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Beauty and the Beast©

by benny thomas

This modern fairy tale is dedicated to the incomparable Jean Cocteau and his film of the same name.

benny

A merchant who exported exotic flowers to the Far East in the Eighties became very rich but a volcano in one part of the globe suddenly erupted. Two hundred years the volcano had kept itself from going berserk but nature of mountains fire and wind is such it is futile to fight against it. So it was. The ash from a volcano in Iceland spewed and the merchant in Aleppo found his business ruined. El Ahmedia found his two daughters suffered most. They were counting on marrying some sultan in Borneo and such other exotic places and live happily ever after. Ayesha the third daughter was willing to stay home and look after her father.

Razia and Nafeeza the elder daughters wanted to let out their frustration and they found Ayesha as their victim. So every day they sniped and made her look silly. She was Beauty and they sported fashions that made her natural beauty as though she were a freak. The elders daughters set the fashion and the press insisted any woman who didn’t follow it was only fit to be a scullery maid. Beauty or Ayesha didn’t mind since she loved to make her father happy. She daily looked after his father’s comforts. She was Beauty in looks and in deeds.

Suddenly word reached Hajii El Ahmedia that he could get compensation from FEIECF(Far East Importer and Exporter Compensatory Funds) for losses he had incurred. Before he left he asked his children what they wanted from Penang. Razia wanted a bird of paradise and Nafeeza an urang utang. Beauty wanted just a rose. El Ahmedia took the first plane to Malaysia and reached the office in Penang. He met the right people and they assured they would settle the matter. But the matter dragged on through the day over some lacunae in the law of the land.

It was late in the evening. The merchant on his return to his hotel took a short cut. He lost his way and while walking through winding pathways hedged by lush greenery of some tropical paradise he was straying farther from the right path. By late night he came in front a decrepit villa that was evidently a mad folly of rubber and tin baron. It was shuttered for some hundred years.

To his utter amazement as soon as he climbed the short steps the villa came to life. The shutters opened by itself. The macaques and marmots that ran through the rotting timbers became men. They put on their sarongs and headbands as though they had orders from high to entertain the guest for the night. They brought salvers of fruits and food steaming hot and they served him on banana leaves. El Ahmedia thanked Allah for his beneficence and ate. He slept on a cot carved out of rosewood inlaid with mother of pearl and ivory.

Next morning he saw he was sleeping in a rundown shack and he knew he slept the night in an enchanted villa.

Thanking the most merciful Allah for preserving him from all danger he set out. He saw a perfect rose from a rosebush that was almost choked by weeds. He took it as a sign from high and he plucked the rose. Ah the flower started bleeding and he heard a low moan. The moan became a shriek and he heard distinctly a sob,’Why why kill me when there were millions of rose bushes nearby?’

The merchant stood up and saw it was indeed so. There was whole field of roses.

He had drawn blood in plucking the rose. He had indeed done violence to a being. So much was clear. He had indeed repaid hospitality and kindness of his unknown host with a foul act. He furiously thought of way of making amends. But how with a dying rose in his hands?  Blood was making a trickle along his hands and along the red dust. ‘If I die the curse will be on you and your descendents.’ The voice announced.

He asked what he wanted him to do. ‘Your life!’

He hesitated,’Do you have people at home?’

‘I have three daughters at home.’

The Voice asked if any one of them will in his stead come to his rescue. The merchant said perhaps his youngest daughter may take his place.

‘What is her name?’

‘Beauty’

The blood of the merchant went cold to hear to disembodied laughter. It was maniacal and pure fear that hit him.

‘I am the Beast.’ said the Voice. He added, ‘Go in peace and bring Beauty to me.’

The merchant promised to try. Before he left the voice said that he shall be dying inch by inch and if he delayed beyond two weeks he was sure to die and the curse set in place for his evil deed. The merchant quaked in his shoes.

El Ahmedia went home and told his daughters of his fearful encounter in the enchanted estate in Penang.

Beauty was willing to save her father and also the Beast. Within ten days the Beauty was at the enchanted villa and he saw the Beast.

The Beast was a Sultan.

Beauty somehow felt right at home and in control of the situation. She felt pity and as she came closer  she felt as though he were a creature as she.

‘You have legs like mine’ said Beauty surprised.

‘Yes, Beauty,’ replied the Beast,’my legs carry me.’

She went a little closer. She touched his hands and said,’You have two arms.’

Yes, my arms are to carry you.’

‘You have two lips’

Yes, these two lips are to kiss you.’

She felt his broad shoulders and everything that a man was expected to have was there.’You are a paragon of manhood’ she said very much relieved.

The Beast suddenly slouched over his seat and wept. He said,’Beauty you don’t understand. I have no heart. I am beastly’

Beauty said,’I don’t understand what you mean. But I have a heart for the two of us.’

‘How do you know?’

I grew up,Love, among those had no hearts either. They were not called Beasts’. She was sure that as far as she could see he was in no way worse than her sisters and other people with whom she had to live.

She drew him to her side and kissed his hand in reverence.

‘What is your name?’

‘Beast.’

‘No that is not!’ she was emphatic.

He replied’ Sultan Razak al Bashir.’

Something snapped then and there.

Lo the whole enchanted villa became a mansion on stilts. The rot and rack of two hundred years of neglect had been erased. In its place stood a mansion meant to be made a home. Ayesha said,’Razak you and I are going to live here and give a try to raise our children in this very spot.’

Razak the Beast had a glint in his eye,’You make it sound as though it is possible.’

‘You don’t?’

‘Beauty,you make me also believe it is possible.’ They settled down to make a home straightaway.

benny

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