The tale of the Water of Life

Once, not so long ago and not so far away, Yahya and both his brothers were wandering about looking for water. After a lot of walking they saw a tree standing alone, far away from any other. They were very thirsty and tired, so they sat down under the tree. Presently, when they felt better, the two elder brothers said to each other: ‘Let us go on further and leave Yahya here, as he will only be troublesome to us, for he cannot walk as fast as we can. And, if we do find water, why should we have to have one third each instead of half?’

So, when the younger brother slept, they both ran off and left him. At last it was evening, the sun had gone down and Yahya woke with a start. ‘Where are you brothers?’ he cried in fear in the darkness. But there was no reply. He was terrified and called out again.

Suddenly a ripe fruit fell out of the three and hit him on the shoulder. He ate it greedily, as it tasted delicious and he thought he would not save any for his brothers. Wild animals began to call in the surrounding desert, so Yahya quickly got into the hollow of the tree. It was comfortable and safe from the prowling creatures that hunted at night. When his eyes were accustomed to the dark, he saw that he was in a little room inside the tree, and that there was a fine bow lying at his feet with a set of hunting arrows beside it. There was also an axe, made of the sharpest steel. In the morning, after he had had a good sleep, he went out with the axe, cut bark and creepers from the tree, and made a snare for animals. Hunting far and wide, he shot game. When he was thirsty the tree seemed to know and dropped a sweet juicy fruit from its topmost branches.

Time went by – he did not know how long – but day after day he managed to feed himself and to quench his thirst from the fruit of the tree. In all that time there was no rain. He was happy, though he kept wondering when his brothers would be returning. He never gave up hope that they would come back when they discovered where there was water.

One day, he found there was a small rat in his snare. He bent over it and heard it squeak: “Let me out, and when you need me, I will repay your kindness”.

Yahya was very surprised to hear the rat speak with a human voice. He released it and it darted away.

The next day, when he came back from hunting, he found that he had trapped a falcon. “If you will let me free, I shall repay your kindness just when you need it” said the bird in a human voice. Yahya released it and it flew away high into the sky, without saying any more.

When night came, he squeezed himself into the hollow of the tree and inside he saw the vision of a small grey man. “How are you, my son? Have you got everything you need?” he asked, kindly.

“Not everything, father,” said Yahya, “but sufficient for each day and night, I thank you”.

The old man said: “Once upon a time, in the distant past, I, too, lived in this tree and I was so skilled in magical things that I only wished for a thing for it to immediately appear before me. But of what use is anyone’s poor magical power in the World of Worlds?”

Yahya looked on in amazement, hearing the old man talk, and seeing how radiant he appeared in the darkness of the tree’s hollow. He could not speak for wonder. “This will be of use to you,” went on the old man, “It is a magical pouch, and if you wish for something, it will make that thing happen. But wish for no evil thing or evil will come upon you. Take your rest now, and when you need something, wish upon my magic pouch”. The vision vanished and Ahmed scarcely knew whether he had imagined him or not, except that the magic pouch was in his own hand.

When morning came he rose and went out into the dawn and looked around. All was desolate as before. With the magic pouch clasped in his fingers, he wished with all his heart for a village to spring up there and trees, water and friendly people. No sooner had he wished than there was a great rushing sound in his ears. He closed his eyes and when he opened them, there was so much activity around him he was nearly pushed over. There were people buying and selling under his tree, there were goats bleating, small boys running and shouting, women carrying huge bundles hither and thither on their heads. There were several huts nearby and old men were sitting outside them, smoking. Best of all, there flowed nearby a fine, sparkling river.

Yahya ran to the water and, throwing himself down, splashed cold water on his face. He was in Paradise, he thought. Now, walking around, with the magic pouch tied to his belt, he found he was I a real village, though it also appeared to be the village of dreams.

A respectable-looking elder beckoned him over to his doorway. “Yahya, welcome to your very own village,” said he. “Go, take those cattle over there; they are yours”. And he pointed to a large herd of the finest animals Yahya had ever seen. The days passed with many delights and soon he was married to a pretty wife.

One night, the little old ghost appeared to him and Yahya said: “thank you so much for all the wonderful things I have got through the miraculous pouch”.

“Do not thank me,” said the old man, “I am not the One Who has wrought these things”.

“Well, take the pouch back then, and give it to whomsoever it belongs,” said Yahya.

“No my son, you will still have need of it, it is yours for life,” said the ghostly visitor and vanished.

