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
After a few weeks of going to the suq nearly every day, Zara became ill. She assumed it was her exhaustion and age showing itself in her bones that ached so much that it was painful to move her arms or to lift an empty Tunjur, and just the thought of having to hold a needle to sew or embroider made her wince. But one morning she was in such pain that she told Tunjur that they would stay home the entire day and likely the next as well. “We have been making plenty of profit,” she said, anticipating objections from her daughter. “Everything in the house has been fixed, and we have a store of food that is almost as much as what we used to have when ten people lived in this house.”
Tunjur dreaded spending the entire day inside, but she did not argue with her mother. She prepared tea for her throughout the day when Zara felt strong enough to sit up, and while she did not have much appetite, Tunjur brought Zara some of the bread that Abu Latif gave them the previous day.
Tunjur wondered how she had been to cope with staying inside all the time despite it being only a month since she ventured outside of their house on her own. She rolled around the floor quietly, trying not to disturb her mother’s sleep, and thought about how delicious it would be if she could cook musakhan or mukhiya right now. She closed her eyes to better perceive the sight and taste of the food that she did not have.
Zara stayed in bed several more days, her aches and exhaustion so overwhelming that sometimes she could not distinguish her waking hours from her sleep. She drank Tunjur’s mint tea a couple of times a day and had a bit of the leftover bread, which was now as hard as a cracker. She barely managed to get up and then squat over the toilet when she needed to urinate; luckily, because she ate so little, she did not have to put the effort into shitting.
She worried that she may be near death, recalling how she had to help both her parents use the toilet and bathe themselves for years. Zara realized that if she became too weak to do these things on her own, it was unlikely that Tunjur could help her. She had learned to do many things such as rolling, lifting, and unlatching the door, but how could she ever learn how to lift someone a hundred times her size?
And when she was gone, who would care for Tunjur?
This last question made Zara’s stomach turn. She imagined her neighbors and the other townspeople fighting over the possession of Tunjur but only wanting her around for status or to make money off her food. But maybe there was someone else in Bayt Tahweel or somewhere else in the world who could truly love Tunjur. Zara had little faith in the compassion that others would show someone who had lost everything though, especially when the potential for great profit was involved.
Zara’s mother had criticized her for being too distrustful, believing it was one of the reasons that she never married, but as she grew older, her father told her to hold on to that trait as it was necessary for a woman on her own.
But the weight of her suspicions and fears sometimes felt as heavy as her bones, and she wished that she knew how to shed them.
The frailty of human bodies was a foreign concept, so while she knew that her mother was in pain and wanted to help make her feel better, she did not share her mother’s worries about mortality. Instead, she was bored as she had not made food in what seemed like an eternity and had no one to talk to as Zara slept or rested nearly the entire day.
She stared at the front door for long periods of time, thinking about she could manage to sneak off for just a couple of hours without her mother knowing anything. But Yama might find out though, she thought. And it would be horrible if I upset when she already feels so bad.
But again Tunjur was annoyed at her mother’s restrictions and endless concerns. Why did she have to be so cautious? Tunjur was not like a little human child who could not even feed themselves. She could handle any troubles and protect herself without her mother’s presentence. Yama does not know anything about being a pot because she never was one, so she imprisons me with her rules that are fit for humans. If only Zara could truly understand Tunjur’s capabilities and strength . . .
But she couldn’t, so Tunjur unlatched the door and basked in the rush of air against her body.