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
But somehow Tunjur made it through the tumultuous journey without a scratch or a crack. She was dizzy when she first landed on flat ground; in little time, though, her head cleared, and she rolled again right away. It was not as bumpy or as fast doing it on flat ground, but Tunjur still felt exhilarated to easily move on her own instead of clanking along when she needed to get somewhere. It took her some time to remember her original plan; excitement about her new ability monopolized her mind.
Business was in full force when Tunjur arrived, and the noise and activity of the crowds made them oblivious to the presence of a tunjura with a face. She was disappointed that no one noticed her, and she realized that she had no real plan for what she would do once she got to the suq, causing beads of steam to drip down her face.
She rolled over to the corner with the few fabric and tatreez booths, going slow to not create so much dust from the dirt. Tunjur noticed that men were at the front, handling the customers, while the women sat in the back preparing the goods for display or working on new pieces. They conversed nearly the entire time they were working, and Tunjur stood still and took in every word.
The conversation of two women, named Miriam and Yasmeen, captured her interest the most.
“Did you see the thobe that Imm Dawood wore yesterday, Miriam?” Yasmeen asked. “She was only going to visit her mother, but it was the most lavish thing I’ve ever seen in Bayt Tahweel.”
“Zara Naifa must have made it for her,” Miriam replied to her. “Abu Dawood’s jewels must be making quite a profit if he can afford to treat his wife like a sultana.”
Yasmeen snorted. “Abu Dawood doesn’t make most of his money from jewels; it comes from all the interest he charges for his loans. Haraam alayk.” She made a spitting sound to emphasize her distaste.
Miriam shrugged. “At least Abu Dawood treats his wife well unlike Ustaaz Kareem. He’s one of the richest men in this town, and his wife has to beg for any little luxury.” She pointed her chin to a booth somewhere across from them. “Or like that Abu Tareq who roams the entire country to have affairs.”
Tunjur soon realized that not only was the suq a place of thieves and troublemakers like Zara claimed, it was also the place to discover all the sins that were happening elsewhere around Bayt Tahweel! This new information was even more tantalizing than cooking lamb, and the satisfaction lasted longer.
She stood there for hours unnoticed, able to associate faces with some of the names she had heard so much about. Many of the men even had booths here in the suq: Abu Tareq (the philanderer) sold candies and desserts that his wife and daughters prepared; Abu Dawood, who mostly sold his jewels to Bayt Tahweel’s prominent families and even some in Jerusalem, had a booth set up here to sell his cheaper wares but seemed to use it more to meet with desperate people who would pay his exorbitant interest. Another frequent focus of the gossip was Faris, a man with an estranged wife who had left town years ago to return to their family after some “haram business” (Tunjur could not figure out what it was exactly), often worked at his ailing father’s butcher booth and always seemed to be leering at the women who worked behind the scenes at many booths.
That was another thing Tunjur noticed: nearly all the booths seem to have women working but not at the forefront; she realized now how unusual it looked for her mother to be selling her wares alone.
But it became tiresome just standing there observing, and Tunjur felt ready to introduce herself to the town. She rolled along, unsure of where she would land or what she would say; she kicked up enough dust and clanked loud enough for a boy to point at her and yell to his father, “Look, Baba, it’s a tunjura with a face!”
When Tunjur had landed on her bottom, she glowed and smiled. “Yes, I do! And I can speak and cook. I’m the most fascinating item to ever grace this suq and the only talking pot in the whole world!” She closed her eyes, unaware that she could not substantiate her claims as she had only visited the suq twice and had never been outside Bayt Tahweel.
Her audience gave no thought to this, though, and flocked around Tunjur to see what she would do next.