(see here Introduction to the Tunisian Stories and Overview)
A certain woman was divorced from her husband. At that time divorce was a shameful thing and it wasn’t something that people of nobility would even recognize or admit to. If someone was pushed to divorce because of irreconcilable differences, they would hide it for fear and shame of being exposed. With divorce came accusations of impropriety and the scorn of the community. Such a blight could never be removed from a noble family’s history. The stench of divorce could extend from grandfathers, uncles, and brothers to their relatives. Women were accused of having done disgraceful things if they divorce. This would drive them to prefer death rather life, death rather than facing the rejection and disdain of others. They would end up wandering alone through life.
The name of the divorced woman was Jabra. The problems between her and her husband rose to such a point that he separated from her, vowing divorce. Her heart broke and the world turned dark. She opened her door and walked out, unconscious to the world around her, not knowing where her feet would take her. She avoided going to her parents out of fear, she was ashamed to go to any of her family, and she was afraid of the reaction of her neighbors.
She was also afraid of that ruinous custom of women to gossip, to mock, to suggest, and to afflict all those that fall prey to them. She gradually advanced out of the town until she reached the forest. She entered. Evening came. Night fell. And she sat under a tree. As she did, she heard a roar and what sounded like a slow drumbeat. A lion appeared and advanced toward her, strutting, his heavy paws thumping the ground and his tail whipping against each side of his body.
He asked her:
– “Why have you come here? We don’t go to where you are, so why have you come? Aren’t you afraid to die?”
– “I’m not looking to die, but my husband divorced me.”
– “What did you do? “
– “I didn’t do anything. I was the one who was wronged. Is it not enough that my husband has wronged me and now you are going to eat me? What did I do wrong to him?”
– “It’s okay. You are safe. Would you like to stay and live with me?”
– “Yes, thank you.”
She followed him until they reached his lair which she found pleasant enough to live in. The lion strove to provide for her every morning. Sometimes he returned carrying rabbits or partridges, other times foxes or deer. As for Jabra, she would light the fire, roast the meat, and prepare the meals. They lived in harmony. She flourished and he, thankful for her presence, was always bringing her gifts.
He returned one night, surprised to find her dejected.
He asked her:
– “Are you okay?”
– “I’m fine.” She said.
The next day he tried again.
He asked her:
– “What is bothering you? Is there something you want? Did someone do something to you?
You miss your family, don’t you?”
– “Yes, I miss my mom and my siblings and my family and my neighborsI wasn’t born with a heart of stone. I miss them.”
– “Don’t worry. Tomorrow I will take you back to your family.”
In the morning they went along the road until the edge of the forest. And when the contours of the village appeared to them, he said:
“You have a few days to visit you family. I will return to take you back at dawn on the third day.”
He bid her farewell and departed. She entered the village, reached her street, and knocked on the door of her family’s house.
– “Who is it?”
Her mother and her siblings ran out to her, hugging and kissing her until all the neighbors could hear the commotion. Everyone quickly came, celebrating, congratulating, overjoyed with these glad tidings.
People were asking:
– “Where were you? You were gone so long, where were you?”
– “I renounced people and men, I married a lion.”
– “What? You married a lion? How does that work?”
Jabra, as is common in wives, proudly took to describing the merits of her husband, of his might, his bravery, his chivalry, his masculinity, his generosity, and how the animals feared him, and humans too. She shared a blessed life with him, and he was regularly making an effort at improving their life. He also avoided the proclivities of men who stay up late and play. He was helpful and thus fulfilled all her desires. The women listened to this talk until one of them even desired that she had married a lion instead of her neglectful husband and another wondered at her misfortune in marriage. As she had relieved another of her fear that a lion might eat her, Jabra remained thankful for his actions and praised him.
But since mothers usually are known for their doubts, after everyone had left, her mother retired with Jabra and began to barrage her with questions:
– “My dear daughter, does he respect you and does he deal with you gently? Does he ever wake you and scare you?”
Jabra answered her:
– “No mother. He is a gentleman, an honorable creature.”
Her mother continued to insist with such urgency that finally Jabra admitted:
– “He has only one fault mother, it is that he has the most hideous bad breath.”
Meanwhile, it happened that the lion heard their conversation and he left the yard of the house where he had returned early before the appointed time to take back Jabra. He departed considering what he heard, then returned the next morning at dawn. They met and went again into the forest. He was visibly very upset and she asked what was wrong with him. He answered:
– “Did something happen to you?”
– “No, nothing happened.”
It happened that same day that they were walking in the forest and they came upon an axe.
The lion said:
“Pick up that axe and strike me between the eyes.”
Jabra burst into laughter:
“Ha! Why would I hurt you? And with an axe?”
The lion insisted, but she ignored him. He became very angry and evil began to flash from his eyes. He threatened to kill her if she didn’t obey his command and strike him. Confused, she picked up the axe with both hands and planted it in his head. Immediately blood began to flow. A shocked Jabra began to search for herbs and plants in the forest to treat him. She spent a month nursing his wound until he recovered. Upon his return to good health she began to praise and thank God with ululations, expressing her joy.
The lion said:
“Be quiet! Do not celebrate the recovery of someone with bad breath.”
She ignored him. He said: “Your tongue can save you. If you watch your tongue, it will protect you. But if you let it loose, it will betray you. Wounds heal, oh Jabra, if you treat them with bandages, but an evil word is planted in the mind and it cannot be erased.”
Then he pounced on her.