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Two Grains of Sand
I like the simplicity of their first meeting, their awkwardness, the cultural constraint. In the telling I think it works best when understated.
I wish I could remember where I found this story. I remember Margaret Read MacDonald telling a love story from Iraq (the war was well under way) at the Asian Congress of Storytellers in 2003, but it was not this -
Tip for Telling
A love story -
Be honest -
Telling stories that confront stereotypes is a powerful thing in itself. Another story from Iraq is the Librarian of Basra: how many war stories do you know feature a librarian as their hero?! (And she’s a woman, a Muslim dedicated to peace and learning, who values books above the air-
IT HAPPENED THAT a great and hot wind sprang up from the west. The very skies were blackened with sand, and the face of the sun was hidden from the world.
A young traveller was making his way over the desert, and he knew not where to go and which way to turn. The sandstorm was so strong he could not even see the ears of his horse.
He thought, "My only hope is to go with the direction of the wind. If I stop, the poisonous wind will burn my lungs, and my body will be covered by sand. If I go in any other direction I will surely lose my way and die."
So he covered his face with his headcloth and went in the direction of the wind. In time, his horse found a tower. "At last!" he thought, much relieved. "Here is shelter from the evil wind!"
So he and his horse entered the cool, dark shelter of the tower. As he was brushing the sand from his eyes and hair, he heard a voice. It said, "Are you human, or are you Genie, or are you an evil spirit of the wind?"
The man, whose name was Ali, replied: "I am human, what are you?"
Then, before his eyes there arose a young woman, moon-
She said, "I also am human, but I am lost in this storm. I was blown by the wind, and I don't know where to go for fear of the poison-
Ali said to the young woman, "Here we have shelter until the poison-
The young woman answered, "As to my name, I shall tell you nothing concerning it. As for you, I must not talk or have conversation with you, since I am a maiden and you are a man."
Ali greatly desired to learn the girl's name and to talk with her. He led her to the door of the tower and pointed to the howling clouds. He said, "The whole of the air is full of sand, and there is no space in which there is not a particle of sand!"
The maiden said, "Yes, it is indeed so!"
Then Ali asked, "Does one grain of sand fear another grain of sand and avoid contact with it? Rather, the grains of sand have no fear from one another as they are blown about by the wind. You and I are but grains of sand blown together by the wind. We cannot fear one another, nor can we avoid one another, for this is our fate."
The young woman saw that Ali spoke the truth. She said, "My name is Salma, and I am daughter to Hussein."
Ali and Salma spent the day in wholehearted conversation, while the storm blew with the greatest of furies. The hours passed by quickly, and it came about the Salma and Ali both fell asleep.
When Ali awoke, the world was dark and Salma was gone. He rushed to the door of the tower, and saw that the wind was still and that the storm had passed. When he tried to follow Salma's tracks in the sand, he lost them.
Ali grieved, though he was not willing to weep. He worried, "She is a daughter of the Arabs, and the Arabs are as numerous as the grains of sand in the desert. Where, then, shall I find Salma, daughter of Hussein, amongst these millions? For she did not tell me where she lived. Two grains of sand may come together in a storm, but now they are parted and what shall bring them back together?"
Ali wandered throughout the land, questing and searching for the young woman Salma. Such was his grief at her loss, that he did not even stop to comb his hair or cut his beard. He asked in every town and village, "Does Hussein live here and has he a daughter Salma?"
Yet none answered him and his men thought him mad, for they thought, "There are hundreds upon hundreds of men named Hussein and hundreds upon hundreds of maidens named Salma. What can we know concerning the maiden he seeks?"
So Ali wandered from town to town and from tribe to tribe. He could do no work nor engage in any occupation, since he could think only of his lost love.
One day, as he wandered thin and weary, on his horse which had also become lean and hungry, the rain came to the world, and a river rose and burst over its banks. Ali and his horse came near to drowning in the floods. Seeing a mound in the distance, he swam and plunged through the mud with his horse until he reached it. He fell forward with his lungs near filled with water and his stomach faint from lack of food. He was near to death by the mound, but a young woman plunged into the water and saved him and his horse.
Imagine Ali's amazement to realize that the maiden who had saved him was Salma!
She looked into Ali's face. She smiled and said, "When two grains of sand are blown together by the wind, the wind only blows them apart. But when two grains of sand can find one another again, they stay together forever after, nor do they ever part."