The boy had been working for the crystal
The boy had been working for the crystal merchant for almost a month, and he could see that it wasn’t exactly the kind of job that would make him happy. The merchant spent the entire day mumbling behind the counter, telling the boy to be careful with the pieces and not to break anything.
But he stayed with the job because the merchant, although he was an old grouch, treated him fairly; the boy received a good commission for each piece he sold, and had already been able to put some money aside. That morning he had done some calculating: if he continued to work every day as he had been, he would need a whole year to be able to buy some sheep.
“I’d like to build a display case for the crystal,” the boy said to the merchant. “We could place it outside, and attract those people who pass at the bottom of the hill.”
“I’ve never had one before,” the merchant answered. “People will pass by and bump into it, and pieces will be broken.”
“Well, when I took my sheep through the fields some of them might have died if we had come upon a snake. But that’s the way life is with sheep and with shepherds.”
The merchant turned to a customer who wanted three crystal glasses. He was selling better than ever . . . as if time had turned back to the old days when the street had been one of Tangier’s major attractions.
“Business has really improved,” he said to the boy, after the customer had left. “I’m doing much better, and soon you’ll be able to return to your sheep. Why ask more out of life?”
“Because we have to respond to omens,” the boy said, almost without meaning to; then he regretted what he had said, because the merchant had never met the king.
“It’s called the principle of favorability, beginner’s luck. Because life wants you to achieve your destiny,” the old king had said.
But the merchant understood what the boy had said. The boy’s very presence in the shop was an omen, and, as time passed and money was pouring into the cash drawer, he had no regrets about having hired the boy. The boy was being paid more money than he deserved, because the merchant, thinking that sales wouldn’t amount to much, had offered the boy a high commission rate. He had assumed he would soon return to his sheep.
“Why did you want to get to the Pyramids?” he asked, to get away from the business of the display.
“Because I’ve always heard about them,” the boy answered, saying nothing about his dream. The treasure was now nothing but a painful memory, and he tried to avoid thinking about it.
“I don’t know anyone around here who would want to cross the desert just to see the Pyramids,” said the merchant. “They’re just a pile of stones. You could build one in your backyard.”
“You’ve never had dreams of travel,” said the boy, turning to wait on a customer who had entered the shop.
Two days later, the merchant spoke to the boy about the display.
“I don’t much like change,” he said. “You and I aren’t like Hassan, that rich merchant. If he makes a buying mistake, it doesn’t affect him much. But we two have to live with our mistakes.”
That’s true enough, the boy thought, ruefully.
“Why did you think we should have the display?”
“I want to get back to my sheep faster. We have to take advantage when luck is on our side, and do as much to help it as it’s doing to help us. It’s called the principle of favorability. Or beginner’s luck.”
The merchant was silent for a few moments. Then he said, “The Prophet gave us the Koran, and left us just five obligations to satisfy during our lives. The most important is to believe only in the one true God. The others are to pray five times a day, fast during Ramadan, and be charitable to the poor.”
He stopped there. His eyes filled with tears as he spoke of the Prophet. He was a devout man, and, even with all his impatience, he wanted to live his life in accordance with Muslim law.
“What’s the fifth obligation?” the boy asked.
“Two days ago, you said that I had never dreamed of travel,” the merchant answered. “The fifth obligation of every Muslim is a pilgrimage. We are obliged, at least once in our lives, to visit the holy city of Mecca.
“Mecca is a lot farther away than the Pyramids. When I was young, all I wanted to do was put together enough money to start this shop. I thought that someday I’d be rich, and could go to Mecca. I began to make some money, but I could never bring myself to leave someone in charge of the shop; the crystals are delicate things. At the same time, people were passing my shop all the time, heading for Mecca. Some of them were rich pilgrims, traveling in caravans with servants and camels, but most of the people making the pilgrimage were poorer than I.
“All who went there were happy at having done so. They placed the symbols of the pilgrimage on the doors of their houses. One of them, a cobbler who made his living mending boots, said that he had traveled for almost a year through the desert, but that he got more tired when he had to walk through the streets of Tangier buying his leather.”
“Well, why don’t you go to Mecca now?” asked the boy.
“Because it’s the thought of Mecca that keeps me alive. That’s what helps me face these days that are all the same, these mute crystals on the shelves, and lunch and dinner at that same horrible cafe. I’m afraid that if my dream is realized, I’ll have no reason to go on living.
“You dream about your sheep and the Pyramids, but you’re different from me, because you want to realize your dreams. I just want to dream about Mecca. I’ve already imagined a thousand times crossing the desert, arriving at the Plaza of the Sacred Stone, the seven times I walk around it before allowing myself to touch it. I’ve already imagined the people who would be at my side, and those in front of me, and the conversations and prayers we would share. But I’m afraid that it would all be a disappointment, so I prefer just to dream about it.”
That day, the merchant gave the boy permission to build the display. Not everyone can see his dreams come true in the same way.