"Poor merchant," the spirit told him, "I have seen the goodness that resides in your heart, though your life is hard and lonely. Take, therefore, these three gifts, and be happy."
Whereupon the spirit gifted the man with three blessings. Firstly, where his tiny hovel had once huddled now towered a glorious palace, glimmering proudly in the sunshine. Secondly, a storeroom appeared, overflowing with cascading mountains of gold and silver, precious jewels and expensive spices. And thirdly, nestled in a box of sweet-smelling cedar, the spirit gifted the man with a book.
"What manner of book is this, that is full of naught but empty pages?" Asked the merchant, bowing deeply in humble gratitude.
"That you shall find out for yourself, dear merchant," said the spirit before wisping away on a breeze.
And so the merchant entered his new home, joyfully exploring each room, and invited all his neighbors to come and join him for a feast. For many weeks the kindhearted merchant lived generously, helping the members of the town with any plights they encountered. A widow from the street nearby came to him when a rebellious wind tumbled through her house and ripped holes through her roof; the merchant built her a new home, stronger than the last. A neighbor boy knocked upon the door, begging for a scrap of food for his ailing mother; the merchant gifted him with ten gleaming rubies to sell and purchase food and medicine and whatever else she might need.
But the time came, as it does for all men who suddenly find themselves the recipients of great quantities of gold and riches (even, dear reader, those men so kindhearted as our beloved merchant), the merchant found himself more hesitant to part with the riches which had been gifted him. At night, as he slept under silken sheets in his grand new palace, he was troubled with grave dreams, in which his neighbors came knocking and knocking again, and the glinting storehouse grew emptier and grayer until the golden mountains had passed, piece by piece, entirely out the door and into the greedy hands of others. In his dreams, too, the palace crumbled and shrank, until he found himself once more living in a filthy hovel, the cold of winter biting through to his bones, the shelves barren of food. This fear gripped him, and as the storehouse grew ever emptier, he thought more and more of closing his doors forever upon his neighbors.
When the storehouse had emptied about halfway, a crippled girl, carried by her father, came to his door.
"Please, kind merchant," begged the father, "I have heard of your generosity and goodness, and have come to ask for your help. I shall repay you in whatever way you deem fit, to the best of my abilities, but please, can you help us? We haven't any food."
"Let me think on it today, and I will answer you in the evening," said the merchant. So confused was his heart by fear of returning to his old poverty after having tasted so good a life as this that he actually found himself considering turning them away. It was at that moment that he remembered the book in its cedar box.
Fetching the book from its keeping place, he opened it to find that many of the once-blank pages were now full. He began to read what was written there, and found on the first page a story that told of a widow whose home had been blown down by a vengeful wind. The woman was hopeless, with nowhere to turn, and so she huddled in the streets each night alone, until finally the bitter winter cold claimed her life. On the next page was the story of a poor boy whose sick mother succumbed to her illness, leaving him alone in the world. The merchant realized that these stories were what would have happened to the neighbors he'd helped if he had closed his doors to them.
Reminded of the value of his generosity, he quickly called the father and his crippled daughter to his storehouse, bidding them to take whatever they needed. After that, whenever a neighbor would come to him seeking help, he would look back at his book, filling up more and more with the stories of what would have happened if he had chosen greed over goodness, then he would offer them anything they needed.
The day came when the storehouse emptied, and the man was filled with sorrow. But the sorrow was not, as he had expected, for the loss of luxury, but rather for the book he held, whose stories he could no longer replace with happy endings.
"Dear spirit," he called out, "please, if you could, let me help just a few more." The generous spirit, pleased by the merchant's actions, caused the storehouse to refill, and from then on it refilled as soon as it emptied, and the book grew fat with stories.
*Author's Note: This story is based on the story of Miemun and Khojisteh, and the parrot who prevents Khojisteh from committing infidelity by distracting her with stories. The main element that I drew from the original was the idea of stories preventing someone from giving up their good values for evil deeds. In the original, Khojisteh truly loves Miemun at the start, but is swayed by temptation when he is away. In my version, the merchant is good-hearted, but he is tempted by greed. As usual, I insisted on giving it a happier ending, though!
Bibliography. "Tales of a Parrot" by Ziya'al-Din Nakhshabi (1801). Web Source.
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