I’m talking about one of the two Palestinian versions of Cinderella. It’s my favourite, a Cinderella who cross-dresses, and the second half is quite queer. This one is called The Daughter of the Rose and the Jasmine. It’s found in An Illustrated Treasury of Palestinian Folktales by Najwa Kawar Farah.
Prince Hassan finds a golden clog left nearby a spring. He imagined what sort of woman could have owned it, and was smitten with longing to marry this woman of his dreams. He went to the Queen, his mother, and begged her to find the owner of the clog.
The Queen wasn’t really keen but she loved her son, so she went looking from house to house trying to find the matching clog until she grew tired of the search. There was only one house left, the home of a widow. The Queen was welcomed and immediately saw the clog under a bed.
The widow explained that her daughter had been ill and unable to walk. So the desperate mother had prayed, vowing that if her daughter could walk again, it would be on gold. And so when her daughter recovered, the mother had bought a pair of gold shoes for her to wear.
The Queen asked where the girl was, and the widow said she was visiting friends. When she returned, they could all see that she was a beautiful and graceful girl, with looks that combined the charms of wheat, roses, and jasmine.
The girl’s name was Zainab, which means “a fragrant tree/plant.” The Queen had her servant show the golden clog to her and asked “is this yours?” Zainab immediately brought out the matching clog from under her bed.
Her mother, meanwhile, was elated to see the clog for she had taken its disappearance as a bad omen foretelling the return of her daughter’s illness. She kissed the Queen and the Queen’s servant. The Queen meanwhile instantly became fond of Zainab.
She was convinced that providence had led her son to fall in love with this girl he called ‘The Daughter of the Rose and the Jasmine.’ The prince was ecstatic to hear that his mother had found the owner of the clog. He beset her with questions. “Is she how I imagined?”
“Is she beautiful?” But the Queen wouldn’t answer his questions, only saying “you will see her one day.” He demanded a clue, she refused to give him one. After a month of this, the prince grew impatient. “I have to see her!” he demanded.
“No, brides cannot be seen before the wedding night.” So he went to the servant, trying to get some clues from them but she wouldn’t tell him either. The prince began to get lovesick over this. The Queen realized the suspense was getting to him and obliged to let him glimpse her.
Meanwhile, the prince’s cousins found out about the whole thing and were jealous. One cousin in particular was so envious, she set in her mind to ruin the match. She found out that the Queen planned to reveal Zainab’s identity at the bath house.
The prince was told that the woman who hands his mother a silver ewer is Zainab. So his cousin arranged that she would head off Zainab and place her own ewer into the Queen’s hand before she could have a chance to react. The Queen had not seen clearly in the steam of the bath.
But the prince saw his cousin, a rather ugly looking woman. The prince was upset, and when he saw his mother at the palace he was angry saying “now I understand why you wouldn’t let me see her!”
The Queen was utterly baffled. “What kind of eyes do you have?” said the Queen. “Take my eyes, and see with them yourself!” said the prince rudely. “Announce the marriage is annulled!”
The Queen explained how this was impossible. The prince attended the horse race that preceded the celebrations, but disappeared when he was meant to unveil the bride. He leapt onto his horse and rode to one of his summer palaces.
Zainab was shocked, but the Queen soothed her saying the prince had urgent business. Zainab said “very well,then we shall live together until he returns.” And so Zainab and her mother moved in with the Queen to await the prince’s return.
Months passed and Zainab lost patience. So she dressed herself as a nobleman and rode out to the prince’s palace. Meeting the gardener, she said “where is Prince Hassan?” The gardener could tell she was a nobleman and answered truthfully that he was out hunting.
“Tell him that the son of the Rose and the Jasmine came to see him.” “I have never heard of such a tribe,” said the gardener. “Will you return tomorrow?” And she agreed.
The gardener told the prince all about the ‘handsome young nobleman’ who had paid a visit and the prince was intrigued. He excitedly waited for this visitor’s return. Sure enough, Zainab appeared in her masc guise and the prince eagerly showed her around his gardens.
