[Part 9 (tale 7) of the author's "Gendering Tales: A Feminist Reading of Seven Wonder Tales"]
There was an old Qadi who had one single daughter called Rabia. She was erudite and very cultivated, and knew the Koran by heart. Once her father received notable guests from a distant land. She took care to prepare a sumptuous dinner for the company. But her father's stomach was too delicate to stand all the elaborate dishes she presented; he soon felt drowsy, and was rather embarrassed, for his guests were in no mood of going to their beds. He knew that the only thing that would keep him awake was to listen to some verses from the Koran, so he called his daughter:
"Rabia, my daughter, come recite some Koranic verses for your old father and our distinguished guests."
Rabia, obediently, sat near her father and recited Koranic verses in a way no Taleb could. She had a wonderful voice, and mastered the Holy Book perfectly.
The following morning, the youngest guest asked the Qadi to give him Rabia for a wife. He was charmed by her intellect as well as her radiant beauty. The Qadi cried heavily, for he loved his daughter, his only companion and family. But what could he do? She was to marry anyway, and a rich and handsome young man was the best husband she could ever dream of.
So the wedding was promptly set and shortly afterwards, Rabia was riding with the company to her husband's land.
When she reached her new home, she found out her husband already had two other wives who had no children. Co-wives were always synonymous with trouble for a young bride, especially if older and barren. Indeed, Rabia was by far more beautiful and refined than her rivals, but they were nastier. In malice, she just could not outwit them. Her life soon became hellish.
Things became more complicated when she discovered she was pregnant. Her husband was so happy and proud that he surrounded her with care and presents, a fact that made the co-wives wild with rage and envy. They resolved to dishonor her.
She was in her ninth month when they sent for an 'Oumme'egouz' to be her midwife. The latter examined her and found out she had twins. The husband was all the more excited and pleased, and his other wives more determined to bring shame on the fortunate young bride.
At the first contractions, the 'Oumme'egouz' shut herself with Rabia in a room, and asked to be bothered by nobody else, so she would assist the young mother in peace. In reality, she was scheming to ruin her forever. As soon as the two babies were brought to the world, the old woman hid them in a box and took two puppies out of her bag, and put them on Rabia's bed. The latter was so exhausted that she fell in a deep sleep as soon as the pains were over, and noticed none of the midwife's doings.
Meanwhile, the husband was waiting outside for news. The old woman went straight to him and told him, acting sadness:
"Sir, you cannot reject your Blood even if the mother is a bitch. Your wife gave birth to two puppies, a male and a female."
The husband could not believe his ears. Puppies! After all those years waiting, that woman gave him puppies! In his fury, he ran to Rabia, still dozed, and threw her out of the house with the puppies. It was the triumph of the co-wives.
Rabia was shocked. What was she to do, and where was she to go? She was too proud to come back to her father's house humiliated and dishonored, and could not dream of going to her husband's house again. Instead, she went to the forest. She could not imagine she was deceived; she really thought the puppies were hers, so she breastfed them and lived with them among beasts and trees.
But what was to become of the twins? The evil co-wives awarded the mischievous midwife generously, and asked her to get rid of the babies, to kill them. Thus she took them to the riverbank, and set up to smash their heads a big rock. However, no matter how immoral that woman was, she was incapable of executing two babies in cold blood. She finally left them on the rock and went away.
But that rock was no ordinary rock. An Afreet lived in it. He was sound asleep when the midwife abandoned the babies. Some time later, he awoke on their wails. He sprang from his rock and saw the twins whimpering in their box. He was immediately overwhelmed by love and tenderness, and two breasts running with milk miraculously grew on his chest. He thus adopted the twins and breastfed them.
The Afreet's milk was truly miraculous milk. Thanks to it, the twins grew up with an amazing speed. In a fortnight, they were already young and charming youngsters. He build a wonderful glass palace for them on the river bank, and they all lived very happily until, one day, the 'Oumme'egouz' came passing by again.
She was wondering what happened to the babies she left, when she reached the glass palace and caught sight of the girl playing inside. She immediately guessed who she was, for she resembled her mother like two dew drops. She knocked at the windowpane:
"What are you doing all by yourself in this huge palace, my child? And where is your mother? She should not leave such a beautiful child alone."
The girl replied:
"I don't have a mother, my aunt."
"Poor child! But you must have a father, don't you?"
"My father is on a hunting trip with my brother. They'll be here soon."
The spiteful old woman sighed, then said:
"That's not very fair of him, taking his son and leaving his daughter bored in that palace. Why don't they take you with them? You could enjoy yourself . . . it seems your father is not that fond of you!"
The girl protested:
"No, that's wrong! He's the best father ever!"
At that time, the 'Oumme'egouz' countered:
"Well, if you really want to know how much your father loves you, ask him to bring you the Bird of Prosperity, from the Country of Integrity, with a hook in its beak. I'll come again to see if he will." And she went away, convinced that the twins' happy life would soon turn sour.
Meanwhile, the Afreet and the young man were wandering in the forest, where they met, by chance, Rabia's husband and the twins' father on a hunting trip with his company. The father was astounded by the young man's looks. It was as if he was looking at a mirror! The resemblance was truly striking for both. The father thought:
"This young lad looks just like me! He could be my own son!" and the son thought:
"This lord could be my father! He looks just like me!" But none of them thought that could actually be the truth.
When the Afreet came back home, he sensed someone had been there, but had no time to enquire, as his daughter snapped at him:
"You don't love me! Neither of you two care for me! You just leave me here and have all the fun, while I'm prisoner of this palace!"
"How could you say such a thing? You know how much we both love you!"
"Prove it! Bring me the Bird of Prosperity, from the Country of Integrity, with a hook in its beak!"
The Afreet guessed some wicked witch had visited his daughter, since only few people knew about that fabulous bird, which lived in the Land of Djinns where no mortal could venture. He, nevertheless, decided to bring the girl that present.
The following morning, he bore his son on his back and flew to the Land of the Djinns. Before entering it, the Afreet urged the young man not to complain or utter a single word, not even 'Ah!' . Once inside the Djinns territory, a huge number of demons, devils and other spirits assaulted the young man, harassing and frightening him. If he had pronounced one single word, he would have been thrown to the Void . But he was a smart young man. He obediently remained silent and captured the famous bird easily.
Back home, the Afreet gave the bird to the girl, and said:
"Now I brought you the present you wanted, but you have to show me how much you love me! All I want you to do is to bring me the person who told you about the existence of the bird."
"Of course! It's an 'Oumme'egouz who will be soon passing by to admire the bird!"
The Afreet thus hid in the rock until the old woman turned up. Like all Afarits, he knew at once her story. He bounced out and caught her:
"So you came to me on your own, damned old woman. Now you'll have to pay. Go and bring me those who command you, or else I tear you apart!"
She ran to the co-wives, shaking, and tricked them to go with her, while the Afreet flew looking for Rabia and her husband. In the blink of an eye, they were all gathered at the riverbank. He first addressed Rabia:
"These puppies are not yours, here are your real children," and blew the puppies away. Then, he spoke to the husband:
"Your wife is victim of the scheming of your two other wives. I brought your children up, and now I can give them back to you."
To the midwife and the co-wives, he said nothing. He just blew them away, to the Void, where they surely died. Rabia's honour was at last restored, and she returned to her house with her husband and her children.
My grandmother told tales and wove carpets. She made them up with the materials available to her, refined and dyed, embroidered and knit, surely, patiently left a legacy of everlasting stories and memories, while the carpets gradually withered away.
Last modified: 14 December 2001