I was five when we moved back to live with my grandmother in Zareef. It was a classic Damascus style house with high ceilings, Romanesque columns with lotus flowers on top. Because the area was hilly, houses were built high from the ground and shared steps that lead to the street below. Each morning, my dad would walk me to school after coming from his night shift at the hospital. Now it happened that three of my elder male cousins moved to my school and so it was decided that they walk me to school.
Back then, houses had names based on current or prior families that owned them. My grandma’s house was adjacent to the Azzouri’s house, an elderly couple whose kids traveled abroad leaving their parents behind who died in the house and weren’t discovered until a week later. Naturally, the kids felt bad and sold the house to the landlord whom my grandma rented her house from. Of course the property was worth something but nobody wanted to live in that grey lonely house after the old people’s death. One day, a very strange looking sharp featured brunette with the most silver eyes I’ve ever seen started living in that place. She was strange in her dress code. All her clothes had enormous matching hats with feathers of a single color. Her name was Mira and she was a modern day gypsy whom everyone believed was a witch. She didn’t own a cat but she sure revamped that house. She had gargoyles on the ends of the balcony columns, griffins on the rooftops and painted the columns themselves in black and white swirly stripes. She also filled the whole stairway with pots that looked like hollowed human head busts with strange brutal expressions that usually seemed to me like screaming in agony or horror. She even had a doormat on her doorstep that looked like a bunch of small chicken bones woven into a mat. It hadn’t been a few months since she moved in and all sorts of crawling vines began to cover the house like drapes from the roof to the walls. They weren’t green or yellow dry ones but rather grayish, black, and even swamp green with thorns and lots of cobwebs. She never opened the windows of that house nor have we ever seen her turn on any lights in there. Her shutters were always closed except for her porch’s swing door which was always open and we’d know she’s around because of the chimes of her dream-catcher. Crows would start to come from the moment she opened her door and put her chair outside. She’d throw food for them on a regular basis but she’d never clean a mess or take out her trash. Her backyard looked like a graveyard with lots of furniture, broken statues, old books, and even chests of clothes just thrown there left under the rain and shine. When I asked my dad, who would leave their things that way under the rain, he told me that those things were the Azzouri’s. From that day, watching the crows gather on her porch, I knew something was wrong with that house.
But it was not until our landlord’s 30 years happy marriage ended did the story of her being witch solidify. See one day, his wife ran into the street and began talking in a weird language and laughing out of control almost half naked. The poor man took her to many doctors but nothing worked and so he decided to take her to Mira who was known to be great with herbs. Within a week of going and coming to Mira drinking herbal teas, Khairiyeh regained her brains and began to talk and feed herself. The shocking side was that she asked for a divorce and opted to move into the Azzouri house to serve Mira suggesting that her spouse marry Mira. At first Imad was shocked and asked her if she’s gone mad again but her answer was to marry Mira and he will become very rich and powerful. Soon after a month, Imad divorced his wife, married Mira and moved into the Azzouri house. In a little less than a year, Imad’s contracting business grew massively and he became the owner of the biggest housing compound known as the Salhab Center that was initially a big castle owned by the Kittaneh family who were blue-blooded. Nobody imagined that the Kittaneh’s would give up an estate that’s been in their family for centuries but it’s said Mira visited them and brought some sweets and they signed their property off that night. Now Imad was aware of Mira’s powers and he began to advertise her services. People from all over the areas and nearby places would come bringing animals, gifts, and plants to her place. Within two years, going down the stairs became a scary everyday activity because the place would smell like urine, soot, and even mold. She filled the stairs and its walls with empty narrow necked bottles hanging on the walls or by thin ropes with scrolls that always smelled bad and beneath these bottles were these weird looking flower pots with lots of crawling plants that always had slime.
