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Abu Kasem's Slippers

We've taken Narcissus and Echo as far as I can go for right now. Like the hummingbirds that visit our feeder, our mythic investigations are moving onto the next nectar filled flower. I found this Persian tale in a collection by Heinrich Zimmer (edited by Joseph Campbell), called The King and The Corpse: Tales of the Soul's Conquest of Evil. Kind of a heavy title for what I think you'll agree, is a humorous tale. But what are the slippers?

Abu Kasem's Slippers

Image001 There was once a wealthy merchant named Abu Kasem. He was very well known in Baghdad for his miserliness and ability to drive a hard bargain. Equally famous were his slippers, which were old, worn, patched, and stained. The lowliest of servants would have been ashamed to wear them but Abu wore them everywhere, even in the bazaar. They were inseparable from his public character.

One day Abu Kasem made two especially good deals in a row. First, he acquired a collection of beautiful crystal bottles. Then he bought a batch of fine, sweet rose oil from a perfumer who had fallen on hard times. Everybody knew about his purchases. Abu Kasem was very excited at the prospect of large profits. Although he rarely spent any extra money on anything, he decided to treat himself and went to the public baths for a soak and a steam.

When he arrived at the baths, Abu meant a fellow merchant in the dressing room. The man lectured him on the state of his slippers and advised him to buy a new pair, lest he become a total laughingstock. Abu contemplated the awful slippers. “I have been thinking about this myself,” he said,” but I do think they have a few more miles in them.” He went in to enjoy his bath.

While the miser was relishing his rare treat, the Cadi of Baghdad also came in to take a bath. Abu finished first, and when he returned to the dressing room he couldn’t find his slippers. They had disappeared, and in their place was a lovely new pair. The new slippers were shiny and beautiful. “Well,” Abu thought to himself, “My friend must have decided to honor me with a gift. Maybe he thinks it’s good business to win the favor of a rich man like me.” Abu put on the new slippers and went home.

When the Cadi emerged later there was quite a scene. His servants looked high and low and could not find his slippers. In their place was a tattered disgusting pair that everyone knew belonged to Abu Kasem. The judge was furious and immediately sent for the culprit and had him locked up. Of course they found the missing slippers on Abu’s feet. He spent a night in jail and paid a very heavy fine—and he got his beloved slippers back.

Abu went home, sad and sorry. In a fit of temper he threw his treasured slippers out of the window and they fell into the river Tigris. A few days later, a group of fishermen thought they had caught a particularly heavy fish but found, to their dismay, that it was Abu Kasem’’s slippers in the net. The slippers ripped holes in their nets and they were very angry. They hurled the sodden slippers though an open window.

The slippers landed smack in the middle of Abu’s dining room table, where he had set up his lovely crystal bottles and was busy filling them with the sweet rose oil. Now the bottles, the oils, and his dream of big profits lay in a dripping, glittering mess of broken shards on the floor.

“Those wretched slippers!” cried Abu. He grabbed them, took a shovel, and went out into his backyard. He dug a deep hole and buried the offending pair. But his neighbor was watching (who isn’t interested in the doings of the rich?) and imagined something quite different. The neighbor thought that the rich miser must have a treasure buried there. A treasure that he did not want to report or pay taxes on. So the neighbor reported Abu to the judge.

No one could believe that a person would dig a big hole in their backyard just to bury a ratty old pair of slippers. Abu was thunderstruck when he heard the amount of his fine.

Now Abu was desperate to get rid of his old slippers. He decided the best plan was to take them far out of town where they could do him no more harm. So he drove far out into the country and dropped the slippers into a deep pond. He watched as they sunk down below the surface and went home with a sense of sweet relief.  But wouldn’t you know it, the pond fed into the town’s water supply and the slippers found their way into the pipes and stopped them up. When the workers came to fix the mess they immediately recognized the slippers. Abu went to jail again for befouling the town’s water supply, and paid another large, large fine. And he got his slippers back.

These once-dear slippers had done enough damage, by god. This time Abu resolved to burn them. Because they were wet, he laid them out on his balcony to dry. A dog on the neighboring balcony saw the slippers and jumped over to play with them. The dog tossed the slippers around and oops—one went sailing into the street below, where it hit a pregnant woman on the head and knocked her down. She had a miscarriage. The husband ran to the judge and demanded damages from the rich old miser, who was no longer so rich. Abu was forced to pay.

Abu was broke and broken. He stood before the judge and raised the slippers aloft in a gesture so solemn and earnest that the judge almost laughed at the absurdity of it. “Please your honor,” begged Abu, “do not hold me further responsible for the evils caused by these slippers.”

The Cadi felt he could not refuse and granted the plea. Abu Kasem bought a new pair of slippers.