(a tale of the Arabian Nights)
The Caliph of Baghdad, Harun al-Rashid, often traveled about the city in disguise and it was on one of those tours that he met Abu, a poor man with a rich imagination who loved to brag; he called his tales poetry.
The Caliph decided he wanted to play a trick on this tale-teller: The next morning when Abu woke, he discovered he was lying in a bed in the palace, with servants surrounding his bed. “Protector of the People,” one of the servants said, “what would you like to eat?”
“I must be dreaming,” Abu said, but other servants drew him a bath, and one of them asked what he would like them to do for him. “Anything you wish,” they said.
“Punish the thief named Ali,” he said, absentmindedly. Ali had cheated him and all his neighbors, and Abu could not stop thinking about that.
“It shall be done,” the servants said as they handed him fine clothes to wear.
By the time his servants led him to the throne, Abu was certain he was the Caliph. “It must have slipped my mind,” he thought, and he smiled, for being the Caliph felt grand.
He sat on his throne and looked at the merchants and rulers, servants and soldiers before him. One by one they approached and kissed the ground at his feet, offering their services.
When the Grand Vizier strode in, Abu felt somewhat alarmed. Would he notice that Abu was not the Caliph and toss the imposter out onto the street? But the Grand Vizier bowed before Abu and said, “Protector of the People, you were right. The man called Ali has been cheating everyone. But how did you know?”
For a moment Abu was silent, but he recovered and said, “Last night I dreamed I was once a poor man named Abu who wrote poetry, and Ali cheated me. Go to this man Abu’s house and find his mother. Give her the money Ali stole from her.”
“It will be done,” said the Grand Vizier.
When Abu was finished giving orders, he yawned, and the servants carried him to a fine bed covered in silk. Again he slept and woke to a feast of figs and lentil soup and stuffed vine leaves. He ate until he was full and dancers appeared to perform for him. He was so glad, he joined them in dance.
Before long a servant who looked slightly familiar offered him a glass of wine. He could not resist, but he knew at once he had been drugged, and within moments he collapsed into unconsciousness.
The real Caliph who was disguised as the servant laughed heartily. Caliph Harun Al-Rashid was amused by many things, but this man Abu amused him more than most. “I want him to live here,” he said. “But first we must finish our trick.”
The servants wrapped Abu in a rug and carried him home.
When Abu woke the next morning, he called for his servants, but an old woman appeared and asked, “What do you mean calling for servants?”
“Where am I?” Abu asked, staring at her. “Who are you?”
“You’re home in your bed,” she said, “and I am your sweet mother who raised you. Where were you yesterday? I needed you and you were gone!”
Abu laughed. “I am the caliph of Baghdad. I belong in my palace.” He got up from his bed, but Abu’s mother barred his way. “Enough nonsense,” she said. “Enough of your wild imagination. How dare you leave me yesterday when the Grand Vizier came to visit and handed me a bag of gold. What was I to do or say?”
Abu clapped his hands. “I sent the Grand Vizier to repay you the money Ali stole! So you see, it is true. I am the Caliph of Baghdad!” He tried to push her aside so that he could escape, but she screamed. A moment later all the neighbors came running. They surrounded him.
“I am the Caliph of Baghdad, leave me alone!” Abu cried, but the neighbors thought he had gone mad, so they grabbed him, and in the tussle, Abu collapsed.
The neighbors quickly carried him into the cellar and locked him up.
This time when he came to, he ran to the window and called to everyone who passed, “Help! I am the Caliph of Baghdad imprisoned here!”
But nobody stopped to listen, and Abu became more and more confused. “First I was Abu, and then I was the Caliph, and now I seem to be no one at all.”
He fell asleep uncertain about who he could possibly be, and when he woke, he was amazed to see the Grand Vizier standing before him. Beside him stood another man wearing the robe and the slippers and the turban of the Caliph of Baghdad.
Abu rubbed his eyes. “You must be the Caliph of Baghdad,” he said. “And if you are he, then that woman must be right. She must be my mother, and I must be Abu.”
The Caliph of Baghdad laughed. He enjoyed playing tricks, but he liked this man better than tricks, and so he set him free and explained the whole story. And then he invited him to live in the palace.
“I want you always to smile the way you are smiling now,” the Caliph said to the very happy Abu.
From that day on, Abu lived in the palace, and he married the Grand Vizier’s daughter. Never again was he sad and he always understood that even better than being the Caliph was being himself, Abu, the happy man with the marvelous imagination.