Emile Tubiana

  • Emile Tubiana

The Golden Words

Posted by Emile Tubiana on July 5, 2010

This story takes place in the region which is today part of Iraq.

The Golden Words

Once upon a time there was a merchant who lived happily with his wife and his only son.  His name was Abed, his wife’s name was Omra and his son’s name was Amir, which also means: “prince”.  His trading business made him rich and famous.  His fortune enabled him to live in a very nice house with a garden.  He provided his wife and his son with everything they needed for a comfortable life style.  Abed’s son was still a child when the death of his wife shattered his happiness and his tranquility.  His business often took him away from home.  By chance he was home when the tragedy occurred.  Deep in his heart he thanked God that the death of his wife had not happened while he was away.  Now that his son had become an orphan, he did not want him to suffer of loneliness, especially at his tender age.  He loved his wife very much and now he found himself in a large house alone with his only son.  He buried his wife quietly.  He tried to spare his son Amir from any suffering and sadness.  This new situation did not allow him to travel far away from home any longer.

In order not to leave his son alone, he decided to give up certain of his business travels and stay with Amir.  This way he could care for him and cherish him all day long.  He could not even afford to cry over the loss of his wife in front of anyone for fear of burdening his son.  Abed spent his nights alone.  He was lucky to have been working all the time and to have saved a lot of money.  He could live from his savings for many years to come, and so he spent most of his time with his son.  Now Abed had to cope with the new situation.  When Amir was old enough to learn reading and writing, Abed brought a teacher. Over time he hired many knowledgeable people from various fields to teach Amir, as he sought a prince like education for his only son. The young boy first learned the Côran, as it became customary in that region, but he spared his son from becoming a religious man.  During the summer, Abed, who enjoyed traveling with his son, visited a few of his best customers and friends.  He namely wanted to maintain his good relationships with his fellow merchants.  This enabled Amir to meet young children, his age.

Each year the son grew taller and smarter; he was well educated and his looks were enhanced by his astuteness.  He was also very kind and well behaved.  His appearance resembled that of a prince and earned his father a lot of compliments.  Amir was constantly studying and didn’t feel the change of places.  Abed made sure that Amir would feel comfortable everywhere.  He prepared his son so that he could master any situation which he may encounter in life.  He educated his son to behave himself appropriately with people from different levels of society.   Amir could play with rich children as well as with poor ones.  While his son was still young, Abed refused many invitations from his rich fellow merchants.  He refused many offers to get married again after the passing of his spouse.   He could have chosen a new consort but he preferred to stay with his only son.

When Amir, became a young man, his father once accepted an invitation from a famous customer.  The latter had a daughter of the same age; her name was Rabha. At first, Abed was not sure whether he should tell his son about this invitation or better wait for an appropriate occasion to present itself, but during a casual conversation with his son, Abed, without any intent, could not conceal this news about the invitation from his son.  Amir was thrilled when he heard that the host had a young girl his age, but out of respect for his father, he didn’t show any enthusiasm.  When he went to sleep he tried to visualize the moment when he would encounter her, but he kept pushing this thought away, as it conflicted with the moral education he received.  He recalled the day when his father was telling him to be careful with girls; however, he did not explain the meaning of this advice. This thought troubled him and kept him awake.  As he was exhausted from the long day, he finally fell asleep. The next day, when his dad told him to put on nice clothes, Amir knew in advance that he should wear the best outfit he had as to make a good impression. He dressed with his silk shirt and with his robe that his father had brought back for him from a business trip.  He looked so handsome that his father involuntarily kissed him on the cheek.  Amir looked at him and said:

“What is this kiss for?”  Abed looked at his son and smiled. Amir understood that this kiss had something to do with his Mom.  He looked his father evasively in his eyes and saw a drop of tears on his cheek, and then he said:

“You are crying?” Abed was embarrassed but he knew that now he could share his feelings with his son and he responded:

“My son, this gown makes you resemble your Mom.” Amir was touched by this analogy and responded:

“Father, the time you spent with me, gave me great comfort.  I know too that you loved my mother.” Abed was pleased with Amir’s answer, but he changed the subject quickly as it was time to go to his host’s house. When they reached the door, Amir saw something flitter from a small window. The young girl saw Amir and stared at him with an inconspicuous smile. Only Amir could discern her smile and furtively returned a faint smile, as his father was next to him in the carriage. During dinner, Amir found himself facing Rabha at the table, although it was not the custom in those countries, to have young girls sit at the dinner table with guests. Abed and the host felt that the children were too young to forbid them to be with them around the table. Their main concern was to have the children keeping each other company, so they could talk business together without any distraction. Amir conducted himself exquisitely and was thoughtful towards the young girl.  He kept his distance, but was attentive and kind with her. He knew well that this was his father’s business relationship and it should not be mixed with any personal feelings.

