In the city of Cairo, there once lived a youth named Mansur. One day he caught a pair of nightingales, put them in a cage and hung the cage in front of his house. The birds sang pleasantly, entertaining those that passed the house. Some of them would even stop for a while to enjoy the song before they proceeded on their way.
It so happened that Abu Sefi, the Chief of the Khalifa’s Guards, passed Mansur’s house. This officer was so cruel and inhuman towards others that he earned the title of “Devil’s Son,” a name by which everyone in Cairo referred to him. He was proud of this title.
Abu stopped to listen to the song of the nightingales. Then he entered Mansur’s house and asked Mansur, “Will you sell the birds for a couple of dirhams ?”
“They are not for sale,” Mansur replied.
Abu steadily raised the bid to two dinars before Mansur agreed to sell his nightingales. On concluding the bargain, Abu said to Mansur, “I am going home. Follow me with the birds and take your money.”
When they reached his house, Abu took the cage from Mansur and went in, saying to Mansur, “Wait here. I shall send you your money.”
After waiting a long time, Mansur knocked on the door. A guard opened the door and asked Mansur, “What do you want? Who are you?”
“I do not know the name of the man who lives in this house,” Mansur replied, “but he owes me two dinars.”
“The gentleman’s name is Abu Sefi,” said the guard, “though he is better known to everyone as ‘Devil’s son.’ He owes to none.”
Mansur was irritated. “I do not care,” he said, “whether he is the devil’s son or the devil’s father. He bought my nightingales for two dinars. Let him pay the price or return my nightingales,” me.
“Young man,” said the guard, “do not tempt fate. If you anger my master, your life is not worth a dirham. There is not a single man in this city of Cairo who does not dread my master. Go away, for you are fortunate even if you don’t get the money. If you stay here long, you may have to face great disaster. Please go!”
“I am not afraid; why should you?” Mansur retorted. “Ask your master to come out once, and I shall talk to him,”
The guard looked at Mansur in surprise and then went in to inform his master about this bold fellow. Without waiting, Mansur followed behind the guard and went into the home.
Abu listened to what the guard had to say and shouted, “What an impertinent fellow! Send him in, and I shall pay him as he deserves!”
“Here I am, your honour!” Mansur said, coming forward and standing before Abu.
“Why are you here?” Abu thundered at him.
“An hour ago,” Mansur said, “your honour bought a pair of nightingales from me for two dinars. Kindly pay me my money or return the birds to me, and I shall depart.”
“You want money from me, scoundrel?” Abu roared. “Get out at once, or I shall tear you to pieces!”
Mansur realised that he could do nothing and went away. But he swore to himself that he would not let this injustice go unavenged.
There is a big well not far from Abu’s residence. Many women of the locality come there to take water. Mansur dressed like a girl, covered his face with a veil, took a wooden bucket and went to the well. He tarried there till he saw Abu coming that way. Then he pretended to draw water, dropped the bucket, and began to cry in a shrill, feminine voice, “Oh, I dropped it! A new bucket, too! They will kill me! What shall I do now?”
Abu saw a lone girl crying helplessly at the well, approached and asked her, “Why? What happened?”
“There it is!” Mansur said, bending over into the well. “My new bucket!”
Abu also bent over and tried to see the bucket. But Mansur lifted him by his legs, threw him in the well, and went home. That day he shifted house and went to live in another quarter of the city.
Abu was injured but not drowned when he fell into the well, for the well was not deep. But he could not come up out of the well without assistance. So he began to shout at the top of his voice, “Pull me out! Help, help.”
Some women who came to draw water at the well heard these cries and were frightened. They looked into the well but could not see anybody. “Who are you? Are you the devil or his son?” they asked in fear.
Abu thought he was recognised and replied, “I am the Devil’s Son! Please pull me out of here!”
The women were frightened. They took up a large stone and threw it down the well, saying, “Take this, son, the devil!”
Then they went away without taking water.
Fortunately, the stone missed Abu’s head within a few inches.
A rumour went around that a devil haunted the well, and people were encouraged not to take water from it. Presently the males came to hear of the devil In the well and went to investigate the truth of it.
Thanks to the assistance of these males, Abu, at last, came out of the well, more dead than alive. He was carried to his house on a stretcher.
Abu was bruised all over, and he could not have a wink of sleep because of the pain. Several doctors administered to him medicines which gave him no relief. Mansur learned that Abu had come out of the well, not dead but alive. He knew that Abu would not spare him or his life. One who had such an enemy had either to die or kill him. So Mansur could not ignore him.
He dressed like an aged, hump-backed Hakim with a white beard, took some medicines with him, and went to the street where Abu lived.
Abu’s servants saw the Hakim, stopped him and said, “Sir, our master is in great pain. Can you treat him?”
“I can cure any kind of illness!” Mansur told them.
The servants informed Abu about the old Hakim. Hearing that the Hakim was hump-backed, Abu put a lot of confidence in him. For, he thought, those who had any physical handicap were compensated with rare capacities in other directions.
Mansur was shown into Abu’s room. He pretended to examine the patient and prepared a horrible mixture, which he asked Abu to swallow.
When he took medicine, Abu began to vomit. “O Hakim,” he moaned, “I am dying!”
“What I gave you was an excellent medicine, “Mansur replied. “If it does not agree with you, it only means you have some vicious thought. Now, tell me, do you bear malice towards anyone?”
At once, Abu remembered Mansur and said, “Don’t talk of malice! Until I choke a certain young devil’s life, I will not rest.” He ground his teeth in rage.
“You must give up such thoughts,” Mansur told him impatiently. “I cannot cure you if you persist like this.”
“Let me be cured when I shall be cured,” Abu said resignedly, “I will crush that worm, Mansur, as Allah is my witness! How dare he defy me!’
“Your brain is heated,” Mansur said. “I must cool it first.” Then he sent each one of the servants to fetch a different thing from the market. Then he removed his disguise and said to Abu, “Look, I am Mansur! Pay me my two dinars! You can do nothing to me, and I am not afraid of you!”
Abu became so wild that he tried to get out of bed and attack Mansur.
“It is no longer a question of your killing me,” Mansur said, smiling. “I’ve already poisoned you. See, I have an antidote for it. Give me two hundred dinars, and I’ll give you the antidote. If you don’t, you’ll hardly live for another hour.”
Abu was frightened. He brought two hundred dinars and gave them to Mansur, saying, “Don’t let me die of the poison! Give me the antidote!”
Mansur looked upon Abu’s fear of death and cowardice with contempt.
He removed a phial from his pocket and dropped it down Abu’s throat. It was sweet, and Abu thought that it was a perfect antidote.
“Now, you will be all right!” Mansur told Abu as he departed with the two hundred dinars.