Told in the Coffee House: Turkish Tales | Annotated Tale

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Metamorphosis, The

HUSSEIN Agha was much troubled in spirit and mind. He had saved a large sum of money in order that he might make the pilgrimage to Mecca. What troubled him was, that after having carefully provided for all the expenses of this long journey there still remained a few hundred piasters over and above. What was he to do with these? True, they could be distributed amongst the poor, but then, might not he, on his return, require the money for even a more meritorious purpose?

               After much consideration, he decided that it was not Allah's wish that he should at once give this money in charity. On the other hand, he felt convinced that he should not give it to a brother for safe keeping, as he might be inspired, during Hussein's pilgrimage, to spend it on some charitable purpose. After a time he thought of a kindly Jew who was his neighbor, and decided to leave his savings in the hands of this man, to whom Allah had been good, seeing that his possessions were great. After mature thought he decided not to put temptation in the way of his neighbor. He therefore secured a jar, at the bottom of which he placed a small bag containing his surplus of wealth, and filled it with olives. This he carried to his neighbor, and begged him to take care of it for him. Ben Moïse of course consented, and Hussein Agha departed on his pilgrimage, contented.

               On his return from the Holy Land, Hussein, now a Hadji, repaired to Ben Moïse and asked for his jar of olives, and at the same time presented Ben Moïse with a rosary of Yemen stones, in recognition of the service rendered him in the safe keeping of the olives, which, he said, were exceptionally palatable. Ben Moïse thanked him, and Hadji Hussein departed with his jar, well satisfied.

               During the absence of Hussein Agha, it happened that Ben Moïse had some distinguished visitors, to whom, as is the Eastern custom, he served raki. Unfortunately, however, he had no mézé (appetizer) to offer, as is also the custom in the East. Ben Moïse bethought him of the olives and immediately went to the cellar, opened the jar, and extracted some of them, saying: "Olives are not rare; Hussein will never know the difference if I replace them."

               The olives were found excellent, and Ben Moïse again and again helped his friends to them. Great was his surprise when he found that instead of olives, he brought forth a bag containing a quantity of gold. Ben Moïse could not understand this phenomenon, but appropriated the gold and held his peace.

               Arriving home, poor Hussein Agha was distracted to find that his jar contained nothing but olives. Vainly did he protest to Ben Moïse.

               "My friend," he would reply, "you gave me the jar, saying it contained olives. I believed you and kept the jar safe for you. Now you say that in the jar you had put some money together with the olives; perhaps you did, but is not that the jar you gave me? If, as you say, there was gold in the jar and it is now gone, all I can say is, the stronger has overcome the weaker, and that in this case the gold has either been converted into olives or into oil. What can I do? The jar you gave me I returned to you."

               Hadji Hussein admitted this, and fully appreciated that he had no case against the Jew, so saying: 'Chok shai!' he returned to his home.

               That night Hussein mingled in his prayers a vow to recover his gold at no matter what cost or trouble.

               In his younger days Hadji Hussein had been a pipe-maker, and many were the chibooks of exceptional beauty that he had made. Go but to the potters' lane at Tophane, and the works of art displayed by the majority of them have been fashioned by the hands of Hussein. The art that had fed him for years was now to be the means of recovering his money.

               Hadji Hussein daily met Ben Moïse but he never again referred to the money, and further, Hussein's sons were always in company with Ben Moïse's only son, a lad of ten.

               Time passed, and Ben Moïse entirely forgot about the jar, olives, and gold; not so Hadji Hussein. He had been working. First he had made an effigy of Ben Moïse. When he had completed this image to his satisfaction, he dressed it in the identical manner and costume the Jew habitually wore. He then purchased a monkey. This monkey was kept in a cage opposite the effigy of Ben Moïse. Twice a day regularly the monkey's food was placed on the shoulders of the Jew, and Hussein would open the cage, saying: "Babai git" (go to your father). At a bound the monkey would plant himself on the shoulders of the Jew, and would not be dislodged until its hunger had been satisfied.

               In the meantime Hadji Hussein and Ben Moïse were greater friends than ever, and their children were likewise playmates. One day Hussein took Ben Moïse's son to his Harem and told him, much to the lad's joy, that he was to be their guest for a week. Later on Ben Moïse called on Hadji Hussein to know the reason of his son's not returning as usual at sundown.

               "Ah, my friend," said Hussein, "a great calamity has befallen you! Your son, alas! has been converted into a monkey, a furious monkey! So furious that I was compelled to put him into a cage. Come and see for yourself."

               No sooner did Ben Moïse enter the room in which the caged monkey was, than it set up a howl, not having had any food that day. Poor Ben Moïse was thunderstruck, and Hadji Hussein begged him to take the monkey away.

               Next day Hussein was summoned to the court, the case of Ben Moïse was heard, and the Hadji was ordered to return the child at once. This he vowed he could not do, and to convince the judges he offered to bring the monkey caged as it was to the court, and, Inshallah, they would see for themselves that the child of the Jew had been converted into a monkey. This was ultimately agreed to, and the monkey was brought. Hadji Hussein took special care to place the cage opposite Ben Moïse, and no sooner did the monkey catch sight of him than it set up a scream, and the judges said: 'Chok shai!' Hussein Agha then opened the cage door, saying: "Go to your father," and the monkey with a bound and a yell embraced Ben Moïse, putting his head, in search of food, first on one shoulder of the Jew and then on the other. The judges were thunderstruck, and declared their incompetency to give judgment in such a case. Ben Moïse protested, saying that it was against the laws of nature for such a metamorphosis to take place, whereupon Hadji Hussein told the judges of an analogous instance of some gold pieces turning into olives, and called upon Ben Moïse to witness the veracity of his statement. The judges, much perplexed, dismissed the case, declaring that provision had not been made in the law for it, and there being no precedent to their knowledge they were incompetent to give judgment.

               Leaving the court, Hadji Hussein informed Ben Moïse that there would still be pleasure and happiness in this world for him, provided he could reconvert the olives into gold. Needless to add that Ben Moïse handed the money to Hadji Hussein, and the heir of Ben Moïse returned to his home none the worse for his transformation.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Metamorphosis, The
Tale Author/Editor: Adler, Cyrus & Ramsay, Allan
Book Title: Told in the Coffee House: Turkish Tales
Book Author/Editor: Adler, Cyrus & Ramsay, Allan
Publisher: Macmillan & Co.
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1898
Country of Origin: Turkey
Classification: unclassified

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