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HURRY! You will be late for the banquet at Halil's house!" One person after another called this advice to Nasr-ed-Din Hodja as he jogged home from a day's work in his vineyard.

"They are right," the Hodja finally admitted. The sun was almost touching the horizon. "I will be late for the dinner, unless I go now - just as I am."

He turned his reluctant donkey's head about and was soon at Halil's house. He tied his donkey in Halil's courtyard and walked confidently into the house, where the feast was soon to begin. Always sure of a welcome, he spread his smiles and his jokes to right and to left. He was so happy talking that he did not notice for some time a very strange thing. He was talking to backs instead of to faces. Not a single man was listening to him! Soon an even stranger thing happened. When the soup was brought in, Halil ushered other men to seats at the low table, but he had no word for Nasr-ed-Din Hodja.

The Hodja cleared his throat noisily. Halil did not notice. He coughed loudly. Halil paid no attention.

"Oh, Halil Effendi!" called Nasr-ed-Din Hodja cheerily. "I noticed a fine crop of fruit in your vineyard today."

Halil, busy with his well-dressed guests, did not hear.

"Oh, Halil Effendi!" The Hodja's voice was even louder this time. "Your smallest grapes are twice as big as the best in my vineyard."

Still Halil seemed unable to hear or to see the one guest who stood alone in his shabby, dirty working clothes.

The Hodja looked thoughtfully at the other guests. Each man was scrubbed till he glistened. Each man was wearing his best clothes. Then the Hodja looked at his own brown hands, caked with the honest dirt of the vineyards. He looked at his own clothes with their patches upon patches, and with the day's new holes which the patient Fatima would mend that night.

Very quietly, Nasr-ed-Din Hodja slipped out of the door, untied his willing donkey and jogged home.

"Hot water, Fatima!" he ordered. "Soap, Fatima! My new shoes! My best turban! My new coat!"

Fatima bustled and fluttered about. Soon Nasr-ed-Din Hodja looked like a new man. He preened himself before the admiring Fatima, who had not seen her husband so completely well dressed in years. He strutted out of the house. Little boys spoke to him respectfully as he swaggered back along the street to Halil's house. Women peered from behind their veils at the grand gentleman who walked with such an air.

A bowing servant ushered him into the banquet room at Halil's house. A beaming Halil hurried to meet him and escort him to the best seat in the room. Men smiled and nodded. Halil heaped his plate with goodies. Questions and stories were directed toward Nasr-ed-Din Hodja.

When he felt that all eyes were upon him, the Hodja picked up the choicest piece of meat on his plate. He did not raise it to his lips. Instead, he opened his coat and placed it in a pocket which was hidden inside.

"Eat, coat, eat!" said the Hodja.

A handful of pilaf, a square of cheese, a pickle, and a fig followed the meat into the coat.

"Eat, coat, eat!" said the Hodja as he put in each tidbit. The guests stopped eating to watch the Hodja feed his coat.

Finally, Halil could hold in no longer. "Tell me, Hodja Effendi, what you mean by telling your coat to eat."

"Why, surely, you wish the coat to eat." The Hodja raised innocent eyes to Halil. "When I came in my old clothes, there was no place at the table for me. When I come in my new clothes, nothing is too good for me. That shows it was the coat, not me, that you invited to your banquet."


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