The prince was struck by the handsome appearance, grace, and agility of this visitor and proudly showed off the plants in his garden, starting with the henna. Zainab asked “what flower is this?” “Henna,” replied the prince. “Maidens use it to dye their hair, hands and feet.”
“Flower of Henna beautiful and sweet By your scent you excel every flower I swear by Mecca and all the praises therin You are my beloved and always will be,” said Zainab.
The prince was amused, but didn’t understand the meaning behind the verse. They walked by the kitchen garden and Zainab pointed to some mloukiah growing there, asking “what plant is this?” The prince was surprised, saying “you do not know this common plant? Everyone eats it!”
“You passed our house holding mloukiah Is it to hide a wound or to start a talk By God who created the earth surrounded by waters My heart loves you and desires nobody else” said Zainab.
The prince scrutinized Zainab’s face, uncomprehending why his guest was so fond of random poetry but decided perhaps these were snippets of folk songs. Not understanding the verses were about him.
They passed an apple tree. “What tree is this?” asked Zainab. “You really mean to say you have never seen an apple tree?” asked Prince Hassan.
“Apple! We do not eat you, sour, you bother us Stranger we do not marry you. You quit. Deserting us. If we marry it should be from our own folks. His mother then would comfort us,” said Zainab.
The prince was curious, who was this young nobleman?! “I must pick some apples for you,” he said. “Can I pick them myself?” asked Zainab. The prince agreed. But as she climbed, she injured her leg on a sharp branch.
The prince stopped the bleeding with his own handkerchief and bandaged the leg. As he was tending to her, he began to suspect that his visitor was not a man, but a woman in disguise. He had fallen in love.
They sat down to eat. Zainab asked “what is this?” “This is cheese,” said the prince. “Cheese. The food of the beloved is cheese Only I question: were we the deserters or was it you?” said Zainab.
When Zainab tried to leave, the prince refused. “No, I do not allow you to leave.” “By the way,” asked Zainab. “Whose palace is this?” “It is my palace,” said the prince.
At which point the locks on the palace doors said: “Youth! May it to you be known Your cousins schemed against you, but I! No wrong did I do to you.”
The prince was befuddled. All he could think about was this visitor, so beautiful, graceful, intelligent, and witty. Unable to help it, he told Zainab the whole story of the clog and his engagement.
“You did not act wisely,” said Zainab. “Anyway,” said the Prince. “She was nothing like the daughter of the Rose and the Jasmine–” Hearing this, Zainab jumped on her horse and left him, sad and alone in his palace.
The prince was heartbroken. He wished fervently that his bride could be this adventurous girl, and not the cousin he believed was his betrothed. Eventually, he agreed to visit his mother the Queen but only on condition that his bride be sent away while he was there.
The Queen listened as the prince told her about the visitor. “They were so beautiful, intelligent, and witty, able to compose poetry on the spot! Mother, I am in love. You have to find them!”
The Queen called her servant and said “tell your mistress to come prepare a meal for prince Hassan.” The prince stood up, affronted. “Is SHE here?! I told you to send her away!”
“We cannot do that,” said the Queen. “We looked for her, after all. What’s done is done!” “Send her away!” demanded the prince. “I might harm her!”
As the prince fumed, a gentle voice in the other room said “who is making all that noise? Is it the same one who tended my wounds with a royal handkerchief? What a shame that we live in a time when princes are so forgetful!”
The prince was silent as the voice continued: “It seems neither rose not jasmine could induce you to see the truth shaded from thee.”
Zainab stepped out, wearing the golden clogs and holding the blood-stained handkerchief. It had the prince’s monogram on it, and he recognized it, and the voice immediately.
Rushed to each other and embraced, laughing and crying by turns. Once the news had spread of the prince’s return and the happy reunion, the townspeople gathered into the palace gardens to celebrate with the happy couple.