Stories From Arabian Nights - The Invisible Feast

 The Invisible Feast

It was a palatial house. It belonged to a princely family of Bagdad known as the Barmecides. One evening a beggar who was hungry and thirsty was walking close by the house. "If I beg of these people, they might give me some food and drink," he thought. He stepped forward and asked a watchman, "Whom can I approach for alms?" "Go and climb the stairs. My master, the prince, is seated on the balcony and he is in high spirits. Meet him and your needs will be satisfied," said the watchman. With great hope, the beggar went up and stood before the young man. "Sir, I'm hungry and thirsty," he said. "Thanks for the privilege you are giving me to entertain you!" said the prince. He at once called out to a servant and ordered him to bring water for washing their hands and to set dinner for two. 

The servant fetched an ornamental jar and acted as if he was pouring water on the hands of the prince and his beggar guest. But the jar contained not even a drop of water. The prince pretended to be washing his hands. "The water is comfortably warm, isn't it so?" he asked the beggar. The surprised beggar did not know what to say. He smiled and kept quiet. The prince then did as if he was wiping his hands in a towel his servant held. There was of course no towel. "Why don't you wipe your hands too? Is it not a clean and comfortable towel?" asked the prince. In hope of getting some good food hereafter, the beggar also did as directed by his host. He moved his hands in the vacant space! As soon as they took a seat in the banquet hall, empty bowls were set before them. "Ah, the soup is rather very hot. But the soup ought to be so, am I right?" asked the prince and he showed as if he sipped from the bowl. "You must agree that it is excellently prepared!" he observed. "It is excellent, indeed," said the beggar, now that he was left in no doubt about the prince making fun of him. "What about these chickens stuffed with pistachio nuts?" asked the prince. "I had never eaten anything like this, sir," said the beggar pretending to be quite enthusiastic over the bare plate. The prince named several dishes of delicacies and the servants were too ready to spread out on the table exquisitely made but empty dishes. At last, the prince ordered for wine. "Drink well, don't feel shy!" he advised his guest raising an empty glass.

"Thanks," said the beggar, raising another empty glass. Both put their lips to the glasses. "Ah, ah! Will you please fill my glass again?" the beggar asked the maid holding the wine jar. He acted as if he was getting drunk. Now it was the prince's turn to be surprised. The beggar left his chair and walked unsteadily and spoke incoherently, and went near the prince. He then began raining blows on the prince's back as if in a totally drunken condition. The servants looked aghast. "Stop, stop!" screamed the prince. "I'm sorry, Chum, I don't know what I did under the influence of your most powerful drink!" apologized the beggar. The prince laughed and gave a hug to the beggar. "You are the first man to pay me in my own coins. Till today I had always got away with my pranks. You deserve to be my friend," the prince said. He then ordered for a real dinner to be set before them. He saw to it that his guest ate to his heart's content. Needless to say, he also saw to it that the beggar did not remain a beggar any longer.

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