Finally! The 4th book in the PRINCESS series about Princess Sultana has arrived! AND, HERE IS A LITTLE GIFT FOR readers WHO HAVE EXPRESSED THEIR LOVE FOR PRINCESS SULTANA: AN EXCERPT: VISIT WITH PRINCESS SULTANA AND HER FAMILY AT A SPECIAL FAMILY PARTY. HAPPY READING MY FRIENDS! (scroll down)
CHAPTER TWO: THE PARTY:
Like a siren song, diamonds call out to most females. I no longer hear that call. I lost my desire for expensive jewelry
the moment I discovered the immense joy one derives from helping others. Now when I am shown exquisite jewels, I do not envisage the glittering gems draped around my neck, hanging from my ears or clasped upon my wrist; instead, I contemplate what the value of those gems could procure. Perhaps it would allow an eager child to take lessons in a good school, or a sickly mother to feel the glow of calm, knowing she will live to return to her children after receiving high-priced medical care.
I was walking into a situation where I would have such an opportunity, as lively voices animating the corridor led me to believe that members of my family were already enjoying the pleasure of an exciting reunion. But I was wrong. Expensive jewelry was the cause of much of the commotion.
As I entered the largest of our sitting rooms, I heard the distinct voices of three of my older sisters. Dismay washed over me when I looked to see my sisters, Tahani, Dunia and Haifa, clustered in a circle breathlessly exclaiming over Dunia’s new looped diamond necklace, which was hanging nearly to her waist.
Sara had described the piece of jewelry to me a few days earlier, but I was startled when I saw that the long-stringed neck- lace could be wrapped round Dunia’s neck three times. Many hundreds of diamonds had been used to make such a substantial piece. It was much larger than I could ever have imagined. I stood staring and assessing that necklace. Each diamond was worth a small fortune. Each diamond could educate a child. Each diamond could support a poor family for a year. The blinding glitter of Dunia’s diamonds held no appeal for me.
Sara had mentioned that our sister had paid many millions of dollars for the necklace. As a woman who only cares for the frivolous things in life, Dunia had devoted many hours to searching for the most extraordinary jewels and seeking to acquire them all.
We did not understand the seriousness of Dunia’s obsession until Sara purchased a special coffee-table book, My Love Affair with Jewelry, as a gift for her. It featured the jewelry collection of the legendary American actress Elizabeth Taylor. From her youth, Sara has always tried to encourage our family to read books, even picture books with few words. She believed that the ‘guided tour’ by Elizabeth Taylor would bring Dunia many hours of pleasure. Actually, the book brought on a bizarre illness that created a crisis.
Dunia became hysterical, a woman without clear thoughts, crying out that she must have the Krupp diamond, a 33.19-carat stone that had been a gift from Taylor’s husband, the actor Richard Burton. Dunia wept for hours over a second diamond, a 69.42-carat stone Burton had also purchased his wife.
Dunia’s physician was summoned. After prescribing sedatives, he ordered a month of total bed rest, with curtains drawn, so that his patient would not think of the world outside her palace and all the jewels that might be had. He called in Dunia’s daughters, telling them that there was to be no discussion of jewels.
To our everlasting amazement, the doctor diagnosed Dunia’s illness as the first known case of ‘the Elizabeth Taylor Jewellery Virus’! While Dunia was recovering, one of her daughters sensibly slipped the jewellery book away; in fact, she burnt it so that her mother would not be tempted to once more suffer envy to the point of infirmity.
Hopefully Dunia had recovered from her Elizabeth Taylor angst now, and she appeared very content with her diamond rope necklace. I overheard her say in a clear voice that was meant to be heard, ‘Do not tell, but this necklace is more costly than the most fabulous pieces Uncle Fahd purchased for Jawhara.’
By Uncle Fahd, Dunia was speaking of King Fahd, who was a half-brother of our father and a favoured uncle we had all loved very much. His death on the first day of August 2005 was a dreadful blow to my immediate family, for that was the day that the hub of Saudi power moved to another unit of our large family.
Our grandfather, King Abdul Aziz, had many wives from vari- ous Saudi tribes and those wives gave him many, many sons – and even more daughters. While all the sons could be considered in line for the throne, only 12 of my grandfather’s sons were serious contenders for the crown.
Jawhara was our Uncle Fahd’s favorite wife and is the mother of his most beloved son, the youngest, Abdul Aziz bin Fahd. In our world, the eldest son is the most important in the eyes of the father and of the community; but the youngest son is generally the most loved. Both positions, first and last, establish a certain favoritism.
