughter in front of her. “How do you know about people’s sins?”
Tunjur looked down at her mother’s feet. “I don’t know. I hear them sometimes.”
“It is not nice to spy on people,” Zara said in her firmest voice.
Tunjur blew steam. “But that’s all everyone else does! I constantly hear gossip about what this one has or what that one did and who is bringing shame on their family.”
Farah lectured Tunjur on how wrong it was to intrude on people’s privacy, and she found herself also revealing how often people here had done the same to her and sniggered at her situation.
“But it’s not a sin to be unmarried, is it?”
“Ya Tunjur, if you were out in the world, you would soon see that you will be punished for something strange rather than something wrong.”
Though Tunjur felt a spurt of fear traveling through her body, it did not diminish her desire to see more of the outside her home and even become a part of it, recognized for the unique being she was.