Father and son became very close friends and had almost forgotten their common grief.  Abed became accustomed to his life without his wife, but his wife’s memory was always with him and he never showed his son the pain he endured for so many years.  Amir had never been left alone with other people. His father made sure that he was always with him. The father had never revealed to his son that he had practically stopped working since his mother passed away.  He had spent the money he had laid aside for many years.  He never mentioned either that he had to sell some of his property.  During their journeys Amir did not notice any sign from his father’s friends that could have alerted him about the financial situation.

Abed was known to be a wealthy and very honest merchant. He had never had a chance to communicate with his son while his wife was alive. He was always traveling and caring for the family. He felt very strongly the loss of his wife and the thought of marrying again never occurred to him. He was a good husband and a good father.  In the town where he lived, the neighbors admired and respected him very much for his decency and polite manners.  His first thought was to have a foreign governess’ for his son but he feared the gossip of the people and foremost he did not want his son to be attached to a stranger.  Despite the mother’s absence, Amir grew stronger and stronger and became a very desirable young man. His father regularly accompanied Amir everywhere. After this trip Amir failed to realize that his father’s health was not as good as it used to be and that as the years went by, his fortune diminished from day to day. He had lost an appalling amount of money due to missed opportunities and through the downsizing of his business. Then he became ill, as a result of neglecting his own health.  He cared so much for his son that anything else became irrelevant.  He abstained from seeing any healer for fear of awakening his son’s concern. He was convinced that he was healthy and immune to any disease, and that nothing could happen to him. But deep in his heart and in his mind he wanted to join his beloved wife.  He felt now, that his son was a young man and with the education he had given him, he could survive in any situation and that it was time for him to join his wife.

Amir was very much concerned about his father’s well-being.  He did whatever he could to help him, but the sickness had made his father very weak. One day the merchant called his son and told him:

“My son, I am so weak that I believe that my time to depart has arrived.” Then he disclosed all the truth to his son; that he had stopped working as usual, as he wanted to have time with him.

“I wanted you to keep your way of life unchanged, so you wouldn’t miss your mother. My fortune has dwindled to almost nothing; all I have left is this ten-dinar gold coin” He moved his heavy body as to be more comfortable, and then, with a deep moaning he said:

“I sold our house a long time ago, and the new owner was so kind as to let us stay until today. I owe money to a few friends.  The only fortune I still have is this gold coin,

I told you about; it’s worth just ten dinars, my horse, and the house wares. I am sorry that I have nothing else to leave you as an inheritance, except this miserable gold coin, but I could give you some advice, which in my view, may be worth remembering, if you wish:

“Marry the women you love, and not for her father’s money” and “Words are more valuable than money”.

A few weeks passed since then; the father passed away, leaving poor Amir alone with just a coin of ten dinars.  His father’s friends were very helpful and took care of the funeral.  Everyone was nice to the young Amir, but he soon realized that his father owed money to a few of his friends and that he was not able to pay them back. A few days passed since his father’s burial. One sunny day, he rose with determination and the conviction that his father wanted to hint something important to him, when he told him about his advice. That day he was in a better mood than any other day and his gut feeling told him that he would be better off starting a new life somewhere else. After all, he was better educated than any young man of his age and at least no one would know about his father’s debt.

During the weeks of grieving many of his father’s friends visited him and invited him to their houses. Amir never knew that his father had so many friends who loved him too. Everyone spoke kindly about his father. They were very helpful to the young man..  Amir was very well behaved and many of his father’s friends who had daughters saw in him a good candidate for a son-in-law. Amir understood why everyone was generous and kind with him, he knew too well what those friends expected from him instead of the money his father owed them, but he didn’t want to fall into a marriage of convenience and he remembered well his father’s advice. He was also aware that a fortune could make his life much easier and would spare him all the trouble which awaiting him and for which he was not prepared, but he preferred to follow his father’s advice and marry someone he loved.

He remembered well that his father’s love for his mother had lasted way after her passing.  At that point, he couldn’t think about marrying any woman, as he deeply felt the pain of losing his beloved father.  He was left alone with his heart filled with emptiness.  His father’s entire debt did not bother him at all.  He knew that while his mother was alive his father had worked hard to give them a good way of life. After all, his father didn’t charge him with paying back any of his debt, but sooner or later and for his father’s honor he might have to satisfy the creditors.