Princess Jawhara is a unique woman. Even after our much- loved uncle passed from the earth, Jawhara kept the respect of our family. She was part of the entourage that accompanied her husband’s half-brother and successor, King Abdullah, on trips out of the country. Such a thing rarely happens in Saudi Arabia. Once a husband passes from this life, the women generally retreat into the background, never to be seen or heard from again, other than within the tight confines of their immediate family.
I have always suspected that several of my sisters were jealous of Jawhara’s beauty and of her favoured status. But I always liked her, for a number of reasons, mainly because she came out in public to speak about education for girls long before other women were brave enough to speak out. During those days, even the wife of a king generally remained invisible to the public. But Jawhara used her intelligence to better our land, making a good name for herself and for our country. And, despite her powerful position, I always found her to be a kindly person who did not hold herself higher than all those around her. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia needs many such women to take us into the future.
Most likely Dunia was one of the sisters most jealous because, as the favoured wife of King Fahd, Jawhara had accumulated enormous wealth. She probably owned more jewels than most of the royal women combined.
I gazed at my sister, a beautiful woman who had wealth, health and the love of her family, yet none of these attributes quenched her thirst to acquire more of everything, particularly jewelry. Dunia is ten years older than me, yet has not learned during all her years of living that expensive baubles do not bring happiness. She has no comprehension of this important truth. I feel sad for my sister, for I fear she will never know true happiness.
At this point, Dunia proudly confided, ‘My sisters, I also participated in the necklace design. The designer claimed that my input made this necklace most unique.’
Just then my attention shifted from Dunia because I saw my brother Ali appear in the doorway. Walking slowly, he leered at one of our maids, a very pretty Indonesian girl named Sabeen, meaning one who follows. Sabeen, who was new to our house- hold, was an innocent girl, happy to be making a nice salary to send home to her parents to pay for the education for her two younger brothers. I reminded myself to warn Sabeen to stay far from Ali’s reach. The dear girl was a lovely addition to our staff and I meant to protect her from all lecherous men. This vow included men in my own family, as my brother and two of his sons were well known for their desire to bed every attractive woman who came into their orbit. I glanced at Sabeen and smiled encouragingly. She was carefully balancing a serving tray loaded with glasses of cold pineapple, apple and cranberry juice.
I sighed deeply and scowled at my brother, who was so preoccupied observing pretty Sabeen that he failed to notice my displeasure. I continued to stare for other reasons. I had not seen Ali in more than a year and was surprised to see large bags drooping under his eyes and hanging jaw jowls swaying as he walked. Even his paunchy stomach jiggled with each step he made. He was a wiggling sight!
My brother is a self-indulgent man and, as such, he has aged more poorly than most. Since he was a teenage boy, Ali has made no effort to restrain his appetite for many vices, including exces- sive eating and smoking. Amani, who is close with one of his daughters, had recently reported that Ali had even begun to drink alcohol to excess.
As one who once told falsehoods and slipped unnoticed to drink prohibited alcohol, I know too well that such noxious liquids are bad for the human body, as well as for our human psychological well-being. I am pleased to say that I have not taken a drop of the forbidden liquid in more than seven years, although I admit it was very hard to break the addictive pattern of turning to alcohol each time I was stressed or depressed by the antics of my children, or angry at my husband.
Suddenly I heard my name and there was ‘Little Sultana’ running in my direction. Ah, joy! My first grandchild – my only granddaughter and namesake – is a celebrated beauty. Her raven black hair reaches to her waist, her olive skin is flawless, and most unique to her appearance are her eyes, as black as midnight. Allah has blessed her with a rare and beautiful look.
While physical beauty is a great gift given to one without any effort on their part, it means little in comparison with the character of a person. I am most gratified because our Little Sultana came to this earth predetermined by God to possess an elevated intelligence, a sunny disposition, a good soul and a generous spirit, one that instantly recognises those less privileged. Even though she was only seven years old at the time, she was mindful to extend kindness and generosity to others. Since the very young age of six years, she frequently emptied her room of her favorite toys, games, clothes and books so that her father could distribute the treasured items to the children’s wards at local hospitals, or to the poor in the small villages.
I have never forgotten the time I discovered this charitable trait. I was visiting my son Abdullah’s home when I witnessed Little Sultana’s uncommon generosity. I had been in Europe visiting Maha and on my return to Saudi Arabia had passed through London to shop at one of my favourite places, the huge department store Harrods. While there, I had selected some luxurious designer clothes for various members of my family, in particular for my grandchildren. At the same time, I had purchased some lovely trinkets for Little Sultana’s long hair. Harrods carries a number of designer lines of the most unusual bows, ribbons and shiny metallic barrettes for a girl or woman to glamourise their tresses. Of course, I also chose some special games and toys.
