The Baker's Gift

What she didn’t know was that when she had wished to be far away, she had also been wishing to be someplace safe. And the magical stairs were more than capable of finding such a place. But now it was dark, and Aisha was tired, so she wrapped herself as warmly as she could and curled up next to a large boulder to sleep, determining not to worry about her predicament till morning.

Aisha woke with sun on her eyelids and music in her ears. Both were so lovely that at first she though she must still be dreaming. But when she opened her eyes, it was indeed warm and sunny and the music could still be heard, wafting down to her from somewhere far above. She rolled onto her back and pulled aside her twisted veils so that she could look up. Her eyes followed the cliff straight up till they came to rest on a magnificent city that was all towers seemed to be made of blue as deep as the sky which framed it.

She stared up at the strange city with surprise and curiosity. She had never seen or heard of a blue city, except for in strange rumors that sometimes circled among shady company, of a sky city that was built on the very clouds themselves. But the city above her seemed quite real and was built not on clouds but on the top of the mountain.

She got to her feet and, seeing a path nearby, gathered her lace and her few belongings and began the climb to the city above. She had not gone far when she spotted an old man sitting in front of a cave by the side of the road. He was very tall and skinny, his hair was bleached white and his face was deeply lined with wrinkles.

“Good lady,” he said as she approached. “Do you have any food that you might share with a poor old fellow who likes the view from this particular rock and can’t be bothered to move?”

“I am very sorry, dear sir, but I do not have any food,” she said, and this was quite the truth. “But let me give you some coins that you might buy food of the next passerby.”

The old man accepted her money and she continued up to the great city above. A guard in brilliant blue robes which were lined with bright silver greeted her at the gate.  His complexion was unusually fair and his hair was a bright golden color. From him she found out that the city was called the City of Air, and that she was welcome to sell her lace here.

She wandered the streets of the city with great wonderment. All the people were fair and kind and the streets were swept clean and orderly. The good people would kindly exclaim over her lace and purchase it, even though she could tell at a glance that their own clothing with its bright colours and rich embroidery was far more wonderful than her lace could ever be. She thought they must only be doing it out of pity for her.

Aisha stayed in the city for many days and nights, finding it such a delightful place. But all the time she felt very out of place in her gloomy patched clothes and her modest veils. In this city, none of the women covered their faces and no one seemed to find this indecent.

At long last she decided that it was time for her to leave. So she went to the bakery to purchase as much bread as she could carry for her journey.

The baker, whom she had met multiple times, asked her, with a friendly voice, “why so much food, are you having a feast?”

“No, it is for my journey. It’s time for me to leave the city, lovely as it is.”

“Well then,” said he, “you can not leave without a going away gift.”

“Oh no,” she said, “I could ask for no such thing. My visit here has been gift enough.”

“Come now,” he said, “there must be something you desire.”

She shook her head.

“Why do you cover your face?” he asked her suddenly.

“Where I am from it is modest for a woman to cover her face.”

“Oh,” he said, staring at her with a very concentrated look. Then his face broke into a smile. “I know just the thing to give you!” he said. But then he just handed her all the loaves of bread she had purchased, smiled and said farewell, giving her nothing at all.

She did not find out what the baker had given her until she was far away from the magnificent city, resting by a clear pool in the late afternoon and nibbling on a piece of the bread she had bought from him. She was all alone, and it was very hot, so she removed her head and face covering. After a little while, she cupped her hands and bent by the pool for a drink and nearly shrieked with surprise. The face peering back at her was not her own! Instead of her squinty little eyes, there was a pair of big, lovely, long-lashed eyes. In place of her protruding jaw was a perfectly sculpted chin.

And as she stared at her reflection in the water and felt her face with wonder, she realized that the city must have been an enchanted city. The baker had given her the gift of beauty.

The End

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