The Second Banquet (retold by Nasruddin)
A banquet is a wonderful thing for those who attend, but for he or she who is the guest of honor, it is a trial. All the attention is on you, everyone hangs on your every word and move, and your manners are under close scrutiny.
O my beloveds, it befell upon me that I was invited to a second banquet. This surprised me after the story of the first banquet was told far and wide. Yet people are strange, and will admire that which they do not understand.
So it was I was told a special carriage would be sent for me. I could not abide being such a curiosity as the guest of honor is, but what could I do? The carriage pulled up in front of my little home, and I stepped out to meet my doom.
The coachman turned and looked at me. "Where is Nasruddin?" he asked. "I'm supposed to pick up the Great and Honorable Nasruddin, and bring him to the banquet in gracious style."
"Oh, him," I replied. "He is almost ready." Then it struck me. "However, my good man, he has a quirk about which you may have heard."
"A quirk? What quirk? He is a great man! He is much honored! He has no quirks!"
"Oh, we all have our quirks" I said. "His is benign. His humility is so great that he does not wish to be seen while entering and exiting the carriage. He wishes for you to avert your eyes at these moments so that he is not distressed by undue attention."
"Ah, is that all?" cried the coachman. "I will oblige the great man, of course. Just warn me before he makes his appearance."
"Here he comes now," I said, looking back over my shoulder. "Are your eyes averted?"
"My eyes will not look upon the Great and Honorable Nasruddin if he does not wish it!" he cried. He averted his eyes and covered his head with his cloak. I walked to the carriage and opened the door. "There you are," I said. "I will sit up with the coachman." And with that I slammed the carriage door, and climbed up with the coachman, who of course had no idea who I was. He uncovered his head and we began the trip to the banquet hall.
Along the way one of the wheels rolled into a considerable hole in the road, and the carriage gave a mighty jolt. The coachman was much concerned. He turned and addressed himself to the door of the carriage. "Is the Great and Honorable Nasruddin in good order?" he bellowed.
"I'll check," I said, and climbed down. I opened the door and looked in. "Everything okey dokey?" I asked. Then I slammed the door and climbed back up. "All is well." I told the coachman.
"I was surprised at the familiar way in which you addressed the great man," the coachman said. "It seemed a great liberty, most impolite."
"It would seem so to the uninformed, it is true," I replied. "But Nasruddin and I are on very close terms." The coachman was satisfied and we drove on our way.
We arrived at the banquet hall. There were many carriages and palanquins, and guests dressed in gloriously colored garb. The coachman began to bellow,"All avert your eyes..." but I put my hand on his arm.
"Nasruddin's humility is so great, he would not want to draw notice in this way. Let us wait for a lull in the crowd." When the crowd had thinned a little, I instructed to coachman to avert his eyes.
"My eyes will not look upon the Great and Honorable Nasruddin if he does not wish it!" he cried, and he averted his eyes and covered his head with his cloak. I opened the door of the carriage with great ceremony, and said just loud enough for the coachman to hear, "We have arrived, Nasruddin. You may disembark and make your way into the banquet hall. The ushers will guide you. I myself will remain with the carriage to keep the coachman company."
I waited for a few moments, then slammed the door and climbed back up with the coachman. "Let us ride out to the river," I suggested. "It is peaceful there, and we can see the banquet hall, so we will know when we are wanted again."
The coachman agreed it was a good plan, so we spent a quiet evening by the river, watching the sun set over the peaceful water, and listening to the night birds calling to each other. We talked of this and that, of the coachman's life, and had a very nice time. At last things began to stir at the banquet hall. People poured out, and carriages began to arrive. The coachman was concerned lest we be late.
"Nasruddin will want to wait until the others have left," I assured him. Let us wait." So we did. When it was quiet at the banquet hall, we rolled up to the door, and I dismounted. "Please avert your eyes," I said to the coachman.
"My eyes will not look upon the Great and Honorable Nasruddin if he does not wish it!" he cried, and he averted his eyes and covered his head with his cloak. I opened the carriage door with great ceremony.
"There you are, yes, it's a little high, watch your step. Good man, you're in. Settled? Comfy? Good." and I slammed the door. I climbed up next to the coachman and we rolled back through the town to my little home.
"The Great Nasruddin does you considerable honor to stay with you when he could obviously stay with the Caliph himself," said the coachman when we had arrived.
"Ah, he is a strange man, that Nasruddin," I replied. "He does pretty much what he wants. Now please, avert your eyes."
"My eyes will not look upon the Great and Honorable Nasruddin if he does not wish it!" he cried, and he averted his eyes and covered his head with his cloak. For the final time I opened the carriage door with great ceremony.
"Here we are, home at last," I said, and waited a few moments, then slammed the carriage door. I opened my door and said,"Go right in, I'll just say a word of thanks to the coachman," and slammed the door of my house.
"I thank you for an enjoyable evening, my good friend," I said. "It was a pleasure and an honor to spend the evening with such a courteous and considerate soul. May the blessings of Allah be upon you and your family."
"I thank you as well," replied the coachman. "I have seldom enjoyed such a peaceful and contented evening. I only hope the Great Nasruddin was satisfied with the service. I assure you, I never even peeped at him."
"I have it from his own mouth that he was fully satisfied. He commends you in the highest terms, and wishes you good fortune always. He particularly wanted me to tell you that he hopes that Allah will smile on you all your days."
And we both returned to our homes well pleased with the evening, in spite of the strange rumors that circulated for a while that the Great and Honorable Nasruddin never showed his face at his own banquet.