Once upon a time in the city of Basrah, a tailor and his wife went out seeking entertainment. They came upon a little man, a hunchback, who proved to be so amusing they invited him home as their guest for supper. The hunchback happily accepted, and once they were home, the tailor’s wife prepared a marvelous meal.
As the hunchback was eating, he tried to make the couple laugh by sticking an enormous piece of fish into his mouth. Alas, in that fish was a huge, sharp fishbone. When the hunchback swallowed, the bone stuck in his throat, and a moment later he appeared to have choked to death. “Woe is us!” cried the tailor. “What shall we do?”
His wife said at once, “Come along,” and she wrapped the hunchback in her shawls and carried him out of the house. The tailor trundled along behind her, and his wife cried, “Step away! My poor child has smallpox. We must get to the doctor’s house!”
Everyone ran away when they heard the cries, for they did not want to become ill. When the couple reached the doctor’s house, his servant girl let them inside. The wife said, “Give your master this silver coin and tell him to come to see my child.” While the girl ran to fetch the doctor, the tailor propped the hunchback’s body up at the bottom of the stairs, and the tailor and his wife ran away.
The doctor, coin in hand, ran downstairs to care for his new patient. Alas, he hurried so fast, and the stairway was so dark, he tripped and fell, and at the bottom of the stairs, he toppled the hunchback. “Oh my,” he cried when he discovered that the hunchback had no pulse. “I’ve killed my patient!” Then he ran to his wife to tell her the tale.
“We’ll toss the body into our neighbor’s yard, and we shall not be blamed,” she said. They carried the body into their neighbor the steward’s garden and propped him up against the wall that led into the kitchen.
Now the steward was forever chasing and beating the cats and dogs who, he was convinced, stole his butter. This night when he returned home and lighted his candle, he was startled to see a man standing at his back door.
“Aha!” he cried at the sight. “To think that all this time I’ve blamed the animals when it was you, a common thief!” He lifted the mallet he carried and struck a blow upon the hunchback’s chest.
The hunchback fell to the ground, and when the steward saw that he was dead, he cried out in despair. “A curse upon my butter!” Then he quickly lifted the hunchback and carried him away through the deserted streets until he reached the marketplace. In a dark alley, he leaned the hunchback up against a wall and ran away.
Soon afterward the king’s broker passed by on his way to the baths. Earlier that week, someone had stolen the broker’s turban. When he turned the corner and spied a man leaning against the wall, he thought the man was wearing his turban. The broker raised his arm and let out a cry. “You’ll not steal my turban again!” and struck a blow upon the hunchback’s chest.
Just then the watchman appeared, and seeing one man beating another, he ran to stop the fight. When he discovered the hunchback was dead, he hauled the broker to the governor and accused him of murder. The governor announced he must hang for his crime.
The gallows were set up in the heart of the city, and the executioner prepared to hang the broker. But just as the rope was being tied around the broker’s neck, the steward pushed his way through the crowd. “Do not hang him. I killed the hunchback,” and he told the tale of striking a deadly blow in his garden.
“Hang the steward!” the governor said. But at that moment the doctor ran to the gallows and cried, “Another innocent must not die on my account,” and he told his tale of killing his patient by accident.
“Hang the doctor!” said the governor. But the tailor ran to the gallows and shouted, “No! I am to blame!” And he told his tale of the fishbone.
Upon hearing this story, a barber who stood in the crowd pushed his way to the gallows and said, “I humbly ask if I may examine the hunchback’s body?”
The governor commanded that the body be laid before him.
The barber knelt over the hunchback and then smiled. He drew some medicines from his pocket and rubbed the hunchback’s neck. Then, using his pincers, he drew the fishbone from the man’s throat, and the hunchback sneezed, stretched, and opened his eyes.
“You see!” the barber cried, “He’s not dead at all!”
Everyone who watched was amazed and filled with admiration for the barber. When the king heard the whole tale, he ordered that it be inscribed on parchment in letters of gold. He asked of his court, “Have you ever heard a story more amazing than this tale of the hunchback?”
Well, of course, they had, but you will have to wait until another day to hear those stories.