Once there came from the desert to the great city a man who was a dreamer, and he had naught but his garment and a staff. And as he walked through the streets he gazed with awe and wonder at the temples and towers and palaces, for the city was of surpassing beauty. And he spoke often to the passers-by, questioning them about their city – but they understood not his language, nor he theirs.
At the noon hour he stopped before a vast inn. It was built of yellow marble, and people were going in and coming out unhindered. “This must be a shrine”, he said to himself, and he too went in. But what was his surprise to find himself in a hall of great splendour and a large company of men and women seated about many tables. They were eating and drinking and listening to the musicians. “Nay”, said the dreamer. “This is no worshipping. It must be a feast given by the prince for the people, in celebration of a great event.”
At that moment a man, whom he took to be the slave of the prince, approached him, and bade him to be seated. And he was served with food and wine and most excellent sweets. When he was satisfied, the dreamer rose to depart. At the door he was stopped by a large man magnificently arrayed. “Surely this is the prince himself,” said the dreamer in his heart, and he bowed to him and thanked him. Then the large man said in the language of the city. “Sir you have not paid for your dinner.” And the dreamer did not understand, and again thanked him heartily.
Then the large man bethought him, and he looked more closely upon the dreamer. And he saw that he was a stranger, clad in but a poor garment, and that indeed he had not the wherewithal to pay for his meal. Then the large man clapped his hands and called – and there came four watchmen of the city. And they listened to the large man. Then they took the dreamer between them, and there were two on each side of him. And the dreamer noted the ceremoniousness of their dress and of their manner and he looked upon them with delight. “These,” said he, “are men of distinction.” And they walked all together until they came to the House of Judgment and they entered. The dreamer saw before him, seated upon a throne, a venerable man with flowing beard, robed majestically. And he thought he was the king. And he rejoiced to be brought before him. Now the watchmen related to the judge, who was the venerable man, the charge against the dreamer; and the judge appointed two advocates, one to present the charge and the other to defend the stranger. And the advocates rose, the one after other, and delivered each his argument. And the dreamer thought himself to be listening to addresses of welcome, and his heart filled with gratitude to the king and the prince for all that was done for him.
Then sentence was passed upon the dreamer, that upon a tablet hung about his neck his crime should be written, and that he should ride through the city on a naked horse, with a trumpeter and a drummer before him. And the sentence was carried out forthwith. Now as the dreamer rode through the city upon the naked horse, with the trumpeter and the drummer before him, the inhabitants of the city came running forth at the sound of the noise, and when they saw him they laughed one and all, and the children ran after him in companies from street to street.
And the dreamer’s heart filled with ecstasy, and his eyes shone upon them. For to him the tablet was a sign of the king’s blessings and the procession was in his honour.
Now as he rode, his heart swelled with joy, and he cried out with a shout. “Where are we? What city of the heart’s desires is this? What race of lavish hosts? – who feast the chance guest in their palaces, whose princes companion him, whose king hangs a token upon his breast and opens to him the hospitality of a city descended from heaven?” And the procession passed on. And the dreamer’s face uplifted and his eyes were overflowing with light.
[Kahlil Gibran – Abridged]
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