There was and there was not a king and queen who were childless. One day a dervish came by who was selling mountain apples. He cried his produce saying they would help the childless to conceive. The king asked the dervish about the apples.
“Will it really do as you say?”
“Indeed,” said the holy man. “You must eat half and the queen the other and you will have a splendid son. But there is one condition: you must make a river of molasses and a river of tahini flow through your city or the boy will die while he is still young!”
A son was born to the king and queen. One day on his way to school the prince met the dervish. “Son of kings,” he said. “Tell your parents to honour their vow or the voices will devour you.” He placed three pebbles in the boy’s pocket to remind him.
Now the prince, Hasan, was a very forgetful boy so when his mother found the pebbles he said nothing and she assumed he had just been playing with the other children.
A few days later, Hasan met the dervish again. “Son of kings,” he said. “Tell your parents to honour their vow or the voices will devour you.” This time he placed seven show heels in the prince’s pocket.
“What’s all this?” said his mother. “What have you been playing with?” Finally Hasan remembered the odd message. The king was reminded of his vow. “The Devil made me forget!” he cried. At once he ordered the rivers of molasses and tahini be constructed in the heart of the city.
Some years later, an old woman ventured out of her home. Umm Nimr was poor and seldom went outside her home. When she did, she was astonished to see the rivers of molasses and tahini and went back to fetch a bottle to fill.
She took a spoon, filled it, poured it into a thimble then emptied the thimble into the bottle. After a long time and much effort, she had nearly filled her bottle when a stone whizzed by and then another, and another.
A stone hit her bottle and it broke, spilling all of the contents. She looked around to see prince Hasan laughing, still holding his slingshot. “Prince,” she said. “I will not curse you, but I will offer up this prayer: may you be stricken with a passion for Nani, daughter of Nani, Lady of the Ghouls!”
And so it happened: just by mentioning her, the prince could think of nothing else until he returned to Umm Nimr and asked who Nani daughter of Nani was.
“Please forget about her, she is the daughter of a ghoul, they say, who rules over a wide kingdom of ghouls. But it is only a tale. I was cross when I uttered that prayer,” she said. But it was no use. Her attempts to dissuade him only made his obsession worse. It got so bad, the queen had to call doctors in because the prince was wasting away.
“You’re not sick,” said one of the doctors. “You’re in love!” And that’s when prince Hasan knew that he had to rely on all of his courage and skill to find this Nani daughter of Nani, Lady of the Ghouls.”
And so the prince took leave of his parents and ventured out into the world. He traveled east, not knowing where he should search but trusting God to guide his steps. Finally he came to the land of the ghouls. There was a huge ghoul standing near. Hasan greeted him.
“Greetings, my uncle,” said the prince.
“Greetings,” said the ghoul. “Had you not greeted me first, I would have broken your bones and devoured your flesh!”
“Let me wet your beard and shave you, uncle.” And so the ghoul let the prince shave him. Feeling refreshed the ghoul said:
“May God lighten your burden as you’ve lightened mine. Say what you wish and I’ll grant it.”
At once the prince replied: “I need to see Nani, daughter of Nani, Lady of the Ghouls.”
“I cannot take you to her,” said the ghoul. “But walk on for three more days until you come to my brother. Tell him that Bahlazaboul sends his greetings.
And so the prince walked on and greeted the ghoul as he roasted an ox over a fire. “If you had not greeted me, I would have broken your bones and devoured your flesh,” said the ghoul. “What do you want from me?”
“Your brother Bahlazaboul sends his greetings. Let me shave you as I shaved him.” And so he refreshed the ghoul. When Hasan told the ghoul that he wanted to see Nani, daughter of Nani, Lady of the Ghouls.
“I cannot take you to her,” said the ghoul. “But travel on for three more days and you will come to my brother who has more knowledge than I. Tell him that Baalazaboul sends his greetings.
And so the prince met, greeted, and refreshed the third ghoul telling him that his brothers Bahlazaboul and Baalazaboul sent their greetings. “Reaching Nani daughter of Nani will require courage,” said the ghoul. “Do not fear, no matter what happens for fear leads to misfortune. Do exactly as I say: take this bobbin and walk on until the thread stops. Then you should be under the window of Nani. Call out ‘Nani, Nani!’ in a loud voice. You will sink up to your knees. Do not fear, but cry out again “Nani, Nani!” You will sink to your waist. Cry out again “Nani, Nani!” and you will sink to your shoulders. Nani will be looking out of her window and will then let down her hair which will wind around you and draw you up to her.”
