My Cinderella Castle This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

August 10, 2011
When I was little, way back when we had only four people in the family, we used to go to the mall and window-shop. Just past the entrance was a row of jewelry stores. I remember, as clearly as if it were yesterday, pausing to look in the windows, my nose smooshed flat, my breath leaving a moist spot.

Sometimes I begged to be picked up to get a better view of the crystal. The crystal was breathtaking, and though the imitation fruit was tempting, the tiny animals cute, the roses gorgeous and the baby grands commendable, nothing captured my imagination – and my heart – like the crystal palaces.
They came in different shapes and sizes, various tints and landscaping. Each Cinderella castle, as my dad and I called them, represented the fairy-tale world of a princess, something every five-year-old girl longs to be.

My dad shared my affection for the Cinderella castles. Once, as he lifted me to see them, he promised, “Maliha, when you turn 16, I’ll get you your very own Cinderella castle.” Only five and full of a child’s trust, I believed him.

Over the years, we moved several times, our priorities changed and we stopped going to the mall as a family. I grew up. Textbooks and novels replaced fairy-tales, turning 21 eclipsed turning 16, finding baggy jeans was more important than designing a hoopskirt and Diana’s life was more interesting than Cinderella’s. Often, though, while shopping with friends, I would pause to look in the windows of jewelry stores, always gazing at the crystal palaces. I assumed, however, that my dad had forgotten his promise from a time and place that seemed as distant now as being 16 had seemed then.

We moved to Saudi Arabia, where group excursions to the mall were few and far between. When we did go, the jewelry stores contained little more than diamonds, gold, more diamonds and more gold. Not even a case of DeBeers could replace the glimpse of a sparkly little Cinderella castle – but there were no more quaint little crystal palaces. The few I did find were so huge, so encrusted with jewels, gilt and other junk that they looked more like the residence of Snow White’s evil stepmother than a dainty princess.

Eventually, overwhelmed with culture shock and struggling to adapt to my new school and country, I forgot about my castle. My sixteenth birthday approached, and I was more preoccupied with final exams, plans for the summer and bemoaning the fates that put me in a country where I couldn’t drive than looking for my palace.

But just before my family left for summer vacation, my mom brought up the Cinderella castle. She casually mentioned that she hoped my dad would find it in time, but not to count on it. He had been looking for crystal palaces on each and every business trip – which translated to the duty-free shops of just about every international airport. He had never found the right one.

I couldn’t believe it. Through moves and mortgages, tuitions and promotions, traveling and working, he had remembered a promise he made to a five-year-old. Not only did he remember, he was determined to honor it. I was touched beyond words, feeling I had had a glimpse of what a parent’s love must be.

One hot day that summer, my dad, uncle, sisters and I were in New York City. Our day was filled with museums, interesting technology, amazing streetside sleights of hand and delicious, overpriced food. Somehow, on our way back to Grand Central Station, we found ourselves in an expensive shop in Rockefeller Plaza. My guess would be that my dad had something to do with the navigation.

Our browsing was disrupted by a shriek from my youngest sister. Rushing to see what the matter was, I found my sisters and dad standing in front of a large glass case where, on the fifth shelf, sat my crystal Cinderella castle.

A tiny, simple castle perched high upon a mountain, textured on the sides and with a flat, sheer, insurmountable surface in front, it was accessible only by the tiny meandering steps protruding from the facing precipice. It was perfect. It was The One.

As I stared, speechless, my dad asked the saleswoman to take the castle out of the case. When it was placed on the counter before me, the feeling that it was The One only increased – while the sides were frosted, the front was crystal clear and, looking into it, I could see a lake under and inside the mountain, glinting and reflecting into eternity.

I held my breath as my dad asked how much it cost and, in shock, heard the saleswoman announce the impossible, ridiculously high price of $600. My heart sank, but she followed this bombshell with a series of discounts. By virtue of being the very last one, my perfect crystal palace was reduced to the bargain price of $160. Still ridiculous. I turned and started walking out the door, barely able to see through my tears. To have come so close, only to lose my childhood dream, was unbearable. I stopped when I realized no one was following me – they were all gathered around my dad, who was pulling out his credit card. Utterly overwhelmed, I just stared.

Packed securely in a box with layers of tissue, the castle didn’t leave my dad’s hands; he gave it into my overprotective safekeeping only on the train ride home. At the house, I showed Cinderella’s castle to my young cousins who, once they got over its delicate beauty, oohed and aahed and put out tentative fingers to stroke it. Then, rewrapped, it was banished to a shelf to await my sweet 16.

On the special day, with little fanfare, I gently removed my Cinderella castle from its tissue and placed it on the family room table to watch the birthday proceedings. After, when the cake was in the fridge, the candles in the trash and the presents scattered, I brought the castle upstairs and reverently placed it in a spot of honor on my bureau.

It sits there now, tangible evidence of a love so great that my palace, glinting and shimmering with rainbows, dulls in comparison.

And one day I will, with more of that immeasurable love, present it to my 16-year-old daughter.

And I will tell her this story.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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