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The Legend of Lotfiya

by andinadia 

Posted: 17 December 2014
Word Count: 2120
Summary: This is a slightly extended picture book for readers aged 7+, first published in Egypt a while ago. Anyone who has visited Cairo might recognise the setting (now called the Gayer Anderson house). The story is a reworking of some legends merged together. Annie, I'll post another couple more oldies, but I'm working on a newie too!

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This is the story of a house and a mosque. Or, rather, the story of Lotfiya and the mad waters that fell in love with her, but who would believe that?

The house still stands in Cairo, with the mosque beside it. They have lived through floods and earthquakes and witnessed unnatural events, and they know what happened to Lotfiya. If you are patient, they might tell you their story.

The house is called the House of Kritliya, the moque is known as Ibn Tuloun.

(a/w: Left hand page: vignette aerial view of the house and the mosque side by side.
Right hand page: busy market scene outside the house: Lotfiya, a young woman in her teens, is at the market.)

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Lotfiya; the people of the narrow alleys around the mosque always enjoyed saying her name. When she was a little girl, they called out as they saw her run between the houses, laughing, her black hair blowing out behind her: "Lotfiya," they called, "Who's after you?"

Now they say her name in a different way. Though they remember the little girl, they now see the wonderful but silent face of the young woman she has become.

(a/w: Left hand page, below the text: vignette of the young girl running through the street.
Right hand page: still at the market, Lotfiya has bought her shopping and is approaching the house.)

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Lotfiya lives with her mother in the House of Kritliya, just the two of them in a mansion big enough for fifty. They have no servants. Since Lotfiya's father vanished while fighting with the army on the island of Crete, her mother has opened the door to no one. Any messages or deliveries are placed in a basket that hangs on a rope from a window. The deliverer pulls a nell and the basket rises, bounces up the wall and disappears through the quickly opened and closed window. 

The house has three, maybe four floors, and dozens of windows. Some look over the alleys, the market and the mosque. Lotfiya, who no longers runs through the alleys, can watch everthing coming and going from her own window high on the top floor.

(a/w: Right hand page: Lotfiya opens the door to the house.)

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Other windows look over the courtyard in the middle of the house, where the well lies. It was said that the well in the House of Kritliya had the power to see what the future will bring. A young woman who looked into its waters would discover the face of the man who loved her. Since childhood, Lotfiya has not dared to look into the well. She is afraid of the bats that she believes have made it their home.

It is a hot dry summer evening. Through the screen of her window overlooking the market, Lotfiya catches the softest of breezes on her face. Below her, people are on their way home from the evening prayers, putting on their sandals before leaving the moque. Some are buying plums or grapes to take back for dinner.

(a/w: Right hand page: Lotfiya at the screen of the window. Her mother is entering the room.)

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As Lotfiya watches, she sees a man visiting the stalls, shaking hands and embracing the merchants. He throws his arms around each one as he smiles through his thick beard. He is Amin. After ten years on the wide seas, he has returned to the house where he was born and to the people with whom he grew up.

Amin stops by a large clay jar at the side of the street and - using the cup that lies beside the jar - dips it into the cool water inside. As he drinks, putting his head back to drain the last drop, he looks up and sees the shadow of a young woman at the window of the Kritliya House.

Even with his thick beard, Lotfiya recognises Amin. Though she has not seen him for ten years, she knows this is the same man who once ran with her through the alleys, the boy who helped her to build paper kites that danced above the houses.

(a/w: Right hand page: Amin, aged around 25, being greeted by the traders. There is a water jar, and he is drinking from a cup, looking up at the window where we can see the silhouette of Lotfiya.)

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When Amin continues walking back to his house, Lotfiya stays a few minutes at her window and then goes down to the courtyard. She stands beside the old well and with a silent prayer looks down inside. The black water stares back.

During dinner with his many brothers and sisters, Amin tells his father and mother more of his adventures during his long years at sea. They thank God for his safe return. His mother hands him a tender pigeon, stuffed with nuts and rice, and asks him:

"Are you going to stay with us now, Amin?"

"Yes, mother, I have seen all I need to see of the world."

"Are you thinking of getting married perhaps?"

(a/w: Lotfiya looking into the well.)

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"There is plenty of time, mother."

"I can help you to find a good wife."

"I am in no hurry."

"Many years have passed. Many girls have married already. Those who have not are those who have refused all offers ... like the young woman in the Kritliya House."

Amin looks up from his food. "You mean Lotfiya? Has she accepted no one?"

"People say the mother does not want to lose her daughter. Lotfiya is an only child."

Amin stands up to go and wash his hands. "I am going up to the roof, mother, to watch the sunset."

(a/w Amin eating dinner with his family.)

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That same evening, Lotfiya's mother calls to her.

"Fetch me some water, Lotfiya," says the mother, who never moves from the top floor.

Lotfiya goes down the stairs to the courtyard, where she notices a shallow pool of water around the low wall of the well. She is puzzled because she is always careful not to spill any. She removes her slippers so as not to get them wet and steps into the pool. The water is icy and a shiver runs through her body. Before lowering the bucket she looks inside the well and feels a cold draught of air blowing up from below.

(a/w: Lotfiya at the well, about to lower the bucket into the well. She is standing barefoot in a puddle of water around the well. Her slippers are behind her, away from the water.)

Spread 9
Lotfiya fills the bucket and starts to climb the stairs, but her hand is shaking. The bucket dances back and forth in her hand and the water splashes out over the steps, making dark spots on the dust-covered stones. She cannot stop the bucket swinging from side to side. When she reaches her mother's room the bucket is less than half full.