Amir was well prepared for a high job position but had not learned any craft to earn his livelihood. Once the weeks of grief and sadness had passed, the new orphan took his courage in his hands and went to the market. There he saw a multitude of merchants who looked at him, some with sympathy and some with curiosity and expectation. A few of the merchants reminded him politely that his father did not pay some bill. Amidst the market’s clamor, he heard a voice screaming from afar, and which said:

“Three words for sale! Only ten dinars!” and continued: “Who is the lucky buyer?”  The passers by did not pay any attention to the man who shouted loudly, as they knew he was a dervish.  But for Amir, who was in despair, due to the situation he found himself in, the screaming of the dervish awakened hope in his sore heart.  He was also fascinated by the coincidence of the dervish’s offer and his father’s advice.  In this message he saw a sign of his destiny pointing him in the right direction; his father must have known something when he had given him this advice. Young Amir was so desperate and disoriented that the words of the dervish attracted his full attention and he directed his steps toward that voice.

When he reached the place where the voice came from, he discovered a poor and miserably looking man standing in an empty booth.   First he thought to return on his tracks, then he felt ashamed of himself for having judged the man by his appearance, and with a firm tone he said:

“What are these three words?” The dervish looked at Amir with astonishment and with learned words he said to Amir:

“Money first, young man!”  It was the first time that Amir had to face such a man.  He was caught in a dilemma, as the money he had was the only coin he possessed, but the voice and the words of the dervish inspired him and gave him a feeling of confidence.  The way the dervish was talking to him touched his heart, and without further hesitation he handed him the only coin he had. The dervish took him aside and whispered in his ear:

“You see, these people are crazy, they didn’t buy the Golden Words,” and then, with a decent voice he whispered again into his ear:

“My son, why are you buying these words?” Then he continued:

“Are you sure you want to buy words and not merchandise?” Amir was confused, but a warm feeling filled his suffering heart.  Then he remembered his father’s words and responded:

“Words are better than money!” His answer, pleased the dervish, and he said to him:

“Listen, do not give these words to anyone who does not deserve them.”  Then:

“The first word is” he continued:

“‘If someone is in love with a woman, do not try to change his mind, since for him that woman is always the best and the most beautiful woman on earth.’

The second word is:

‘Be loyal to, and honest with your employer.’

The third word is:

‘Never refuse an invitation to a meal.’”

“That’s it?” asked the orphaned son.

“Yes, that’s what you get for your money”, replied the poor man.

Amir did not dispute the poor man’s argument, but he knew that from now on, he was facing the world without a penny. He was desperate, and, to add to his plight, someone reminded him at every corner that his father had owed him money. But deep in his heart he felt that somehow his destiny would lead him in the right direction. He recalled that one day he heard from his father’s friend that the best decisions he took in his life were those when he had no choice.

Amir didn’t have an idea what to do or where to go.  He knew only that he could not stay where he was born, and he could not use the education he received in his small town. Destitute as he was, he decided to let his father’s horse lead him, so he would not have to make any choice. After all, not every choice that we make is the right one, said once his father. Before he left the town, he visited his father’s friends and then went home. Amir took some clothes and some items he wanted to have with him, then he went to the buyer of the house who had been nice to his father, and gave him the key of the house and made his farewells. The new landlord, tried to convince him to stay as much as he wanted in the house, but Amir did not want to change his mind.  He departed from his town, leaving behind the good and the sad memories, taking with him only the most necessary belongings for the trip. The new landlord was disappointed as the young man captivated him, and he had thought that he could be a good match for his smart and lovely daughter. Amir, with his father’s horse had to cross almost an entire desert. As soon as the land changed to desert the horse’s steps became heavier as the horse was tired. The silence replaced the tumult of the town. During the day the sun rays burned his neck but he kept moving east hoping to reach any bigger town or city. He had never experienced the desert heat which soon gave way to the cold and the darkness of night.  But he felt safe and secure as he didn’t encounter any human being. He felt that the desert was alive and a sort of intelligence was watching over him. He felt for the first time the connection between himself and the earth.

After a few days and a few nights of riding, Amir stopped a few times in order to quench the horse’s thirst and suddenly he looked around him and found himself in a dark and secluded valley. Amir unloaded the horse and let it free. The horse stretched out its body, but it didn’t go away as Amir had assumed.  He was also tired from this long trip, and he murmured:

“We can sleep here, no one can bother us and in the morning we can continue our journey toward the next destination.” The horse seemed to listen to him.  Many thoughts passed through Amir’s mind. Since he left his house, he hadn’t thought about his mother and about his father, he was absorbed by the emptiness of the desert and by the darkness of the sky. He had never had a chance to see such a sky full of stars, and after a good night’s sleep he was woken up by the horse’s noise that was running  forth and back in the open valley in the bright sunshine. Amir remembered that he didn’t have any more water for the rest of the trip. While he was approaching the next town, both Amir and the horse were very thirsty. The hunger was not as terrible as he thought.  Far away on the horizon a caravan of camels was slowly moving toward him, but he could not figure out the distance as the sun and the sand were gleaming like a mirror. Amir was dirty and he looked like a beggar, he still had a long way to go. He could not go any further, as the food supply that he had taken with him had dwindled. He had learned from his father’s trips what kind of vegetation he could eat outdoors.

