The Man Who Counted Camels
Once upon a time, a merchant from Damascus decided to send ten camels as a gift to his brother in Baghdad. He sent for his servant and ordered him to choose ten of his best camels and take them to his brother living in Baghdad.
The servant was unhappy at this order. He replied: Master, forgive me, but I cannot do this for the way to Baghdad lies across the deserts. I have lived all my life in Damascus. Moreover, I know nothing about travelling on the desert routes, then, said the merchant: find me a man who knows how to travel through the desert.
The servant went searching in the bazaars to find the man. At last, he came across a person who lived in the desert. The servant knew immediately that this man was a dimwit from his looks. The person had long uncut hair and his beard had not been trimmed. He had a strange manner of speaking.
The servant went up to the dimwit and said: Can you take ten camels to Baghdad for my master? Will he pay me well? Asked the dimwit.
The servant assured him that he would be paid in gold as his reward.
That is well. Said the dimwit. Now, I have to count the camels to see that they are all there. The dimwit followed the servant to the merchant’s home. He tied all the camels with ropes, head to tail, making a line of them. He soon started counting the camels. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. He turned angrily to the servant and said: You have given me eight camels and you say there are ten?
Now, the servant who had been watching could see clearly that the dimwit did not know how to count. He said to the dimwit: Pat each camel on the neck and fold one of your fingers.
The servant started counting the camels for him folding one of his fingers for each camel. At the end, he turned to the dimwit and showed him that all his fingers were folded. The dimwit did likewise and found that all his fingers were folded when he had counted the camels.
The servant asked: How many camels are there?
Truly. Replied the dimwit. There are two handfuls, but in numbers I cannot tell you how many.
The servant decided to try again in a different way. He said: Now open your fingers and say a number as you open each finger.
The dimwit did as he was told. He started counting backwards opening his fingers as he did so. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five four, three, two, one. Surprised, he turned to the servant and said: There are no camels at all when I count this way!?
The servant saw that it was useless to teach the dimwit to count on his fingers. He thought for some time and took a piece of string and ten large beads. He passed the string through the beads and knotted one of its ends.
Turning to the dimwit he said: Do not worry, my friend. Rather, take this string. The number of beads on it is the same as the number of camels. Just remember to pat the camel on its head and pass a bead from top to the bottom of the string. Thus, when the camels finish, the beads must finish too. If you have a bead left, then you have lost a camel and search for it. If, however, you have a camel more than you have beads then, God has given you a camel and you may do whatever you wish with it?
The dimwit took the camels, the beads, and the string from the servant. He asked the servant for some food and water and set out across the hot desert on the route to Baghdad. He led the line of camels with the rope in his hands. He would halt every hour to rest with the camels. At the end of his rest, he would count the number of camels as the servant had taught him. He would pat each camel on its head and passed a bead from the top to the bottom of the string. Each time, he found that the number of camels was the same as the number of beads on his string and all was correct.
After walking for hours down the road, the sun grew extremely hot in the desert. The dimwit was tired. He cleverly thought, why should I walk when there are camels to ride? So, he mounted the first camel and led the others in line after him.
At the end of the hour, the dimwit decided to rest. He decided to count the camels before halting for the rest. He counted the camels with the beads. He forgot however, to count the camel which he was mounted on. He was left with one bead. He became afraid and said to himself: Alas! I have lost the rear camel. The rope must have been broken. I must go back to the place, where I counted them last.
Sadly, the dimwit turned back. He followed the camel tracks back to the place where he had counted them last. He carefully examined the sand and found that no camel had escaped from him. There were no camel tracks leading away from his path. Therefore, he thought. I have not lost any camel. Rather, God has presented me with an extra bead. So, he undid the knot on the string and removed a bead. Now, the number of beads was same as the number of camels.
After solving the problem, the dimwit rode happily forward. It was now evening, and the sun was sinking in the west. Riding further, he came to an oasis. He was pleased to find other people there. He decided to camp there for the night. He dismounted from his camel and counted them with the beads for the last time of the day. He did not forget to tap the heads of the camels as he counted them. Now, he had a camel with him for which there was no bead.
The dimwit thanked God for his gift saying, Praise be to God who has gifted me with a camel for my food and their food. Therefore, he drew out his knife and killed the last camel for which there was no bead. He prepared a fire and started roasting the camel meat and invited the other travelers to join him in the feast.
On the next day at dawn, he counted the camels again. Everything was correct. After mounting the first camel, he counted them again. He found that there was an extra bead and he threw it away. When he dismounted again at the next oasis in the evening, he found that he had a camel too many. Again, he praised God for presenting him with an extra camel. He killed the last camel in the line and invited the other travelers to the feast.
On the next day and on the day after, it happened in a like manner. And, on the eleventh day, he walked carrying a piece of string and nothing else, for both the camels and the beads were finished.
At last, he came to Baghdad. He went to the house of the great merchant’s brother. The dimwit saluted the brother and said: Take this piece of string. Your brother has sent it to you as a present from Damascus. There was also talk concerning beads and camels. However, really, it is of no importance. Although, I know a little about arithmetic, I know my counting is correct, and in good order, for the number of beads is the same as the number of camels. There are no camels and no beads.
The merchant’s brother was astonished to hear the words of the dimwit. They did not make any sense at all. He thought, Truly, the heat and thirst of the desert have made this poor fellow lose his wits. So, he took the dimwit to his house and offered him food and drink.
The dimwit, however, ate little. He had eaten far too much on his journey from Damascus to Baghdad. He thanked his generous host and took his leave saying to himself. It is really lucky we have to eat only camels which God in his kindness sends to us. If we had to eat the beads as well they would surely pop out of our eyes.
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