Palestinian Folktale: The Camel Driver in Need of a Friend

There was and there was not a camel driver who passed by an orchard one day. Looking over the wall, he saw a man sitting in the shade. ‘How lucky he is! He can stay here and enjoy all of this while I must travel to earn my bread.’

Meanwhile, the man saw the camel driver and thought ‘how fortunate is he, traveling the world while I must stay here at home!’ Just then the lead camel reached his head over the wall and started to eat the fruits of the trees.

The man was angry and picked up a stone and threw it at the camel. By chance it struck the animal in the temple and killed it instantly. The camel driver was furious. He threw the stone back and struck the man, killing him.

The sons of the man came rushing out to see what had happened, while the camel driver tried to flee. The whole town was up in arms and soon caught up to him and brought him before the authorities.

The Caliph himself judged the camel driver. The sons all demanded the death penalty, and the camel driver did not argue his innocence. “Please grant me three days to go home and see to important matters at home. I promise to return before the three days are over,” he said.

The Caliph agreed on the condition that the camel driver find someone willing to stand in his stead as surety while he is gone. The crowd mocked him– no one was willing to risk their life for a stranger, and a killer at that!

An old man appeared from the crowd and said “I will stand as surety for this man.” The Caliph asked if he knew him by chance.

“No, but I come from a time when people could be noble, and you could trust someone’s word. I trust this man.”

“You understand that if he does not return, you will be executed in his place?”

“I do,” said the old man.

The bonds were taken off of the camel driver and placed on the old man’s. As soon as this was done the camel driver took off at a run and was soon lost to sight.

Three days passed. The old man was led to the place of execution and prepared himself to die. The crowd was disturbed crying ‘someone is coming!’ It was the camel driver. ‘Fool!’ cried the Caliph. ‘Why do you return to certain death?’

‘I returned home only to retrieve valuables I had buried on behalf of a widow. Had I died, it would have seemed that I had stolen them, and my sons would have been branded as thieves. I am prepared to accept your judgement.’ The Caliph turned from one to the other.

‘No blood will be shed this day,’ he said. ‘This old man has shown that there are still those who are noble. And this camel driver has shown there are still those who are truthful. And I must prove that there are still those who are merciful. I hereby pardon you.’

‘As for the sons of the murdered man, I myself will pay to recompense you for your father’s death.’

This story can be found in ‘From Long Ago and Many Lands.’

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