It was in the nature of everyone in the village to be distrustful, and there was always a good reason for the distrust. My mother never believed a word from Saif’s mother who had a reputation for making a mountain out of a molehill. Noura never took other girls’ advice or criticism into consideration, thinking that all they said stemmed of pure jealousy. Nimrah never believed anyone who told her she looked lovely on any particular occasion for obvious reasons, and all the men questioned the credibility of the town’s barber, who told stories about his adventurous, wild past.
However, there was only one person everyone seemed to trust blindly. She was an elderly woman who looked so ancient as an old relic. Her face was so wrinkled that her lips looked like a fine crack in a worn-out rock, and her eyes seemed so much like the slits on our wooden door that I could hear them creak whenever she squinted. It probably wasn’t the way she looked that gave her that knowing air, but whatever the reason was and with the exception of very few people, everyone trusted Dalila.
I’ve always known Dalila as the fortune-teller, even before I learned what that word meant. When I first asked my father about it, he said that it means someone who can predict the future.
“Does she actually know what will happen in the future?” I asked in bewilderment.
“Well, that what she says, but she doesn’t. Nobody knows the future.”
“Then why do people believe her?”
“Because she knows the past very well. She’s been around for so long, she witnessed the birth of half of the living population of the village. She knows everyone very well and she can tell you so much about yourself that you don’t know.”
Despite my father’s avowed disbelief of Dalila’s clairvoyance, my mother trusted her and took every word she said for granted. Every now and then Dalila would come to our home, usually in the morning. My mother would brew coffee and pour it into small cups. As the two women finish sipping and exchanging gossip, Dalila would take my mothers cup upside down, and then she would hold it in her hand and study it for a while, saying things she claimed she saw in the cup, pointing every now and then to a curve here or a line there, formed by the coffee residue in the bottom of the cup.
Sometimes my mother called Noura to have a cup of coffee so Dalila would read her future. But like my father, Noura was one of the few people who didn’t believe Dalila. Moreover, she made her the target of her scornful sarcasm.
Given that, I found it curiously odd when one of the mornings Dalila was visiting Noura came in to the living room with a coffee cup in her hand. She placed the cup on the table determinatively and seated herself beside Dalila, with a sly smile on her face and shrewd look in her eyes.
“Here. Go on, foretell my fortune, or misfortune for that matter!”
Dalila and my mother exchanged incredulous looks, and there was a moment of hesitation before my mom tilted her head slightly to the side and rose one eyebrow at Dalila. Noura poured herself some coffee and sipped at it slowly, making a point of slurping. When she was done, she handed the cup to Dalila, her sly smile now turned into a half grin.
Dalila turned the cup upside down, and took it up in her hand a few moments later and stared inside it at its coffee-smeared bottom. Noura sat observing her, the sly smile now back on her face. She waited impatiently as Dalila said nothing for a few moments.
“So,” Noura said “What is it in there? Sounds too unpleasant to say! Don’t worry about me though, I can handle it. I can handle anything. Oh, but please don’t tell me I will marry that sleazy repulsive 100 year-old grocer. The man rains cats and dogs when he speaks, I mean when he mumbles because that’s what he does. I told you I can handle anything, but that amount of spit is too much for anyone”
“How do you expect her to see anything good in your cup if you keep talking about people like this!”
Noura rolled her eyes and turned to Dalila, who didn’t seem amused. She was still studying the cup, and without taking her eyes off it she calmly said, “Your mom is right, my daughter. If anything will bring about your destruction, it will be your vanity.”
“Oh please” Noura groaned. “Even Layla can predict this. Vanity being a deadly vice is old news. Tell me something I don’t know. Tell me something at least half of the world’s population don’t know.”
“Be patient, my girl” Dalila said, even more solemnly. “I’m not finished yet. I understand you’ve turned down a handful of suitors lately.”
“You mean those imbeciles who think I’d marry the first mustache that knocks on the door?”
“Well, if you keep thinking like this you’ll end up settling for much worse than that”
“Oh stop it!” Noura said as she snapped out of her seat, her grin now turned into a scowl. “You don’t seriously think I’m going to let an old crone decide your destiny!”
“Well, don’t say this old crone didn’t warn you”
“I’ll take my chances!” She said as she rolled her eyes and walked away.
Later that night, I was preoccupied with thoughts of what Dalila had said. I sat in the room with Noura, who was sitting at the bed, staring absently as she played with her hair.
“Aren’t you afraid?” I asked suddenly.
Noura turned her face and looked at me queerly. “Of what?”
“Of what Dalila said. Aren’t you even a little bit concerned?” I asked again, thinking that I wouldn’t get an answer, and that all she’d do is roll her eyes and turn her back to me. But instead, she smiled and shifted her position as to face me.
