Nadia the Willful

Sue Alexander


(Death, Grief and Healing, Abandonment, Missing Family Member,

Anger, Impulsive Behavior, Self-Control)


            “In a far off land where the sun is hot and the wind blows wild, the sands swirl and then lie still.  In this far off land  lived a kind and generous Bedouin sheik with his six sons and one daughter.  The eldest son, Hamed, was his favorite.  But the daughter, Nadia, was his greatest problem. Nadia lived life to the fullest.  Her passionate nature rebelled against restrictions and direction.  Her temper was hot and swift and she was stubborn. The villagers watched and called her Nadia the Willful.  Only to Hamed, her beloved older brother, would she listen.  Only Hamed could calm Nadia's temper when it flashed.  "Oh, angry one," he would say, "shall we see how long you can stay that way?"  And he would laugh and tease and pull at her dark hair until she laughed back.  His words of wisdom became her words of wisdom; his favorite places, her favorite places.”

 (Rose Owens, adaptation of introdution)


            Hamed goes into the desert and does not return.  It is finally presumed that he is dead.  In his grief, Tarik (Hamed’s father) proclaims that no one is to speak  of Hamed again.  Nadia refuses to believe that Hamed is dead.  She finds comfort in speaking of him.  She tells the stories she remembers about Hamed to anyone who will listen.  A shepherd boy who talks with her of Hamed is sentenced to be exiled.  She yells at her father.  He does not listen.  Then she calms down and tells her father the things she remembers about Hamed.  Tarik says she “has returned my son to me.”  The shepherd boy is pardoned and Nadia is honored. 


Although this story is written in the style of an old Bedouin folktale, it is an original story written by Sue Alexander.  Copyright laws prohibit the posting of the text of the story here.  In my shaping of this story, I have inserted some of the stories that I imagine that Nadia might have told about her brother.  I also include details that reveal the anguish of someone who has a missing person in their life.   Nadia has been abandoned, although it was not Hamed’s choice to do so.   Nadia is portrayed as an impetuous, willful girl with a passionate nature—a girl who later learns to curb her temper and thus becomes a leader to her people. 


The story that Nadia told the shepherds

She went to where the shepherds tended the flock and spoke of Hamed.  In their fear, the shepherds hid behind their sheep.  Nadia continued speaking.  She told of Hamed's love for the little black lamb.  She remembered how it would nestle up next to him.  She told how Hamed taught the lamb to leap at his whistle.  Soon the shepherds ceased to hide and came to listen.  Then they told their own stories of Hamed and the little black lamb.


The story that Nadia told her father

            "Listen, Father," Nadia whispered.  "There is a way.  Let me tell you of Hamed."  Nadia leaned toward her father with a smile on her face.  "Do you remember, father, how Hamed used to go out to the horses at dawn?  He would approach the wildest, the strongest stallion in the herd with slow, sure footsteps.  I would watch him speak to the stallion with that silent language that the horses use among themselves.   Hamed would look straight into the eyes of the stallion.  Then he would lean forward as if to blow his life force into the horse's nostrils.  It was as if. . . . as if he were asking the horse for permission put on the bridle, for permission to ride him.  The stallion would shake his head and then lower it for the bridle to be put on.   Hamed would lightly touch the stallion upon his muzzle and spring to his back.  Hamed rode the horses that no one else dared ride.  He and the stallion--they were one!"   

And Nadia talked of Hamed, of the things he loved, of the way he laughed.  She told the stories that Hamed told and sang the songs that Hamed sang.  She whispered of the secrets told a little sister by a beloved older brother.   She told of secret places and quiet walks, of shared sunrises and sunsets. She told Tarik of the games Hamed taughter her and of how he calmed her angry impulses.  She shared memory after memory.  Some of the memories were happy, others were sad.  And when she was done with her telling, Nadia said,  "Now, father, now do you remember Hamed?  Can you hear his voice?   Can you see his face?"

            "Yes," said Tarik as he nodded through his tears.  And for the first time since Hamed was lost, Tarik smiled.  They sat in silence.

Tarik's voice broke the silence.   "Nadia, you have given me back my son."


Nadia the Willful, Sue Alexander, Alfred A, Knopf, Inc., 1983.


“Nadia the Willful,” Sue Alexander, Hey! Listen to This: Stories to Read Aloud, Jim Trelease, ed. Penguin Books, New York, 1992.


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