Zazia

Yasmina Sarhrouny, Mohamed V University, Rabat, Morocco

Part 4 (second tale) of the author's "Gendering Tales: A Feminist Reading of Seven Wonder Tales"

There was once a pretty girl who had the longest hair ever, but she used to wear a scarf to cover her hair all the time, until everybody thought she was bald and laughed at her.

Once, she went to a spring outside the douar to take a bath. She took off her scarf. You should have seen her hair. It was as dark as the feather of a crow, and was falling down to her knees.

So, she washed her hair over the source, and when she finished, she noticed that the spring went dry. Guess why? Well, her hair was so thick, and so long that one single hair obstructed the orifice of the source!

Of course she couldn't guess that. She just hurried back to her tent and waited. A moment later, people came complaining to her brother, who was the head of the tribe; they did not understand why the stream that sprang from the source had dried up so suddenly! They therefore asked him to inspect it for them. He went to the source, introduced a stick in it and drew out the very long, silky, black curl. Her brother, who was amazed, proclaimed:

"I swear that I shall marry the girl whose hair this is even if it turns out to be my sister Zazia!"

Immediately after that, the women of the tribe started comparing the curl to the hair of unmarried girls. As expected, it matched with no one's hair, and all girls were examined except Zazia.

"She is bald anyway," said an old woman, "but let us see her head."

Old women! Anyway, as soon as the scarf was removed, Zazia's hair fell like a cataract down to her knees. The women of the tribe were sick with envy. They rushed to her brother's tent shouting:

"The head of the tribe is going to marry his sister Zazia! The head of the tribe is going to marry his sister Zazia!"

The poor girl almost died with humiliation. You can imagine how ashamed she felt, poor thing. She packed up her things and ran away from home without delay. However, before leaving the douar, she fetched her little brother from the mosque, which also constituted the Koranic School, and took him with her, so that she would not feel lonely. But the boy was ill disciplined and behaved badly. He started complaining that he was thirsty, and when they reached a stream, insisted on drinking from it. But Zazia begged him not to:

"Don't, brother. This is the stream of the lions. If you drink from it you'll become one of them and run away and leave me."

They carried on until they got to another stream. Once again, the boy wished to drink from it, and his sister implored again:

"Don't, brother, this is the stream of the boars. If you drink from it you'll become one of them and run away and leave me."

Sunset was looming when they came across a third stream. The boy was already dashing to it when Zazia told him:

"Don't, brother. This is the stream of the deer. If you drink from it you'll become one of them and run away and leave me."

But it was too late; the boy drank from the enchanted water, turned into a deer and ran away! Well done! But poor Zazia found herself alone at night. She kept on walking until she reached another stream bordered by palms. She drank from it, and climbed the shortest palm, then said:

"Rise, rise, O palm of my father and of my mother!"

The palm quickly grew up in the air with the girl on its top, and Zazia was at last safe! She spent thus a long time perched on the palm, feeding on its dates like a bird in a nest! Then, one day, a slave from a nearby town brought his master's horse to drink from the stream. He caught sight of Zazia's reflection on the water surface, and marvelled at the beauty of her face, thinking it was his!

"How can a beauty so remarkable work in the horse's stable! RÔ go back to your master!"

He angrily sent the horse away, and proudly left for the town. Some days later, another slave came to fill up a jar for her mistress. As expected, she noticed Zazia's reflection on the water and was stunned, thinking that it was her own face! She broke the jar in fury crying out:

"I am a charm among charms, yet enduring my mistress's whims! That does it for that jar!" And she arrogantly went back to town! But then, shortly afterwards, an Oume'egouz came passing by. She bent on the water to drink and, of course, saw Zazia's image. But the old woman was too shrewd to believe the charming young features were hers. Instead, she looked up at the palm and discovered Zazia's nest. Of course, those old women were always ready to scheme some evil. She went back to town and rushed to the king. Once in his presence, she told him about Zazia's wonderful hair and looks. The king, thrilled by her account, promised to make of her the richest woman in town if she brought him the girl. So this mean old woman set up a plan to attract her prey down to the earth so she could catch her.