I was excited to deliver the goodies to my son’s two children, Little Sultana and her younger brother Faisal, who was a mere babe, not yet even old enough to walk. Faisal was napping when I arrived, so I settled back to enjoy watching Little Sultana open her gifts.
At first my granddaughter was thrilled, carefully scrutinising her dresses, miniature handbags, hair accessories, shoes, games and toys. But then she became suspiciously quiet. Her small brow wrinkled and her full lips pursed, as though she was thinking of something much too serious for such a young child. My heart broke when she sat at my feet, clasped my knees and said in her baby voice, ‘Jadda [meaning grandmother], I have far too many beautiful things for a child.’
‘What?’ I exclaimed, giving a questioning look to my daughter- in-law Zain, the mother of Little Sultana.
‘Jadda, I heard about poor people from a teacher at school. I learned that there are people living in our country who do not have nice clothes, or books or toys. I want to share your gifts with a little girl who has nothing.’
For one of the few times in my life, I was at a loss for words. To my mind, Little Sultana was too young to have such ideas and thoughts. Everyone knows that children are most often self-centred because they are children. I wanted all three of my grandchildren to enjoy being children without a care or a worry. Not knowing what to say, I waved my arms in the air and gave a questioning look to Abdullah’s wife: ‘Zain? What is this?’
Zain, who is always conversational, was also at a loss. ‘This is new, for sure – something very odd to me.’
I returned my concentration to my granddaughter, saying, “Darling, you are a little sweetie to wish to share. It is a good thing to do, for charity is one of the most important things expected of Muslims. So I agree that you should share. But why don’t we go to your room and select some of your older dresses and toys?’ I paused for a long moment. ‘Then you can enjoy the beautiful things your Jadda brought you from London.’
Little Sultana thoughtfully stared at me with a hint of disappointment. ‘Jadda, do you mean that I should keep the most beautiful things for myself and give away the old things to others?’
‘Yes. That is what I mean, my little doll,’ I said a bit too enthusiastically, for I longed to see Little Sultana wearing the clothing I had purchased.
My precious granddaughter looked at me for a long moment then wisely replied, her words spoken very slowly, ‘Jadda, if I give something that I do not want, is that not the same as not giving at all?’
Stunned into shamed speechlessness, I nodded. I stood to begin gathering all the treasures I had purchased for Little Sultana, bagging them into the largest of the gift bags and placing them in a corner of the room. ‘Yes, darling, you are right,’ I said. ‘We will speak with your father to make certain to find some little girls who have nothing. Soon they will have many beautiful things.’
I left knowing that from that time I would need to purchase two of everything in the hope that Little Sultana would be happy giving a set away and keeping a set for herself.
Later, when I discussed Little Sultana’s reaction with my son Abdullah, he was not too surprised, telling me, ‘Mother, this tiny girl is teaching us all.’ He smiled with pride. My son loves his daughter to the point of madness, at least measured against many Saudi fathers who are still firmly fastened to the vision of a son rather than a daughter. He has loved his daughter with a pure love since the moment she came to us.
My adult son is all that I ever dreamt he might become. He is intelligent, kind and generous. Most importantly, my son believes with great certainty that females are as worthy as males. This is a rarity in my culture.
Sadly, others do not feel as Abdullah does, for example the reactions of Little Sultana’s maternal relatives – the parents, grandparents, siblings and cousins of Zain. Even my son, who is a powerful prince, can do little with those who praise the birth and existence of his son Faisal, while ignoring his little daughter. Thankfully, Zain walks hand-in-hand with her husband and she, too, is disappointed by the behaviour of her family. But in Saudi Arabia one must tread carefully; and besides, Zain’s is a sweet and loving personality that avoids confrontation.
And so it has come to pass that despite the fact that my grand-daughter was born a wealthy princess, her life is not picture-perfect. Although to her father, mother and her paternal grandparents she is the moon and the stars, she must cope with the problem of being born a girl in this land, a child without true value.
But Little Sultana is meeting these prejudices with the wisdom of one much older than her years. Although she is as strong as her grandmother Sultana, she meets her adversaries with calm wisdom rather than following my method of reacting to gender sexism with hostility and aggression.
