There was, once upon a time, a merchant whose name was Abdul Aziz. He was skilful in his trade, by which, through many years, he had acquired considerable wealth and reputation. Amongst his associates he was considered a solid pillar of the community.
One day, walking through the streets of his town, Abdul Aziz happened to find a dervish sitting on the steps of a mosque. Without much thought he pulled a coin from his pocket, and placed it in the palm of the dervish. But before he could walk on, the dervish seized his sleeve and detained him.
“A moment, brother,” the dervish said, fixing him with a piercing look. “Do you know were you are going?”
The sudden question startled Abdul Aziz. “Certainly,” he said, “I am going to my warehouse.”
“Oh yes,” said the dervish. “Your warehouse. That is where you are going.” But he did not let go of the merchant’s sleeve. “And when you get there, you will want to have this with you.” And he produced from somewhere a small silver amulet. “Take it,” he commanded. “It contains a seed of the wish-fulfilling tree.”
Perplexed, Abdul Aziz took the small object. He was a practical man, and amulets did not mean very much to him. Even less did he believe that there was such a thing as a wish-fulfilling tree. But having thrust the object into his hand, the dervish was now busy with his beads, murmuring sacred words to himself, and no further conversation was possible. Puzzled, the merchant glanced once more at the oblivious face of the dervish, and then dropped the amulet in his pocket and walked on.
At the end of the street, Abdul Aziz turned into the narrow, shadowy alleyway that led to the warehouse where he did his business, but halfway down, he found his way blocked by something large and dark that he could not see very well. As he approached, his steps echoing against the stone walls, the shape seemed to spread and move toward him, and a voice from within the darkness said, “Abdul Aziz. You have an appointment. Come.”
“An appointment?” said Abdul Aziz in alarm, as the darkness began to envelope him, “Who are you? What appointment? What do you mean?”
“Come,” repeated the voice, and in an instant the darkness was complete. Abdul Aziz knew no more of the alleyway and his town.
After an unmeasurable time, another voice said, “Abdul Aziz, you stand in the place of judgement.”
The merchant looked about him. Before him was a tall figure with a beautiful face, robed in light, and Abdul Aziz saw that they stood at the entrance to what appeared to be a warehouse, with his own name in large letters across the front.
“Here is contained the record of your life,” said the figure, leading the way inside. “All that you have done, all that you have accomplished is stored here. This is where the judges will come. What they find will decide your fate for eternity.”
The words had a chilling finality. ‘My fate for eternity!’ the merchant thought. ‘But – surely I have led a good life? I have worked hard and I am not a wicked person – am I?’
In the office at the front of the warehouse, Abdul Aziz saw items that seemed familiar to him. There were portraits of his family and a few acquaintances upon one wall; on a shelf, there was a disorderly stack of letters, mostly business correspondence, in his own handwriting; in one corner lay a dusty pile of ledgers. Here and there were a few luxuries that he remembered – a carpet, a fine robe – but the room felt bare and lifeless, like someone else’s forgotten, disused office.
On a table stood a small silver casket that he did not recognise. “What is this?” he asked, and the figure said, “Your gifts of charity.” Opening it, Abdul Aziz found little slips of paper, and one on top with the notation, ‘1 coin to dervish Shamsalddin.’
Abdul Aziz looked about the room. It did not seem to be very much for a whole lifetime. He did not know what the standards of the judges were, but as a lifelong trader, who had learned to weigh the worth of whatever he observed, his own judgement was: not much value. He felt a coldness surround his heart. Was this all he had done with his life?
But then, suddenly, he spied a curtained doorway at the back of the office, and he thought, ‘Yes! Beyond the office there is a warehouse as well!’ Pushing aside the curtain, he peered into the dark, cavernous space. To his relief he saw boxes and bundles and baskets of every shape, piled up to the ceiling and stretching away beyond sight. Abundance! But he could not see what they contained.
“Please, tell me, what is here?” he asked eagerly.
“Impossible to say,” came the reply. “These were opportunities – but all unopened, all unfulfilled, and so what they might have been is unknown.”
Abdul Aziz looked aghast at his companion. “So many opportunities? Unfulfilled?” A merchant made his living from opportunities. How could he have let so many slip away?
“I hear the judges at the door,” said his companion. “Come, Abdul Aziz. It is time to face your judgment.”
The merchant looked frantically around him, seeking some escape. “Wait! Not yet!” he said. “A little more time,” he pleaded.
“The moment has arrived,” said the figure, and urged him toward the front of the warehouse.
Abdul Aziz gave a last anguished glance at the enormous, shadowy warehouse, and said despairingly, “I wish I had more time…”
And through his clothing he felt the amulet given by the dervish tingle with life. A moment later, Abdul Aziz found himself once again in the alleyway leading toward his place of business.
But the merchant did not continue toward his warehouse. When he realised where he was, he leaned against the wall to catch his breath for a moment, and murmur a prayer of thanks. Then he turned abruptly and hurried back toward the old mosque. With all his heart he hoped he would find the dervish still sitting there.