Three Pieces of Advice

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following story was told by Nuruddeen Lemu.

There was once a baker in a small village who had a neighbour who owed him some money.  One day, the baker decided to ask for his money back and went to the neighbour’s shop at the market.  The neighbour gave excuses which made the baker very angry and he snarled loudly to the neighbour, “Watch out!  I will teach you a lesson!”

When he reached home, the baker’s wife tried to pacify him when he told her what happened at the market.  Everything went back to normal.  They both retired to bed for the night.  The next morning, when the baker stepped out of his house, he tripped.  Looking down at the steps of his door, the baker saw the dead body of his neighbour.

The baker panicked and remembered that he had threatened his neighbour in public the day before.  He thought the villagers would definitely accuse him of murder.  Without hesitation, the baker ran into his room and started packing his bag.  His wife asked him what he was doing.  He merely said he would be away for a couple of days.  After kissing her and telling her that he loved her, the baker ran out.  He did not stop when he reached the next village.  Neither did he stop at the village after.

Finally, the baker reached a village where nobody knew him and he knew no one.  He then decided that this is where he would settle down and went about looking for a job.  In this village, there lived a wise old man named Sulayman who was looking for an assistant.  People came to Sulayman for advice on almost everything.  He was acknowledged as the wisest person around.  The baker approached Sulayman and offered to work for him in exchange for food and shelter.  They both agreed that Sulayman will pay the baker only when the baker decided to go home.

The baker stayed with Sulayman and worked for him for a month.  Then a year went by.  And then ten years.  And finally, after a decade of working for Sulayman, the baker felt that it was time to go home.  He missed his wife so much after leaving her that he no longer cared what the villagers would do to him with regards the dead neighbour.  The baker then approached Sulayman and told him that he was going home.

As agreed, Sulayman then gave the baker three large gold coins for his twenty years of service, and the baker was overjoyed at his fortune.  However, before the baker could leave, Sulayman asked the baker, “In all the twenty years that you have worked for me, you have seen people come to me and pay for my advice.  Yet not once have I ever heard you asking for my advice.  So, before you leave, I will give you three pieces of advice.”

Thinking about it, the baker felt there was no harm in asking Sulayman for advice before he left, so he asked for the first piece of advice. “Ah, that will cost you a gold coin,” grinned Sulayman.

The baker was taken aback, but after some consideration and for old time’s sake, the baker gave Sulayman a gold coin.  “First advice, stay on the path home,” instructed Sulayman.

“What?”  In his mind, the baker was angry.  He had spent a gold coin to be told to stay on the path back home.

Sulayman then asked the baker if he wanted the second advice, and after a while the baker thought that he might as well hear what Sulayman had to say.  Again Sulayman told him it would cost a gold coin.  Exasperated, the baker gave Sulayman another gold coin.  “The second advice: leave what doesn’t concern you.”

The baker felt defeated; “What kind of an advice was that?” he thought.

Sulayman again asked the baker if he wanted the third advice, and at this point the baker told himself that Sulayman was merely getting his three gold coins back.  The baker resigned himself to leaving without any fortune, so he gave Sulayman his third gold coin.  “The third advice: save your anger for tomorrow.”

The baker was dejected.  He did not know how these three pieces of advice given to him would benefit him.  Before he left, Sulayman went into the kitchen and came back with a loaf of flavoured bread.  “Take this flavoured bread and eat it with your family once you reach home,” smiled Sulayman.  And with that, the baker left the village and walked homewards.

Soon along his journey the baker came across a group of care-free young men who invited him to walk together with them.  Feeling the need for companionship, the baker accepted their offer and walked with them, sharing in their jokes and laughter.  The group then reached a fork in the road, and the young men decided to go left and stay for the night at an inn just down the road.  It was already dark and the baker was inclined to join the young men for he loved their company, but at that point of time he then remembered Sulayman’s first advice: “Stay on the path home.”

