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Bismillah, The Beast [Part II] – A Short Story

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Part II - bismillah the beast

[…contd. from Part I]

 

Selyane

The werehyena snorted, then recoiled, seemingly surprised by her outburst. “As gruesome as my appearance is, I am no jinn.”

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Jameela’s lip twitched. The beast her father had told her about had spoken! When she was little, her siblings had told her stories of the mustadhaba—the werehyena unbound to the moon, who could transform on command.

“So a part of you is still human,” she said softly.

He turned up his nose. “An insignificant one.”

“But one all the same.” She smiled, feeling relief that the beast was not so beastly after all. “It’s one thing we have in common with animals: hearts.”

He hummed, and muttered something under his breath—or perhaps he was merely trying to string a sentence together.

“What shall I call you, Seedee?

“You may call me whatever you like,” he harrumphed. “… Anything but that.”

“Well, you must have a name!”

“… Selyane.”

She giggled. “You certainly are a man of your name—unique!”

The werehyena scoffed, baring his fangs, and Jameela shuddered. Then he swallowed and stopped hunching.

“Again, call me whatever you like. Even ‘Beast’ will suffice.”

Jameela shook her head. “And earn bad deeds in the holiest month when I do?”

The clock in the salon struck. What an interesting thing, Jameela thought, that it would tell you the times of the prayer! And you had no need to look at the sun. “Will you not pray, Selyane?”

His two hind legs shifted uncomfortably. “I have not prayed since I was little,” he confessed. “And besides… I am more animal than human. I do not think I should!”

“I was only wondering, because if you would want to pray, then I would do so behind you.”

Selyane considered her explanation. Then, after a shake of his head, he confessed. “I’ve forgotten how.”

She gasped. “No—don’t worry. Let me offer my dhuhr, and then I will have something for you.”

When she finished the last raka’t in her room, she found an abundance of paper and paints. For the rest of the afternoon, she illustrated the positions of salah, transcribing each step with care.

When she brought them to the werehyena, his ears perked up with curiosity. Then he snorted and looked away. “It’s already too late.”

She quirked an eyebrow. “That’s all right. You have three more chances for the rest of the day.”

He groaned, much like her brothers had before their farm duties, but consented. She realized only when the clock struck again that she had forgotten the steps of wudhu. Quickly, she transcribed them for him, promising to draw them later.

Selyane grasped the papers in his clawed hands, doing so as gently as he could. Jameela, meanwhile, offered her ‘Asr, praying to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for a solution as to how he refused to transform back.

She found him outside, near the pond bordering the desert roses. It appeared as though he had performed ghusl rather than wudhu! Water had splattered all around him, and his feet and arms were dripping wet.

Jameela knelt beside him. “It would be easier if you transformed into a human.”

I cannot!” he burst in frustration. He growled and stood with effort. “If it weren’t for that other werehyena…”

“What do you mean?”

He snarled. “I refused to offer him shelter in the desert winds. When I emerged to care for my beautiful roses, he bit me and cursed me—that if I did not learn how to rectify my monstrous behavior by the end of Ramadan, I would be cursed for the rest of my life.”

“That sounds like what Ramadan is for everyone,” she said gently. “All of us come to it a little… ‘monstrous.’ But we emerge from it, insha’Allah, better.”

“I hope so.” He sounded defeated this time. “… Are the papers wet?”

She laughed. “No, alhamdulillah, they are not.”

Selyane prayed his ‘Asr. Jameela returned to her room and drew out the steps of wudhu. She wondered what Selyane had looked like, before his unfortunate curse. Had he been on this veranda all alone? Where were his parents, his siblings? Had he been abandoned?

She decided to ask him at iftar. He stumbled inside the dining parlor clumsily. Puzzled, she asked him why.

“We’re supposed to be fasting, aren’t we?” he asked. “I had my suhoor separate from you and your father. I imagined that you wanted it alone.”

She sniffed. “That’s very considerate of you. But we wouldn’t have minded if you joined us. There are blessings when you eat together.”

He threw up his pawed hands in the air. “Must everything in this religion be done together?”

“Not everything, no,” she said with a chuckle. “But it is nice to have these moments together, as believers.”

“I am so used to doing things alone, I am not sure it would be quite so nice.”

“Well, we’re together now, aren’t we?”

“You really don’t mind me eating with you? Be honest, you think me a beast. I’m horrid-looking, and I bring fear to all who see me.”

“It does take some getting used to. But I know humans who act more beastly, who are even more beautiful.”

He raised his furrowed brows. “They treated you in this way?”

She nodded sadly. “I’m glad to be here instead of at home. I’ve not had suhur ever prepared for me, nor iftar.”