“You think I don’t know her little tricks?” She said with a growing serious tone. “This woman knows nothing of the future, she only tells you what she wants you to do or what everyone expects you to do. She tells a girl that she should not marry a certain man because she’ll lead a miserable life if she does. So, the stupid girl ignores everything she feels and believes the crone, and spends the rest of her life between “what if’s” and “if only’s” and I’m telling you, Layla, I’m telling you, this is one of the worst thoughts that could occur to anyone’s mind; because it presents you with all the possibilities, but gives you no choice.”
“But, what if she was right?”
“Listen to me carefully, Layla; because I’m just going to say this once. If you believe something, I mean really believe it, with all your heart, it’s more likely than not that it will come to pass. If you believe your life will be miserable, then it most probably will.”
I made sure to remember what Noura had told me so I can tell it to Saif. He listened tentatively as he doodled with a broken twig in the mud beside the water spring. He would hear me out as he always did, and not say a word until I’m finished. He would always say something convincing, and I would always take everything he said for granted. However, I didn’t feel the same this time, as he only shook his head and said that Noura was right.
“Right? How come she’s right and everyone else is wrong” I said in a high-pitched tone that sounded like a squeal, my face blushing.
“Because those everyone else you’re talking about are nothing but a bunch of ignorant superstitious simpletons” He said as he snapped the twig upward in an angry manner. I looked away and lowered my gaze to my bare feet, tucking them in and out of the slippers. He stood up and took a few steps forward.
“You know, my mother told me that Dalila had 2 sons.” He said without turning his head. “They both died when the house went on fire more than 40 years ago. Her husband left her few months after that, and she haven’t heard from him ever since.”
I remained silent, waiting for him to make his point. He turned around as to face me, bending the twig in his hand. “If she could predict the future as she claims, then why didn’t she prevent her house from burning down and her sons from dying?”
I looked at him questioningly as he kept bending the twig. As the silence dragged, he lifted his gaze as to meet mine. “Look here, Laila” He said more calmly now “What if you knew that you would die tomorrow, would you enjoy living today?”. I shook my head in negation. “See?” He continued. “God keeps the future hidden for a reason, and even when He wants us to know something of it, He could let you know without having to look in cup of coffee.” The twig in his hand cracked as he turned to walk away.
Few days later, we were walking home shortly before sunset, both exhausted and shabby looking after spending the day trying to catch grasshoppers to no avail. I draggled along the path, my knees hurt from all the crouching and squatting. When I couldn’t bear the pain any longer, I walked to a rock at the side of the rood and sat there cupping my hands over my knees. Saif was few steps ahead of me, and as the sound of my stomping footsteps behind him stopped, he also stopped in his tracks.
“What’s the matter?”
“My knees, they hurt so bad”
“Do you want me to carry you?”
“No.” I said, blushing. “I just need a moment.”
Then, Saif’s look turned to something on the other side of the road. I thought he saw one more grasshopper and thought it was his chance. Instead, He bent forward and grabbed a white, fuzzy looking flower.
“Have you ever seen one of these?” He said as he admired the flower in his hand. “Look, you blow on it and the feathers fly away.”
“Feathers?” I exclaimed.
“Well, that what they seem to me. Look, they fly everywhere! Can you imagine the places they could reach? Then they might settle somewhere and grow new flowers like this one. Maybe this is how it grew here. It could’ve come from anywhere”
He seemed so enthusiastic entertaining that thought. He had always had a passion for traveling and exploring new places, although he couldn’t do it outside the limitations of our small village. He admired the white feathers flying away with a sparkle in his eye, as I admired the look on his face with a smile.
“Look at you two!” A sudden voice creaked behind us. “Don’t you just look ragged and lovely?”
I didn’t have to turn my head to recognize the voice; for no one in the village has a voice that sounded as if it was coming from a bottomless well but Dalila. Saif gave her a sideway glance. “Come on” He addressed me. “We should be going before it’s too dark.”
“You should in deed.” Dalila blurted, as she approached Saif and grabbed what remained of the white flower in his hand. “Where did you find this?” She asked as she studied it amusingly.
“It was just on the side of the road.” He said blankly.
“Well, I haven’t seen one in a long time. People always get rid of them as soon as they grow. No wonder they do.”
“Why would you say that?” Saif inquired, looking intrigued. “Do you know what this is?”
“Of course I know. It’s the eye of Satan.”
“The of Satan!” We both cried in one voice. But I was startled, while Saif sounded rather scandalized.
“Yes” She continued. “It’s been known for ages. This is they eye of Satan. They fly around to watch people and spread evil as they go.
“Nonesense” Saif said defiantly.
“Look at it closely, it actually looks like an eye”
“No. It doesn’t look like an eye, and it can’t be evil. If Satan was to send something, or someone, it would be you.”
Dalila let out a small laugh that sounded more like a cough. “Laila believes me, don’t you Layla?”
Siaf looked at me, waiting for an answer. I waited for him to say that I didn’t believe her, and then take me by the hand and walk away. But he didn’t.
“Layla” He finally said, firmly. “If you believe her, then don’t talk to me again. I won’t talk to you ever again. Do you hear me?
Then, he just turned around and started to walk away, as Dalila stood still, and I scuffled behind him as fast as I could.