The Lady and the Judge
A Turkish Folktale
Long ago, in Stamboul, there lived a wealthy pasha who loved and admired his wife, Ozlem. Whenever he had a chance, he spoke of Ozlem's goodness. He bragged that she was the most compassionate woman in the world.
And this was true. Ozlem cared for everyone. Some days she baked sweet baklava and offered this to the poor workers whose hungry faces made her sad.
She often noticed in particular one young man. This was the chopdji, the dustman. He was a quiet fellow, always thorough in his work. One day Ozlem was watching the dustman clean the streets and she noticed tears welling his eyes.
Naturally her heart went out to him, and so she stepped outside and called to him. "Young man, can I help you?"
Startled, the dustman looked up. Merchants and pashas never spoke to him. He looked down and blushed, but Ozlem called again. "Tell me, please, what is wrong?"
The dustman stepped forward shyly and shook his head. "There's nothing anyone can do. Our Cadi, the judge, robbed me of all my money. But who would believe someone like me?"
But Ozlem was no fool. She had heard that the Cadi of Stamboul was a greedy man. And so she looked with kindness at the dustman and said, "Tell me your side of the story."
And so the dustman told Ozlem his tale. For two long years, he explained, he had worked to save 500 piastres. He hoped, with the help of Allah, to save more money, enough to travel home and take good care of his family.
Ozlem listened closely. She knew he was a hard worker, and so she wondered what made him sad. "And what happened to upset your plans?"
The dustman went on with his story. Each night he lay awake all night, fearing someone might pick his pockets. He knew if he left his coins in his tumbledown hut, someone would surely steal them. And so day and night he worried about how to protect his savings.
But one day, the dustman told Ozlem, he overheard the merchant, her own husband, speaking of the wise Cadi of Stamboul.
Ozlem smiled at this and said, "You heard my husband, and you thought you could trust a Cadi?"
"Yes!" the dustman said. "I visited the Cadi. My sandals
and my tattered clothes embarrassed me in the presence of such a great man.
But I bowed respectfully, and then I asked him to hold my 500 piasters until
I could save enough to travel home to my village."
"And what did the cadi say to you?" Ozlem asked. She thought she was beginning to understand.
"He told me I could trust him with my savings. He instructed me to return when I was ready for my money, and he promised not a single coin would go missing."
"And so you left your savings, did you?" Ozlem asked.
The dustman nodded, yes. "I returned to my work, but the very next day I met two old friends from my village. They are planning to travel home next week, and they offered to pay my travels if I wished to join them."
Ozlem's heart swelled with compassion, and she said softly, "Naturally you miss your family."
The dustman nodded, yes. "I do. I must go home, and so the very next day I returned to the Cadi, but this time…"
"This time he was not so kind?" Ozlem asked.
"He was cruel. He shouted so that everyone could hear. He said he had never seen me and yelled that I must leave his home at once or he would have me arrested. His servants dragged me away."
Ozlem nearly wept as he spoke.
"Dear lady, my heart is broken, but I am far from home, and I have no witness, so there is nothing to be done. I've lost everything."
Now Ozlem was not only kind, she also was terribly clever. The moment the dustman finished his story, she concocted a brilliant plan. She looked intently at the dustman. "I can help you but you must promise to do exactly as I say."
Of course the dustman promised.
And so Ozlem explained. "This afternoon I shall visit the Cadi myself. After I have been inside for ten minutes, you must rush in and ask for your money as if you never before asked."
The dustman was puzzled, but he trusted this lady, and so he agreed.
Next Ozlem called her daughter and whispered the plan to her as well. "Wait outside the Cadi's home and when the dustman leaves, run in the front door and say, 'Mother dear, Father has returned from Egypt and awaits you at home!'"
Naturally Ozlem's daughter agreed, for she was as kind and as wise as her mother.
And so Ozlem traveled to the Cadi's home, taking along a sack of rubies and diamonds and emeralds. When she stood before the Cadi, she said, "I come to ask an important question. My husband is in Egypt, away on business. I must go see him, and I wish to keep my jewels with someone trustworthy."
With those words she poured the jewels onto the table—and out spilled rings, pendants, bracelets, and necklaces. They glittered and gleamed.
Ozlem leaned close to the Cadi. "You see, I need someone I can trust absolutely with these priceless things."
Just at that moment the dustman rushed into the Cadi's court and breathlessly cried, "Sir, I have come to claim my 500 piasters."
The Cadi barely heard the dustman, for the sight of those jewels captivated him. Distracted, he looked up and said to the dustman, "Yes, of course." And he said to his servant, "Bring this man's 500 piasters from my trunk and send him away with them."
As the servant rushed to do as he was told, the Cadi smiled at Ozlem. "You see, dear lady, even this poor man's coins were safe with me. I do not care if a man is rich or poor, I help everyone. Everyone can trust the Cadi of Stamboul!"
Ozlem nodded, "Yes, I see that."
When the dustman was gone, Ozlem's daughter rushed in and said to her mother, "Father has returned from Egypt and awaits you at home!"
Ozlem clapped her hands together and cried, "Wonderful, I shall not have to travel at all!"
Then she scooped her jewels into the bag and turned to face the Cadi.
"You are truly a rare and just man, and I thank you for your time, but as you see, I no longer need your services. Good day!"
When Ozlem was gone, the Cadi shook his head in wonder. For 40 long years he had served as Cadi of Stamboul, and in all those years, no one had outsmarted him.
Now someone had.