A woodman was carrying a sack full of chopped wood on his back. His basket was heavy and filled beyond its limit. The man, bent under his bulky burden, was struggling not to drop any of the wood pieces as he walked. However, the poor man couldn’t avoid tripping over a stone on the road and half of his load fell off of the precarious pile. Another man happened to be passing by and saw the mishap.
“If I load those fallen pieces of wood back into your basket, what would you give me?” he asked.
“Nothing,” said the man carrying the wood.
“That’s acceptable,” agreed the other man. He collected all the chopped wood scattered on the road and piled them back on the basket of the woodman. When done, he asked for his payment. The woodman was baffled.
“I told you, I would give you nothing,” he said.
“Yes. And that’s what I want. Nothing,” said the other, “give me my nothing!”
After some quarrel, the two men decided to let the kadı solve their problem. Nasreddin Hodja was on duty at the time. He listened to both men earnestly. Then he addressed the man who was expecting his payment of nothing.
“My dear fellow, could you please lift the far right corner of that rug on the floor and check what is underneath?” The man did as he was told and looked under the rug.
“What do you see?” asked the Hodja.
“Nothing,” said the man.
“Well, take it and go home,” commanded the Hodja, “that is your payment!”