Back to Jeremy Schiff's personal homepage
Back to Jeremy Schiff's Hodja homepage
Back to "Once the Hodja" mainpage


NASR-ED-DIN HODJA stuck his bald head out of his bedroom window. He was studying the night sky, wondering what plans to make for the morrow. "What sort of weather do you suppose we'll be having to morrow?" he asked.

"There'll be plenty to do whatever the weather." The busy Fatima was preparing their beds, taking the heavy mattresses from ~ the cupboards, where they were kept during the day, and rolling them out on the floor. "If it rains, I shall weave, insha'allah. If the Sun shines, I shall go to the river to wash the clothes, insha'allah."

"If it is pleasant tomorrow, I'm going to the fields to plow," announced the Hodja.

Fatima looked at him with warning in her dark eyes. "Do not forget to say insha'allah, my good husband!"

Watching the clouds huddled over the horizon, Nasr-ed-Din Hodja ignored his wife's advice and went on. "If it rains tomorrow, I will go to the hills to chop wood."

"Speak carefully," Fatima warned again. "Never, never, never say what you will do without adding insha'allah!"

Nasr-ed-Din Hodja, less concerned than she about the customs that governed all good Turks, rolled onto his mattress, mumbling, "If it rains, I chop! If it shines, I plow!"

Fatima shook her head, worried. But, being far too wise to argue with a sleepy man, she blew out the poppy-oil lamp and felt her way to the mattress. Her sleep was troubled by dream after dream of the bad luck that might come to anyone bold enough to say what he would do without adding a protective "insha'allah." But Nasr-ed-Din Hodja slept as calmly and as loudly as his own donkey.

Morning showed that the clouds had won. There was a steady drip-drip of rain and a darkness of the sky that threatened more.

"This day I weave, insha'allah," said Fatima. She looked forward to a quiet day at her loom, creating inch after inch of cotton cloth with its gay stripes of blue and red and yellow. What a fine shirt it would make for Nasr-ed-Din Hodja.

Today I chop," said Nasr-ed-Din Hodja. Not all of Fatima's beggings could induce him to so much as whisper "insha'allah."

So to her loom went Fatima. And, axe over shoulder, to the stable inside the strong street door went Nasr-ed-Din Hodja to mount his donkey and ride to the hills for wood. In the stable he found that his donkey had developed a lameness overnight. Nasr-ed-Din Hodja's first feeling was of relief. He would not have to work today! Surely no one could expect him to walk to the hills and carry the wood back on his own shoulders! Of course, he might command Fatima to come and carry the load; but that would stop the weaving of his shirt.

He started, humming happily, toward the house. The purr of Fatima's loom reminded him of something. He stopped. He turned slowly toward the street gate. How could he face Fatima if he failed to go to the hills to chop today? She would remind him that his donkey's lameness was a judgment on him for failing to say "insha'allah."

Through the gate and along the cobble-stoned streets of the town he shambled. Soon he was out on the rutted main road. He rolled up his long black robe to keep it out of the mud. He walked along slowly, head down, feet scuffling. Just one word of sympathy would have discouraged him completely and sent him scurrying home. But not one of his friends was there to say, "Poor Hodja Effendi, you should not be out on foot in such weather!" So on he plodded.

Good! There was a group of men at the crossroads ahead. Perhaps one of them would be kind enough to convince him that he might hurt himself if he insisted on going to the hills afoot. Head up again, he walked hopefully toward the men, squinting in his effort to recognize them. The nearer he went, the more he suspected that they were strangers - and soldiers at that. From the way they were watching him, he began to wish he need not pass them; but it was too late to turn back.

"Here, you!" One of the soldiers stepped directly in front of Nasr-ed-Din Hodja. "Show us the way to Karabash!"

"Karabash?" Nasr-ed-Din Hodja shook his head, trying his best to appear too stupid to know the way. "Karabash?" He thought of the long turning road, going up and down hills, growing muddier with every drop of rain. A stroll to the hills to chop wood began to look like a picnic compared to acting as guide for the soldiers. "Karabash?" He shook his head, trying to seem completely helpless.

Oh, no! You don't fool us so easily!" The soldiers fell on him with their fists. They shook him. They pounded him. They slapped him. "You lead us to Karabash! March!"

Nasr-ed-Din Hodja cast a longing look at the hills, where he could have spent the day in the shelter of the woods, swinging his axe a bit now and then. He cast a wistful glance back at the cozy town of Ak Shehir, where Fatima was sitting snugly at her humming loom.

Then, ducking his head so dejectedly that his turban seemed to rest on his shoulders, he took the path to Karabash. On and on he sloshed. The mud soon sucked away his shoes. It made such balls on his aching feet that he seemed to be wearing huge brown boots. The rain slapped him on the face. It beat upon his back. If he stopped for breath or to shake the mud from his feet, a soldier would be upon him, whacking him into motion again. He thought, when he was not too tired to think, of Fatima, the wise Fatima who had said, "I shall weave, insha'allah," and who was now sitting cozily before her singing loom. On and on he plodded. On and on and on -

It was nearly dusk when he at last stumbled through the gates of Karabash, the jostling soldiers close behind him. Not having a single friend within the walls of Karabash, and not having enough money to make even the faintest of jingling, he turned wearily back toward Ak Shehir. He pushed himself to make as much of the journey as possible while a flicker of daylight lasted. Twilight was short on so rainy a day.

Soon it was so dark that he must sometimes fall on his knees in the mud and feel with both hands to find the road. He was so tired that he would have used the soft mud for a mattress had not his sneezing warned him to press on toward home. He thought of Fatima in her dry warm house - the wise Fatima who had said, "I shall weave, insha' allah." On and on he plodded. On and on and on -

It was midnight when he at last stumbled over the welcome cobblestones of the streets of Ak Shehir. There were miniature torrents gushing between the stones, but they seemed dry and secure after the oozing mud through which he had been plowing. Wearily, he leaned against his own street gate and jangled the knocker to waken the sleeping Fatima.

"Who is there?" she called.

"Oh, Fatima," answered Nasr-ed-Din Hodja in a voice that was both small and cautious. "it is - I - insha'allah!"


Back to Jeremy Schiff's personal homepage
Back to Jeremy Schiff's Hodja homepage
Back to "Once the Hodja" mainpage