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 had been craving lamb for some time and could not afford to buy it any of the local butchers at the suq, so she gathered some of the embroidery pieces she had lying around to sell them in the suq.
“What is lamb?” Tunjur asked.
Her daughter’s ignorance of the delicious meat made her realize how long it had been since she enjoyed it, strengthening her determination to sell enough pieces to purchase some for dinner that evening.
Tunjur was less enthusiastic about her mother’s departure. Though she was idle for most of her days, her boredom became more pronounced while she was alone. She looked around at the weathered stone walls and studied the two prayer rugs hung on either side of the upstairs walls. She tried to figure out the process, the starting point, of the intricate design of shapes and letters, and she imagined herself jumping through the frayed ends. At first, she thought that her vision could only be a fantasy until she modified it slightly: if she could find a way to propel herself up there, she could use her mouth—the outward proportion of her body that she used the most—to grip the rug’s ends.
They were not too far from the ground, and Tunjur just needed to build up enough momentum while she was still level to move upward. She tried several times, never quite making it high enough to reach the rug, slamming her handle hard against the wall and then falling down hard either on her bottom or her face. After the fourth try, her face and bottom aching, she wondered why she put so much effort into reaching the rug when she knew that if she asked her Yama, she would probably pick her up and brush the rug’s frayed ends against her face. Still, she longed to touch the frayed ends right then, so she kept propelling herself up until she was high enough and at the right angle to clench down on the rug, but the weight of her body was too much for it. She heard the fabric tear from the wall; she plunged straight down and was enveloped in the rug. After nearly a minute in its heavy darkness, Tunjur pushed herself out to see that the top frayed edges, along with a short slit of the rug itself, remained on the wall.
Her mouth stayed open in a circle in some time as she contemplated how angry her Yama would be once she was back home.
Zara’s feet and legs were sore from the morning ride and from standing on her feet. She made more money than she believed she would but not as much as she wanted. She was better at haggling now than before; her hunger and impatience made her more immune to the dismissive tactics of her most difficult customers, and she was able to get much more than the initial offer. Still, she had to fight much harder to receive the same amount (or sometimes less) than the other women received for their designs, though nearly everyone in the village considered Zara the best embroiderer and seamstress. After all, she had no husband or other family to care for as far as they knew, so what else did she have to do besides hone her craft?
By the time she reached the house, her energy was depleted, but when she saw the torn prayer rug, the one that had been in her family for generations, almost as long as Tunjur, she let out a shriek so powerful that it caught the attention of all her neighbors who listened for the next thing the town majnoona would say. Tunjur hid underneath the torn rug; Zara pulled her out and brought her face to hers. “What have you done?”
Tunjur lowered her eyes and tears fell from them. “I wanted to play with it, Yama.”
Zara groaned so long that it almost became a song. “This is not a plaything!” She continued berating her daughter for being careless and destructive until she finally had to stop to catch her breath.
“But I was so bored, Yama, and you told me not to listen to other people’s business.”
It was too much for Zara. She paced the room, realizing her daughter wanted to punish her; she needed attention and activity so she would not be so dependent on her. Zara thought of how she occupied her time when she was a child, and what she could remember was helping her mother with the household chores, caring for her siblings who never made it past their first year, and sewing and embroidering. Sometimes she played with some of the other village children, some of the ones who became the adults who warned their own children or grandchildren to stay away from her. She shuddered at the memory of lost friendship.
Tunjur could do none of those things, and Zara could think of no way to give her daughter something that would substitute.
Or to even know if a talking pot needed the same things that a human child would.
Tunjur had never cooked or even seen any type of meat before. After her mother’s morning explanation of where meat came from, Tunjur was repulsed at the thought of it being under her lid, but she did not want to upset her mother more than she already had. Tunjur had never heard her mother speak so harshly to her or look so withered in her searing silence, so Tunjur buried her disgust. Then when the seasonings settled and the juices distributed themselves, she found the taste so pleasing that she began to understand why her mother had left their home for so long. She also liked that the meal alleviated some of her mother’s anger and that night she had her most peaceful rest by Tunjur’s side.
The suq must be the most wonderful place in the world, Tunjur concluded. It had all types of foods and spices, and she imagined it filled with people, people who would be much closer than the ones she heard through the walls! She could not wait to see it for herself.