Author’s note: Originally, I had told this story to my daughter to bring a twist in the old story. But when my daughter chose to retell it to me, as it happens so often with retellings, she added her own touch. By the third retelling, the story had its own character. Then, she created illustrations at my request. I couldn’t help but share it.
If the story doesn’t make sense, well, it’s not mine. You have been warned.
The Happy Beginnings
Long ago, there lived a girl. We don’t know her name, so for the sake of reference, let’s call her Cinderella. She lived in a huge house with her father, stepmother and two stepsisters. We don’t know their names too but it doesn’t matter; it is not their story.
Cinderella was really happy in her life with only one problem–she hated bathing. In fact, the only person who could urge her to take a bath was her father.
Once her father died, no one in the family could make her bathe again. Within a couple of months, the situation became unbearable for the family. The house staff quit, complaining of smelling death in the house. Soon, the outside staff that took care of animals and gardens quit too, believing the hearsay of the family being haunted.
The step-mother tried everything in her power to subdue Cinderella. She made her do all the household chores, reminding her, “If you bathe even once a week, the staff would return. Then, you wouldn’t have to do all this work.” But Cinderella remained unmoved. After four months, the stepmother started to get strangling dreams at night because of the smell that was now Cinderella permanent companion. She had no other option but to move Cinderella to the attic.
The Royal Ball
Years flew by. All the girls were now quite grown up. Cinderella happened to be prettiest of them all, but you wouldn’t know that, considering the cakes of dirt stuck to her body. The only clean place on her body was her hands, that were washed many times a day because of the chores she did. Her hair fell limp, caked with dirt too, on her back, never moving in strongest of winds.
One day, the king announced a ball dance at the castle, inviting all the girls of the city. The rumours were that the prince will choose his bride and the future queen during the ball. Their mother had dresses made for all three girls who were quite excited to go. On the morning of the ball, she asked all of them to get ready. She specifically requested Cinderella to take a bath. But Cinderella, being what she was, just went in the bathroom and splash water on the walls and came out toweling herself and wore her dress quickly.
She couldn’t fool anyone though. As soon as she joined her stepmother outside the door, the old lady wrinkled her nose and told her that she will have to stay back; they could not take her to the ball smelling like a dead cat otherwise the soldiers will toss them all out. So, they left Cinderella behind crying outside the house.
Suddenly Cinderella felt someone behind her. As she turned back, she saw a small figure the size of her palm hovering in the air behind her. She sniffed the air and asked, “So, what died here? And how long back?”
Cinderella was rather surprised at the sudden appearance and the enquiry, but she replied with as much dignity as she could summon. “Well, my mom died a while back and then my dad.”
“Yeah! I know that. That’s why I’m here. But, still—What’s this smell?”
“Ah! That must be me!”
“Really! How did you manage to do that? Upset stomach?”
“No! I…well, I just don’t like to bathe…”
“Ah! Okay, so why were you crying?”
Cinderella relayed the incident of the day and the fairy just shook her head. “Well, you didn’t leave her much choice, did you? What if the horses had bucked by the smell? Well, if you really want to go to the ball, I can arrange that but I cannot assure entry, considering the smell…”
Cinderella finally gave up. “Alright, I’ll go and take a bath!”
“Darling! The time you need to take off this amount of dirt and smell from your person…the party would be over by the time you reach there. We need to arrange something quick and easy. Ah! I get it! Stand back!”
She swiped her wand and a mango moved out of the fruit basket and started to swell until it was the size of a carriage with shiny golden wheels. The flies began swarm around it. She, then, picked two flies and turned them into horses. Then, she turned one into the carriage driver and asked him to tie the horses to the carriage. Flies don’t mind smelly things, so they would do well. The fairy then asked Cinderella to step inside the mango-turned-carriage.
Once Cinderella was seated inside, she suddenly remembered, “What will I tell my family?”
“Nothing. Just avoid them. They won’t believe you anyway.”
“No, I mean, my mother will be furious if she returns before me and realises I went all alone.”
“That can be arranged.” The fairy swiped her wand and another Cinderella stood there. “Ensure you keep the family happy until Cinderella returns.” The clone smiled and went inside.
The Bath, the Ball and the Magical Lease
The door and windows were immediately barred, the carriage started moving and a warm shower started coming down from the top of the mango soaking Cinderella’s clothes. The fairy handed a soap bar smelling like a mango to Cinderella. She did a quick job, but fairy made her repeat until all the dirt and grime was gone. Cinderella’s dress was still smelly, so, the fairy created a new dress and pretty shoes too, which Cinderella wore quickly as the castle came into view.
The fairy whispered, “You have two years until all of the magic is gone. Use it well.”
And then she left with a pop.
As Cinderella stepped in the party, everyone looked at her. She looked rather pretty and freshly washed, and the smell of mango soap clung to her. Of course, the prince asked her to dance with him and again and yet again. She was rather elusive of her whereabouts but the prince was totally taken with her because of her deep knowledge on the things that really mattered, like how to bathe horses and polish shoes and buttons and how to be happy with simple things in life, like having someone to serve food.
So, he asked her to marry him. Of course, Cinderella agreed and they were married in a quick ceremony the same night. Cinderella knew she’d have to bathe everyday now but she didn’t really mind it so much anymore.
Two Years Later
Two years flew by. The time of magic lease ending was up, so on the last day, Cinderella returned to her home.
She was greeted with a sight of her clone–freshly bathed–sitting in a lawn chair along with her sisters laughing at a joke while the staff that had returned was busy working around the house.
She decided to wait until the magic wore off in the evening and this one was gone and hid behind some bushes. She heard a pop behind her. “Hi! Why are you hiding in the bushes?” the fairy asked smiling. “I am waiting for the other me to disappear. I have returned. Why is she still here?”
“Ah! That one will remain forever. One of you sisters wished she’d be forever the same, and I am their Godmother too.”
“Then, where will I go?”
“Back to the palace obviously. Don’t you want to be with your family?”
“Of course I do, but once the magic ends, I will be back to my old self again.”
“And you are not your old self yet?”
“I don’t see any difference.”
“Well, where are the dress and shoes I gave you?”
“I’m sorry. I seem to have misplaced them. I went looking in my closet but they were missing. Even the mango carriage, the horses, and the driver were missing when I went to get them. Someone might have taken them for a ride,” Cinderella looked apologetic.
“That’s because the magic ended last midnight. The dress and shoes are back to nothing now. And you can’t expect to recognise three flies in a place full of horses and that mongo must have become someone’s late-night snack.”
“But then, why am I still the same?”
“Well, you bathe everyday, I believe? That’s not magic. And your clothes and shoes are made by humans too. What is there to change?”
“But I look pretty.”
“You ARE pretty, darling. You just needed a bath. Now, if you are done with the questioning, there is a girl stuck on a tower I must send a prince to.” With those words, the fairy disappeared.
Cinderella took a great sigh of relief and went back home to her happily ever after.