I have heard, O fortunate king, that a wealthy merchant, who had many dealings throughout the land, rode out one day to settle a matter of business in one of them. When it became hot, he sat down under a tree and put his hand in his saddlebag, from which he took out a piece of bread and a date. He ate and when he had finished with the date he threw away its stone, at which a huge ‘ifrit appeared, with a drawn sword in his hand. This ‘ifrit came up to the merchant and said: “Get up so that I may kill you as you killed my son.” “How did I kill your son?” asked the merchant, and the ‘ifrit told him: “When you ate that date and threw away the stone, it struck my son in the chest as he was walking, and he died instantly.””We belong to God and to Him do we return,” recited the merchant, adding: “There is no might and no power except with God, the Exalted, the Omnipotent. If I killed him, this was by accident, so please forgive me.””I must kill you,” insisted the ‘ifrit, and dragged off the merchant, threw him down on the ground and raised his sword to strike.

Tales of 1001 Nights, Night 1

My wife told me about a news story she had recently read. A young chap, aged 7 or thereabouts, in an effort to help people going through chemotherapy, grew his hair for 2 years, chopped it off and offered it to the poor souls. A replacement for the hair they had lost, given willingly by a generous kindhearted lad. Unfortunately, not long afterwards, the boy developed cancer himself. Stage 4 cancer no less. It seemed such an unfortunate tale. Charity, tragedy and hopefully a happy ending.

The merchant had a happier fate. The demon granted him a year to set his affairs in order before being executed. A year to the day the merchant returns to the place after saying goodbye to his family. Whilst waiting for the Jinn to return he is joined by three old men, each leading animals. When the demon returns each man in turn offers to tell the ‘ifrit a story, how their family members became the animals they were leading. In return the Jinn is to give each of them a third of the merchants blood debt, if the story entertains.

The elderly men tell their stories in turn, explaining how wives, sons and daughters and fathers became their animals through magical means. The debt is payed by the old men and the merchant walks free, to live the rest of his life.

What struck me about the news story about the boy was his attempt to pay a blood debt individually, his sacrifice to bring joy and life and hair to people suffering. Did he fall ill because he assumed the debt himself? What a strange and illogical conclusion.

It did come to me that essentially we all owe a blood debt to one another, human to human and this debt, like the merchant’s cannot be paid simply by the individual but by us all. Sharing the pain of life, lessening the suffering should be the priority of us all.