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Abu Kir the Dyer and Abu Sir the Barber

THERE dwelt once, in Alexander city, two men, of whom one was a dyer, by name of Abu Kir, and the other a barber, Abu Sir, and they were neighbors in the market street, where their shops stood side by side. The dyer was a swindler and a liar, an exceeding wicked wight, as if indeed his head temples were hewn out of a boulder rock or fashioned of the threshold of a Jewish synagogue, nor was he ashamed of any shameful work he wrought amongst the folk. It was his wont, when any brought him cloth for staining, first to require of him payment under pretense of buying dyestuffs therewith. So the customer would give him the wage in advance and wend his ways, and the dyer would spend all he received on meat and drink, after which he would sell the cloth itself as soon as ever its owner turned his back and waste its worth in eating and drinking not else, for he ate not but of the daintiest and most delicate viands nor drank but of the best of that which doth away the wit of man. And when the owner of the cloth came to him, he would say to him, "Return to me tomorrow before sunrise and thou shalt find thy stuff dyed."
So the customer would go away, saying to himself, "One day is near another day," and return next day at the appointed time, when the dyer would say to him: "Come tomorrow. Yesterday I was not at work, for I had with me guests and was occupied with doing what their wants required till they went, but tomorrow before sunrise come and take thy cloth dyed." So he would fare forth and return on the third day, when Abu Kir would say to him: "Indeed yesterday I was excusable, for my wife was brought to bed in the night, and all day I was busy with manifold matters, but tomorrow, without fail, come and take thy cloth dyed." When the man came again at the appointed time, he would put him off with some other pretense, it mattered little what, and would swear to him, as often as he came, till the customer lost patience and said, "How often wilt thou say to me, ’Tomorrow?’ Give me my stuff, I will not have it dyed." Whereupon the dyer would make answer: "By Allah, O my brother, I am abashed at thee, but I must tell the truth and may Allah harm all who harm folk in their goods!" The other would exclaim, "Tell me what hath happened," and Abu Kir would reply: "As for thy stuff, I dyed that same on matchless wise and hung it on the drying rope, but ’twas stolen and I know not who stole it." If the owner of the stuff were of the kindly he would say, "Allah will compensate me," and if he were of the ill-conditioned, he would haunt him with exposure and insult, but would get nothing of him, though he complained of him to the judge.
He ceased not doing thus till his report was noised abroad among the folk and each used to warn other against Abu Kir, who became a byword amongst them. So they all held aloof from him and none would be entrapped by him save those who were ignorant of his character; but for all this, he failed not daily to suffer insult and exposure from Allah’s creatures. By reason of this his trade became slack, and he used to go to the shop of his neighbor the barber Abu Sir and sit there, facing the dyery and with his eyes on the door. Whenever he espied anyone who knew him not standing at the dyery door with a piece of stuff in his hand, he would leave the barber’s booth and go up to him saying, "What seekest thou, O thou?" and the man would reply, "Take and dye me this thing." So the dyer would ask, "What color wilt thou have it?" For, with all his knavish tricks, his hand was in all manner of dyes. But he was never true to anyone, wherefore poverty had gotten the better of him. Then he would take the stuff and say, "Give me my wage in advance, and come tomorrow and take the stuff." So the stranger would advance him the money and wend his way, whereupon Abu Kir would carry the cloth to the market street and sell it and with its price buy meat and vegetables and tobacco and fruit and what not else he needed. But whenever he saw anyone who had given him stuff to dye standing at the door of his shop, he would not come forth to him or even show himself to him.
On this wise he abode years and years, till it fortuned one day that he received cloth to dye from a man of wrath, and sold it and spent the proceeds. The owner came to him every day, but found him not in his shop; for whenever he espied anyone who had claim against him, he would flee from him into the shop of the barber, Abu Sir. At last that angry man, finding that he was not to be seen and growing weary of such work, repaired to the kazi, and bringing one of his sergeants to the shop, nailed up the door, in presence of a number of Moslems, and sealed it, for that he saw therein naught save some broken pans of earthenware, to stand him instead of his stuff. After which the sergeant took the key, saying to the neighbors, "Tell him to bring back this man’s cloth, then come to me and take his shop-key," and went his way, he and the man.
