Lena Mubsutina – The Thieving Pot: Excerpt 9

Lena Mubsutina

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

Tunjur could not believe that Yama allowed her to accompany her to the suq, in full view so everyone could greet and admire her again. Tunjur asked Zara to polish her especially for this; Tunjur was now embarrassed that she was dusty the first time she was introduced at the suq. “If the worst thing to happen to you at the suq is some dirt on your body, you are lucky,” Zara said. She was still nervous about what would happen, what people would ask now that she would have Tunjur out in the open.

The attention they received riding their donkey down the hill provided no comfort to Zara, but it made Tunjur feel more confident about her second appearance. Neighbors from every side greeted them, still enthralled by the Talking Tunjura. “Sabah al-khair, ya habayb!” Tunjur said, her face glowing. This encouraged people’s interest, and children—and even some adults—tried to reach up and touch Tunjur, but Zara held Tunjur closer to her stomach. “She’s very delicate,” she explained.

But few believed that a pot that could roll through dirt and rocks could be that fragile.

“You must be more modest or you’ll attract too much attention,” Zara said.

“But I want people to notice me, to see my face, to hear my voice, to taste my food!”

Zara felt a twinge of embarrassment at how honestly her daughter expressed her desire for something so vain, but she stopped herself from uttering her initial thought, “ ‘Ayb!” and just clicked her tongue.

Tunjur did not notice her mother’s disapproval and continued her grandiose greetings, inspiring a small group of women to clap and sing about the beautiful antique tunjura that graced the humble town of Bayt Tahweel with her presence.

Both Zara and Tunjur grew warm at this mini-celebration, the mother from embarrassment and the daughter from pride.

Once they finally made it to the suq, a crowd clamored for their favorite dishes, and Tunjur, seeing her popularity, demanded much more than she had her first day. Zara was stunned to see people give their most succulent cuts of lamb or even their jewels for a batch of laban or waraq diwali. During a brief reprieve from customers, Zara suggested that the lines would be more manageable if Tunjur’s customers put in their requests beforehand.

Tunjur considered this for a moment before saying, “Laa! That takes all the magic out of the process.” She knew that she would become as commonplace—and as underappreciated—as the bakers who made fresh bread and sweets.

“But if the product is good, they will still buy it. People ask for my tatreez all the time and very few have seen me make it.”

Tunjur pictured her mother hunched over her fabric, threading her designs, sometimes talking to herself. By now she had observed how most women kept their hands occupied with some type of work even while they sat, so there was nothing unusual about a woman working. However, she was the only pot she knew of who could speak and cook without the aid of a fire. “The show is just as important as what people take with them,” Tunjur said to Zara. “And they’ll pay more when they are entertained.”

Tunjur did captivate her audience, narrating the cooking process and anticipating how delectable the food would be. “You have given me milk of the highest quality, and already I can feel how thick and tangy your laban will be!” she said to one customer, spinning around to exaggerate the effect the food had on her body.

One of the bakers, Abu Latif, even came by with a variety of breads in exchange for Tunjur’s recommendation that their bread went best with her food. Tunjur never prepared bread and knew nothing about it, so she turned to Zara and asked, “Yama, can you taste it and tell me if it is good?” The last thing she wanted to do was ruin her reputation by associating her name with low-quality food.

Zara tore off pieces of each type of bread, noting how much fresher this batch tasted than the ones she purchased from Abu Latif previously. She gave her approval but did not argue when Tunjur insisted that her recommendation was worth at least another loaf.

Zara and Tunjur both made impressive profits that day, and Tunjur could not contain her excitement. “Yama, we are going to be so rich someday that we will be able to buy our carriage and even live high up on the hill if we wanted to!”

“Working in the suq does not bring you wealth like that,” Zara said. For the first time in years she recalled her exiled nephew Mustafa who could talk for hours with his friends about how those families living on the top of the hill had either gained their wealth and power from serving the Emperor or sold out their neighbors to hold on to their power when he first conquered Bayt Tahweel.

Zara did not share this information with Tunjur because Zara feared her daughter would repeat it to the wrong person, so Tunjur, unperturbed by her mother’s pessimism, elaborated on their food and tatreez would make the Naifas the most prominent family in Bayt Tahweel, perhaps even all of Falasteen, and even the world. “Imagine people coming to Bayt Tahweel to taste my food and wear your tatreez! People will know Bayt Tahweel better than Jerusalem.”

“Inshallah, habibti,” Zara said, but she shook her head once Tunjur had hers turned away from her.

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