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
It did not take long for all of Bayt Tahweel to find out that Zara had a magical talking tunjura daughter, the same one who rolled into the suq to make delicious food and dazzle everyone with her charm. Some people were amazed that something so remarkable could happen for a Naifa, a family of little wealth and notable only for their strangeness or foolish sedition. Others speculated that a talking tunjura coming to a single woman to be her “child” could only be the work of a jinni or even a ghoul who wanted to lure someone so impressionable to her own demise.
But very few really thought that someone as small and cute as Tunjur could cause any damage. Besides, it was easier to justify their curiosity and fascination with the Talking Tunjura if they believed that she was harmless.
After a few days Zara felt a bit of relief that no one seemed too frightened by Tunjur, but the interest in her daughter concerned her still. Neighbors who she had only greeted in passing for years suddenly came over and wanted to sit down for coffee or tea; people who had never ordered embroidery pieces from her pretended to be interested in having her make something for them. All so they could possibly see the Talking Tunjura in her house.
Zara served her guests from one of the plain and battered pots that had not been used for some time. The drinks and food tasted flat and flavorless to Zara after so many months of Tunjur’s creations, and she wondered if her company also had the same perception. She heard her own mother’s voice saying, “‘Ayb alayk!” at the thought of providing visitors with subpar food and drink, but she thought a bit of extra shame on top of a lifetime of it was nothing if it kept her daughter safe.
Zara kept her daughter hidden away whenever these guests dropped by. Now that she could roll on her own, traveling faster than Zara could, Zara worried that Tunjur would disobey her again and roll down the stairs to greet the guests. Fortunately, Tunjur did not want to cross her mother again—at least not yet—and never came. People are fickle, so if I keep my daughter out of sight they will forget she exists, Zara thought. But the most fascinating thing about Tunjur was how little the other Bayt Tahweelis knew about them.
The sudden influx of guests and potential customers left Zara less time and energy to work on her pieces. Also, it depleted their store of foodstuffs, making Tunjur’s constant pleas to work at the suq more attractive to Zara.
“Please, Yama, everyone loved my food! And look at all the things they gave me.”
“But a pot of food will never be worth what a thobe or a prayer rug is,” Zara said. “You would have to make a thousand to come close.” Zara was even surprised at the number of things Tunjur received for such a short time.
“Why?” Tunjur asked. “Food and drink are the most basic parts of life.”
“It only lasts for hours rather than lifetimes though. Some thobes and prayer rugs have been in the Naifa family for generations.”
Tunjur mulled over this point for some time. “That may be true, but the memory of delicious food stays with you forever. And then people pass on their recipes to their children. Those aren’t even as good as what I make. They still manage to bring people happiness though.”
Zara massaged her hands to alleviate the soreness and pain in her fingers from laboring over her pieces. She found some appeal in the idea of having Tunjur bring in an income.
But was Tunjur really old enough to go to the suq? Zara never went as a child or in early adulthood because girls and women socializing in the same spaces as men was more of a taboo in those days, and she only started going herself when she had no one else to do it for her. She also did not quite know how to classify Tunjur’s maturity level either because Zara could not translate it into human terms. Yes, Tunjur’s face and consciousness came about six months ago, but she could speak almost like an adult human and cooked much better than anyone she knew. But Tunjur had spent nearly a whole morning in the suq alone, safe and even successful at selling her services.
So what was the harm if Zara took her daughter along with her?