Hasan did exactly as the ghoul said. Nani was beautiful, more beautiful than Hasan had imagined. She let down her hair and drew him up. When he got to the top they embraced and she offered him refreshment.
“I will turn you into an apple and put you on that shelf so my mother cannot find you,” she said.
“Do as you wish,” said Hasan. “I am in your hands.”
And so he turned him into an apple. Her mother swept into the room sniffing around. “I smell a human,” she said.
“Where would I get a human from?” said Nani. “You probably brought the smell in with you.”
“I have a longing for apples,” said her mother. “Let me have this apple on the shelf.”
“That apple is not for eating,” said Nani. “It’s just an aesthetic.”
“Very well, daughter,” said her mother as she left.
That night Nani undid her spell and she and Hasan talked together pleasantly into the night. The next day she turned him into a kitten.
“I smell a human again!” said Nani’s mother sweeping into the room.
“Where would I get a human? You probably brought the smell in yourself,” said Nani.
“Very well, but give me this kitten for I am fond of cats.”
“It was a present from my grandmother,” said Nani. “I can’t let anyone take it.” Her mother chased Hasan around the room but she couldn’t catch him with Nani using her magic to fling him this way and that.
The next day Nani turned him into a bowl. “Give me this bowl,” said Nani’s mother. “I want to make kibbeh.”
“You have bigger bowls,” said Nani. “Use one of them.”
“Very well, but I’ll be back again tomorrow…”
When her mother was gone, Nani undid the spell and said: “we can’t keep tricking my mother like this. What if I couldn’t hide you? We should run away… Can you swim?” Hasan assured her that he could. And so they escaped out of the window and down to the river where he swam like a fish with her on his shoulders.
Nani’s mother saw them and cried for her servants but none of them would help her because they hated her. They all feigned incompetence and said they couldn’t swim.
“Very well, Nani!” she cried out the window. “You’ve deserted me; you’ve forgotten your own mother, Nani!”
Nani and the prince made haste back the way he had traveled, passing in turn all of the ghouls he had met who congratulated him and refreshed his supplies in thanks for his kindness to them. Finally they emerged from the lands of the ghouls. Eventually they made it all the way back to Hasan’s home city.
“I want you to have a proper grand procession when you come to meet my parents,” said Hasan as he came to a fountain. “Wait here in this tree until I come back.”
“Do as you wish, I am in your hands,” said Nani.
What do you think but no sooner had Hasan been feasted by the court than he forgot all about Nani… Totally forgot she existed!
Now there was a servant girl named Fitna whose job it was to gather water. She went to the fountain and as she bent over she saw a reflection of a beautiful maiden in the water. Distracted by her own beauty, as she thought, she dropped the pot and it broke. Her master scolded her and sent her back with a tin pot that couldn’t break. This time it only thudded, which made Nani laugh. The girl looked up and realized the whole thing.
“Who are you?” the girl demanded, embarrassed. Nani explained that she was the bride of prince Hasan waiting for him to return and present her.
“Let me put your hair up with these clips,” she said. “You will look more presentable.” And Nani got down from her tree and allowed the girl to dress her hair. No sooner had she placed the clips than Nani turned into a white dove.
“Now wait for the prince!” said Fitna. “That’s what you get for cheating a poor servant girl!”
For days Nani survived by eating crumbs the royal baker gave her.
“Is the baker to his master’s service bound?” said Nani.
“Yes, dove,” said the baker.
“And is your master sleeping sound?”
“Is the prince of matchless might?”
“Has he forgotten the Nanis quite?”
By this time, the meal was burned. The poor baker was scolded by the prince for his negligence. In his defense, the baker told him about the dove and Hasan at once remembered everything. Hasan waited in the bakery until Nani returned.
“Change back to what you were!” he cried.
“I can’t for I did not change myself but was put under a spell by another. Remove these clips from my feathers and I will transform.” Hasan removed the clips and Nani at once returned to her true form. Hasan was overjoyed and apologized profusely for forgetting her but Nani only said “God in his wisdom reveals the weaknesses of men.” The king and queen celebrated Hasan’s marriage to Nani and they all lived happily ever after.
This story was adapted from Abu Jmeel’s Daughter and Other Stories: Arab Folk Tales from Palestine and Lebanon by Jamal Sleem Nuweihed. You can read more about this book on my blog here.