Saturday, 13 September, 2008, 22:50 ( 20:50 GMT )
Patience-Stone and Patience-Knife
A Retelling of a Libyan Folktale (4)
by: Tasnim Elqutait
There was once a girl who had seven brothers. Her name was Dalal, Spoiled One, because she was the youngest child, and her family loved and cared for her so much that they never asked her to do anything she did not like to do. Every day, her father would take her to school and bring her back, and when she went out to play, her mother watched from the window. She loved her only daughter so much she would not let her out of her sight.
Now, the teacher at the school had told his students that they must always come after noon, but one day, her father had work in a nearby town, so he took her to the school early. The girl came towards the door and finding it open, she went in.
When she came home from school that day, her face was white and her hands were shaking. She would not eat, and she would not speak. She sat in a corner saying nothing and doing nothing. Her mother and her father begged her to tell them what was wrong; her seven brothers went to the school to try to find out what had happened. They asked the teacher and they asked her friends, they asked all around the town, but no one could tell them what was wrong with their sister.
Meanwhile, the girl got weaker and weaker, until she was no more than skin and bones and her eyes were huge in her thin face. Finally, her mother and her father said they would not leave her until she told them what had happened. Seeing their sorrow, the girl stretched out her hands and held onto her mother's hand with one, and her father's with the other, holding them both very tightly.
Then she told them that the teacher was a ghoul, she had seen him in ghoul-form eating a dead donkey. She had tried to run out of the school, but the ghoul caught her and told her never to tell anyone. "And that is why I would not tell you," said Dalal, "because the ghoul said even if I held onto everyone I know, an evil wind would lift me up from the ground and cast me far away into a distant land."
When the last word was out of her mouth, the girl was suddenly torn away from her parents, and carried away by the wind. At last, after a long time, she was thrown down in an empty desert of pure white sand. There was not a single bush or tree of plant in sight. The girl was lonely and thirsty and hungry and sick, and she did not know what to do. Finally she began walking and she walked and walked and walked, until, when she began to see lizards creeping in tiny hardy plants, she knew that she would live, and she lay down and slept.
The next day she was woken by the bleating of sheep. When she opened her eyes, she saw a shepherd staring down at her, very puzzled about where she could have come from. He took her home to his wife, and the woman asked her who she was. The girl would not answer, but sat in the corner and said nothing. The woman decided she must be mute but she persuaded her husband to keep her, for she could be made useful, and she told the girl she must weave every night.
The girl agreed, but still she said nothing. The sheepherder's wife gave her some bread, and showed her where she could sleep. The girl lay down on the floor and went to sleep. When it began to grow dark, she got up and stayed up all night, spinning.
One day the sheepherder's wife had nothing to do. She was bored and wanted to talk. The woman asked the girl, again and again, to tell her story, until finally, the girl told her. That night, the ghoul blew in like a storm, and he scattered the wool across the sky like clouds, and all the weaving came undone, withering back to clumps of nothing.
The next morning, the wife and her husband found out the girl had not done her work, and worse, they found that all the work she had done before had come undone. They saw that the girl had brought a curse upon them, and they threw her out.
Again the girl was alone. This time, she did not move. She waited. Then when it was night, two riders appeared. They asked her what she was doing alone in this wasteland. When she would not reply, they put her on a horse and they traveled for many miles and many days until they arrived at a large house. They led her inside and told their mother all that had happened. The women of the house gathered round the girl and asked her to tell her story. But this time the girl said nothing at all.
She stayed with this family for many years, and she married one of the brothers. Soon, she had twin boys. Some of the women of the house teased her and made fun of her, but she never said a word, remembering what has happened last time.
When the pilgrimage season came round, her husband asked everyone what they wanted as a gift. At last, he came to Dalal, and although he knew she would not speak, he asked if she wanted anything.
And then for the first time they heard her voice clearly. She said: "Bring back a patience stone and a patience knife." They wondered at this request. They asked her what it meant, but she would not speak another word. The next day her husband left. By the time he reached Mecca, he had forgotten all about the stone and the knife, but when the time came for him to return home, he found that the animals refused to go further. Finally, he remembered his wife's strange request and because he wanted to know her story, he went back and looked for the knife and the stone.
As soon as he came back, he gave the stone and the knife to his wife, and she took it and went into her room. She asked that no one enter her room while she was there, and that no one try to listen to what she was saying. But her husband, filled with curiosity, hid behind the curtain. He saw Dalal place the stone and the knife in the middle of the room and sit by it all day, and he heard her when she told her story to the stone, which seemed to come alive as she spoke, growing with every sentence, until when she got to the end, it split apart, breaking open. Dalal then picked up the pieces and the knife and said "You, stone as you are, could not bear my story. How can I bear it?" Her husband watched as the knife trembled and flew up into the air, and out of the window, and Dalal smiled and he knew that the ghoul would soon be dead.
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