Saturday, 13 September, 2008, 22:50 ( 20:50 GMT )
The Bedouin and the Jiniya
A Retelling of a Libyan Folktale (5)
by: Sondos Elqutait
Long ago there was a Bedouin woman who spent all her days at the loom, weaving kilim after kilim, each more beautiful than the one before. Her skill so far surpassed that of all the women of her tribe, that they readily did her chores and more, and left all the weaving to her.
One day as she sat alone in her tent, setting up her masda to begin on a new carpet, she saw two snakes, one brown and the other green, slithering into the tent.
The woman had been taught a snake incantation first used by the Pharaoh's magicians, and having uttered this charm, which renders a snake powerless to do harm, she was not alarmed when she found the snakes had made a home behind her bridal box; a large olive wood chest, decorated with strips of engraved copper, where she kept all her belongings, and the beginnings of her daughter's jihaz (trousseau).
For the next three days she watched as the brown snake left the hole early every morning and came back at sunset, and then, on the third night, she had a dream. A jiniah dressed in green silk and emeralds, with long green hair that trailed after her and rippled like a snake going down a dune, told her to go and look in her chest when she woke up, and to keep whatever she found a secret.
And that was exactly what she did when she rose with the sun, but she searched and searched and found nothing that had not been in the chest. So she took everything out: bright fabrics and soft camel skin slippers, embroidered blouses and the r'das to wear over them, pots of musk and a silver kohl bottle, perfumed oils and packets of incense…but when she had finally emptied the box she had still not found anything that had not been there before.
She was just about to give up and decide that her dream was just that, a dream, when she remembered to unwrap the bundle in which she kept her jewels, and there she found an egg, golden as the sun and heavy as a canon ball.
Of course she was so happy she could almost fly, and putting everything back as it was, she went about her work - and made more than one mistake in the new carpet, as she was too busy planning what to do with this gift to keep her mind on her work.
When night came the jiniah appeared again, promising that she would find a gold egg each morning, but warning her once more not to tell anyone of her new wealth. For three weeks things went on as they should: the woman obeyed the jiniah, and no one knew about her growing hoard of gold.
But then one morning, after she had watched the jiniah's husband leaving as usual, she saw another snake, a smaller one, come into the tent and disappear behind the olive wood chest. That day, instead of imagining what she would buy with her glittering treasure, her thoughts swiftly wove stories about her benefactress.
By noon she thought she knew what was going on, by late afternoon, when she saw the snake leave, she had worked herself up into an indignant rage, and by sunset she had decided what to do about it. So when the brown snake came home she told him what she had seen, and what she had guessed.
That night she was kept awake by the jinn arguing, and was only able to get to sleep when half the night had passed - and not for long, because she was woken by a sudden bang.
After that shock it was quiet, and the woman could finally sleep deeply enough to dream - of the jiniya. She explained that the snake who had visited her was her brother, and that the Bedouin's slanderous gossip had cost her life. "Is this how you repay me for my kindness?" she asked, and the woman found nothing to say in reply.
She spent the rest of the night between terror and remorse, but that only lasted while the darkness did, and when the sun came up she regained her courage and decided that she had nothing to regret, for what was the use of accumulating more gold if she could not enjoy any of it? Now that the jiniya was dead she would at last be able to sell her golden eggs and begin a new life of ease and luxury in the city. But when she opened the chest she found that her treasure had gone.
And that's my story told!
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