Lena Mubsutina – The Thieving Pot: Excerpt 8

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

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?

Steven Sanchez – Waterfowl

Steven Sanchez


With the webbing torn
from his right foot,

his toes point
perpendicular to the ground

before each step like a dancer
aware of his body’s whole weight.

I tell myself he walks with grace,
that his foot isn’t limp

like a wrist. (I want to make him
powerful.) I will break him

a piece of this loaf
to swallow

before the rest of the geese
devour everything. I know,

though, that waterfowl
who live near man

fill themselves on bread
until they can’t eat anything else.

I tell myself I won’t kill him
with this one meal, 

that I haven’t starved his bones
of nutrients, that my offering

won’t contort his skeleton,
won’t twist his wrists backward

into an eternal game
of Mercy—

but when that happens,
some call it Angel Wing,

as if words can make pain beautiful,
as if there is salvation

for every harm I’ve done.

Lena Mubsutina – The Thieving Pot: Excerpt 7

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 loved having all eyes focused on her, but she would spin around each time someone tried to pick her up. “Yalla, ya Tunjur, come home with me! My wife would be delighted to have you, and the children would be so excited,” one man said. Several others made similar offers—Tunjur overheard the same pushiness with her mother the day before—but she turned them down. “I will give you my food for a price, but I am not for sale,” she said.

She made several dishes and bartered her services for things like textiles, raw meat and vegetables, and olive oil. She grew warm and tired after a few hours, and Tunjur knew that Zara would likely be looking for her, so she rolled over and scooped up her earnings. People marveled at how much she could fit under her lid, and she beamed with pride. “There’s nothing the Talking Tunjura can’t do!”

But she was not able to sneak off without her mother noticing. Tunjur found Zara riding their donkey, her face red and mouth set in anger and fear; it also seemed like some of their neighbors were looking at her wandering, whispering about her while they did the morning’s work. Tunjur rolled quickly in front of the donkey to the entrance of their home, and Zara gasped.

Fear and rage took Zara’s body with such force that she did not recall tying the donkey up before she followed Tunjur into the house. “Where have you been all this time? I’ve exhausted myself searching for you, and it’s not like I could ask for help finding my pot daughter without the town believing that I’m even more of a majnoona!”

Tunjur looked down. “Well, now they know that there is a talking tunjura in Bayt Tahweel.”

Zara clenched her fists and cried out. How could Tunjur be so stupid? It was because she was naïve; she only overheard bits and pieces of the world and was fascinated by it instead of afraid. “Do you know what they will do to us?” Zara shouted.

But even she could not answer that question.

“No one can steal me, Yama. People tried to do it today, but I can fend them off! I will not go anywhere unless I choose to.”

“So you’ll be on watch every minute, will you? Do you think this house is such a fortress that no one can enter?” Zara remembered her father and her uncles having to stay awake to keep watch with weapons in their hands during the more turbulent times of her adolescence when there were revolts against the corrupt emperor and his governor, but that was decades ago. Would people be so eager to get their hands on a talking tunjura that they would break into a house? But they did not have to have much motivation to actually steal from the Naifa house; no men were here to intimidate them.

Tunjur rolled away, wondering how Yama managed to live with so worries, how it did not make her a . . . well, a majnoona. When the thought entered her mind, she recoiled. But why did Zara have so many fears? Sure, people could be pushy and greedy, but they were not that scary or evil. 

“You will not walk away from me, Tunjur!”

“I’m rolling!”

Zara threw her hands in the air. “Astaghfirallah! What did I do to deserve such an insolent daughter?”

“You wished me to life, Yama.”

“So that life belongs to me because I made it,” Zara said.

Tunjur blew a cloud of steam in response and continued rolling away.

Steven Sanchez – Narcissus

Steven Sanchez


They want you to believe I died

by my own vanity. I knelt

down to drink my reflection 

and cooed to the man watching 

me. I lifted him from the water, 

stroked his hair, tucked it behind his ears,

and held   myself   for the first time. 

