This section is from the book "Stories From The Thousand And One Nights", by Edward William Lane and Stanley Lanepoole. Also available from Amazon: Stories From Thousand And One Nights: The Arabian Nights' Entertainments.
I was last night with a party who celebrated a recitation of the Kur'an, for which purpose, they had assembled the professors of religion and law; and when these reciters had accomplished their task, the servants spread a repast, comprising among other dishes a zirbajeh. We approached, therefore, to eat of the zirbajeh; but one of the company drew back, and refused to partake of it: we conjured him; yet he swore that he would not eat of it: and we pressed him again; but he said, Press me not; for I have suffered enough from eating of this dish. And when he had finished, we said to him, By Allah, tell us the reason of thine abstaining from eating of this zirbajeh. He replied, Because I cannot eat of it unless I wash my hands forty times with kali, and forty times with cyperus, and forty times with soap; altogether, a hundred and twenty times. And upon this, the giver of the entertainment ordered his servants, and they brought water and the other things which this man required: so he washed his hands as he had described, and advanced, though with disgust, and, having seated himself, stretched forth his hand as one in fear, and put it into the zirbajeh, and began to eat, while we regarded him with the utmost wonder. His hand trembled, and when he put it forth, we saw that his thumb was cut off, and that he ate with his four fingers: we therefore said to him, We conjure thee, by Allah, to tell us how was thy thumb maimed; was it thus created by God, or hath some accident happened to it?-O my brothers, he answered, not only have I lost this thumb, but also the thumb of the other hand; and each of my feet is in like manner deprived of the great toe: but see ye:- and, so saying, he uncovered the stump of the thumb of his other hand, and we found it like the right; and so also his feet, destitute of the great toes. At the sight of this, our wonder increased, and we said to him, We are impatient to hear thy story, and thine account of the cause of the amputation of thy thumbs and great toes, and the reason of thy washing thy hands a hundred and twenty times. So he said, Know that my father was a great merchant, the chief of the merchants of the city of Baghdad in the time of the Khalifeh Harun Er-Rashid; but he was ardently addicted to the drinking of wine, and hearing the lute; and when he died, he left nothing. I buried him, and caused recitations of the Kur'an to be performed for him, and, after I had mourned for him days and nights, I opened his shop, and found that he had left in it but few goods, and that his debts were many: however, I induced his creditors to wait, and calmed their minds, and betook myself to selling and buying from week to week, and so paying the creditors.
Thus I continued to do for a considerable period, until I had discharged all the debts and increased my capital; and as I was sitting one day, I beheld a young lady, than whom my eye had never beheld any more beautiful, decked with magnificent ornaments and apparel, riding on a mule, with a slave before her and a slave behind her; and she stopped the mule at the entrance of the market-street, and entered, followed by a eunuch, who said to her, O my mistress, enter, but inform no one who thou art, lest thou open the fire of indignation upon us. The eunuch then further cautioned her; and when she looked at the shops of the merchants, she found none more handsome than mine; so, when she arrived before me, with the eunuch following her, she sat down upon the seat of my shop, and saluted me; and I never heard speech more charming than hers, or words more sweet. She then drew aside the veil from her face, and I directed at her a glance which drew from me a sigh; my heart was captivated by her love, and I continued re peatedly gazing at her face, and recited these two verses:
Say to the beauty in the dove-coloured veil, Death would indeed be welcome to relieve me from my torment.
Favour me with a visit, that so I may live. See, I stretch forth my hand to accept thy liberality.
And when she had heard my recitation of them, she answered thus:
May I lose my heart if it cease to love you! For verily my heart loveth none but you. If my eye regard any charms but yours, may the sight of you never rejoice it after absence!
She then said to me, O youth, hast thou any handsome stuffs ? -O my mistress, I answered, thy slave is a poor man; but wait until the other merchants open their shops, and then I will bring thee what thou desirest. So I conversed with her, drowned in the sea of her love, and bewildered by my passion for her, until the merchants had opened their shops, when I arose, and procured all that she wanted, and the price of these stuffs was five thousand pieces of silver: and she handed them all to the eunuch, who took them; after which, they both went out from the market-street, and the slaves brought to her the mule, and she mounted, without telling me whence she was, and I was ashamed to mention the subject to her: consequently, I became answerable for the price to the merchants, incurring a debt of five thousand pieces of silver.
I went home, intoxicated with her love, and they placed before me the supper, and I ate a morsel; but reflections upon her beauty and loveliness prevented my eating more. I desired to sleep, but sleep came not to me; and in this condition I remained for a week. The merchants demanded of me their money; but I prevailed upon them to wait another week; and after this week, the lady came again, riding upon a mule, and attended by a eunuch and two other slaves; and, having saluted me, said, O my master, we have been tardy in bringing to thee the price of the stuffs: bring now the money-changer, and receive it. So the money-changer came, and the eunuch gave him the money, and I took it, and sat conversing with her until the market was replenished, and the merchants opened their shops, when she said to me, Procure for me such and such things. Accordingly, I procured for her what she desired of the merchants, and she took the goods and departed without saying anything to me respecting the price. When she had gone, therefore, I repented of what I had done; for I had procured for her what she demanded for the price of a thousand pieces of gold; and as soon as she had disappeared from my sight, I said within myself, What kind of love is this? She hath brought me five thousand pieces of silver, and taken goods for a thousand pieces of gold!-I feared that the result would be my bankruptcy and the loss of the property of others, and said, The merchants know none but me, and this woman is no other than a cheat, who hath imposed upon me by her beauty and loveliness: seeing me to be young, she hath laughed at me, and I asked her not where was her residence.