Oral Literature. The cat… with a bag

One day, a penniless farmer from an oasis went to a rich merchant in the neighbouring village to ask for a loan. The old harvest was finished, the new one was still in the field and there was nothing left in the pantry to barter. But as borrowing is a savannah custom, the farmer decided to try his luck with a merchant called Sidi, hoping he was not completely heartless.

“Sidi”, he said, “could you advance me some money for my next crop, which promises to be very good? I will then be able to buy some tea, some sugar and a few yards of cotton cloth to get rid of these rags I have been using as trousers for years. I will certainly repay you. As God is my witness!”

“Listen, friend”, replied the merchant, “Firstly, I’m running a shop, not a bank. Secondly, I am not a fool to advance money from those who have nothing certain to give me. Who’s to say that your harvest won’t be affected by a cold snap or a drop in the water level of your well? And where will you put the locusts? They could get into your garden and your crop would be gone in an instant.” Then he added: “Unless you can guarantee me one hundred percent that you have power over these natural phenomena.” And he burst out laughing.

“These things are in God’s hands”, said the farmer. As a good Muslim, you should know that just as you should know that Allah provides. In any case, the money I borrow from you would all be spent in your shop and you would profit from it. Besides, am I not one of your most loyal customers?”

“Loyal customer”, replied Sidi, “don’t make me laugh. Loyal to the point of meditating on my ruin by asking me to advance money for something that does not yet exist. Look, man, I have listened to you enough. Go away and leave me alone. I have wasted too much time with you already.” Not satisfied, he shouted at him: “Get out of my sight.”

The farmer swallowed the insult resignedly and walked away. His eyes were red with rage and he felt his throat tighten. But he would never crawl like a worm before the merchant. The poor, even when robbed of everything, always have their pride to defend, especially when it is the last thing they have left.

That same evening, Sidi the trader was celebrating on the terrace of his house with his friend Nujagma. A meal of mutton and couscous was spreading an appetizing aroma. The two of them ate and drank with gusto and argued passionately. Suddenly the guest felt his blood run cold and cursed: “Innahu Suleymana! (By the power of Solomon). Sidi, whose big cat is this?” said Nujagma.

“What cat?” said the other, turning round. “There, on your right”, said the friend, “I swear I have never seen one so big.”

“It really is huge” – said Sidi.  “Surprises are the order of the day in this mountainous region. Just last week, when you were in Tamanrasset, people caught and killed a kambaltou. (a person believed to have the power to turn into a beast and devour other people).”

Auzubillahi!” (May God protect me) cried Nujagma, “I have never heard of them. May God protect me from these creatures: they must be related to the ginn (spirits).”

“One must not believe in these tall tales”, continued Sidi. “You know very well that the people here are ignorant and very superstitious: their capacity for invention knows no bounds. Even after the arrival of Islam, animism is still widespread. As for the two of us, a visit from a lousy cat, no doubt attracted by the smell of meat, will not upset us. Leave him alone and look at that starry sky! Tonight, it looks even more beautiful than usual.”

“You are right”, agreed the friend. “Besides, the cat is gone now. I saw him go into the shop.” “Excellent!”, exclaimed Sidi. The shop is full of rats. This cat will be of great service to me. I’d better lock him up.” Sidi got up and locked the door. When the meal was over, he accompanied his friend home.

When he returned, he lay down on a mat in front of the shop. His avarice was such that he guarded his possessions himself, refusing to hire one of the many unemployed in the village.

The next morning, Sidi got up very early. It was a time when tea and sugar sold very well and people came to the shop from sunrise. He opened the door wide and stood behind the counter.

The first customer was not long in coming. He made a lot of purchases and took out a large banknote. The trader then opened the drawer where he kept the money bag to give him change, but he could not find it. He looked in the cupboard, rummaged under the table, moved some sacks, rummaged in the back room…. All in vain. The bag was gone.

Sidi was upset. “I had all my money in it,” he shouted to those who tried to calm him down. Attracted by the shouting, many rushed to see what had happened. “Perhaps you forgot where you put it,” a friend said to him. “No, no”, he replied. “It was here last night when I locked the door.”

They searched the entire warehouse from top to bottom but found nothing but the footprints of flour, clearly left by a cat, leading from the counter to a wall. “It must have come all the way down here,” said one man, and then jumped up and ran away, passing between the metal sheets and the wall. Another added: “The footprints are partially obliterated as if something had walked over them. Perhaps the cat dragged something behind it that touched the ground”.

Sidi immediately thought that the cat had run away and taken the money with it, but the people found the idea rather absurd. “Why”, they said, “would it take money? What would it do with it?” Some, however, asked him if the bag was by any chance made of leather. “Perhaps”, they explained, “the cat, attracted by its peculiar smell, took it to eat when he left the shop,” Sidi assured them that the bag was made of cloth.

Following the cat’s tracks, they arrived at the house of the farmer who had asked Sidi for help the day before. “Assalam Alaikum!” (Peace be upon you), they said to him.  “Alekutn salam” (Also with you), the farmer replied.

“We’re chasing a cat”, they continued, claiming it had stolen Sidi’s bag. “We followed its tracks, and they led us here. We ask your permission to continue our search.”

“A cat that stole a bag? I’ve never heard of such a thing! But if you really want to continue your search, go ahead”, said the farmer.

The footprints led to the well the farmer had dug in the middle of the garden. Someone leaned over the small wall, and looked down, but saw only his own image reflected in the water. They searched every corner of the house, but not a shadow of the cat. So, they decided to go home.

In the days that followed, Sidi was very depressed: the thought of having lost all that money gave him no peace.

As for the farmer, he came to the shop every morning on time, dressed like a prince. He made many purchases, paid in cash, and left, never forgetting to ask the shopkeeper if he had any news of the cat that had stolen his bag.

It should be noted that the villagers had known before that this peasant had the power to transform himself into a cat. However, they never mentioned it to anyone. Deep down, they were happy that one of the poorest of the poor had managed to teach this greedy and evil merchant a strong lesson. Of course, Sidi never found the bag of money again. (Folktale from Morocco) – (Photo: Pixabay)

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