Bedtime Audio Stories in English - The Barber And The Dyer

 The Barber And The Dyer

In a certain small-town lived a man named Abu Keer. In those days the art of dyeing clothes in different colors was very much appreciated. Abu Keer was a skilled dyer. He earned well by doing his work. But he was lazy and greedy. He did not keep his word. On the other hand, he sometimes sold away the costly garments people left on his charge and told the customers that the garments had been stolen. As time passed, the townsfolk realized what kind of man Abu Keer was. Only those who came to the city newly still gave him their clothes. He cheated them too. Then it so happened that his old customers came in groups and took him to the task. Abu Keer did not open his shop. He sat in a barber's shop opposite to his own shop and watched the visitors. He went and opened his shop only if the customers were new. But then he sold their clothes too and never met them again. But how long could this go on? The people complained to the chieftain of the town. One day Abu Keer saw some officers coming and sealing his shop. His property had been taken over by the Government. It was to be sold in the auction. Whatever money it fetched would be distributed among those who had lost their clothes. Now, the shop in which Abu Keer sat belonged to Abu Seer. He was moved to tears when he saw Abu Keer losing his property. He asked him, "My friend, what would you do now?" "What can I do?" asked Abu Keer in return, his heart heavy with sorrow.

"Look here," said Abu Seer, "I am not doing well in my business either. There are so many barbers in this small town of ours. That is why I am thinking of shifting to a city. If you so desire, you can accompany me. We will seek our future in a new place." Abu Keer gladly agreed to the proposal. They both swore that if one of them failed to earn, the other would support him. They acted quickly. A ship was leaving for the great city of Cairo the very next day. They boarded it. Soon the little food they carried was finished. But Abu Seer soon found out that several of the passengers needed shave and hair cut. He became active. In turn, they paid him with shares of their food. Abu Seer was the only barber in the ship. The captain too needed a hair cut. He sent for Abu Seer. While talking to him, the captain found him to be a nice man. They became friends. Abu Seer told the captain all about himself and his friend. Said the captain, "You and your friend can dine with me every day. That will save you the botheration of looking for food." The barber was very happy. He returned to his friend and told him of the captain's kindness. But his friend said, "Why don't you bring me my share of food?" That was an awkward situation. But the barber did not mind that. He told the captain that his friend was sick. He carried food for him. During the days of the voyage, all that Abu Keer did was eat the food his friend earned and sleep. His laziness was unbelievable. At last, the ship reached Cairo on the river Nile.

The captain took the two friends to an inn and introduced them to the innkeeper. They got a room cheap. Abu Keer never moved out of his room under the pretext that he was sick. Abu Seer went out every day once in the morning and once again in the afternoon, to work with his scissors and razor. He bought utensils and foodstuffs with the money he earned. He cooked himself and shared the food with Abu Keer. Forty days passed. One day the barber fell ill. He gave some money to the innkeeper to buy food for him and his friend. This went on for three days. On the fourth day, the barber became unconscious. Abu Keer got up and searched the pockets of his friend. He then left with whatever his friend had, without speaking a word to anybody. Only the innkeeper saw him going out. It was for the first time that Abu Keer was out in the city. He was amazed at the prosperity of Cairo. While strolling leisurely, he observed a queer thing. All the well dressed people wore clothes in only one color blue. Soon he saw a dyeing shop. He enquired how much he has to pay to dye his jacket and learned that the fee charged was quite high.

"In what color would you dye my jacket?" he asked. The dyer looked at him with surprise. "What do you mean by that question? As if one could dye in red! Don't you know that blue is the color for dyeing?" he said. Abu Keer understood that the dyers in that city knew only one color and that was blue. Straight he went to the Sultan and said, "My Lord, I was the master dyer in my city. Out to find out the techniques of dyeing used in other cities, I find that I know more techniques than the dyers of your great city know. If you give me a building and some money, I can dye your valuable clothes in many colors." The Sultan got interested in the project. He allowed him to occupy the vacant building and provided him with the services of as many slaves as he needed. He also gave him a thousand gold mohurs to begin his trade. Abu Keer got busy. The Sultan sent him a few sets of his clothes, to begin with. Abu Keer dyed them in various gaudy colors and displayed them in front of his shop. Crowds gathered and gaped at the marvelous art of Abu Keer. The Sultan was much pleased. He sent him many gifts. In no time Abu Keer became the favorite of the nobility of the city. They sent him more and more clothes. Abu Keer appointed more and more slaves. He grew wealthy very fast. What is more, because of the Sultan's favor, he became a powerful man in the city. Inside the inn Abu Seer, the barber lay unconscious for three days. The innkeeper was kind to him. He even fetched some medicines for him.