Now every witch had to have a servant or assistant and Khairiyeh was a very good assistant. I’d see her every morning leave for the spices and plants market. She was a very sweet brown eyed lady who always wore a scarf with half her hair out and very odd slacks beneath her gypsy skirt and wooden slippers. She seemed like a czech girl sporting Moroccan gypsy colors only worn on festivals with lots of weird looking clay bangles. Because my dad knew about her role in Mira’s life he said I can be polite and say hi but never touch her hand or eat anything she gave me but rather say thank you and if cornered take whatever she gave me and throw it in the nearest dumpster. And it happened to be the big feast in Zareef and it was customary to send plates of food to your neighbors who would return the plates back with food from their houses and of course I was the one they chose to go and deliver the plate to Mira’s place. I was supposed to go to Mira’s place chaperoned by a male cousin one year older than me but he cried and vomited on himself so he had to go home and change and I ended up going on my own. Now the stairs between the two houses looked like a tripod where the main stairs descended into the street the branching stairs descended into Mira’s and our backyard. I took my grandma’s fancy Romeo and Juliet platter and flashy bonboniera and began going down the steps into the Azzouri’s place. All I could remember was that it was a sunny summer day with no chance of rain so clouds and breeze were out of the question. Every step I took into that yard felt like a thousand pairs of eyes were watching me as the wind blew making all the bottles, keys and leaves shake and rustle as a shade from clouds covered the sun above me and that’s when I looked up and saw a mysterious cloud lower than normal hovering above my head as if it was ushering me. I thought to myself my mind must be playing games on me and stopped and then walked and the cloud walked and stopped right where I did and moved with me. I figured it was some sort of elemental guard guarding her yard and ran to her doorstep holding the edge of my waistband to cover the bell buzzer so as not to touch it directly as I rang frantically. Before I could open my mouth and say hi my grandma sends you her best wishes for the big feast she grabbed and gave me a big kiss and said oh come in little girl I have something for you. I was taken by my fear that she actually touched me I was speechless and my legs went mechanical rolling me into her house like a pair of wheels. Now in my head I was imagining a sacrificial altar a couple of dead animals maybe vampires and even a little dragon but as I stepped in it was as if that tiny house became a massive mansion full of glamor like the arch of the Champs Elysee! I mean that house was full of exquisite antiques, classic furniture from couches that looked like thrones from the days of Henry the VIII to woven tapestry from Anne of Brittany and even side lamps from the days of Catherine de Medici! I was so bewitched by its beauty I was turning around myself trying to examine everything from the marble tiles with stories to the elaborate golden woven ceilings to the silk embroidered and beaded drapes!
“Do you like my house?” she asked. I said: “yes, very much. It’s like a doll house or like taking a walk inside my grandma’s vitrine of figurines”. “So you like dainty shiny things, is it? She said. “Yes, I love details and art especially tiny figurines that tell stories” I replied. “Well I have something for you and I think you will like it a lot because it’s dainty like you” she said with a big smile. Then she handed me a rattan basket with a very fancy handkerchief with my initials embroidered on it and I was so happy my voice broke and I said “ thank you but what is it?” “ Why don’t you sit down and unwrap your present so I can show you what it can do” she said. I was so excited. I sat down on a chair that felt like a human’s lap as it softened to my tush being parked there and I pushed my back even more inside cause it felt so damn cozy and began to unwrap the flashy cloth. To my surprise, it was a little tall golden castle that had the look of Cinderella's golden chariot but had the height and shape of a fancy square whiskey bottle but it was metal and glass with windows, a knob, joints, and legs that looked like an old console table! I was so taken by the engravings, glamor, and texture of the gift that I didn’t really know what it could do or care for what was inside despite it made a noise when I moved it. “Won’t you open it? There is something inside you will like and it’s specially for you my special girl” she said. I tried to open it with my hand but it wouldn’t budge so I said that I can’t it’s jammed.“My little girl, there’s a knob for a reason, push it down like you would a normal door knob” she said. And so I did as she said and my oh my as it opened it opened like a witches Russian doll style bag for shelves cushioned with velvet red cloth lined against glass mirrors and crystal panes. It had four shelves and on each shelf there was a little special trinket. On the first shelf was a red amber ring with a shell, tiny krill, and crab inside it just the size of my ring finger. On the second shelf there was a funny looking crystal with three little crystal reindeer without horns with eyes that moved. On the third shelf there was a rose wood and glass pipe so dainty yet transparent on the base and you could see 3 red, black, and white dice so tiny floating inside with its mouth piece being a flute. And on the last shelf was a funny looking legless turtle with ruby red eyes. I said to her these are very beautiful but this turtle is weird, it’s no pendant, why does it lack a tail and legs. She said because it’s no turtle it’s a key, use your fingers to press its eyes and the second half of the turtle will grow and you will have a complete key. Now that you have seen the inside of the castle my little girl. I want to show you what this castle can do. So close it again and open it. And so I did as Mira had asked and to my surprise the castle played a nice melody and as I opened it, its mirrors shined and the objects inside rose from their cushions and fell back in place. Each piece inside is a charm my dear and each has its power and sacred place. If you perform the tasks I will ask of you, they will take you to their place and be yours and at your service but in exchange you will have to talk to me regularly and visit. But what do these charms do. They serve little ones like you who are special. What is my first task and can I choose which charm I can play with and visit its sacred place? No my dear, the object will choose you. Close the castle again and open it and lets see which object will come to you. So I closed the castle again and opened it. To my surprise the three reindeer landed in my palm and the mirrors once more went dim and the castle shut its door. But Mira, I can’t visit you regularly because my dad would get mad. No need my dear. Whenever you want to talk to me rub the door of the castle with a little salt on your palm and say “ Stars align for the one that’s divine. Let me see and speak to the one from the divine vine Mira the one that’s fine” and you shall see me and talk to me anytime you want except at sundown when the moon is in its last crescent. And so I kissed Mira goodbye and she put the castle carefully wrapped in its handkerchief inside my satchel and I went up the stairs but this time no cloud hovered and the tree leaves swayed as if they were waving goodbye.
TO BE CONTINUED
This is an excerpt I will continue if I get more than three likes otherwise i will post somewhere else. It’s been a while since I last wrote a short story.