I learned how to be tender, how

being a man is an endless grief

for the parts of myself I’ve lost

and was never supposed to love. 

Lena Mubsutina – The Thieving Pot: Excerpt 6

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

But somehow Tunjur made it through the tumultuous journey without a scratch or a crack. She was dizzy when she first landed on flat ground; in little time, though, her head cleared, and she rolled again right away. It was not as bumpy or as fast doing it on flat ground, but Tunjur still felt exhilarated to easily move on her own instead of clanking along when she needed to get somewhere. It took her some time to remember her original plan; excitement about her new ability monopolized her mind.

Business was in full force when Tunjur arrived, and the noise and activity of the crowds made them oblivious to the presence of a tunjura with a face. She was disappointed that no one noticed her, and she realized that she had no real plan for what she would do once she got to the suq, causing beads of steam to drip down her face.

She rolled over to the corner with the few fabric and tatreez booths, going slow to not create so much dust from the dirt. Tunjur noticed that men were at the front, handling the customers, while the women sat in the back preparing the goods for display or working on new pieces. They conversed nearly the entire time they were working, and Tunjur stood still and took in every word.

The conversation of two women, named Miriam and Yasmeen, captured her interest the most.

“Did you see the thobe that Imm Dawood wore yesterday, Miriam?” Yasmeen asked. “She was only going to visit her mother, but it was the most lavish thing I’ve ever seen in Bayt Tahweel.”

“Zara Naifa must have made it for her,” Miriam replied to her. “Abu Dawood’s jewels must be making quite a profit if he can afford to treat his wife like a sultana.”

Yasmeen snorted. “Abu Dawood doesn’t make most of his money from jewels; it comes from all the interest he charges for his loans. Haraam alayk.” She made a spitting sound to emphasize her distaste.

Miriam shrugged. “At least Abu Dawood treats his wife well unlike Ustaaz Kareem. He’s one of the richest men in this town, and his wife has to beg for any little luxury.” She pointed her chin to a booth somewhere across from them. “Or like that Abu Tareq who roams the entire country to have affairs.”

Tunjur soon realized that not only was the suq a place of thieves and troublemakers like Zara claimed, it was also the place to discover all the sins that were happening elsewhere around Bayt Tahweel! This new information was even more tantalizing than cooking lamb, and the satisfaction lasted longer.

She stood there for hours unnoticed, able to associate faces with some of the names she had heard so much about. Many of the men even had booths here in the suq: Abu Tareq (the philanderer) sold candies and desserts that his wife and daughters prepared; Abu Dawood, who mostly sold his jewels to Bayt Tahweel’s prominent families and even some in Jerusalem, had a booth set up here to sell his cheaper wares but seemed to use it more to meet with desperate people who would pay his exorbitant interest. Another frequent focus of the gossip was Faris, a man with an estranged wife who had left town years ago to return to their family after some “haram business” (Tunjur could not figure out what it was exactly), often worked at his ailing father’s butcher booth and always seemed to be leering at the women who worked behind the scenes at many booths.

That was another thing Tunjur noticed: nearly all the booths seem to have women working but not at the forefront; she realized now how unusual it looked for her mother to be selling her wares alone. 

But it became tiresome just standing there observing, and Tunjur felt ready to introduce herself to the town. She rolled along, unsure of where she would land or what she would say; she kicked up enough dust and clanked loud enough for a boy to point at her and yell to his father, “Look, Baba, it’s a tunjura with a face!”

When Tunjur had landed on her bottom, she glowed and smiled. “Yes, I do! And I can speak and cook. I’m the most fascinating item to ever grace this suq and the only talking pot in the whole world!” She closed her eyes, unaware that she could not substantiate her claims as she had only visited the suq twice and had never been outside Bayt Tahweel.

Her audience gave no thought to this, though, and flocked around Tunjur to see what she would do next.