Tales to tell

The Marriage Tree

Once upon a time there lived a woman named Mohana who was more superstitious than anyone else in her village. No matter what happened, Mohana considered that event as a sign. When she walked into her kitchen, she took her first step with her right foot, always; in this way, she said, no bad luck could follow her. When she boiled her coffee, she let the pot boil over. This, she explained, was a sign of good luck.

One day Mohana and four of her friends visited the village well. Beside the well grew an enormous date palm, so thick it would take five women to embrace its trunk.

Mohana touched one of the dates. "This tree is so enormous and its fruit so sweet, I am certain this tree must possess magic."

Her friends laughed. "Of course you think so. You are too superstitious!"

But Mohana was very serious, and she looked intently at her friends. "By the grace of Allah," she said, "if I give birth to a girl, I promise she will marry this tree and live happily ever after."

Her friends naturally laughed at her, and soon they forgot Mohana's promise. But one year later, Mohana gave birth to a girl she named Ayesha, and to make sure her daughter lived a blessed life, she hung around her tiny neck a necklace with the Hand of Fatima for protection.

She also cautioned her: "Stay away from wells, for some of them are haunted. And take care never to stray too far from home."

As Ayesha grew, she did indeed live a blessed life, and she followed her mother's advice. But one day when she was 17, her friends were going to the well, and they begged her to join them. "Don't be so superstitious like your mother," they teased.

And so Ayesha visited the well for the first time. As the girls were collecting their water, the date palm suddenly whispered to Ayesha, "Tell your mother she must keep her promise."

Ayesha only laughed. She was certain her imagination was playing tricks on her now that she had disobeyed her mother.

But the tree spoke again, this time loud enough for her friends to hear. "Tell your mother she must keep her promise," the tree repeated.

Ayesha quickly stepped back. "Trees cannot speak," she said, but once again the tree spoke. "Ask your mother what she thinks," it whispered.

Ayesha hurried home to tell her mother of this strange event. As Mohana listened, she let out a great anguished moan. "All is lost!" she wept. "I have ruined our lives. Before you were born, I vowed that I would marry my daughter to the date palm tree. You must promise you will never return to the well."

But Ayesha shook her head, knowing the spirits would be disappointed. "Mother, the jinn will be angry with you if you break your promise. I must marry the date palm tree."

Mohana knew her daughter was right, and so she began to make preparations for the wedding. As their tradition called for, she painted Ayesha's hands and feet with henna and perfumed the wedding gown with oudh rose. She showered her daughter with jewelry and cloth, just as a human groom would do. And then she took Ayesha to the well and left her beside the date palm.

The next morning when Mohana returned to the well, Ayesha was gone. She searched everywhere, and whenever she met anyone, she asked for word of her daughter, but no one had seen or heard from her. Every day Mohana searched, but every day ended with sadness, for she could find no one who had seen the girl.

Many months passed, and then a year, until one night Mohana heard a knock at her door. When she opened it, she found a woman standing there. The woman thrust a bolt of cloth into her hand and when Mohana inhaled it, she smelled oudh rose.

"This is a good omen," she said. That night, for the first time in a year, she fell asleep with hope in her heart.

A few days later she heard another knock at the door. When she opened it, she saw a young woman dressed in purple silk, with heavy gold jewelry around her neck and feet and fingers. Beside her there stood a man who was holding a baby.

The young woman leaned forward and kissed Mohana's cheeks. "Mother, it is your daughter, Ayesha."

Mohana stared in wonder, and now she recognized her daughter's beautiful eyes and her smile. "It is you, my child."

"And this is my husband and my son," she said. "On the night you made your vow to the date palm, this man was passing by with his father. He heard your promise, and he waited all his life until I was old enough to marry. Then he hid behind the tree once again and waited for me. He is the son of a rich merchant from the far side of the mountain, and we are very happy together."

Mohana sighed deeply. "What a foolish woman I am," she said, and she led her daughter, son-in-law and grandson through the village, introducing them to everyone.

"I will not be so superstitious from now on," she said, but she was still careful to hang an amulet for good luck around her grandson's neck.