As a woman who has fought for her entire life to bring awareness to those who scorn and belittle females, such reactions to my precious granddaughter have not only saddened me but also created much disappointment and anger in me. Over the years I have learned that one cannot force someone to adopt another person’s beliefs and values, however. Perhaps my granddaughter will succeed where I have failed, as she has a softer personality than her grandmother. In my past, I fear I was too aggressive, which often turned people away.
A good moment had now come for Little Sultana, in attendance at the family party, crying out in joy as though we have not seen each other for months, when in fact I had spent hours with her the day before.
‘Jadda! Jadda!’ Little Sultana cried as she reached, beckoning me to lean forward so that she might kiss my face and offer her cute little cheeks for me to kiss.
As I nuzzled my face in her perfumed locks, Ali strode to my side, nudging me while saying, ‘Praise Allah, this little beauty will make some man a first-rate wife.’
I twirled around like an angry tiger to my coarse brother, who was already thinking of my granddaughter as a wife slave to some man, perhaps to one of his unruly grandsons, who was bound to grow into a man such as Ali. I hissed in his ear so that Little Sultana could not overhear: ‘Your tongue curls in ugliness, uttering revolting words, my brother. This girl will serve no man.’ Ali, as usual, grimaced in astonishment at my stinging reply, for my brother had lived his entire life without adjusting his philoso- phies to advancing ideas. He has no clue about his ignorance of humanity. On the day Allah takes him from this earth, I fear that he will leave convinced that all women are born only to serve men in the bedroom and in the galley.
At that moment Little Sultana ran away to greet Maha, who was walking into the room with the confidence and stunning power of a woman who knows she controls her own destiny. Everyone turned to look at my dramatic daughter, who grows more physically exquisite with each passing year.
I silently prayed to Allah to allow Maha to leave her hostilities against our land and its traditions at rest until the evening was at an end.
My brother had noticed Maha’s entrance as well. Ali had never enjoyed a good relationship with either of my daughters, possibly because Maha and Amani had a warmer, more lenient upbringing than his daughters. My daughters know they are loved, and that their feelings and opinions are valued by us, their parents; Ali’s daughters live in fear of their father.
Ali has enjoyed the troubles I have endured at the hands of my daughters. ‘Ah, Sultana,’ he retorted with a satisfied smirk, as he glared at Maha, ‘my memory failed me until now. Maha has returned, so I assume misfortune is visiting your palace. I forgive your temper, my little sister.’
My temper was surely rising, for I could feel my entire body flushing with heat. My tongue was about to deliver a spiteful rebuke when our sister Sara walked to our side, defusing the situation. ‘Ali, brother, we have your favorite Arabic dishes specially prepared just as you like them.’ Sara looked around the room. ‘Tell us, where is Sita?’
Sita was my brother’s latest wife, the eighth woman he had wed since he first married as a young man. Ali, like my father, is only allowed four wives at a time, according to Islam. But both men have a habit of divorcing wives who displease them so that they might marry young women.
Sita is a stunning beauty from a poor Sunni Syrian family. Salman, one of Ali’s youngest sons, had met Sita’s brother at a cafe in Damascus while on holiday in the area. Sita’s brother had mentioned that his older sister was so beautiful that his parents were saving her for someone with enough gold to match her weight. When such a man came along, they would agree to the golden dowry. Salman, who had reached the age when young men yearn to marry, took an interest in one that must be more physically magnificent than a movie star. He asked to see a photograph. A picture was finally produced and Salman was instantly smitten. The young woman was lovely enough to trigger a young man’s dreams. He left Syria with the photo in his pocket, returning to Saudi Arabia, where he told the story to his father.
Ali was interested, but for the wrong reason. Once my conniving brother saw the glamor and beauty of the intended, he asked her age. Learning that she was three years older than his son Salman, my brother found his excuse. He insisted that the girl was too mature for a boy aged only 21. Ali adamantly refused Salman’s request for a dowry of gold, although the amount was no more than what my brother spent on trifles every month.
Despite his son’s pleas, a week later the unfeeling Ali sent his representative to meet with the family to arrange his own marriage with Sita. Without negotiating, Ali paid the dowry requested, which was Sita’s weight in gold coins. Her price was costly, because Sita is a tall girl, and, although not fat, neither is she skinny.
Sara had told me: ‘Oh Sultana, Ali’s son left his father’s palace in a rare rage and is refusing to return to the kingdom. He may never speak to his father again, and who can blame him?’
Unsurprisingly, Ali had laughed off the matter, according to Sara. ‘My brother is soulless,’ I had replied angrily. For sure, most men want to please their sons and make them happy, but Ali would always put himself before anyone else, even his own child.