After a fortnight Abu Seer recovered enough strength to sit up. He was surprised that Abu Keer was not to be seen. The innkeeper had supplied him food and medicines all these days, free. He now thought of paying him at least partly. "My brother, will you please see how much money is there in my pockets?" he asked the innkeeper. The innkeeper made his pockets inside out but did not find a single coin. Then he said, "Now I know why your friend slipped away when you were unconscious. He must be an unkind man." Abu Seer did not know what to say. He felt very sad. The innkeeper told him, "Don't worry. I will help you as long as necessary. First, become strong enough to resume your work." Abu Seer thanked him and promised to repay his debt. Few more days passed. Abu Seer went out to the streets to find a suitable spot where he could sit down and offer his services to passers-by. As he walked along, he saw an elegant building that lay vacant earlier. It also bore a signboard saying that it was the city's greatest dyeing shop. Colorful clothes had been hung and spread on the roof of the building and in front of it. Abu Seer saw a number of slaves, busy receiving and delivering clothes. He asked them who was the owner of the shop. When he learned that it was Abu Keer, he was very happy. "My friend has not found time to call on me because he is keeping extremely busy," he told himself. He stepped into the building and saw Abu Keer surrounded not only by customers but also by some of the respectable citizens of Cairo.

Abu Seer was happy to see his friend grown so important. But Abu Keer, far from showing any sign of joy at the sudden appearance of his friend, shouted angrily, "You wretch! Won't you leave me in peace? Did I not tell you a hundred times that I won't dole out money to you anymore?" "But, you see, I'm..." "Get out," shouted Abu Keer, giving no chance to Abu Seer to complete his explanation. Instantly some of Abu Keer's slaves caught hold of him and beat him up. "Never dare to show your face here again," Abu Keer warned him. Abu Seer did not know what to make of this except that God was putting him to a test. He went to a lonely place and shed bitter tears. After a while, he had a desire to have a good bath. He wandered all over the city but saw not even one hammam or bathing place. "Good friend, can you show me the way to a hammam?" Abu Seer asked a passer-by. "Hammam?" asked the man with surprise, "What is that?" "It is a public bathing house where people can have an oil rub, a massage, and a fresh bath in warm or cool water," said the barber. "Well, here in our country one can only have a dip in the river. The Sultan and other wealthy people take baths in their courtyards, with their servants pouring water on them. Abu Seer understood that the people of Cairo did not know the luxury of Hammam. He went to the Sultan and described to him the joys of a bath in a hammam. The Sultan got curious. "Build one for us. We will pay all the money you need for it," he said. 

Abu Seer's joy knew no bounds. He commanded a hundred workers and had the hammam built quickly. Apart from pools of freshwater with inlet, outlet, and heating arrangements, he constructed a charming fountain at the center of the hammam. The Sultan set apart for him some slaves whom he taught how to massage and attend upon the bathers. On an opening day, the Sultan and some of his top ministers and courtiers came to take bath. Abu Seer had the pools scented with rose water. The Sultan and his companions never knew that bathing could be such a memorable experience. The Sultan paid Abu Seer a thousand gold coins and the rest of the bathers a hundred each. On the very first day, Abu Seer made a small fortune. From the next day, the hammam was open to the public. Abu Seer gladly accepted whatever the bathers paid. One day the captain of the ship which had brought Abu Seer to Cairo visited the bath. Abu Seer received him with great warmth. He did not accept any fee from the captain.

Soon Abu Keer heard about the new attraction of the city. He guessed that the stranger who opened it must be Abu Seer. He came there with his slaves. Abu Seer ran to welcome him the moment his eyes fell on him. "Brother," said Abu Keer feigning complaint in his tone, "were we not under oath that we will remain faithful friends to each other? How is it that you did not even pay me a visit?" "My brother," said Abu Seer. "I did pay a visit to you. But I was received with sticks and thrown out with abuses!" "Good God was it you that I chastised, Fie upon me! I meant to drive away a loafer who used to harass me. No doubt he resembled you. But what a blunder I committed. I feel like dying with shame!" said Abu Keer. "Never mind the blunder, friend. Who are above errors?" said Abu Seer. He then took the dyer around his hammam and made him take a luxurious bath. "Wonderful!" exclaimed Abu Keer. "You have made a perfect hammam but for one thing." "What's that?" asked Abu Seer. "You should provide the bathers with the depilatory paste made up of white arsenic and lime!" said Abu Keer. "That's right. I had forgotten about that," said Abu Keer. "I'll introduce it from tomorrow." Abu Keer took leave of Abu Seer and straight went to the Sultan. He prayed for a private audience with the Sultan. When that was granted, he told him, "My Lord, your life is in danger. Last year a barber named Abu Seer and me were taken prisoner by the Sultan of the neighboring state who is your enemy. I was set free by paying a ransom. But Abu Seer was set free on the condition that he will poison you. In fact, his wife and children are still kept as hostages by that Sultan. I had almost forgotten it. But when today I found that the same Abu Seer had opened a hammam here, I understood that he plans to kill you." "But how can he do that?" asked the surprised Sultan. "He will offer you a paste to be rubbed on your body. That is poisonous and that shall kill you." "But we went to his bath. He did not offer us any paste!" "My Lord, that is why you are alive. Now that he has inspired trust in you, he will offer the paste when you pay a visit again!" said Abu Keer. The King was angry and sad. He could not be in peace until he verified the truth of Abu Keer's statement. The next day Abu Seer was informed that the Sultan was visiting his hammam. He got ready to receive him. The Sultan arrived before noon. After giving him an oil rub, Abu Seer offered him a paste. The Sultan smelt it. It contained arsenic. He grew furious. "Take hold of this fellow!" he roared out. Immediately the royal bodyguards bound Abu Seer's hands with strong ropes. The Sultan hurriedly finished the bath and proceeded to his court. His bodyguards followed him dragging Abu Seer along with them. The Sultan was much agitated because that day he had lost his diamond signet ring. An emissary of the Caliph was to meet him the next day. The signet ring was necessary to be embossed below the Sultan's signature in a letter he had written to the Caliph. In that bad mood, he saw the captain of the ship who was so friendly with Abu Seer. 