After almost a month of riding and walking, Amir’s strength was decreasing with every step of the way and as he could not see anything anymore in the dark, he fell asleep next to a palm tree.

In the morning the people of a large town found him unconscious with his horse standing next to him. As they tried to sprinkle water on him, Amir opened his eyes and saw a crowd gathered around him and one of them was bending over him. Amir thought he was surrounded by thieves and as he tried to stand up, one lady told him with a nice and soft voice:

“Sir, don’t be afraid, we are trying to help you” and she gave him some water from her jug. Only then Amir realized that all the people were assembled around a well and praying. When Amir asked for the reason of this gathering, he learned that a giant was in the well, not letting anyone take water. The king of this city had promised a reward for the one who would free the well. Several young and strong men had tried to descend in the well but did not succeed to obtain even a drop of water. The population was desperate without water and they were prepared to take any action which could free the water. When Amir heard this, he decided to try his luck, as he had nothing to lose anymore, but could maybe win an award.  The people were nice to him and an old lady told him:

“It is a pity for a nice young man like you to die.” He responded:

“My lady, someone has to do it.”  A woman who was listening to him said:

“But young man, out of all the men who tried before you to free the well no one has returned. They all lost their lives in the well.” Amir answered with determination:

“I have to free the water!” and he went into the well, unarmed and without a shirt.  When he reached half the depth of the well he saw a recess in the side of the wall like a large room.  From this room a giant man appeared holding an ugly woman by one hand and pulling the rope toward the recess, Amir was holding on to, by the other.  The giant laughed and said:

“Young man, do you want to get water?” Amir was impressed by the size of the giant but he did not lose his calm and his courage and with a firm voice he responded:

“I am here to get water, no matter what.”  The giant confident of his strength smiled nicely and said:

“I like your tenacity and courage and I will gladly let you get the water you desire, but not without you answering my simple question beforehand.”

Amir was appeased, hearing the giant and said:

“What is your question, Sir?”  The giant smiled again and said:

“Do you see this young lady?  Tell me, how do you find her?” Amir remembered the first Word of the three Golden Words he had bought with his last ten dinars: “If someone is in love with a woman, for him this woman is always the best and most beautiful woman on earth” and said to the giant:

“Your lady is lovely, and she’s so beautiful that if you were not so strong I would try to take her away from you.”  The giant was extremely pleased with the young man’s response; he told him that he could have as much water as he wanted from the well.  Now the well was free, and everybody in town could get water again.

In his palace, the king heard about the feat of the young stranger, so he asked to see him. The entire population of the town brought the hero to the king so he might receive his reward. Amir met with the king and after a short conversation the king found him to be well educated, well-behaved and smart.  He was so impressed by his knowledge that after having given him his reward, he offered the young man a position in his palace. The young man accepted the proposal.

Amir was such a clever and good looking man that after a few weeks in his new job, everyone liked him. The king sought his advice.  The queen soon found him very attractive.  Many times she used minor excuses to see him, but Amir was very careful not to arouse any negative feelings in the palace. He avoided looking in the eyes of any woman in the king’s harem, but her majesty the queen was eager to run into him every time she could. Amir tried to avoid her, but the queen, who was not busy and had a lot of free time, slowly, slowly fell in love with him. Whenever she saw him, she tried to stop him and to talk to him. One day she called Amir to her quarters. When Amir entered her chamber, she unexpectedly hugged him and held him for a while and said:

“Kiss me!”  The charming young man remembered the second Golden Word however: “Be loyal to, and honest with your employer”, and he refused to give in to her demand.  He pushed her away with his arms and freed himself from her embrace.  The queen was furious and threatened that if he would not kiss her, she would scream for help and would also accuse him of having tried to force her. When she tried to embrace him again, Amir pushed her aside. She was fuming. The young man was all confused, but he did not forget for a moment that he had just pushed a queen and a powerful lady.  He did not flee but he stood firm and apologized for his behavior.  His conduct seemed to invite the queen for another attempt, but she soon realized that the young man was very smart and aware of his situation. She thought to use the most powerful threat. In her mind she had no choice but to scream, hoping that Amir would finally give up his resistance. After a few attempts she finally cried out loud and alerted the court guards who came to her aid and apprehended the poor stranger.