After thinking about it, the baker decided to listen to the advice and bade the young men farewell and he turned right and continued his journey.  A few moments later, he heard gunshots and screams from behind and the baker ran back and a horrible sight greeted him.  There, on the road to the inn, the group of young men had been ambushed and killed by highway robbers.  “Wow, Sulayman’s advice saved me!” the baker was sad to see his companions’ passing but he was glad that he stayed on the path home.  After some prayers, the baker then continued his journey.

Then the sky was filled with clouds and thunder roared.  Not wanting to get wet, the baker saw a house in the distance and decided to ask for shelter from the rain and the night.  Upon reaching the house, the baker knocked the door and a huge bear of a man opened.  The baker was feeling uneasy but he politely asked the big man if he could spend the night on the porch where he would be sheltered from the rain.  The big man then motioned him to enter his house.

Gingerly entering the house, the baker was ushered to sit at the table in the kitchen.  The big man then poured hot soup onto three plates and set them on the table.  The baker started thinking, “There was only him and the big man in the house.  Why are there three plates?”  The big man then sat down and told the baker to eat, and like a scared little mouse, the baker did as he was told.

The big man knocked twice on the wooden floor and a trap door lifted up.  A beautiful woman emerged and took the third plate of soup from the table and went back down and closed the trap door.  The baker was stupefied!  “Just what is going on here?” he thought.  He was bursting with questions but he remembered Sulayman’s second advice: “Leave what doesn’t concern you.”

So the baker and the big man continued eating in silence until the big man asked the baker what he thought about what he just saw.  Suppressing his natural curiosity, the baker merely answered that it was none of his business.  At this, the big man then took out a huge ax from behind his seat and placed it on the table, which scared the baker.  “You would have been the fortieth to taste my ax had you answered differently.  I killed the rest before you for saying I was a monster for treating that woman like an animal.  Well, that woman is my wife.”  Shocked, the baker just stared at the big man as he continued his story.

“I found out that she was having an affair with a young man and they had decided to kill me by giving me poisoned food.  But I gave the food to my dog and that was how I found out it was poisoned.  My dog died.  I killed the young man and locked my wife in that cellar as punishment.  Now, do you think I’m a monster?” narrated the big man.

The baker was glad that he listened to Sulayman’s second advice.  Had he been inquisitive and made his own assumptions, he would have surely been killed.  “The two gold coins I paid Sulayman were really worth it,” thought the baker.  The baker spent the night in the big man’s house without any incident.  The next morning, he set off on his journey home.

The baker reached his village and he was surprised to see a lot of changes.  He braced himself for whatever was going to happen and made his way back to his house, but there was a huge celebration outside.  He then saw his wife and he became teary-eyed.  However, he saw she was kissing a young man.  His anger rose and he took out his knife and wanted to kill his wife and that young man she was kissing and hugging.  After much effort, the baker remembered Sulayman’s third advice: “Save your anger for tomorrow.”

“I will go away now and rest for the night.  Tomorrow, I will come back and then I will kill both of them,” the baker reasoned with himself.  So he went off and slept and the next morning, he woke up and immediately strode to his house.  Just as he was about to enter the gate, an old man saw him and immediately recognized him.  “Oh you’re the baker whom everyone thought was dead!  You disappeared a decade ago.  The whole village tried to find you because we found the person who killed your neighbour and dumped the body on your steps.  We wanted to tell you we knew you’re innocent but no one knew where you were!” the old man excitedly told the baker.

The baker was stunned.  He had been staying away from my family for ten years for nothing.  He was happy that his name was cleared but he felt sad for the years he was away.  Then the old man continued, “Where had you been?  You missed the celebration we had last night in honour of your son who had passed the national exams and came in first.  Your wife was so proud of him that she couldn’t stop kissing and hugging him last night!”

The baker went white with shock and fell to the ground.  Sulayman’s third advice prevented him from killing his wife and his grown son.  Crying uncontrollably, the baker ran into the house and hugged his wife and son, and like any fairy tale, everyone lived happily ever after.  Then, the baker remembered the flavoured bread that Sulayman had given him and he took it out from his bag and began to cut the bread.  To his astonishment, three large gold coins rolled out.  Sulayman was not that stingy after all.


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