(The Nile Valley, near Kerma, Northern Sudan – photograph by Edmund Wyatt)
The Wise Man of the Village by Muna Zaki
In a village by the River Nile, there lived a wise old man, whose days of toil and labour were over. Every morning the old man’s chair was placed under the shade of some date palms overlooking the village. Here he would spend his days watching the flowing river and listening to the creaking of the saagiya waterwheels.
Over the years his reputation for wisdom had spread up and down the river so that many people came to seek his advice whenever they had a troubling problem or were in desperate need of help. Around his riverine gardens, he had buried various amounts of money. If anyone wanted to borrow some money from him, the old would lend each according to their need by directing him to a particular spot where some coins buried. The old man only asked that the person should pay back the money when they felt able by placing it in the very same spot from which it had been taken.
Amongst the people of the country was a merchant who did not value the favours of others. One day he came to the old man and asked for ten dinars to help with the purchase of some goods. Because of the loan, the merchant’s business prospered. He knew that he should have returned the money but he could not bring himself to part with it. Finally, he said to himself, “I won’t pay the old man back. My profits are large and I will never have to go begging to him for help again. In any case that old fool has probably forgotten all about the loan by now.”
Days, years passed by, and the merchant’s fruitful business withered and died. Soon he had used up all his money and was desperate. He said to himself, “I’ll go to the old man. I’m sure that he won’t recognize me after all these years.”
He found the old man sitting as before in his gardens near the river. As the merchant approached, the old man welcomed him and asked, “What can I do for you my son?”
“You are well-known up and down the river for your wisdom and generosity. I have come to ask you for some money as I’m facing some hard times,” explained the merchant.
“There should be ten dinars hidden there,” replied the old man pointing to the very spot from which the merchant had taken the money all those years before.
Eagerly the merchant began to dig down into the earth. He thought of what he would do with the ten dinars. Down and down he dug but there was no money to be found. At last he gave up and returned to the old man. “They told me you were wise but that spot does not even have a millieme let alone ten dinars…” the merchant began to complain bitterly.
While the merchant was still in mid-flow, the old man held up his hand and simply replied, “If you had paid it my son, you will have found it.”
© Muna Zaki