“Anything you ask for, you will have. This is your home as well as mine.”

Jazakum Allahu khayran, Selyane.”

“Wa… What is it, again?”

 The Proposal

The first ten days passed. They prayed together five times a day and ate together twice. Jameela could not remember the last time she felt so happy. She had ample paint and paper for her to trace the letters of the Qur’an, helping her memorize more verses, and she could visit the beautiful rose garden whenever she wanted.

Then the second set of ten days passed. The inevitable slump—and the crippling homesickness. She missed taraweeh in Marrakech, spending time with her family. Selyane directed her to the magical mirror in her room. Like the compass he had given her father, all she needed to do was have someone in her heart. An hour before iftar, she saw every one of her siblings get married, one by one, until her father was all alone in the house. When would she have her chance, she wondered?

part II - mirror

Mirror – PC: Inga Gezalian (unsplash)

She arrived sluggish and quiet to the dining parlor for suhoor. Selyane asked if he preferred that she be alone, to which she shook her head.

“Your presence does not bother me, Selyane,” she said. There was still sadness in her voice. 

“Still, after all this time, you still do not find me wretched or ugly?” he asked.

Jameela swallowed.  “I do not wish to lie, but I do not wish to hurt you, either.”

“Do not worry about hurting me,” he said, hanging his head. “What ails you? It is more than the fast. I know you.”

“I watched all of my siblings—my three brothers, my two sisters—get married. My father is now all alone. Everyone always said I was like him, and I think that that may be true in more ways than one.”

“I can help,” he said softly. “You may either visit him again, or you may stay here longer.”

Her eyebrows raised. “How would staying here help?”

Now it was his turn to swallow. “Jameela, would you be my wife?”

Her jaw dropped. Selyane was wealthy, the son of a sultan, and pious, but… she could not bear his appearance. The fangs that bore themselves every time he spoke, the tail that lashed to and fro from his back, and the way he prowled when he walked. How would such a marriage even work? 

She looked into his glowing gold eyes. She had seen his frustration, and heard of the rage he had shown her father, but what would happen after a rejection?

… He wouldn’t dare hurt her. 

Quietly, she shook her head.

His heart broke before her eyes. The long ears she had just lamented sank, and his back only hunched further on the table.

“Then rest comfortably tonight,” he said. “But it will be the last night you spend here. The remaining ten nights of Ramadan with your father, and then the Eid.”

Jameela beamed. “Truly?!”

“Yes,” Selyane said, pain laced in his voice.

“No,” she insisted. “I ought to return. My father made you a promise, and I intend to keep it.”

“You know as well as I know that your stay here is hardly permissible. I only ever had the intention to know you as a wife. And if that cannot be the case, then there can be no friendship between us. Hardly any residency. It was never proper in the first place, and I curse myself for it. No wonder I was made a beast.”

Such kindness. She was torn—even though he had the authority to command her there, he would not. “Selyane, may I at least consult with my father about it? I will only take ten days and the Eid.”

He smiled sadly. “Alas, I can only hope that Ramadan is twenty-nine days this year. Come, let us pray Fajr now.”

No sooner had they completed their prayer did he rise and lead her back to the garden. A pearl-white Arabian stood waiting for her, and she was amazed. She and her father only had one horse that they had to share.

“I will go with you; I cannot bear that you travel alone. The scent of your father still lingers in the air from whence he was here. I shall find your home.”

Her sisters would have turned their noses up at such a statement. But Jameela found it sweet that he would not let her face the elements alone. 

Both horse and beast rode on their four legs, traveling swiftly throughout the desert. The sun was barely at its zenith before she reached her countryside home. In her excitement, Jameela leaped from the saddle and rushed towards it, forgetting to invite Selyane to come with her. By the time she looked back, he was gone; as quickly as he had come.

For What Did You Marry?

“Jameela?!” Aderfi burst. She burst into tears and ran into her father’s arms. The two wept profusely, and her life for the past twenty days was as distant a memory as it was in physicality.

At iftar, her father told her everything that had happened in the short time she had departed their home. His sons were all in charge of the souks they had worked in but were all too preoccupied to stay at home. Their wives deeply missed their company, and to salve the wound, they spent not the time with their husbands, but rather their wealth. This resulted in a vicious cycle of work.

Jameela thought of Selyane, who looked at her drawings as though they were masterpieces from the greatest artists, and who never interrupted her when she spoke. Each day, there was a splendid new galabiya, even though she had never asked for it. Food was always prepared, and she never knew how. Surely he knew how magic was forbidden. Had it been cooked by him the entire time?

