Once upon a time, there was a treasurer of merchants who had three sons. Once his sons were old enough for marriage, he told his wife that it was time to find them spouses.
“Let us first settle a thorny matter.” said his wife. “Having daughters-in-law in the same house will not be easy. The stories are endless of hatred, quarrelling, disrespect and shame between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. They are always fighting like cats and dogs. I am a proud woman. I have reared my sons day and night, they are the apple of my eye. God bless them, good seed makes a good crop. I would never want to fight with their wives and cause trouble in their marriages. It’s better to settle things beforehand. Give each one of them a house of their own and may God bless their marriages. It’s sometimes good to keep people at arm’s length.”
“What you say is right.” agreed the man.
The old man started fixing, painting and furnishing the houses. Each of his sons got married in a house of their own, and the merchant lived happily with his wife in their house, until a day came when he died.
The old woman lived in abundance with a maid, thanks to the money her husband had left.
After four or five years, the old woman started missing her sons who hadn’t paid her a visit since their marriage. She also wanted to visit her daughters-in-law; talk to them and spend a couple of days at each one’s house.
She informed her eldest son, who was then working in his shop, of her upcoming visit.
When the young man returned home, he forgot to tell his wife that his mother was coming.
The next morning, he went to the shop, forgetting again to tell her. He only remembered once he had opened his shop. He then bought the groceries, gave them to his worker and told him to take them to his wife and tell her that today they have a guest.
The wife then started cooking and preparing the table.
At eleven o’clock, a carriage stood in front of the house and the wife heard a knock on the door.
She saw her mother-in-law slowly coming down from the carriage with her cane in her hand and her maid beside her.
Suddenly, a frown fell upon the daughter-in-law’s face.
“How can she come on a day like this?” exclaimed the young woman. “A day when I am having important guests!”
“Hello! How are you?” greeted the young woman. “It’s been too long!”
She took her to the living room and ordered her maid to prepare her some coffee while she finished preparing lunch.
At midday, the husband came home, heading directly to the kitchen, as usual.
“What a nice smell!” he said.
“What is going on? Your mother is here!”
“Didn’t she give birth to me and nurse me?” he said.
“Her milk dried up a long time ago!” said the wife.
“We should, nevertheless, be happy to have her in our home!”
The old woman heard every word of what was said. She immediately ordered her maid to prepare the carriage to go. She started to put on her safsari which had been folded up. Her son then entered the room:
“Hello, mother. How are you? Why are you putting on your safsari?”
“I came to see you and make sure you were doing well. I shall be going now.”
The young man was afraid of his wife and remained silent.
He went with his mother to the carriage and bid her farewell.
When the old woman returned home, she said to herself:
“I no longer have a son. He is dead to me.” She cried and sobbed as if she were truly mourning his death.
Three days later, she cooked a bowl of pasta. At sunset, she said to her maid:
“Go ask the Koran reciters in the sanctuary of Sidi Abd El Kader to come. I am going to have a memorial service for your late master.” In truth, the old woman intended the memorial to be not for her husband, but for her son.
A week later, the old woman informed her second son of her visit. The same thing happened, and the daughter-in-law uttered the same hurtful words, with no reaction from the son. From that day on, she considered him to be dead also.
A week or two later, the old woman informed her third son of her visit.
At eleven o’clock, the carriage stood in front of the house. The old woman came to the house with her maid. As soon as the daughter-in-law saw her, sweat started collecting on her forehead from anger. However, she begrudgingly welcomed her mother-in-law, made her some coffee, and went to finish preparing lunch.
The husband came in and said to his wife:
“What is this nice smell?”
“What is going on! You mother is here!”
“Isn’t she my mother? The one that gave birth to me and nursed me?”
“Her milk dried up a long time ago!” said the wife.
“Then you will not spend another night in this house!”
The old woman, hearing them quarrel, ran to them, cursing herself. She said:
“Dear son! What are you saying? Is this all because of me? I shall not be the cause of this!”
“You shall no longer be my wife!” the man told his wife. “Pack your things and go to your father’s house!”
The old woman kept blaming herself for coming and causing such misfortune.
“My two other sons who favored their wives over me are now living happily, and the son who defended me and was loyal to me has borne such misfortune! What shall I do now?” cried the woman to herself.
The daughter of her brother-in-law was now old enough to get married. The old woman asked for her hand for her son. She said to her:
“Hold on tightly to your marriage. Talk earnestly and never stay angry at your beloved. Ask about someone’s upbringing before you marry them. One’s cousin is always a good match. These were the sayings of our ancestors.“