The man, whose name was Abdullah, had to wait a very long time for her to return and while he waited he planned and schemed until he had a sure idea of how to get the steps and also how to use them. When she arrived in his village, almost a year after her last visit, he came to her in the street, after the crowd of women had faded away.
“Good woman,” he said politely, “I wish to purchase some lace for my wife. Will you not come into my shop and have some coffee, so that I might look at your wares in the cool of shade.”
Since the shop looked safe, being nearby and crowded, and she was very tired of the hot sun, she agreed.
The shop was noisy with the chatter of tourists admiring the trinkets and had a comfortable warm dusty smell. But despite this Aisha felt that there was something wrong. She carried her magical steps, over which she had draped a cloth and laid out her lace, to the back of the shop and set it on a low bench as the man indicated. The stranger began admiring her lace, and she stood watching, sipping the strong coffee he had given her. But her uneasiness prevented her from enjoying the cool of indoors.
Without warning, there was a commotion in the street in front of the shop, and the tourists looked up and began to move out to see what was happening. Someone was crying ‘help! help!’ Aisha, being quite accustomed to helping people when they asked for it, also hurried out to see what was the matter. But it was only a little boy, wriggling in the hands of the shop keeper’s assistant, accused of attempted thievery. Aisha went back inside, concerned over leaving her lace unattended. However, it was not her lace that was missing when she returned to the back of the shop, but the old wooden stairs.
She at once began to ask around for them, struggling to explain to the tourists with gestures what she was looking for. But no one had seen it, not even the shopkeeper. She suspected the man to have taken it, but she did not understand why, unless he somehow knew her secret. So, while he tried to calm the tourists and shrug off the issue, she snuck into the little curtained off back room of the shop and was both relieved and angered to find her magical steps there. She picked them up quickly and ran back into the shop. She had scooped up her lace before the shopkeeper noticed her. Soon she was running through the village and out onto the dusty road, Abdullah chasing close behind her, shouting that he had stolen from her.
As soon as she had rounded a bend and was out of sight of the small mountain top village, she set down the stairs and climbed onto them, wishing to be someplace far away. The stairs spread out before her into the sky, and she hurried up them.
Abdullah, however, was closer than he realized, and as she ascended, the little wooden stops beneath her, he jumped up and grabbed hold of the steps, thinking to pull them to the ground. But the magical steps were quite strong enough to hold them both, so Abdullah found himself clinging to the bottom of the steps as they went higher and higher into the sky, leaving the mountain far behind.
As Aisha climbed higher, having no idea where the steps would lead, she began to wonder if she was being selfish, trying so hard to keep the stairs for her own use. If Allah had given them to her, perhaps she was being selfish in keeping them a secret. She did not like the way the man had tried to steal them from her, but she also did not like the angry thoughts that had run through her mind when she had stolen it back.
As she walked, the sun began to set and the bitter cold of night arrived. Quickly becoming very cold, Aisha wished that the stairs might lead to land soon, but they seemed impervious to any wishes once she was walking along them. So she walked on, the dark doubtful thoughts inside and the dark of night becoming one continuum.
Abdullah still held on below her, feeling as if his hands had frozen to the wood of the stairs. As he longed for the warmth of his bed he became more and more angry at the woman who walked above him.
At long last they arrived where the steps had led her in her flight: a small outcropping high on a mountain. She climbed wearily off the steps, and saw Abdullah for the first time.
He had been planning to knock her over and escape with the steps, but his arms were so stiff from the cold that he could hardly move at first.
“Did you follow me all this way?” she asked.
He grunted in response.
“You really want these steps of mine, don’t you?” she said.
Still, he could only grunt.
And all the guilty thoughts that had been accumulating inside Aisha spilled over and she said, “You may have the steps. I don’t need them anymore.”
And she watched sadly as he climbed stiffly onto the steps and walked away into the moonlight, leaving her alone and lost in the mountains.