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 and Tunjur’s booth became a stop for nearly every shopper, and even people who never came to the suq before visited and purchased food and sometimes a piece of clothing. Women felt the most comfortable hanging around and chatting with Tunjur and Zara, which Tunjur loved. And Zara enjoyed it too for the most part, but there were times when the questions and judgments of the women irked her.
Their curiosity about how she made Tunjur unsettled her. She told a portion of the truth—that Tunjur came to life one day as she was clutching her, but she omitted how abandoned she felt when her neighbors banned their children from visiting her home. Zara sensed their doubt as they asked her many follow-up questions like, “Did you promise something to any jinn?” or “How long ago did Tunjur come to life?”
Most of all, the fact that they did not believe that Tunjur was her daughter bothered her the most. “A child is someone that comes from your body, not a family heirloom that suddenly has a face and a voice,” one woman who Tunjur had nicknamed Imm Feez, mother of the fart, because of her squeaky shoes said to Zara.
Tunjur usually did not like the curiosity about how she became a conscious being, mainly because she could not contribute to them because she had no memory of it, and she suspected that some of these people wanted to make their own talking tunjuras to replace her. However, this time she had to answer. “I did come to life through Yama’s body,” she said in a firm voice, staring intently at Imm Feez. “It was something about her that transformed me and gave me life, so I am her daughter.”
Imm Feez chuckled and shook her head.
Steam built up so fast inside Tunjur that it expelled through her mouth and from her lid. “If you can’t believe that, then you won’t believe that I can cook your waraq diwali,” she said, her eyes large and fiery. “Imshee! And never visit our booth again!”
Imm Feez gaped and took a few steps back, outraged but also afraid of what the pot could do to her.
“I told you to step away from our booth.”
“Calm down, Tunjur,” Zara said. “This is just a little disagreement.”
“Yee! If she is your daughter, you should be ashamed that she would speak to her elder in such a way,” Imm Feez said before walking away, looking back a few times to glare.
Steam still flooded out of Tunjur, creating clouds that drew more attention to them. People asked what was wrong and what Tunjur was about to do. Tunjur was so angry that she could not speak, and Zara could only say, “She’s only a little upset, and this is how she releases it. Tunjur is completely harmless.”
But Zara was not certain of that, and she could tell most of the townspeople were not either.
Zara packed up their booth while Tunjur was still steaming, trying to at least appear calm as her heartbeat quickened and her hands shook; she could see that nearly everyone in the suq was staring at her and her daughter. “Yalla, Tunjur! We have to leave now,” Zara said.
To Zara’s relief, Tunjur obeyed her mother immediately and rolled up the hill to their house while Zara followed with the donkey. The pot was too hot for Zara to pick up or place on the donkey, even if she was wrapped in ten thobes.
Once they were back in the house, Tunjur’s anger was almost entirely gone while Zara’s spiked. “‘Ayb alayk, Tunjur! What you did is so shameful and dangerous.”
“But that lady was such a smug bitch.”
“You haven’t been at the suq for a week and already your mouth has become a cesspool.” But it was not just Tunjur’s language and anger that worried Zara. If her daughter drifted this far from her influence, how long would it be before she lost her completely?
“Imm Feez got what she deserved. I hope she is still shivering in fear.” She puffed out a small cloud while she pouted.
“And I’m sure the rest of Bayt Tahweel is still doing that too. Do you think they’ll ever buy anything from us again? How will we get by?”
These questions stumped Tunjur; she had not considered that there would be severe consequences for standing up for herself and her mother. “Well, I’m sure everyone hates her and understands why I would get so mad,” Tunjur said, her voice sheepish and unsure.
“Let’s hope. If this town is afraid of you, God only knows what will happen to us.”