A Friend Indeed
It was related that an old woman from Al-Masnaa had a boy called Salim. Salim’s father had died when he was still a little boy. When Salim attained puberty, he thought of going abroad in search of a source of living. He told his old mother of his wish. She asked him to choose a companion. She said, “Pick a companion, but don’t ask him to keep you company until I decide on him. I must test him. I’ll prepare a lunch meal for him, and then I’ll make up my mind if he’s good or not.”
Salim had selected a number of his friends whom he deemed were very appropriate for keeping him company. Afterwards, he informed his mother of what he did and of their names. His mother told him to invite them one by one, and indeed he did. The old woman began to bury two boiled eggs in the rice dish for everyone. And every one of them ate the two eggs except one who, when he found the two eggs, asked Salim whether he had eggs or not, and Salim answered that he did not have any. The friend gave Salim one and kept the other for himself. The old woman immediately decided on this friend whose name was Said. She told her son, Salim, to keep this friend company, and to defend him whatever bad things he might do because he was a friend indeed, and the most suitable for keeping company. Moreover, she told her son to be very polite and well-mannered with him, and in case that Said made a mistake, he would ask him very gently without putting him into any sort of awkward position. Salim told Said of his intention for travelling and looking for work. Said agreed to accompany him.
When it was very hot, they were dog-tired from walking, and they decided to catch forty winks and take a rest under a big tree. As soon as they sat down under that tree, Salim fell asleep, but Said was drowsy. At that moment three small birds perched in the tree, and they started a dialogue and then they took to the air.
Said heard all the dialogue of the birds. He started mulling over his friend’s destiny and how he would rescue him from that peril which lay in wait for him. He was unable to tell him of this. Therefore, he resolved to protect him, if the birds’ predictions come true. They walked on from desert to desert, and from village to village. While they were walking about one of the villages, they saw some villagers running after a rampant ox, and trying to grab hold of it. They joined the villagers to catch it. When the enraged ox had attacked Salim, Said intercepted it, and struck it dead with his sword. As a result of Said’s act, a squabble arose between them and the villagers. To settle the problem, they paid the price of the ox, when they needed every baisa. Salim pinned the blame on Said, who started concocting excuses and justifications for what he did. Salim decided not to talk to Said, but he remembered his mother’s advice; so, he changed his mind and forgave him. He resumed talking to Said, unaware of the motives that drove him to kill the ox, when he was able to avoid it.
Then they went on until they came to a farm in Sohar, when, all of a sudden, a horse was darting towards them, and the grooms where running after it to catch it. At that moment, Said remembered what the second bird had said. Soon he stepped in between Salim and the horse. When the horse came close to Salim, he struck it dead with his sword. The grooms got infuriated at him. A quarrel immediately ensued between them and the grooms. Finally, they reached a settlement that they had to pay the worth of the horse which was very high. They forfeited every baisa they had, and remained flat broke. Afterwards, Salim began blaming Said for what he did, and asking him why he killed the horse when he could have shunned it. Said kept silent and then apologized for what he did.
Salim decided not to talk to Said or even look at him, and started thinking over him and over the loss and the bad feeling of the villagers towards them that Said had incurred. Then he remembered his mother’s advice to respect his buddy and travel companion and never harbor any ill feelings against him, and to accept his excuses and apologies, and to clasp to him firmly. Salim condoned him provided that he would not do such things again. Then they walked on until they arrived in a big city. They hunted jobs there and started to work. They rented a house there and saved a lot of money. They also became known in the city. One day Salim met a very beautiful and highbred girl. Salim had made up his mind to marry her. But before getting engaged to her, he had counselled with Said:
“I’d like to ask your opinion about the daughter of merchant so-and-so, for you’re the only friend whom I can trust and tell all my secrets?” Salim asked Said.
“What an excellent girl she is! Highborn, beauty and noble family,” replied Said.
“Well, I’d like to marry her. What could you say. Would you give me your opinion?” said Salim.
“No, Salim. This isn’t what is expected from you. It sounds better for you to get married to a girl from Oman and not from abroad,” answered Said.
“My mother recommended you as a good friend, and I thought that you would always help me. By contrast, you are always against me, and always spoil my intents. Why do you harbor an ill-will against me? What’s between us? I’ll never find a better wife than this girl. Look, I’m going to marry her, and take her with our child after she gives birth to my country. I’m quite sure that my mother will get happy,” said Salim.
“Please don’t be disconcerted. God bless you,” said Said.
Salim got married to that girl whom he had been fond of. At that night, Salim did not see Said in the wedding party. He thought that Said had got cross with him. But Said hid from view in Salim’s bedroom. In the morning, as day broke, as soon as Salim woke up, he caught sight of Said sleeping in a corner in his bedroom. Salim’s blood boiled when he saw Said.
“You’re blatant, dishonest, impious, immoral, unabashed, indecorous, undignified, dishonourable, ill-mannered. You’re a coward. I don’t know how to describe you because what you’ve done is beyond description. Who are you? Are you a swine?” Salim hollered irately. Then Salim furiously went on bawling:
“You scandalised me before people when you had killed the ox and the stallion, and we paid all the money that we had for your unpardonable action. Today, you’re in my bedroom. What do you call this? Isn’t it a story that would spread everywhere?”
“Forgive me, my pal, and remember your mother’s advice.” Replied Said.
“You commit all these inexcusable acts, and then ask me not to forget my mother’s recommendation.” Said Salim.
“Your mother had told you to forgive me.. probably..” Answered Said.
“Except today! What should I say to my parents-in-low and their kins? … What should I say? … Should I say that my buddy and travel companion shared me my bedroom in my wedding night. be off! Get lost! I don’t want to see you anymore.” Returned Salim.