One evening, just as the sun had said, Yahya and his wife were looking out towards the river, when they saw two dusty, dirty, dishevelled men staggering towards the village. They were none other than Yahya’s two brothers.

“Brother, brother!” cried the elder, throwing himself at Yahya’s feet, “let us stay here and rest, we have searched so long for water, and now we have been told that you own this village and this river, and all this cattle. Please forgive us for leaving us, take us in and let us stay for a little while!”

Yahya raised them up and gave them clean clothes, food and shelter. He asked them to stay in his village and be with him and his wife for as long as they wished.

But instead of being really grateful, the two brothers began to be jealous of all that Yahya now owned and the respect which he was given by the villagers. One night they came to him and said: “O brother, we are nothing compared to you; we are going away”.

And Yahya clenched his hands over the magic pouch and said: “Let my brothers have each as fine a house as I have, and pretty wives, and cattle, and let them be content”. New houses sprang up, more cattle appeared and two pretty wives came to the two men.

The brothers were amazed at the magical properties of the pouch which was hanging from Yahya’s belt and asked: “Is that the source of all your wealth?’

And Yahya told them: “Yes, it was given to me in a dream by a little old man and it by holding it and wishing that I have got everything I have today”.

Then the brothers said: “Let us have a look at that fabulous pouch, then, so that we can see for ourselves,” and Yahya handed it over.

No sooner had the elder brother got the pouch in his grasp than he cried: “Let this village and all that is in it be swept away to a faraway place, and this part become desert again, with our dear brother Yahya wandering about in it!” No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the village, the river, the cattle and the people completely disappeared. Ahmad once more found himself alone, without anything to his name but a ragged shirt and broken sandals.

He could not understand what had happened. Surely it could not be due to his brothers’ greed and jealousy?

“Please, old grey father, tell me what to do!” he cried in vain. No voice answered him, no kindly old man appeared.

Far away, far from where Yahya was lamenting, the happy people of his village laughed and played no more. They went about the day’s work sadly and with averted faces. The wicked brothers lived like despotic monarchs, forcing everyone to bow down to them.

Yahya’s pretty young wife sat alone in her house, eating nothing, grieving for her husband. What had happened, she did not know, except that without him she wanted to die, as Yahya seemed to have deserted her.

But now something else happened. Each night the two brothers got no peace at all, for the ghost of the old grey man went from one to the other, singing and moaning, and wailing, giving out strange sounds all night long. They got up in the morning weary and fretful, and dared not go to bed for fear of the old ghost. No matter where they slept, they could not escape him.

All this time Yahya was wandering and looking for his village and his wife, when one day a rat jumped out of a hole in the ground at his feet. “Yahya, good Yahya, listen to me… You allowed me to escape when I was got in your snare, I will help you now. You are apparently in trouble, with no bow or arrow, no food in your belly, so far from water. What is the matter?”

Yahya told the rat the whole story from the beginning to end.

“Good deeds are not often repaid by kindness,” said the rat, “bitter indeed is ingratitude. But wait, I will get the magic pouch back for you”. And he darted away.

Yahya sat down beside the rat’s hole and waited. After all, he had nothing to lose by waiting, the sun was not yet overhead and he needed to rest anyway.

The two brothers were fighting at that moment as to who was the true owner of the pouch. As it went from one to the other, it fell on the ground. In came the rat and snatched it between his teeth.

“Stop that rat, it’s taking away the magic bag!” cried the elder brother. The second brother picked it up, with the rat still clinging to it. They beat the rat with sticks, but still it held on.

Then from the sky swooped a falcon, the one which Yahya had released and took away the pouch in its beak. The rat escaped and ran away.

Soon the pouch was laid at Yahya’s feet by the falcon. As soon as the pouch was in his fingers Yahya wished that his village could be returned to him with all it contained. No sooner were the words out of his mouth, than he heard the lowing of his cattle and his pretty wife came to him, with laughing eyes. But the two false brothers came to Yahya with false smiles on their faces and pretended that they knew nothing about the village being spirited away.

Yahya looked at them and saw them for what they were. He knew that if they remained there, trouble would always be in the air.

“Their ways are not my ways,” said Yahya to the magic pouch, “please let them be taken away to a village of their own where I will never go and may I never set eyes upon them again”. The two brothers vanished before his very eyes.

So, ever afterwards, the rat played in Yahya’s hut and the falcon flew over the roof and the magic pouch hung in readiness at his waist.