The Shoes of Abu Kasim
(*the meaning of italicized words can be found in the glossary at the end of the tale)
Hundreds of years ago there lived in Baghdad, the golden city of Harun-ar-Rashid, a certain miser by the name of Abu Kasim. He was a well-known figure in the streets of the city, but …rich as Abu Kasim was… he always appeared in the same clothes: a pair of old trousers covered with patches, a threadbare aba which must have come down to him from his grandfather, and a turban so ancient, so threadbare, so faded and so dirty that it was impossible to tell what its original colors had been.
But the most curious of Abu Kasim’s outfit was what he wore on his feet. His shoes, whose heavy clatter gave notice of his coming while he was still quite a ways off, originally had been like the shoes of any other honest Baghdadite. Time and thrift, however, had worked wonderful changes in them. There was not a cobbler in Baghdad but had tried his skill on them at one time or another, with the result that by adding patch upon patch and sole upon sole, they had trebled in weight in the course of a year.
“Like the shoes of Abu Kasim,” came to be the byword for anything in Baghdad that was heavy, clumsy, and unshapely. But that was before the strange series of mishaps came to pass.
After that “Like the shoes of Abu Kasim” meant everything that was unlucky!
Now this was the way of it. It happened that one day Abu Kasim was walking down the bazaar of the spice merchants
when a friend stopped him and whispered in his ear:
“Oh, Abu Kasim,” said he, “I know of a chance for you to do a good stroke of business and make a large profit at little cost. Last week a glazier from Aleppo brought a camel-load of crystal bottles to Baghdad of the finest quality and workmanship. Now he has sold all but a few odd dozen, and these he must sell today at a sacrifice,
for he already has arranged to go back to his home town with the caravan that starts tomorrow! Go now and you may get them dirt cheap!”
Abu Kasim was not the man to lose an opportunity. He hurried to the Aleppan, drove a close bargain and bought the bottles, and when they had been delivered at his house ranged them along the shelves of his spare room.
The very next week, Abu Kasim again was walking through the spice merchants’ bazaar when another friend told him of a dealer in perfumes from Nisbin who had brought a large quantity of rose-water to Baghdad. The man had disposed of all save a few gallons, and these he was willing to sell at half price to be rid of them. Then Abu Kasim saw a great light. He had the handsome crystal bottles now filled with the precious rosewater, and once more put them back upon his shelves to await the perfect moment for selling them.
But when he did so, Abu Kasim little reckoned with what evil fate had in store for him!
Once a year it was Abu Kasim time to invest in the expensive luxury of a bath.
So, he sighed and entered a public bath to get it over with.
While he was undressing in the outer court, he found himself standing next to an old business acquaintance, and the latter, eyeing Abu Kasim’s shoes half with disdain and half with sarcasm, said to him:
“It seems to me, oh Abu Kasim, it is high time that you bought yourself a new pair of shoes!”
But Abu Kasim, casting an indulgent look at his faithful, old shoes answered:
“You may be right, my friend, you may be right! And yet, when I look at them again I say to myself, there will last me a long while yet, a good long while!”
It was at that moment that the kadi of Baghdad himself, followed by two slaves, came for his bath, seated himself on the sofa next to Abu Kasim’s, and there left his garments while he in turn went into the bathing-hall. As he went in, Abu Kasim came out to dress.
And when he had finished dressing he looked for his faithful shoes, and found they were no longer where he had left them. In their place, however, rested a handsome pair of new shoes of red Cordovan leather.
Then Abu Kasim smiled happily, for the thought at once came to him that his friend who had told him he needed a new pair of shoes had made him a present of these.
And blessing him for his generosity, the miser drew on the new pair and left the bath
He had not been long gone, when the kadi came out of the inner bath to dress in turn.
He also looked for his shoes and could not find them. But finally, tucked away in a corner beneath the sofa, he found the enormous, heavily patched shoes of Abu Kasim.
Holding them out in disgust between his thumb and forefinger, as he flung them away from his, he cried in anger:
“Whose shoes are there?” And his slaves answered with one voice:
“Oh master! These be the shoes of Abu Kasim! Every dog in Baghdad knows them by sight!”
“What! Has the dirty miser dared to steal my shoes!” roared the Kadi.
