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The Folktale Corner

Abu-Katrina the lazy

A Jewish folktale from Egypt

 

In the old city of Jerusalem there was once a lazy man. His name was Abu-Katrina Abu-Katrina the lazy one.

Look, my husband, the house is empty, there is no food, the children are hungry. Go work a little bit! his wife would say to him again and again.

Work? he said, Death and not work! Id rather die than work! You see this sofa? To lay down drink a cup of coffee and read the newspaper this is my work!

The poor one what could she say? You know in those times women could say nothing. The word of the husband was holy, but women have always been wiser than men...

One day, passing in the street she saw a constructor building a new house with his workers. Ah, an idea came to her mind. She went to the building foreman and asked him: Tell me, sir, do you need a new worker?

No, madam, I have enough workers.

"Well sir, this is not the point, you see my husband he is so lazy. I want to educate him a little bit, I want him to taste work once in his life. Cant you help me?

Well, madam, that is another story. Ill help you. Tell him to come here tomorrow morning.

Oh, thank you, thank you very much, but you see he will never come by his own will, you must take him from home.

Dont worry, give me the address. Ill come and take him.

Well, the woman comes home: Abu-Katrina, at long last!

"Whats the matter?

I found work for you.

Work? What work?! Death and not work! Id rather die than work!

No, its a good work construction!

What? Construction work? Are you crazy? I, Abu-Katrina, will go to construction work? Never! Death and not work! Id rather die than work!

But what shall we do? I made an appointment already with the foreman. He will be here tomorrow morning to pick you up.

What? How dare you make such a mess!

O.K., O.K., but we what are we going to do now?

What we are going to do, what we are not going to do you see this rug my prayer rug? I am going to roll myself in it and stand still in the corner, and you, tell him that Im not at home, I went away! Do you understand me?

Fine. No problem. Whatever you say...

So, next morning the foreman knocks at the door: Good morning, where is Abu-Katrina? I came to get him.

Well, sir, I have no idea. He left the house and he did not tell me where he is going... And meanwhile she points with her finger to the prayer rug at the corner.

Well, I give up, but do me a favor I have not said my morning prayers yet. May I use your husbands rug?

Well, O.K.

So he rolls out the rug: Ah, Abu-Katrina, are you here? Lets go to work then. Come with me! and he took him to work.

Now, what work did he give him? He gave him a stone to carry to the first floor. Finishing with one he gave him another one. And so on the whole day long.

At evening Abu-Katrina comes back, tired, hungry. Again and again he cries, he curses: Damn! Death and not work! Death and not work! I rather die than work!

Whats the matter?

A fine work you found for me! Do you know what sort of work it is? Carrying stones all day long up and down!

And what about money?

Ah, he gave me five dinars.

Five dinars? Its good money!

Good money, bad money I dont care. I am fed up with this work. Im not going back tomorrow!

But the foreman what shall I tell him?

What shall you tell, what shall you not tell! You see this trunk? Im going to put myself inside, and you will close the cover and lock it with the key, and then hide the key under the table cloth and tell him that I left home! Do you understand me?

Fine. No problem. What ever you say...

Next morning the foreman arrives: Good morning, where is Abu-Katrina? I came to pick him up.

How come? He did not arrive? So strange. I was sure that he went to work. Where else could he go? And meanwhile she points with her finger at the trunk.

Oh, I see. There is nothing to do, but tell me, maam, I have a little problem: I was invited to a wedding and I have no white shirt. May I take one of your husbands shirts from this trunk?

Of course, I would give it to you gladly, but you see the trunk is locked!

And where is the key?

Im afraid that he took it with him... And meanwhile she points with her finger at the table cloth.

Look, may be he left it at home. Let me see. And he put his hand under the cloth and took the key: Ah, Abu-Katrina, are you here? Let's go to work. Come with me! and he took him to work.

Now, what work did he give him? You remember on the first day he gave him one stone to carry to the first floor, now he gave him two stones to the second floor. Two stones to the second floor! What shall I tell you this time he worked like never he did before up, down! Up, down! Each time with two stones, non stop, all day long.

Abu-Katrina comes home, tired, half dead. He curses, he cries: Death and not work! and not work! Id rather die than work! What do you think I am? Im not going to continue like this!

O.K. as you wish, but tell me my dear how much did you get this time?

Ah, he gave me ten dinars.

Ten dinars? Excellent! He doubled your salary! You are not a simple worker; you are an outstanding worker...

Outstanding worker, simple worker I dont care. I am fed up with this work. I am finished with it once and for all!

But the foreman what shall I tell him?

What you shall tell, what you shall not tell! You know what?

What?

"Im going to lie down here covered with a shroud, and you will tell him that Im dead! Let him think that Im not in this world any more! let him think Im dead! Do you understand me?

Fine. No problem. What ever you say...

So, next morning the foreman comes, knocks at the door: Where is Abu-Katrina?

"Oh, the poor man! My husband is dead! My dear husband is dead!... But the same time she signs with her head and her finger: no, no.

Oh, Im so sorry to hear this bad news! But this is the will of Allah, what we can say? This is the way of the world: The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord! At least we will do for him the last honors we will bury him according to custom. Im going to arrange everything. Ill bring the coffin.

The foreman went to bring the coffin and the woman says: Abu-Katrina, what are you going to do now?

Death and not work! Id rather die than work!

For heaven sake, do you really want to die?

You know what? I dont care. This world is awful! Women, constructors, foremen Im fed up with all this. In next world I can rest, do nothing, just eat and drink the delightful food of heaven, have all these beautiful women that the Prophet Mohammed promised to his believers...

As you wish.

Now, you know, in our hot country dead are buried immediately, on the same day. Ten minutes later the foreman comes back with his workers. They put him in the coffin, they take him to the cemetery perhaps you know, near Jerusalem there is a big cemetery, the cemetery of Mount Olives they dig a grave and put him there, but they leave him a little pipe of air, like this, so he can breath a little and not really die...

At midnight, the foreman comes there, dressed with a white robe, like an angel, and all the workers in white. They circle the grave, one of them opens the cover of the coffin and another one cries: All the new comers wake up! Come to work! Come to rebuild the Temple of Solomon! The time has come!

What?? He says, Here they work also? And for free? For no money? Never! Its better to work in this world for money than work there for free!

And he jumped from his grave and rushed home. What shall I tell you? He began to work and he turned out to be a good worker, he made a good sum of money, he became a rich man.

Last week I came to visit him - he made me a great meal in my honor - good wine, fine food. And then he brought three sacks, three sacks of gold! One for me, one for Yoel and one... for the teller of this story!  

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This is one of my favorite stories the flagship of my repertoire. I heard it from the late storyteller, Mrs. Flora Kohen. Flora was a talented traditional storyteller. As a child in Egypt she heard many stories from her father. Her daughter, Ilana, published 18 of her stories in a book. In the IAF (The Israel Folktale Archives named in honor of Dov Noy in Haifa University) you can find more stories that were written down from her mouth.