(a Turkish tale)
Once upon a time in Aksehir, the mukhtar announced that he would hold a great feast to celebrate his favorite people. He was grateful to all those who had helped his family — the bankers and bakers, the cobblers and cooks, the silversmiths and sailors, the ditch diggers and draughtsmen.
“Everyone will be invited,” the mukhtar explained to his chef. “I wish you to prepare only the finest foods.”
The chef, hoping to be one of the mukhtar’s favorite people, set to work preparing every imaginable delicacy. He prepared koftes, vegetable stews, dolmas, kebabs, mezas, kunefe, olives, manti, gozleme and much more. Before long, everyone in the village could smell the aromas wafting out of the mukhtar’s kitchen. The scent of early spring mixed with the smell of butter, cheese, onions, eggplant, peppers, roasting pistachios and hazelnuts.
The people couldn’t wait for the celebration, and they tore through their closets searching for their finest clothes. After all, they wished to show the mukhtar their respect.
Aydin was a ditch digger, and though the mukhtar had invited him to the feast, he owned no fine clothes. For days, he pondered this problem. But he knew one thing: He would not miss this banquet!
At last, the day dawned. Aydin finished his day’s work just in time, and without changing clothes or even washing his face — still dirty from the day’s labors — he hurried to the mukhtar’s palace.
When he arrived, the servants stopped him at the front entrance and shook their heads. “Young man, what are you thinking, dressed this way and coming to the mukhtar’s feast?” they demanded.
“I’m sorry,” Aydin said, “I’ve just finished work, but I did not want to be late. That would be rude.”
The servants agreed, and so, confused about what to do, they opened the door and let him inside.
When Aydin walked into the banquet room, he saw the long table laden with treats, surrounded by his friends and neighbors. They were laughing and talking together, but as he came near, they turned away. Aydin was usually popular with his friends. He was a friendly, talkative sort. But on this night, everyone looked right through him as if he did not even exist.
Aydin approached the mukhtar to give his thanks, but to his dismay, even his host turned away. When it was time to sit down, the servants carefully placed Aydin in a corner of the room, as far away as possible from the head of the table, where the mukhtar was holding court.
Aydin was too upset to eat. He stood up and excused himself and hurried home. There he undressed and climbed into the bath. He soaped and scrubbed himself until his skin was glistening. Then he pulled from his closet the one item he treasured. This was a silk coat made of many colors. His father had owned this coat, woven by his mother, and it was the most beautiful coat he had ever seen. But because it was a family treasure, he seldom wore it. He wanted to make sure it lasted forever, a reminder of his family.
But now he put on a pair of pressed trousers and over this he wore the beautiful coat.
He walked back to the banquet with an air of importance. This time, when he reached the mukhtar’s palace, the servants bowed to him. When the mukhtar saw him enter, he hurried over to say hello. He led Aydin to a seat of honor beside the mukhtar’s wife.
All evening long, everyone wanted to talk to Aydin.
“You’re clearly a wise man,” the mukhtar said. “Please tell me what you think of everything. If there is something that does not taste right, we’ll send it back.”
But everything was delicious, and Aydin had no complaints about the food. But something was troubling him, and as the evening wore on, he made a decision.
When it was close to midnight, Aydin began to stuff the pockets of his coat with food. First, he took a slice of baklava. Then he added a handful of pistachios, a wedge of cheese, a plate of pilaf and a bowl of yogurt and fruit.
Soon those pockets were bulging, and people began to notice. No one could believe what they were seeing. Why would Aydin act this way?
At long last, as he stuffed a cucumber into one of his pockets, the mukhtar said, “Sir, please tell me what you are doing. That is an exquisite coat, but you treat it as if it were a pantry.”
“Surely you understand,” Aydin said.
The mukhtar shook his head. “I’m afraid I do not.”
“I shall explain,” Aydin said, and he stood to tell the whole table. “Tonight, dressed in my working clothes, you all treated me as if I were nothing — unworthy of your kindness or attention. You placed me in a corner and refused to speak to me. But when I returned wearing this coat, a gift of my father, you treated me as if I were someone honorable and respectable.
“It is obvious: My coat is your guest of honor, and so I am feeding the coat.”