The following day, she walked to the stream with a flock of ewes, and a dozen mules carrying on their backs big tialess . She interlaced the ewes' tails instead of their heads and started milking them from their ears! She was feigning ignorance! Meanwhile, Zazia, who was silently observing her, felt sorry for the woman whom she thought was poor and ignorant. She warned her:

"You're doing it the wrong way, my aunt!"

"What can I do, my dear child? My daughters-in-law are too mean to help me, and my eyes are no longer what they were."

Zazia then ordered the palm to descend and jumped down to assist the old woman; she was already milking when the latter opened the sacks singing:

"Wake up, little mice, get out of your burrows. Wake up, little mice, get out of your burrows."

At once, stout slaves emerged from them and seized Zazia, who was too shocked to react. She was taken straight away to the king who married her without delay. He also built a dazzling palace, surrounded by a splendid garden, just for her, and brought her a multitude of servants and guards to serve and protect her.

It so happened that state affairs urged him to travel shortly afterwards. His other wives were jealous of the newcomer's fortune and status, and took the opportunity to get rid of her once and for all. They bribed the guards and crept into the garden, where Zazia used to spend her day. They introduced themselves as relatives of the king and surrounded her with all sorts of presents and compliments. One of them offered her a bottle of perfume that was actually a sleeping drug. As soon as she smelled it, she fell into a deep sleep. Then the malicious wives executed their wicked scheme; they span each hair on her head on a needle, and thrust all the needles into her head. Instantaneously, she became a dove and flew away. From that day forward, she lived with a flock of doves inside her garden, and whenever the birds landed to drink from the garden's fountain, she would perch on a tree and ask the gardener:

"O gardener, master of the garden,

Who plants peaches with pomegranates,

Is my lord back or not yet?"

The gardener, astounded, would answer:

"Not yet, my daughter, not yet," without ever guessing that he was addressing his mistress. Zazia kept on asking the same question until her husband returned. His evil wives made up several stories to justify her absence, yet he believed none and went straight to her garden, where the gardener came running to him to tell him about that strange and beautiful dove who was looking for him. The king decided to wait and see, and sat under a pomegranate tree. At sunset, the flock of doves landed again at the fountain and Zazia addressed the gardener once again:

"O gardener, master of the garden,

Who plants peaches with pomegranates,

Is my lord back or not yet?"

He eagerly replied:

"He's back, my daughter, here he is!"

She flew to her husband and landed on his lap at once. The king, marvelling at the dove's beauty, caressed her silky feathers telling her:

"Oh my poor daughter, what is your story?"

However, as he was smoothing a feather, he sensed a needle and gently extracted it. He drew with it a long velvety hair! He started plucking out all the other needles in frenzy and, gradually, Zazia's hair flowed on his lap. When the last needle was removed, she became human again. Their happiness was unbelievable. Zazia told him about his wives' plot, and the king sentenced them to death without delay. Then he and Zazia lived happily together ever after.

Oussalam!


So that was the story of the girl and the bird in the carpet! But where were the king, and the brothers? She must have omitted them, or maybe did not find appropriate colours for them.

"Why is there no boy on your carpet? Where are Zazia's brothers?"

"Oh! No, these girls are the Seven Sisters. Now let's have supper and go to sleep, I'll tell you about them tomorrow morning if you wake up early."

My grandmother sat before her qasriya. She dug a tiny well in the mound of flour, and gently put granules of yeast in it. She sprinkled salt over that volcano, like an incantation or a call for help, and then poured water inside the little well. Gently, very gently, the whole edifice crumbled, eaten up by the water flow. I dived into my previous night's dreams of enchanted girls. When I woke up, fists that looked so fragile when they were hands and fingers were vigorously kneading dough. I felt like trying myself to the magic, but my fingers were quickly kicked out:

"Don't mess up Allah's bread! It's no plaything. You'd rather listen to the story of the Seven Sisters, wouldn't you? Now be quiet and let me tell you a story.


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Last modified: 14 December 2001