As Lotfiya's mother watches her pour the water into the jar, she asks her, "Why didn't you fill it, Lotfiya? Bring some more!"

Lotfiya cannot answer. She goes back down the stairs but the tiles of the courtyard are dark and wet. From inside the well the water is spilling out over the low wall. Lotfiya stands on the last step of the stairs, hesitating, but she has never refused her mother's wishes. She removes her slippers and holds the bottom of her dress above the wetness. This time she does not dare to look down into the well.

(a/w: Lotfiya climbing the stairs leading from the courtyard. The bucket of water in her hand is swining and the water is falling out.)

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She lowers the bucket. There is a deep distant splash, followed by the sound of whispers from deep inside the earth. In her fright she lets the bucket fall and as she turns away a stream of water hits her back. She screams, from the force of the water and its coldness.

Without looking back she races across the courtyard and pulls open the heavy door. Behind her, the water from the well dances up and down, this way and that, touching her shoulders and spraying her hair.

She tries to call out for help but she can make no sound. She runs down the street towards the protection of the mosque, but its great gate is shut. Terrified, she flees down the street and around the back of the mosque, towards the tall spiral minaret. The rushing water has now filled half the street, but each time it is about to drown her it pulls away, leaving her soaked and cold.

(a/w: Lotfiya being pursued by the water, as it rushes out of the well. Show some hazy images of bats emerging from the well too.)

Spread 11
Amin is on the roof of his house, facing the House of Kritliya. The sun has almost set and he is thinking of what faces him here in the city. His eyes move from minaret to minaret across the orange sky until they reach the mosque of Ibn Tuloun opposite him. Then he sees a young woman, her hair uncovered, running down the street in terror, a flood of water rushing after her.

Amin hurries down from the roof. As he reaches the street he is in time to see Lotfiya turn the corner of the mosque wall, moving as if her feet are not even touching the ground. A great river of water is splashing the wall of the mosque. At the same time he can hear distant voices calling, "Lotfiya, Lotfiya!"

But Lotfiya does not shout for help; she does not even open her mouth, fearing to swallow any of the mad waters around her.

(a/w: Amin on his roof, looking down and seeing the water chasing after Lotfiya, who is approaching the base of the spiral minaret of Ibn Tuloun mosque. We can just make out a swarm of something flying behind her.)

Spread 12
By the time she reaches the minaret, Lotfiya is above the ground. As miracle follows miracle, something rescues her from the tormenting waters. Tiny invisible fingers, sharp like claws, are carrying her to safety. She feels her body being lifted up higher and higher towards the top of the minaret. Beneath her, the great torrent, unable to catch its prey, is carried away by its own force, down the street and into the great River Nile.

When Amin reaches the base of the minaret he sees the final splashes of the waters where they have failed to catch Lotfiya. Above him he can hear the sound of tiny creatures chattering. He looks up and sees traces of water dripping down the minaret walls. He begins to climb the minaret and finds Lotfiya at the top, her face pale, her eyes closed.
(a/w: Lotfiya being carrie by a swarm of bats, through the air, up to the top of the minaret. We can see the waters below, rushing away down the street.)

Spread 13
Amin carries Lotfiya down the spiral staircase of the minaret and opens the mosque gate from the inside. Slowly he walks back with her to the House of Kritliya, where Lotfiya's mother is waiting.

The mother helps Amin to lay Lotfiya on a wooden bench. Her eyes are still closed.

"I am Amin, the son of your neighbour Ibrahim," he explains to the mother.

"Yes," replies the mother gently, "and I thank you for what you have done."

"It was not I who saved her life," he says.

"I know," the mother replies.

(a/w: Amin carrying Lotfiya down the staircase of the minaret.)

Spread 14
At that moment, Lotfiya opens her eyes and looks at each of them, trying to understand what has happened. She recognises Amin and whispers, "Did the angels save me?"

Before her mother or Amin can reply, they are startled by another voice, deep and inhuman. It is a drowning voice, bubbling up from underwater.

Amin looks inside the well but it is now dry. He then goes to the door and into the street outside. Standing there he can just hear the muffled voice coming from beyond the spiral minaret, from the direction of the Nile. Now Amin can make it out, one word calling again and again, until it fades away and he can no longer hear anything: 

"Lotfiya. Lotfiya!"

Left hand page: Vignette of one of the bats.
Right hand:Amin and the mother with Lotfiya in the courtyard. They turn towards the direction of the mysterious voice.)

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Comments by other Members

a.m.edge at 12:59 on 19 December 2014  Report this post
Wow! This has a real 'Arabian Nights' feel; mythical, exotic and quite enchanting. Definitely a 7+ book, and probably equally as successful without the illustrations, I would have thought. Some children would enjoy puzzling over the meaning; others wouldn't worry and just enjoy the action and atmosphere. I enjoyed it. Thanks for posting.

andinadia at 17:53 on 19 December 2014  Report this post
Thank you, Annie!

The newie is coming along. I love the creative process. What started out as the germ of an idea, went down a few cul de sacs (sorry, weird imagery), then grew wings (getting weirder), and has now reached the stage of the first 'blocking out' of scenes, spread by spread. So it should be ready for airing soon. 

Freebird at 21:19 on 19 December 2014  Report this post
Looking forward to reading this at some point over the weekend...just skimmed the beginning and love the tone

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