“Go quickly and bring him before me! I will teach him to rob the Pillar of Law of his shoes!”
In a few minutes Abu Kasim was standing before the judge.
In vain, puzzled and embarrassed, did the miser declare his innocence, saying he had taken the new shoes by mistake. His defense was drowned by the uproarious laughter which arose, and in which the spectators joined.
The idea that Abu Kasim could mistake any one else’s shoes for his own was too ridiculous for words. Abu Kasim was given the choice of paying a fine of five hundred dinars or of going to jail, and, though it nearly broke his heart, he paid the fine and went off with his old shoes.
Abu Kasim was furious. So the very next morning he arose, bought him a new pair, and in the evening, when no one was looking, stole out and flung the old slippers into the Tigris River, murmuring between his teeth
“A good riddance!”
The next week a party of fisherman chanced to fling out their net at the very spot where Abu Kasim had flung his shoes. And when they began to pull in the net they broke out into happy smiles. For the net was heavy, very heavy, and they knew that this meant a good catch. “All together, heave!” they shouted, and finally dragged the heavy net out of the water. And then, as they gathered eagerly about it, wondering how many big fish they had caught, there, among the strained and torn meshes of their net, lay two objects they all knew.
“Abu Kasim’s shoes!” they all shouted together and bitterly called down Allah’s wrath on the miser. Then, after whispering among themselves a while, one of them took the old shoes and flung them through the side window of Abu Kasim’s house, which lay near the river-bank. The fisherman threw them in with all his might and main and they sailed across the room right into the shelves on which Abu Kasim had so carefully arranged his shining crystal bottles of rose-water. Down came the bottles with a terrific crash, spilling their precious contents all over the floor.
Abu Kasim, awakened from his nap by the noise, rushed into the room and found the floor covered with the fragrant wreckage of his golden hopes. And there, among the shattered shards of crystal, lay his monstrous, water-soaked old shoes, come home like a curse to roost. Abu Kasim wailed and tore his hair. He lamented they day he had first set foot in the shoes of ill luck. He called them names which could not be translated, and said things to them which one can say only in Arabic, and it was not until his first outburst of grief and anger had subsided that he hit upon another idea of getting rid of them.
He made up his mind to take the hideous, disgusting shoes out of the city at midnight and bury them somewhere in the ground where no one ever would find them. Then they would never trouble him again. So when midnight came, he sneaked through the deserted streets of Baghdad to a lonely spot outside the city wall and commenced to dig. But he had been digging only a few minutes when the archer guard, passing on its rounds, spied him:
“Oho,” they cried, as they surrounded the unfortunate miser, “so you are digging for treasure? Would you rob the Commander of the Faithful of what which he alone has a right! We shall see what the kadi says!”
For all buried treasure was the sole and exclusive property of the caliph. Those who chanced to stumble upon it had to bring it to the palace at once under pain of death. It seemed clear that any one digging for it secretly, in the shadow of the night, meant to defraud the caliph of that which was his.
So it came about that Abu Kasim was again brought before the Kadi of Baghdad, and when the kadi had listened to his unconvincing story of how he had crept forth at midnight to busy his old shoes outside the city limits of Baghdad, he increased the size of Abu Kasim’s fine from five hundred to a thousand dinars for telling such as incredible tale!
With a grief too great for words…(for taking away a dinar from Abu Kasim was like robbing him of a drop of his heart’s blood)
…the miser left the court, wondering how he ever could manage to rid himself of his accursed shoes, which were making his life miserable. He forgot how fond he had been of them in the past; he forgot how long and faithfully they had served him; and an open manhole happening to meet his eyes as he went his way, he hurled the shoes into the sewer with all his might, crying: “May Eblis wear you in Gehenna, where you belong!”
And then Abu Kasim felt happy for the first time in weeks. He felt sure his bad luck had left him. At last it was safely out of the way and he could settle down, making up the losses it had caused him.
But the shoes had gone sailing gaily down the sewer-main until they came to a narrower section of pipe -and there they stuck.
And the waters in the sewers of Baghdad began to rise and finally poured out from all the manholes until at last all the streets and squares of Baghdad were flooded with an evil-smelling and fetid liquid. The sewermen worked night and day, and finally managed to find the spot where the sewer was clogged. And what had clogged it but Abu Kasim’s shoes!
