15. The Metamorphosis

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 left over. 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 God’s wish that he should at once give this money to 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 neighbor, and decided to leave his savings in the hands of this man. After some thought, he decided not to put temptation in the way of his neighbor. He therefore took a jar, at the bottom of which he placed a small bag containing his surplus 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 agreed, and Hussein Agha departed on his pilgrimage, contented.

On his return from the Holy Land, Hussein, went to Ben Moïse and asked for his jar of olives, and at the same time presented Ben Moïse with a rosary of Yemen stones, to thank him for the safe keeping of the olives, which, he said, were exceptionally tasty. Ben Moïse thanked him, and Hussein departed with his jar, well satisfied.

During the absence of Hussein Agha, it happened that Ben Moïse had some distinguished visitors. Unfortunately, however, he had no appetizer to offer. Ben Moïse thought of the olives and immediately went to the cellar, opened the jar, and took some of them, saying, “Olives are not rare; Hussein will never know the difference if I replace them.”

The olives were 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, but kept the gold and said nothing to anyone.

Arriving home, poor Hussein Agha was upset to find that his jar contained nothing but olives. In vain he protested 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 it 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 transformed into olives or into oil. What can I do? The jar you gave me I returned to you.”

Hussein admitted this, and fully appreciated that he had no case against him, so 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 Hussein had been a pipe-maker, and many were the pipes of exceptional beauty that he had made. The art that had fed him for years was now to be the means of recovering his money.

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

Time passed, and Ben Moïse entirely forgot about the jar, olives, and gold; not so 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 he usually 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: “Go to your father “. At a bound the monkey would plant himself on the shoulders of the effigy, and would not be dislodged until its hunger had been satisfied.

In the meantime 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 home 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 Hussein to know the reason for 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 transformed 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 Hussein begged him to take the monkey away.

Next day Hussein was summoned to the court, the case of Ben Moïse was heard, and Hussein 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 they would see for themselves that the child of Ben Moïse had been transformed into a monkey. This was agreed to, and the monkey was brought. 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. 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 Ben Moïse and then on the other. The judges were thunderstruck, and declared their inability 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 Hussein told the judges of an example of some gold pieces turning into olives, and called upon Ben Moïse to witness the truth 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 unable to give judgment.

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