Tell Me a Story

Abu's Slippers (A Middle Eastern Folktale)

Once upon a time a wealthy merchant named Abu Kasem was the talk of Baghdad. Abu Kasem was rich, but what people gossiped about was not his wealth. No, they talked about his miserly and greedy ways.

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Abu Kasem always bargained hard, refusing to pay more than the smallest amounts of money. He would bargain with the other merchants until they were exhausted, and he would never spend money on others. He wouldn't even spend anything on himself. Proof of this were the slippers the merchant wore. Those slippers were not only old and worn, they were also patched and stained. Still, Abu Kasem refused to purchase a new pair.

"You look ridiculous," said his friends. All the people in the bazaar laughed at him. "Buy a new pair of slippers, Abu Kasem!"

But he just shook his head and said, "I'll wear these slippers forever. They're good enough."

Every day, Abu Kasem walked through the bazaar searching for bargains, haggling with the bottle seller, with the rug merchant, with the perfume salesman. And then, with his bottles and rugs, his rose oil, his silks and scarves, he set out for another bazaar, and there he sold his items for three times the amount he had paid.

Time passed, and with his miserly ways, he became richer and richer. Still, he wore the same ragged slippers.

One day Abu Kasem visited the public baths, and when he had finished bathing, he discovered that his precious old slippers were gone. There, in the place he had left them, stood a brand new pair -- shiny and new and exquisitely made. Some of his friends had played a trick on him.

"Ah," he smiled, "once again fortune smiles upon me." And with these words he placed the new pair upon his feet and walked home.

Soon afterward the Cadi of Baghdad walked out of the bath, and to the judge's dismay, he discovered his slippers were missing. In their place stood a ragged pair. "Someone has stolen my slippers!" the Cadi cried.

Now naturally everyone recognized the slippers that had been left behind.

"Abu Kasem has stolen your slippers," the people cried. The Cadi sent his servants to order Abu Kasem to court.

Now in the courthouse, everyone laughed as Abu Kasem entered. There he stood, wearing the evidence -- the Cadi's red slippers.

"You are rich, and so I order you to pay the highest fine of this court!" the Cadi said.

Abu Kasem was furious. As he walked home in his old, ragged slippers, he looked down at his feet and cursed the slippers. "You have caused me misery," he grumbled. "I'll get rid of you once and for all." And with those words he stopped at the edge of the river and tossed the slippers into the swift current. They were quickly carried downstream.

A few days later Abu Kasem heard a knock upon his door, and when he opened it, there stood two angry fishermen. "We pulled our nets from the river," they said, "but instead of fish, we found only these slippers that have ripped holes in our nets!" They waved Abu Kasem's slippers in his face. "You owe us the money we've lost for the damage they caused!"

Mortified, Abu Kasem took the slippers and handed over a large sack of coins. "For your troubles," he said. But when he closed the door, he shook his fist at his slippers. "You cause me nothing but misery! I'll bury you and get rid of you once and for all!"

He stormed outside and began to dig a hole in the yard, but when his neighbor saw what he was doing, he was certain Abu Kasem must be burying a stolen treasure. "Otherwise he would have his servants dig his hole," the neighbor said to himself, and so he called the authorities. You see, in those days it was the law that all treasures be given to the caliph.

Once again, Abu Kasem was arrested. This time when the Cadi heard the tale, he was furious. "Your slippers are destroying our community. Your fine is doubled this time!"

Now Abu Kasem was more determined than ever to rid himself of his cursed slippers. He would burn them! But they were still soaking wet from the river, and so he lay them on his balcony under the sun. "As soon as you're dry, you'll be ash," he told the slippers.

But when his back was turned, a dog spied the slippers, leaped onto the balcony and began to play with them. As it did, the slippers tumbled over the balcony, down toward the road.

Just at that moment a poor peasant woman was walking past Abu Kasem's, and those slippers landed on her head and caused her such a fright, she fell and broke a leg and an arm. Before long someone found her and carried her home --along with the cursed slippers -- and when her husband realized his wife could no longer help them earn their meager living, he called the authorities.

In court the Cadi stared hard at Abu Kasem. "You have harmed too many people with your slippers," he said. "I order you to take care of this peasant and his wife for the rest of your life."

Now reduced to near-poverty, Abu Kasem wept. "Your honor," he cried, "please free me from the curse of these slippers. Please, I beg you, order that I shall no longer be responsible for any evil that they might cause in this world."

"They are your responsibility," the Cadi said sternly.

Abu Kasem slunk home, and soon after one of his friends arrived. "Help me get rid of these slippers," Abu begged.

"Simply throw them in the rubbish bin," said his friend.

Abu Kasem did just that, and then he waited for them to return. However, days turned to weeks, weeks to months, and at long last a whole year had passed and the slippers had not returned. Now and then they came to him in dreams, but after a while people stopped laughing at him, and soon even his dreams were free of those slippers.

And Abu Kasem changed in that year. No longer did he bargain until he wore out the others, and no longer did he horde everything. He began to be more generous with the money he earned, and not only did he buy himself new slippers every year, he also bought slippers for others in need.

"Tell Me a Story 2: Animal Magic," the second CD in the audiobook series, is now available. For more information, please visit www.mythsandtales.com.

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