Henna Leaf, A Cinderella Story from Yemen retold by Carolyn Han
and translated by Kamal Ali al Hegri. Thank you to Nail Ahmed of Yemen for this suggestion.
(grains; 3 rings, bird)
“Get to work!” the stepmother shouted. “You can’t come to the wedding party.”
“Please let me come with you,” Henna Leaf begged. “The Sultan’s daughters invited all the women in our village.”
“Only if you finish separating and grinding the grain.” The mean woman told her, laughing. She had mixed three different grains together and knew it would take too long. Her stepmother and her stepsister Ekrem then got ready for the party, laughing as they dressed.
Tears covered Henna Leaf’s face but even in her sorrow she took care of her kitten, pouring it a saucer of milk. That’s when an old woman wearing a velvet gown appeared out of nowhere and asked, “Why are you crying? And why aren’t you going to the party?”
“Who are you?” cried Henna Leaf and the woman said, “I’ve come to help!” That’s when she produced a silken dress and shoes, along with a sliver necklace, arm and ankle bracelets. Then she found a hairbrush and began to brush the girl’s hair. When she was ready, the old lady led Henna Leaf to the gates of the Sultan’s palace. Then she disappeared. But Henna Leaf could hear her way: she just followed the sound of laughter and the music of the oud. Light shone from the windows and the alabaster stairway seemed to glow. Custom required that she removed her shoes before entering the room, so Henna Leaf did so. When she walked in, everyone stared and said, “Who can she be?”
And Ekram said to her mother “It sure looks like Henna Leaf!” but her mother said that it couldn’t be. All of the other women began snapping their fingers and clapping their hands, welcoming Henna Leaf to the dance, but her sister was not satisfied. So she stuck out her foot and tripped the poor girl then helped her up to get a closer look. Seeing her beautiful face and sliver jewelry, she was suddenly not so sure who the young woman was, but in all the merriment there was no way to be sure.
Just then the Sultan’s son Ali, who had forgotten that his sister was having an all-women wedding party, arrived home. He tried to warn the revelers of his presence, chanting, ‘Allah, Allah, Allah!” as he came. But no one heard him, the music was so loud. Entering the room, the first person he saw was Henna Leaf and he knew that she was the one for him. In the commotion, the girl ran away, grabbing her silken shoes and running down the stairs. She dropped one in her terror and was home before anyone knew who she was. Ali picked up the shoe.
“Too bad you couldn’t have joined us!” Ekram taunted when they got home. “The Sultan’s son came in and now he wants to marry the mystery woman who lost her shoe.” Too bad nobody knew who she was. The very next day however, Ali sent his manservant around with the shoe. Of course, the man couldn’t speak directly to the women of the village but the shoe was passed to a maidservant in each house so that each girl could try it. At last, they came to the last house on the street, and called at the mudbrick window. Ekram came and grabbed the shoe but it would not fit. Then Henna Leaf had a turn and the little shoe slipped right on! That’s when she drew the other out.
The very next day a royal summons came, calling Henna Leaf to the palace. But the stepmother’s jealousy knew no bounds and so she made Ekram put on a hijab and veil her hair and face. Surely, the Sultan’s son would not be so rude as to demand to look upon his bride’s face?
Arriving at the palace, the first person Ekram met was an old woman who offered her something to eat. Always hungry, Ekram raced to the kitchen and grabbed a big silver spoon. Greedily, she dipped it into each pot, tasting every dish.
“Oh!” she exclaimed when it slipped from her hands and to the bottom of a large pot. Reaching for it, Ekram fell in headfirst and when she stood, stew spilled all down her front. She called for her mother who came and hit the soapstone vessel with a broomstick, breaking it open. But the rim of the pot was stuck around Ekram’s neck like a stone necklace and she was trapped. Meanwhile, the Sultan sent an escort to find Henna Leaf. They were married the very next day.
The stepmother was not ready to give up yet though, and disguising herself as a servant, she snuck into Henna Leaf’s chamber. While the girl slept, the stepmother inserted tiny acacia thorns into the skin on her step-daughter’s face and the girl was transformed into a dove. The little white bird flew out the open window and when Ali found his bride missing he despaired.
Not far away, a white dove sat in an apricot tree. An old man approached and his face seemed so kind that Henna Leaf asked, “How is Ali, the Sultan’s son?” and the man told her that the prince was very sad. Hearing this, the dove began to cry and soon the sky filled with clouds, which also wept with sorrow. The old man ran away lest he be swept away in the flood. When he got back to the palace Ali asked if there was news of the girl. “No”, said the old man. But seeing how sad the young man was, he added, “But I did see a talking bird.” He told the story of the flood and Ali set off to find Henna Leaf before she was swept away. He walked the next day until he came to an apricot tree, where a white dove sat. As he approached, it flew right to him and he held it gently and stroked its feathers. That’s when he felt the thorns. Pulling each one out he counted. When he got to the seventh thorn and pulled it, the dove transformed back into a girl and hand in hand, Ali and Henna Leaf returned to the palace. The Sultan banished Ali’s jealous mother-in-law from the palace and Ali lived many years in peace with his new wife, who brought him many children. At last, the Sultan stepped down and appointed Ali in his place and he and Henna Leaf lived happily ever after.