In the beginning, I was prepared to feel sorry for Sita, for my heart aches for any woman married to my brother. But from my observations she was so happy to have married into wealth that she appeared not to notice that her husband was portly and more than 30 years her senior; he is even older in looks than his years. In fact, during a party for one of my nieces, Sita had pointedly told us all, ‘My family is still rejoicing, for their fortune is made. Ali insisted that they keep my dowry gold and they have built a nice home and are sending my younger siblings to one of the best schools. My good husband has hired three of my brothers and so now they can afford a marriage dowry, too. All are planning to wed within the year.’
I could not imagine Ali showing Sita any tender feelings, although Sara said that she had noticed Ali was very attentive to his newest bride. I supposed that Ali’s feelings for Sita were expressed because of the activity in their bedroom, but even Sita did not appear displeased, so I saved my sympathy for others – those who were truly suffering.
At this point, I heard a swell of noise and looked towards the entrance, where my ageing father was making his way into the room. He was upright, but barely. Two of his man-servants were holding his arms, one on each side, while a third stood behind him in case he stumbled backwards. My father is nearing the end of his life and, despite our volatile history, my feelings have softened over the years, as every daughter yearns for affection from her father.
As he shuffled into the room, he was surrounded by nearly everyone at the party. Looking at his frail form, and remembering the strong and powerful male he once was, tears came to my eyes. Lately, I had endeavored to think of the good things about my father. I had tried to be charitable towards him and now believed that there was much to be thankful for. My father was the reason many good people were living on this earth.
Like Ali, my father was an expert at divorcing his least favorite wife in order to make room for a new one, and so it came to pass that my father had married twelve women over the course of his long life. Nine of those women provided him with children, twenty-seven daughters and twenty sons, of whom forty-five are still with the living. His daughters and sons gave life to many grandchildren, and now those grandchildren are producing great-grandchildren. It is a good thing that our family has accumulated great wealth, for there are many mouths to feed, many brains to educate and many bodies requiring clothing and shelter.
Although he was never a loving father to his daughters, he was a man who provided well for his family and that counts for something, I suppose. His sons and grandsons love him with a great intensity, for he has never shown anything but affection to anyone born male.
Several years back, my children had given their father a dazzling throne chair covered with imitation jewels as a joke. Very touchingly, they said they knew he would never be king of Saudi Arabia but he was a king in their eyes. That throne has a golden-covered seat, and shimmering stones line the back and the chair legs. It’s quite a magnificent throne and has created a lot of exhilarating talk with our guests, as many believe that the jewels and the gold are real, when in fact that is not true.
My father had never seen the throne, but now his eyes lit with delight as he spotted the alluring chair. He motioned to Abdullah that he wanted to sit upon it.
All the children smiled and clapped as my father took the seat of honor. There he sat, looking upon the sea of faces and be- stowing smiles upon them all, like a benevolent ruler. He even gave a wide smile to his daughters, granddaughters and great- granddaughters.
I felt happy, glad that my father was having a rare moment of old-age joy. I had heard from Sara that he was very bitter in his heart at becoming old and infirm, and was usually in a most cantankerous mood.
Then I noticed Abdullah and Amani leaving the room, before quickly returning with their two sons, to present them to their great-grandfather, who had never seen either child. Abdullah cradled his son Faisal, while little Khalid was cushioned happily in Amani’s arms. I stood in watchful silence as my father smiled with gladness while nodding his approval of my two grandsons. All was well with the world until an excited Little Sultana rushed to be by her father’s side. My heart plunged in fear that my father would insult my granddaughter, just as he had slighted me when I was a child.
But Little Sultana did not know to be wary of my father. She looked thoughtfully at my father and at the throne he was occupying, then, to everyone’s delight, she gave a deep and perfect curtsy.
My father savored the moment, smiling with pleasure at Abdullah’s daughter. I suppose for this instant my father believed he was a real king. He brushed his hand over Little Sultana’s head and face, and said something complimentary. An expression of pure joy came to Sultana’s little face and that joy was mirrored on Abdullah’s face. My relatives began to applaud and cheer, for they had seen something none of us would ever have dreamt possible. My father had given his undivided attention and open admiration to a female child.
Just then Kareem stepped to my side and encircled my waist with his arm, giving me a gentle squeeze with his hand. My husband and I looked deeply into each other’s eyes, knowing that each of us was as happy as we could be. There are occasions in life when everything feels perfect, and this was one of those moments.
THE PRINCESS HOPES THAT READERS OF THIS CHAPTER WILL CARRY ON and read the entire book. the rest of the story.