Selyane. Before she could ask her father about the proposal he had mentioned, the door opened. Her sisters had arrived from Marrakech. Her father looked equally as surprised, but welcomed them with open arms. Jameela made ready for their guests.

Her sisters eyed her the entire time. After such travel, she had changed to something more suitable—a lovely kaftan, courtesy of Selyane.

“My husband would never give me such a thing,” the eldest commented. “He was so handsome when I met him, the most well-kept of all diplomats, but he has become so plain now that I live with him. All I ever wear are rags to keep up with our home. Guests come all the time, in and out, and it must appear beautifully to others.”

“Oh, mine is the same!” the middle sister complained. “Since he is a minister, he always does things with others in mind. I admired his family reputation—we have known them since we were young—but it seems like they are the only ones he really thinks about. It feels like I am always being watched.”

“I am sorry, dear sisters,” Jameela responded. “I did not know marriage could be like this.”

“Yes, you must be very careful,” the eldest said.

“Especially if that beast should propose to you. Someone so ugly on the outside surely must be just as ugly on the inside!”

“On the contrary!” Jameela blurted. “He has been nothing but kind!”

And so Jameela continued. As it was an odd night, all three sisters stood up waiting for suhoor. Jameela yawned, attempting to go to bed early, but her sisters kept telling her to stay, that they had not seen her in so long. Feeling her guard slip with every hour, she confessed the proposal to them.

“Never!” the eldest said, looking sick to her stomach. “Remember, Jameela, he had such glowing, horrid eyes! And the voice that Baba described him with—you really think, after you have had a terrible day, you could look at him, hear him, and feel better?”

The tune of the second sister had changed almost immediately. “And you do not even know his family. Did they abandon him? It certainly sounds like it! Sure, he might have been the son of a sultan, but he does not act like it. Just think of what others would say. Not just of you. But of us. And Baba.”

Stricken by their words, Jameela thanked them for their advice. For the sunnah of her Fajr, she prayed istikhara. But she was so tired at suhoor, that she did not ask her father for advice.

She slept until dhuhr, and hoped to inquire of him then, but there was cleaning to do from her sisters’ departure. As she folded their sheets and swept their room, she remembered how Selyane had traveled with her to her destination. Her brothers-in-law had not done that. Jameela cursed herself for not even giving him salam.

The rest of the ten days followed similarly. Aderfi needed her help now more than ever after suhoor. And at iftar, he would ask for her advice—should he sell the farm? Which of her siblings should he live with after she was gone? When her father did have a spare moment, he spent it reading Qur’an, sending salawat, and making du’a. It was Ramadan—should she really be thinking about marriage now? There were better things!

Eventually, they decided to sell the farm. The two set off for Marrakech to meet potential sellers, and to see which of her brothers would be willing to take their father in. They spent iftar at a different one of their houses, but neither of them appealed to her father.

“Why did you marry her?” Jameela asked a different brother.

“Her wealth,” the head of Souk Chouari said. He was a carpenter, so he was attracted to the promise of security.

“Her family,” the head of Souk Haddadine said. He was a blacksmith, often covered in ashes, so the appeal of a high-ranking family was too much to miss.

“Her beauty,” the head of Souk Smata said. He was a cobbler, someone who was entranced by well-crafted things.

None for their piety? Jameela was astonished by each one of their responses. There was hardly even a moment to bring up the proposal from Selyane, as their brothers sat, ate a few bites, and rushed to taraweeh. Jameela remained behind to help her sisters-in-law.

By the time they were finished in Marrakech and heading home, it was approaching the twenty-eighth night. Her father, consumed by worries now, was quiet on their ride. Interested buyers would soon be coming, but only after Eid.

“Father, come with me,” Jameela begged on the day they were returning home. “Selyane is kind, pious, and thoughtful. To this day, I do not feel as though I was a prisoner. I was a guest.”

“That cannot be,” he said, shaking her shoulders. “Jameela, my sweet daughter, did he cast magic on you?”

“No, Baba, not at all. The horse I rode in with was a gift. And he came with me to ensure that I was safe.”

“Oh, Jameela, you must understand—he was doing so that he would know where to find you if you did not keep your promise. The horse was only a bribe. Even he gave me a gift, to try and help me—but this is what the wealthy do, ya binti.” He looked torn. “It is a good thing that we are selling the farm. After Eid, we must sell the house quickly, and set off for Marrakech immediately. Far, far enough where he cannot track our scent.”

“Baba, please—I want to marry him! He—”

“Ya Allah! No—I forbid such a thing!”

She tried to persuade him otherwise, but it was no use. Jameela retired to her room, defeated. Well, she thought. It could be Laylat al-Qadr.

