Once upon a time there lived in Damascus a man called Zayn al-Arab. He was a poor man and he had to struggle hard to keep his family from hunger. Every loaf of bread was gained by him with much anxiety. He worked so hard that he was always tired and had no thought for the joys and pleasures of life. Even when things became easier for him he did not know how to stop working and therefore for the first time in his life money began to accumulate. When he had saved a considerable sum he could hardly believe his good fortune. That is how he felt about it although he had worked hard for every penny. Fortune had never smiled kindly upon him and he feared she might yet play unkind tricks upon him. He rejoiced in his unfamiliar feeling of prosperity but was at the same time full of fears that he might suddenly lose his wealth.
He decided what he must do. He must hide his money where no man would ever find it. One night, when all the city of Damascus was sleeping and no one could see him or follow him, he stole out beyond the walls and buried his treasure under a tree. He took good care that he remembered which tree it was and stole home again, still under cover of night and feeling much relieved in spirit.
This feeling of relief and satisfaction, however, lasted only a few days. He began to miss his treasure. He wanted to see his money again and count it and so confirm this wonderful delicious feeling he had had that there was no longer a poor man who had to struggle and strive for the next loaf to give his family. He decided that he must go and see his treasure. So once more he stole out of the city at night so that no one could see him or follow him. He remembered every detail of the tree where his treasure was buried and went straight to it, sunk his heart full of joyous anticipation. He knelt on the ground, sunk his hands into the loose soil and with a song in his heart scratched the earth away. He scratched deeper and deeper. He then stood and looked once more at the tree. Yes it was the tree. But his treasure had gone. Someone had been there and taken it. But how? But why? How could anyone have known that his treasure lay buried under this tree?
Suddenly the world, which had begun to seem to him a kindly place where he could enjoy his prosperity and take his ease a little, seemed once more harsh and cruel. More cruel than ever, in fact. His heart was scorched with bitterness and chagrin. All serenity was gone. There was an end to peace of mind. Zayn al-Arab did not know what to do or to whom to turn. If he would search for his treasure where was he to begin? In whom could he confide? He spent his days in perplexity and bewilderment and deep, deep sorrow.
One day Zayn al-Arab went on business to a very wise and learned man of the city. He had known him for many years and could really count him as a friend. “I will not inquire how you are” said the wise and learned man, “for I have noticed of late that your health has not been good. You are sadly changed, my friend. Will you not tell me what has happened? Will you not confide in me what is troubling you?”
At this show of kindness and care for him tears came into Zayn al-Arab’s eyes. “O dear and loving friend”, he cried, “a strange and terrible thing has happened to me. I am bowed down by a most cruel misfortune which I cannot explain. My heart is heavy with sorrow. But what does it avail if I tell all my troubles to you? It can only mean that you too will be plunged into the depth of grief.”
But the wise and learned man encouraged Zayn al-Arab to open his heart and speak his mind. “It is right”, he said, “that friends should confide in each other. I knew without your telling me that some sadness was weighing heavily upon you. Why not tell me all the facts and it may be that together we can think of some way of overcoming your difficulties.”
“Dear friend”, said Zayn al-Arab, “after years of toil and hardship I had at last some gold. My joy in ownership was matched by my fear that it might be taken from me by thieves. I therefore carried it out of the city by night and buried it under a tree, marking well under which tree my treasure was hidden. But when I next visited the spot I found my treasure gone. Thieves had robbed me even so.”
The wise and learned man listened attentively and pondered. “This is indeed a serious matter”, he said. “And it will be difficult to trace your gold. It seems probable that someone was watching you and took it away. God sees and knows everything and the thief will have to account for his actions in the next world. That, however, may be small comfort to you. Give me ten days”, he continued, “and I will give the matter my deep consideration.”