Said sadly went away, but he swore by God that he would never leave Salim livid. However, he could not tell Salim the truth. He could not relate to him what he had heard and why he did all these acts.
Said had built a small mud-and-stone house far from the city in the desert, and dwelt there. He used to come to work in the city early in the morning and return home in the evening, but he never tired of visiting Salim and imploring him for forgiveness. But Salim did not usually receive him, and always disregarded him, and dismissed him, too.
A year elapsed. Said had never forgotten Salim. One day, he thought of visiting Salim, and divulging the truth to him, but he was afraid that the birds’ prediction would come true. Meanwhile, Salim had his first baby, and with his wife’s kindreds he celebrated its birth. Salim was sad because there was none of his family or friends to share him his happiness. Therefore, he thought of visiting Said, and telling him that God had conferred prosperity and happiness on him by giving him a baby.
Several times, Said had left his house for visiting Salim, but after covering half the distance, he remembered the birds’ prophecy, and then went back home. At the same time, Salim had also gone to visit Said, but when he was half way, he, remembered the latter’s actions which, for him, did not go with the good camaraderie that he desired. He got furious when he, too, remembered that he had pardoned him for what he did, but in vain. He, therefore, returned home. Salim tried to forget what Said had done. But could he forgive him? So, why did he go?
One day, while each was going to visit the other, they met half way. Then Salim asked Said, “Where are you going?”
“By God, I really am visiting you.” Answered Said.
“It seems that you’re not satisfied with what you did so far.” Said Salim.
“What about you? Where are you going?” Asked Said.
“By God, I’m indeed coming to herald you that God has granted me a baby. I thought to myself that I should inform you, but I cannot pardon you.” Answered Salim.
“Congratulations. God bless him and make him worthy of prosperous and happy life. I wish you the best, hoping that God will grant you another one. This indeed pleases and thrills me.” Returned Said.
“I’ll never forgive you if you don’t tell me why you slept in my bedroom.” Said Salim.
“You’ll blame yourself if I disclose the secret to you.” Said Said.
“Listen! I’ll not blame you or myself. You must tell me the truth, otherwise, I’ll never forgive you.” Said Salim.
“Seek refuge from Satan if you still blame yourself.” Said Said.
“Look! You either reveal the reason to me now, or I’ll go back home without you.” Said Salim.
“You’ll blame yourself.., Salim,.. You’ll blame yourself.” Said Said.
“I’ll forgive you if you if you have an excuse… Otherwise, there’s nothing to be blamed for.” Said Salim.
“Promise that if I start talking, you’ll not interrupt me until I complete my story, and will not blame yourself later.” Said requested.
“I promise.” Answered Salim.
“Do you remember when we took rest under the big tree in the desert which was not far from our town.” Asked Said.
“Yes, I do.” Replied Salim.
Said began narrating what had happened on that day. He said, “You slept, but I couldn’t sleep though I was in a haze. Suddenly, three birds roosted in that tree. The first one sad, ‘Do you see that young man, son of the old woman? He left his town seeking work afar. In Alsawaiq, he and his buddy would come upon an ox running from its drovers. The drovers would ask them for help to grab hold of the ox. But when they lend help, the ox would butt him to death. Anyone who will tell him of this, his quarter would transform into stone. At that moment a quarter of Said’s body changed into stone. Salim tried to stop him, but in vain.
Then the second bird said, “If the ox did not kill this young man, Salim, the latter would reach a country called Sohar. There a crazy horse running away from its grooms would approach him and kick him, and the young man would die, but if he didn’t die, he would agonise and get mashed until he dies. Anyone who will inform him of this, his half body will alter into stone.”
At that moment, too, Said’s half body converted into stone. Salim did his best to stop him, but he was unsuccessful.
Then the third bird said, “If this son of the old woman did not die from the horse’s kick, he would arrive in a far-off country where he would work, because rich and get married. But in his wedding night, a snake would come into his bedroom and bite him to death. Anyone who will tell him of this, he will change into a stone.” At that moment, Said entirely transformed into stone.
Salim wept bitterly over Said, who sacrificed his self and money for his friend, who did not forgive him. Then he carried Said on his shoulders and went back home. He sought the help of the erudite and other learned people to solve the problem of his friend, but they were all unable to offer afford any assistance, but one who advised him to go to his recluse teacher in the mountains. The learned man gave Salim the directions and told him where to find that well-learned recluse, and advised him to walk straight ahead without turning his head right or left. Salim carried his stone friend on his shoulder and set off looking for that will-educated hermit. He walked day long crying over his friend and what befell him. When Salim reached the recluse’s cave, the recluse asked him about his problem. Salim told him the full story. The recluse sat down reading and muttering, and then said to Salim, “Your problem is easy, but you must sacrifice the most loved thing you have by slaughtering him on the stone to bring back your friend to life.”
“The most beloved thing that I have are my mother, my wife and my sole son. But my mother is faraway…” thought Salim.
“Who you cherish most: your wife or your son?” asked the recluse.
“They’re the same,” replied Salim.
“Choose the most loved,” said the recluse.
“My son,” said Salim.
Salim reasoned it out and found that his friend was more endearing to him than his son. He went home and took his son from his wife, who tried hard to prevent him, but she failed. He carried his son and went to his stone friend. There as he attempted to slay his son on the stone, the latter fell down without any harm. Suddenly, Said came back to life, and Salim hugged him. They went to Salim’s house together with the son. Then Salim, his wife and their son, and Said left together for their town Almasna’ where Salim’s mother was waiting for them.
Tales from Oman, translated by D. Abdulsalam Ali Hamad, pg: 51-62.