She lowered herself onto her prayer mat and begged. Her hands opened wide and her tears freely flowed.

Ya Allah, soften the heart of my father. Allow him to see what you have shown me—that no matter his appearance, nor his wealth, nor his family name, it is his piety that matters most. Ya Allah, I wish I never said no to Selyane—I wish I had a second chance to tell him yes! He is a good man, he will take care of me and my father! Ya Allah, forgive me, but if Ramadan should end early, then let me arrive early to the veranda, and accept his proposal! Ya Allah! Ya Allah! Ya Allah!

“Jameela?” 

She had fallen fast asleep on her prayer mat. It was time for fajr. She wiped her face and went to take her place behind her father. She thought of how Selyane had last led her, and she wept.

When they concluded their prayer, Aderfi was at her side in seconds. She swallowed, saying that she wished she had woken up in time for tahajjud, and that she had prepared suhoor for her father. All true, but masking the real reason for her sadness.

“Eid Mubarak, ya binti,” he said softly. In his hand was the compass that Selyane had given him. “All you need to do is think of him, and the compass will show the way.”

She gasped. The tiny compass already began to redirect itself. Selyane had never left her heart since she had returned home.

“I thought about what you said, all night. Our Prophet ﷺ said that we marry people for four reasons: wealth, status, appearance, and religion. And which do you think he recommended that we marry for?”

Jameela embraced her father, and he began to chuckle. “Now, let us hurry. The moon sighters say that we will see the hilal tonight. Shall we introduce your future husband to the sunnah of looking for it?”

The Compass and The Sultan

They both rode their horses, making as much use of the remaining time as possible. Jameela said istighfar over and over again—for not teaching Selyane as much as she should have, for not advising him more, for never having helped with suhoor, for rejecting him when Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) had provided such a good man for her.

The compass needle began to twitch. They were getting closer. The veranda appeared, but Selyane was nowhere in sight.

Compass - part II

The compass (PC: Dunamis Church [unsplash])

Jameela dismounted. She shook the compass, but it gave her no more directions. Aderfi volunteered to go inside, and Jameela resigned to the outdoors. She passed by the water, assuming he might be making wudhu, but did not find him. Panic seized her, and she began running frantically through the garden.

She found him collapsed in the rose bushes. She cried out and rushed to his side.

“Selyane!” she exclaimed.

His eyes blearily opened. “Is it that I am in Heaven, dear Jameela? I…” he coughed. He was ill, and thinned from when she had last seen him. Had he even been eating at all? “I can see no other reason as to why I might be seeing you again.”

“You will see me in this life and in the next, bi idhnillah—” she urged.

“Then I die happily,” he said, eyes slowly shutting again.

No! I swear to be yours only. I accept, Selyane—I want to be yours. Please be mine.”

There was no response. Only total darkness. Then suddenly, shining moonlight from overhead—the hilal. Jameela looked up above. How could a crescent give off such light? To the point where it was blinding?

It shone even more brilliantly, and she was forced to cover her eyes. She heard the sound of fireworks, of merry celebration as everyone in the Land of the Sunset welcomed Eid. But Jameela felt nothing but grief in her heart; as though she were at a janazah. She choked back a sob. She was too late.

“Do you regret your decision already, Jameela?”

She gasped. Hurriedly, she looked to where she had heard a new voice. Before her was a sultan of astounding handsomeness, clothed in rags and with a disheveled beard.

Selyane!

A smile spread itself on her face. “Selyane! It’s you!” she cried out. 

“Indeed. In the flesh, and not in the fur,” he said with a wry smile. “The curse has been lifted. For me to fall in love with a lady for more than her beauty, and for that lady to reciprocate in kind. Did you mean it?”

“Of course! Forever and always, inshAllah!”

The two were married within the veranda, with Aderfi and the other dwellers bearing witness. 

After Eid, they walked together into Marrakech. The sultan had once more regained power. Selyane, his son, was welcomed into the palace once more, and Jameela as his beautiful wife. And the two lived happily ever after in the Land of the Sunset.

 

Related:

Searching for Signs of Spring: A Short Story

Short Story: Hijab, My Crown

 

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Hannah Alkadi is a lawful good social media master, cat mom, and total nerd. She began writing in the pixels of online threads with friends since she was 13. Now, she continues in the pages of essays, short stories, and poetry. Her work has been published in Amaliah and Muslim Youth Musings by the grace of Allah ﷻ.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Nasreen

    May 7, 2024 at 1:24 AM

    Loooooved loooooved looooved this story, I am so glad you finished it, the suspense if you hadnt would have killed me lol. The ending was beautiful :)

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