The wise and learned man spent ten days in contemplation. He turned over many plans in his mind but none of them seemed likely to succeed. On the tenth day he met Zayn al-Arab in the street. “My friend”, he said, “I have given these ten days to considering your plight. My thoughts have plunged into the realms of possibility like a diver plunging into the sea, but they have found no pearl of wisdom. The ways of God are indeed strange. I will pray that He will recompense you in His own inscrutable way.”
While they were still deep in conversation a lunatic came swaggering along. “Well my boys”, he said, “what’s all the chatter about? Come on, let me into the secret!” The wise and learned man turned to Zayn al-Arab and said: “One can never tell. A flower of wisdom may bloom in the mind of such a crazy fellow as this one; those moonstruck as he is, often have strange insights. Let us tell him of your misfortune and see what he will say.” But Zayn al-Arab replied: “Dear friend, if you with all your learning and wisdom have failed to find a solution even after ten days of cogitation, how can we hope to gain anything by consulting this unfortunate fellow whose mind is so deranged that he scarcely knows the difference between day and night?” And the wise and learned man said: “There is no knowing how he may reply. But ideas enter the minds of the foolish as well as of the wise and even the wildest, most crazy remark from him may give us a clue or set us off on a new line of thought. The ways of God are strange indeed as are often his instruments”.
While this conversation was taking place the lunatic was prancing about all around them, gesticulating madly, and a little boy who was passing stopped to watch his antics. So Zayn al-Arab and the wise and learned man told the lunatic the story of the missing treasure. The lunatic, delighted at being thus consulted, crossed his arms and thrust his chin into the cup of his right hand in a pose of deep meditation. There was a period of silence. Zayn al-Arab and the wise and learned man waited. The little boy looked on. Then, suddenly straightening himself, the lunatic declared: “He who took the root of the tree for a medicine also took the gold.” Then he spun round on his heel and swaggered on his way. The little boy, who was evidently taking a great interest in the proceedings, remained. Zayn al-Arab and the wise and learned man discussed how the lunatic’s remark might be interpreted.
Then the little boy spoke up. He asked if he might be told what kind of a tree it was under which Zayn al-Arab had buried his treasure. “It was a jujube tree”, replied Zayn al-Arab. “Then the matter is quite simple”, said the boy. “All you have to do is to call on all the doctors in the city and ask them if they have a patient for whom a medicine made of the root of the jujube tree has been prescribed.”
The wise and learned man was greatly impressed by the boy’s good sense and by the flash of inspiration that had illuminated the mind of the unfortunate lunatic. He was well acquainted with the physicians of the city and he set about making inquiries.
It was not long before he discovered that some twenty days previously one of the doctors had been consulted by a merchant named Khwaja Samandar who was suffering from asthma, and for him the doctor had prescribed the root of the jujube tree. The wise and learned man thereupon sought out the merchant Khwaja Samandar. He called at the merchant’s house and found him restored to perfect health.
“O, Khwaja”, said the wise and learned man, “do you not agree that good health is worth more than riches? Would you not give all your worldly possessions for the gift of health?” He paused and then went on: “By God’s blessing you have overcome your asthma and are now enjoying perfect health. Do you not agree that the treasure you found at the foot of the jujube tree should be returned to its rightful owner? He is a good, upright man and his treasure, which is all he has, was the fruit of many years’ labour.”
The merchant Khwaja Samandar was an honest man. “You are right”, he said. “I found the gold and it is with me still. Tell me the exact amount and it shall be restored to its owner in full.”
Zayn al-Arab told his friend exactly what sum of gold he had buried and to his unspeakable joy it was all returned to him.
In a restaurant in the West people objected to the presence of some Japanese. A certain man with the name Laurens then strongly objected to this racist behaviour and said to the owner of the restaurant that if the Japanese had to go that he would never visit the restaurant again and he would tell his friends to do the same. It not only worked, but because of talking to these Japanese visitors he got interested in the Japanese culture and even learned the Japanese language. This saved his life years later. He became a prisoner in a Japanese camp in Indonesia and because of his speaking Japanese he could survive as a much needed interpreter…