Then said Abu Sir to Abu Kir: "What ill business is this? Whoever bringeth thee aught, thou losest it for him. What hath become of this angry man’s stuff.?" Answered the dyer, "O my neighbor, ’twas stolen from me." "Prodigious!" exclaimed the barber. "Whenever anyone giveth thee aught, a thief stealeth it from thee! Art thou then the meeting place of every rogue upon town? But I doubt me thou liest, so tell me the truth." Replied Abu Kir, "O my neighbor, none hath stolen aught from me." Asked Abu Sir, "What then dost thou with the people’s property?" and the dyer answered, "Whenever anyone giveth me aught to dye, I sell it and spend the price." Quoth Abu Sir, "Is this permitted thee of Allah?" and quoth Abu Kir, "I do this only out of poverty, because business is slack with me and I am poor and have nothing." And he went on to complain to him of the dullness of his trade and his lack of means.
Abu Sir in like manner lamented the little profit of his own calling, saying: "I am a master of my craft and have not my equal in this city, but no one cometh to me to be polled, because I am a pauper. And I loathe this art and mystery, O my brother." Abu Kir replied: "And I also loathe my own craft, by reason of its slackness. But, O my brother, what call is there for our abiding in this town? Let us depart from it, I and thou, and solace ourselves in the lands of mankind, carrying in our hands our crafts which are in demand all the world over. So shall we breathe the air, and rest from this grievous trouble." And he ceased not to command travel to Abu Sir till the barber became wishful to set out, so they agreed upon their route. When they agreed to travel together, Abu Kir said to Abu Sir: "O my neighbor, we are become brethren and there is no difference between us, so it behooveth us to recite the fatihah that he of us who gets work shall of his gain feed him who is out of work, and whatever is left, we will lay in a chest. And when we return to Alexandria, we will divide it fairly and equally." "So be it," replied Abu Sir, and they repeated the opening chapter of the Koran on this understanding.
Then Abu Sir locked up his shop and gave the key to its owner, whilst Abu Kir left his door locked and sealed and let the key lie with the kazi’s sergeant. After which they took their baggage and embarked on the morrow in a galleon upon the salt sea. They set sail the same day and fortune attended them, for, of Abu Sir’s great good luck, there was not a barber in the ship, albeit it carried a hundred and twenty men, besides captain and crew. So when they loosed the sails, the barber said to the dyer: "O my brother, this is the sea, and we shall need meat and drink. We have but little provaunt with us and haply the voyage will be long upon us, wherefore methinks I will shoulder my budget and pass among the passengers, and maybe someone will say to me, ’Come hither, O barber, and shave me,’ and I will shave him for a scone or a silver bit or a draught of water. So shall we profit by this, I and thou too." "There’s no harm in that," replied the dyer, and laid down his head and slept, whilst the barber took his gear and water tasse, and throwing over his shoulder a rag to serve as napkin (because he was poor), passed among the passengers.
Quoth one of them, "Ho, master, come and shave me." So he shaved him, and the man gave him a half-dirham, whereupon quoth Abu Sir: "O my brother, I have no use for this bit. Hadst thou given me a scone, ’twere more blessed to me in this sea, for I have a shipmate, and we are short of provision." So he gave him a loaf and a slice of cheese and filled him the tasse with sweet water. The barber carried all this to Abu Kir and said, "Eat the bread and cheese and drink the water." Accordingly he ate and drank, whilst Abu Sir again took up his shaving gear and, tasse in hand and rag on shoulder, went round about the deck among the passengers. One man he shaved for two scones and another for a bittock of cheese, and he was in demand, because there was no other barber on board. Also he bargained with everyone who said to him, "Ho, master, shave me!" for two loaves and a half-dirham, and they gave him whatever he sought, so that by sundown he had collected thirty loaves and thirty silvers with store of cheese and olives and botargos. And besides these he got from the passengers whatever he asked for and was soon in possession of things galore.

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