Thou dweller of Heaven
Allow thy gaze to fall
Bring back our brethren
We have homes and terraces
With doors open wide
O dweller of Heaven
Give wing to the doves
Grant us sweet repose
Look down from on high
on us and our lands
and restore our kinfolk.
Upper room upon room
to sunlight and to freedom
look down from on high
to span the days and nights
that is the fruit of peace
(Song by Fairuz)
The young men were returning from their usual evening stroll and
darkness had just began to fall as our car approached the charcoal
kilns of our Galilean village. The fragrance of the submerged wood
in the kilns filled the air, and our guest exclaimed joyfully, "We
I sounded my horn to warn the young men returning from their
evening stroll to stay clear of our path. They were in need of no
such warning, and I was actually blowing the horn to announce the
arrival of our guest. She was returning to her village and to her
old, crippled mother for the first time for more than twenty years.
She had gone to live in Lebanon with her husband and children and
now she was returning twenty years later. She had crossed the
bridge over the sacred river with permission to visit her mother's
home for two weeks.
She asked, "Is the spring still there like the charcoal
"It is still there at the other end of the village but it has dried
up," I replied.
Our guest gave a diffident laugh that was audible but invisible and
said, "Jubaynah has returned".
It was my turn to laugh but I could not.
Do you know the tale of Jubaynah, or has it sunk into oblivion
among the ruins of Damoun and Igrith?*
It is the tale of a childless village woman who used to make cheese
and pray to God on high to give her a daughter with a face as round
and fair as the cheese in her hands.
God answered her prayer and sent her a daughter whose beauty put
the moon itself to shame.
Hugo named her Esmeralda; but the village women called her
She nurtured and pampered her and clothed her in brocaded silk. She
entwined her wrist with a beaded blue charm to protect her from the
evil eye. Her anklets rang out to the graceful rhythm of her body
as she walked, alerting pedestrians to make way for her as she
To cut a long story short, she, like Esmeralda, was kidnapped by
the gypsies. Her mother continued to search for her and weep for
her loss until she collapsed and lost the light of sight in her
As for Jubaynah, she was transferred from one master to another
until she ended up herding geese in the pastures of the prince of a
far away land. She was separated from her mother and father by
seven seas and seven years.
As she tended the geese, she sang a sorrowful song:
O birds that fly
Over mountains high
Tell my mother and father
That precious Jubaynah
And walks thorny paths
On mountains high
A young prince overheard her song and was touched by it. He
returned next day, and the song seemed even more enchanting to him.
He returned for seven more days and fell in love with Jubaynah.
Seven long nights he spent without sleep until he poured out his
heart to his mother. And so it was that he took Jubaynah from the
pasture and brought her to the palace as his wife and
After spending one year in comfort, Princess Jubaynah gave birth to
a bonny boy. A second year elapsed and Princess Jubaynah said to
her husband the Prince, "My country yearns for its own".
So he set her upon a camel litter and gave her perfumes, silks and
gifts to take with her. She travelled until she came to the village
spring. Her child became thirsty. Seeing the village women
quarrelling and jostling one another around the spring, she asked
them for some water for her child. One of the women answered,
"There is no water in the spring. Ever since Jubaynah disappeared,
the spring has been dry".
Jubaynah answered, "Go and look, and you shall find water in the
And so it was. The pent-up water gushed forth from within the
One of the women whispered to her sister, "Jubaynah has
The news spread. Girls and boys ran about shouting, "Jubaynah has
A boy ran impulsively to the house of Jubaynah's mother and
approached her like a goat at full tilt. Shouting so that she could
hear him and panting so that she would believe him, he said,
"Grandmother, grandmother: Jubaynah has returned". But she would
not believe him, so he returned to Jubaynah's litter abashed.
Jubaynah gave him the blue charm, that encircled her slender wrist
and said, "Tell Jubaynah's mother that this is from
The boy took it to her and placed it in her hands. She smelt it and
rubbed her eyes again; and the tears welled up in her eyes and the
light of sight was restored to them.
Then, they were united.
However, I said to our guest, "The mechanical litter is now
entering the village. Will the water in the spring gush
Our guest smiled an inaudible, invisible smile.
We entered the village alleys. I asked her to guide me to her
mother's house if she still remembered the way.
As she continued to guide me, I drove the car up a steep alley.
Suddenly, she astonished me by crying out, "Beware of the ditch to
your left at the beginning of the next alley"; for there was a
ditch in the very spot where Jubaynah had anticipated it.
She became aware of my amazement and said, ''No, not everything has
remained the same. We have grown older and the alley arches have
aged; but the children fill the plain and the mountain. I do not
know them and they do not know me; but I think they know that my
crippled mother has a daughter abroad".
In this matter as well, she was right. A young man was shutting the
shop beneath her mother's house. He saw that we were strangers,
accompanying a strange lady in modern clothes as she alighted from
the car at such a late hour in that congested alley. No sooner had
he seen us that he ran towards us. Without a word from us, he
turned round and shouted to his neighbors, "So and so's daughter
has returned. So and so's daughter has returned".
The women neighbors quickly ran out to welcome her. I saw the
crippled old woman at the bottom of the stairway, standing on her
own two feet. She was trying to hear, trying to see, trying to
understand. They said, "Here is her mother".
It was pitch dark, and the men were shouting to the women to bring
The old woman standing at the bottom of the stairs was smiling such
a smile as I have never seen in my life, a smile that was like the
traces of the waves on the beach during the ebbing of the
Through the commotion, a shrill cry of joy could be heard, which
froze every movement and silenced every voice.
The old mother was uttering exclamations of joy. We did not
understand any of the verses she recited. Perhaps all we heard of
her cry was the rustling of her lips; but her face reflected a
vision of a bride's glory at the moment of her unveiling.
Then, they were reunited.
We were still helping the old mother back to her bed when she
pushed us aside and sprang, like a lioness towards an old wooden
chest. Raising its lid, she rummaged in it and brought out some
clothes for a seven or eight-year-old child. She whispered
hoarsely, "These are your clothes. I have kept them for your
daughter. Why didn't you bring her with you?"
Then, she brought out a blue charm attached to a golden pennant and
said, "Your father, God rest his soul, always used to say that had
you kept this charm, all that has happened would not have occurred,
Wear it and never take it off."
As I took leave of our guest, she said to me diffidently, "As for
the new Jubaynah, it was not she who kept the blue charm". I
answered her, "My way lies past the water spring at the end of the
village, I will visit it. Perhaps it has overflowed with
As I passed the water spring, I raised my hand in salute. No one
could see me, so why should I not salute the spring?
As for visiting the spring to see whether life has returned to it,
I decided to postpone that until some other day.
* Arab villages destroyed by the Israelis - ed.
From The Modern Arabic Short Story by Mohammad Shaheen,
Macmillan Press, London, 1989.