31. The Husband's Shadow
A merchant had a pretty wife. One day, she was standing at her doorstep braiding her hair, and the king happened to see her. His mind was filled with desire for her. He asked his servants who she was and found that she was the merchant's wife. He went back to his palace, secretly summoned a crone who was an expert go-between, gave her a hundred rupees in a closed fist, and promised her more if she would entice the merchant's wife to sleep with him. She soon made friends with the merchant's wife and won her heart. She came back to the king and told him, “She's waiting for you. She wants you to go to her house right now.”
The king was ecstatic. He perfumed himself all over with attar and fragrant oils, dressed himself up, entered her backyard, and appeared at her windows. Just as she was about to unlatch the back door for him, her husband appeared at the front door and called out to her. She turned around and opened the door for her husband. Her husband was now in the house, and her paramour was waiting in the backyard. She wondered how she could tell her paramour that this was not a good time, and thought of a way. She filled a winnowing fan with wheat and started grinding it in her quern, singing a song:
Round and round you circle me.
Someone is waiting ready to get you.
If you come in, you'll die for me.
And I'm already dying for you.
The king heard the song, understood the situation, and returned to his palace. But the merchant at home was suspicious. He said, “Look here, woman. You seem to be fornicating in my absence. Was a lover waiting outside? Were you singing to warn him that your husband was home?” And, in his jealous anger, he kicked her.
She said, “ Ayyo, why would I cheat on you? You're my man made of gold. Talk to me after you've understood the meaning of my song.”
“Then tell me, what does it mean?”
“A fisherman went to the pond to catch fish. He had baited his hook with an earthworm and thrown his line in the water. A fish came around to swallow the bait when the worm said to the fish the following: You swim round and round to eat me. But there's a man waiting to eat you. If you eat me, you'll die. I'm already half-dead for fear you'll eat me. That's what the worm said to the fish. I sang it to see whether you would get it. Do you get it now?”
The merchant admired his wife's intelligence and was very pleased with her. He praised her all day and was happy.
The king waited in the palace wondering when she would send word to him. The day did come when the merchant had to go out of town on business. Being still suspicious, he appointed a man to guard over his wife, but the man was a nitwit. As soon as her husband was safely out of sight, she sent for the king. He came to her in a hurry and spent time with her. After he left, the nitwit asked her, “Who is that man who came and went just now?”
She said, “Oh, that is my husband's shadow.”
“What is a shadow?” he asked.
“A shadow is what you see in a mirror. Look for yourself,” she said. He looked into a mirror and said, “Oh, that, I know that.”
On another day, when the king and the merchant's wife were sleeping together, the merchant returned from his travels and banged on the door. The king got up in a hurry, jumped the backyard fence, and vanished. When she then opened the door for him, her husband was full of suspicions. He called the nitwit and questioned him.
“Did anyone come here when I was gone?”
“No, sir. Only your shadow came and slept with the mistress. No one else.”
“My shadow? What do you mean by ‘shadow’?”
“Come here, sir,” said the nitwit, and took him to the mirror. He showed his master his shadow and said, “Look there, that's the shadow I mean.”
The merchant laughed. His doubts about his wife were cleared. “Oh, that shadow? It's all right if that shadow comes to see my wife. You don't have to stop him,” he said.
Now his wife could sleep with her lover whenever the merchant was away. The nitwit didn't ever report it again.
[AT 1419H, Woman Warns Lover of Husband by Singing Song.]