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
The steaming incident boosted their business as people visited with more orders, and Zara could tell that some of the mischievous customers tried to anger Tunjur intentionally to see her steam again. Abu Dawoud, who would not deign to visit the booth run by a woman with a haraam talking tunjura before, put in an order for laban. Right after he poured the milk under Tunjur’s lid, he complained about the time it took for Tunjur to create the yogurt. “How can something so magical take so long to make a simple dish?” he asked before clicking his tongue in disapproval.
“Only a man would think three minutes to make milk into laban with no fire is a long wait,” Tunjur replied, annoyed but not angry.
And Zara was relieved to see that sometimes Tunjur would be upset or impatient with demanding customers, but she never became as angry as she did with Imm Feez.
Still, Tunjur could be harsh with those who could not pay her what she thought her food was worth. She turned away several who could not meet her demands, and Zara advised her daughter, “Have mercy and compassion, Tunjur. Everyone cannot afford your prices, and you must compromise.”
Tunjur rolled her eyes and groaned. “Why do you humans have so many rules? What is so wrong about doing what I want to do?”
“You wanted to be out in the world with all these other people, so it is haraam to be among them but act like you are the only one who exists.”
Tunjur contemplated her mother’s words, thinking about how the two of them, until so recently, only had their small house that was still in a state of disrepair and just enough for Zara to eat and Tunjur to cook. She agreed with her mother, but it was hard to admit because she also wanted to be successful, and mercy and compassion seemed to get in the way of that.
“Tayeb, Yama. I’ll try to be nicer to people who have less.”
Later that day she made laban and even maqluba for a few people who could only provide the ingredients but no payment. Zara knew these families had less, and she assured Tunjur that they were not trying to trick her. Tunjur also felt joy at hearing the profuse gratitude from those who received discounts or free food.
“I am so proud of you, Tunjur,” Zara said as she packed up their booth for the day.
Tunjur sighed as she took inventory of her earnings. “Yeah, but I made so much less.”
Because of Tunjur’s terrifying temper, few people dared to ask about Tunjur about her origins or she could be a human’s daughter. Now they mostly talked about their own lives while they browsed through Zara’s tatreez collection of thobes or waited for Tunjur to finish their food. Zara and Tunjur both preferred these conversations; Zara felt judged or misunderstood every time she told any of the women about her life, and Tunjur sensed how uneasy those questions and comments made her mother.
Hearing about these women was a welcome relief from the worries that occupied Zara’s mind while she was at the suq: if some thieves would somehow sneak off with her most expensive thobes or, worst of all, Tunjur; if her daughter might misbehave and bring unwanted attention on to their family, especially from the Governor and Bayt Tahweel’s prominent families. These stories reminded her that the other Bayt Tahweelis’ were people instead of a collection of beings who were only there to impose rules and judgment, what she saw herself becoming to her sometimes.
Tunjur loved to hear the stories or the gossip about other people because the things that concerned people the most fascinated her. She wondered why someone’s status was so important in determining whether or not they could marry one of their children or why family members needled one another about how to dress or how to eat.
But the best thing was the gossip about others who engaged in wrong, taboo, or even illegal behavior. It brought her back to her first day at the suq when she hid while those women gossiped about the other vendors. Her body tingled, and sometimes her eyes widened when someone talked about something really sensational. She almost enjoyed this as much as making a big profit.
Few women felt inhibited when speaking around Zara and Tunjur because they thought the two of them would not do anything with this information, and they doubted if a tunjura, even a talking one, would fully comprehend or remember what they said.
Tunjur stored almost every word in her memory though.