The minister, who was jealous of Amir and who was not happy that the king had not asked for his advice when he had offered Amir the job, found this incident to be a great opportunity to get rid of this young man.  When the news about this incident had reached the king quarters, the king called for the minister, who responded eagerly and immediately. The king asked the minister for advice, how he could punish the young man without attracting the attention of the town people. He did not forget that he was after all the one who freed the well and he knew that this young hero was very popular. Amir was well known to everyone.  The minister was thrilled to be able to take care of this young man and hastily he fabricated an execution plan.  He told the king that he would cautiously arrange for the young man’s disappearance.  The king did not object as he was disturbed about his own poor judgment. He could not believe that the man, whom he had considered as a gentleman, could do something so disloyal and unethical.  He could not forgive himself for having taken the young man into his confidence and having considered him like his son.

While the king was confused, the minister rushed to coordinate the plan with a man who owned a bakery.  He would send Amir to the bakery to ask if the king’s bread order was ready; this was to be the signal for the baker to identify and then kill the young man.

The next day, the minister asked Amir if he would like to pick up the king’s bread at the bakery. The young hero faithfully accepted this errand. To make sure that Amir would convey the message, the minister told him:

“Ask the baker if the king’s bread is ready.” Amir accepted and tranquilly walked through the town towards the bakery. He walked from street to street to reach his destination and in the middle of the town he came across a group of people gathered together for breakfast. As he greeted them and wished them to enjoy the meal, the villagers returned his greeting and asked him if he would care to join them for breakfast as it was customary in that part of the world. Amir recalled the third Golden Word that he had bought: “Never refuse an invitation to a meal”. So the young man politely accepted the invitation and sat down to eat with them.  The people were happy to have Amir as a guest and they enjoyed his presence, the villagers had a nice conversation with him.  Luckily it took them a long time to finish the good meal. Amir too enjoyed the food and the company. Since his arrival in this town he had never had any contact with anyone.  While enjoying the conversation, he forgot that he still had to go to the bakery to look for the king’s bread.

Meanwhile and in Amir’s absence, the minister grew impatient; several hours went by and he was curious to know if the mission had been accomplished.  He called his own son and told him to go to the bakery and ask if the king’s bread order was ready, in order to confirm Amir’s death to the king. The minister’s son went to check for his father.  When he asked the baker if the king’s bread was ready, he was not aware of his father’s scheme and the baker was not aware either about the minister’s intrigue. The baker was waiting for the young victim, but he did not know what he looked like. When the minister’s son appeared, the baker grabbed him instead of Amir and threw him into the oven.

Time went by, and after having eaten his breakfast, Amir courteously thanked the people for their invitation and continued on his way to the baker. He walked nonchalantly from street to street enjoying the passers by as it was the first time since his arrival, in this area that he had the chance to walk through town. After a while and as commanded by the minister he finally reached his destination. He entered the bakery and politely asked for the king’s bread.  The baker, who believed that he has performed the minister request in return for a reward, answered him:

“Tell the minister that his cruel order had been executed, and that the “bread” in question was burned to the ground.”  The young man, unaware of the conspiracy, calmly returned to the palace to convey the strange message to the minister.  When the latter saw the young man walking back to his office, he sensed that something had gone very wrong. Amir innocently returned to his former job.  The minister was trembling as he realized the failure of his own plan. He became very nervous, so he went to the king to inform him of the mishap.

The king, who had never quite believed his queen, called Amir to his chamber, and asked him to relate the entire story of his life. The honest hero told his life story.  He calmly told about his dedicated mother and father. The king was listening attentively and noted with admiration his language and his peaceful state of mind, when Amir told him about the three Words with special emphasis. The king repeated to himself the second word: “Be loyal to, and honest with your employer”. The king felt greatly relieved, as he realized that he was right in his judgment. He was now totally convinced that the young man was innocent and he felt sorry for him. He called the queen and confronted her. She finally admitted her wrongdoing. The king exiled her and the unfair minister. Next, he said to the young Amir:

“I believe your story and I feel sorry for the misconduct of my queen and for the minister’s intrigue. Your parents were the best parents that a human being can have and you should be proud of them. For the injustice caused to you I will be pleased to keep you in the palace as long as you desire. And later I will consider other new tasks for you.” The words had truly been Golden Words for the young man.

Eventually Amir pleased the king so much that the king decided to give him his only daughter in marriage and to appoint him as his successor for the throne.

CopyRight 2010 Emile Tubiana


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