Baghdad was in an uproar, with everybody clamoring for vengeance against the old miser, who had cost them so much inconvenience and material losses.
And this time Abu Kasim felt the full weight of the law. For the kadi decided that the shoes were responsible for all the damage done by the flood, and as Abu Kasim was responsible for his shoes, the inevitable and incontestable conclusion of the law was that Abu Kasim should pay a fine to cover all the damage. Abu Kasim was thus forced to dig up every bit of gold he had hidden beneath the flags of this courtyard, and this left him hardly a dinar to his name.
Stunned by his almost complete impoverishment, and blinded with rage and sorrow, Abu Kasim threaded his way home through the streets of Baghdad.
What now could Abu Kasim do to get rid of accursed shoes? He had tried to drown them and they rose from their watery grave to dog him; he tried to bury them, but without success, and even the slimy bowels of Baghdad’s sewers spewed them in disgust. There was one element which he had not tried on his shoes. He would burn them to cinders and strew their ashes far and near, and this forever be rid of them.
Gnashing his teeth with rage, and calling them all the horrid manes his vocabulary could command, he flung his shows, still wet, upon the roof of his house, waiting for them to dry to vent on them his vengeance.
But alas! The spell of Abu Kasim’s evil fate had not spent itself yet.
On a roof next to that of Abu Kasim’s house, only a foot or so away, and on a level with his own, his neighbor’s little dog was playing about in the sun. He saw Abu Kasim’s shoes fall with a thud, and as little dogs will, thought that in the kindness of his heart the man had thrown something with which to play.
At once the dog leaped over to Abu Kasim’s roof, and with merry little growls and grunts began to drag the old shoes about the roof. And at last in its innocence play the little dog dragged one of the shoes to the very edge of the roof and let go of it at the very moment when a woman with a child in her arms was passing in the street below.
Down came the heavy old shoe, and striking the poor child on the head knocked it out of its mother’s arms, dead. With wild shrieks and cries the unfortunate mother pointed to the guilty shoe as she told her tale to the crowd which rapidly gathered. Abu Kasim was dragged from his house and would have been strung up on the spot had his innocent bewilderment not made plain that he knew nothing of what had happened.
Once more Abu Kasim was haled before the kadi. And this time, to pay for what his shoes had done since all that Abu Kasim had left-his last few dinars, the very house which sheltered him-were taken from him. The poor miser had nothing but his patched clothes, his worn-out turban, and the new shoes in which he stood.
All his life he had slaved and toiled to amass great wealth. Never had he given to the poor and needy. Never had he offered a gift to a friend. Never had he even spent anything on himself until it could be no longer avoided.
And his shoes, his old filthy shoes, patched and repatched out of all likeness to anything that foot ever wore, the shoes which stood for the saving of years, the greatest triumph of his miserhood-it was they which had betrayed him!
“Your honor,” he said to the kadi in trembling voices, “I have sinned against the Prophet’s law which bid us charitable and generous and not place gain of gold before the doing of good deeds. Now that I must begin life all over again I shall not make the same mistake. But I beg that you and the Commander of the Faithful grant me the protection every good Muslim has the right to demand. I have but two enemies in all Baghdad, two enemies which have ruined me…
-my two accursed shoes!!!
Allah be my witness, I cast them off and renounce them and spit upon them! I ask but one boon: that you give me a paper signed and sealed by your own hand, setting forth that hereafter I have no right, share or claim to these shoes, that I have renounced them for the ages, that I am not their owner, and am no longer responsible for any evil they may cause!”
And amid the laughter of the court, the kadi granted Abu Kasim’s strange request, and the cured miser walked off with his precious paper. He was happy and his mind was at peace. For though he had nothing in the world but the clothes which he had had on, he was rid of his shoes forever.
Aleppan- a person from Aleppo
Baghdadite- (also Baghdadi, a person from Baghdad)
Bazaar- a marketplace
Dinars- the official currency of many Arabic countries dating back to the early days of Islam
Glazier- one who selects, cuts, installs, replaces, and removes artistic glass
Miser- a person who is reluctant to spend money, a penny pincher
Kadi- (also Qadi) a judge over legal matters (involving Muslims) ruling in accordance with the sharia, Islamic Religious Law