"Captain," said the Sultan. "Do immediately as I say. Put this traitor in a bag and seal it. Then carry it into the river as I look on from my fortress window. On a signal from me, throw the bag into the water." The captain was surprised. But that was not the time for him to speak in favor of Abu Seer. He took hold of the prisoner and went away. "My friend, I am sure that the Sultan is under some wrong impression about you. He is in a bad mood because of the loss of his signet ring. We must wait," the captain told Abu Seer on their way to the ship. "But aren't you going to throw me into the river?" asked Abu Seer. "I'm going to do that. But without sealing the bag and in such a way that you can slip out of the bag. Besides, I will ply the boat to a spot where the water is not deep. Once the Sultan withdraws from the window, you can walk to the other shore," said the captain. Things were done according to the plan. The Sultan saw the sack being dropped into the water. He waved to the captain conveying his happiness and withdrew from the window. Abu Seer's feet could touch the bottom of the river. He walked to the other shore, carrying the empty bag with him. To his amusement, he found that a big fish had entered the bag. It was evening and he was hungry. He had a knife tucked in his waist belt. He cut the fish and struck two stones and lighted a fire on dry leaves. As he prepared to roast the fish, what should roll out of it but the king's signet ring. Abu Seer forgot his hunger and swum across the river and appeared before the king. The king was at first horrified to see him all wet and alive. 

"God knows how a fish swallowed the signet ring. He kept me alive to find it and restore it to you. Now, My Lord, before you arrange to kill me finally, kindly tell me what my fault was, why you decided to punish me with death. All I wish to do is, pray to God to pardon me for my fault before I die!" said Abu Seer. The king was deeply moved. He asked, "But did you not attempt to kill me?" "Kill you, My Lord? Why should I?" "Were you not employed by an enemy Sultan to do that? Had you not put arsenic in the paste you gave me before bath." Abu Seer stood speechless for a moment. "My Lord, the small quantity white arsenic that was mixed with the paste is harmless. It is always used in such paste. You can try it on me as many times as you like. I have never known any other Sultan. Someone has poisoned your ears against me." "Who else but Abu Keer, the dyer!" said the Sultan.

Abu Seer looked astounded. Then he recovered his speech and said, "My Lord, I've done my best to help Abu Keer. I did him no harm. Yet he stole my money while I lay in a swoon. He had me beaten up for no reason when I went to see him. As if that was not enough, he planned to put me to death! He visited the hammam like a friend, appreciated everything, and reminded me of the paste which I should offer the bathers. And then he complained to you that I was going to kill you with that paste! How to explain his conduct? All I can say is, he is a false friend, a man who loves mischief." "Tell me in detail all the mischiefs he did to you," instructed the Sultan. Abu Seer narrated the history of their companionship. When Abu Seer completed his narration the Sultan asked his sepoys to bring Abu Keer with bound hands and feet forthwith. He also called the innkeeper and the captain. Looking at Abu Keer, the innkeeper said, "My Lord, this fellow lay in my inn like a log. Abu Seer fed him. When Abu Seer fell ill, the fellow stole his money and deserted him." Said the captain, "In the ship too Abu Seer labored and earned food for himself and his lazy friend." The Sultan's surprise was even greater now. "Why did you humiliate your friend by beating him up and why did you wish to get him killed?" he asked Abu Keer. Abu Keer had no answer. The Sultan gazed at him for some time and said, "Such a wicked fellow deserves the most severe punishment. Tie this man in a sack of limestone and throw him into the river. 

Abu Seer begged the Sultan to pardon his old friend, but the Sultan did not yield to his request. The Sultan's order was carried out. Later the Sultan sent for Abu Seer and asked him, "What can I do for you?" "My Lord, I have trained my assistants in the rules of running a hammam. Now I wish to return to my native town. Kindly allow me to do so," said Abu Seer. The Sultan consented to his proposal. He heaped upon him numerous precious gifts and asked the captain to escort him to his hometown. While sailing, one day the captain found a sack stuck to an oar. They recognized the sack. Inside it, what remained of Abu Keer was his skeleton. Abu Seer carried it to his town and gave it a decent burial and raised a tomb over it. Abu Seer, with his well-earned wealth and kind nature, became a very important man in his town.

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