Retold by Eric Twose
Once upon a time not so long ago, there lived a woodcutter whose name was Ahmed. The old man was a widower and he lived with his daughter, Samira, in a small hut in the forest.
He used to go every day to chop branches from the trees, cut the branches up, gather the sticks together and take them back home. Then, in the afternoon, he'd have a bite to eat and take the sticks to the nearby market town, where he'd sell them for firewood and buy some food for himself and for his daughter.
One evening, they'd just settled down to eat their meal when Samira said: 'Father, I sometimes wish that we could have different kinds of food to eat .'
The old man thought about this and so the following morning he got up much earlier than he usually would and he went deeper into the mountains where there were more trees.
Ahmed worked long and hard sawing wood and bundling it up, and he collected far more than he usually would. And when he'd done, the old man carried the heavy bundle back home on his shoulders and left it round the back of the hut, ready to take to market.
When he tried the door of their little hut, he found it locked and he knocked and knocked, calling 'Samira, Samira, please let me in, for I am tired and hungry and I must have something to eat and have a nap before taking the wood to market.'
But while he'd been away, having forgotten all about their conversation the night before, Samira had got up, made herself some breakfast, tidied the hut and gone out for a walk by the stream.
So the old man thought about this and decided that he might as well go back into the mountains and collect some more wood, so that the next day they'd have a double load of wood to take to market. And he worked for longer than he he usually would, sawing wood and bundling it up.
When he'd done, the old woodcutter carried the heavy bundle back home on his shoulders and left it round the back of the hut, ready to take the double bundle of wood to market first thing the next day.
When he returned, however, he was already much later than he would usually be, and Ahmed again found the door locked, and he knocked and knocked, calling 'Samira, Samira, please let me in, for I am tired and hungry and I must have something to eat and sleep if I am to be up early tomorrow morning for market.'
But while he'd been away, his daughter had returned, made herself something to eat and gone to bed, thinking that her father must have gone to market and arranged to stay the night there.
So, tired and hungry, the old woodcutter went to sleep by the piles of wood round he back of the hut. But he was so tired and hungry that he could not stay asleep.
Then Ahmed thought he heard a voice saying: 'Old man, what are you doing there?'
'I am telling myself my own story,' he replied and went on to tell everything that had happened to him since his daughter had first mentioned wanting different kinds of food to eat.
Then the voice told him to leave his wood. If you want little enough and need enough,' the voice said, 'you shall have delicious food.'
So the old man got up and followed the voice, but eventually as the light faded, he became hopelessly lost. And again, even more tired and hungry by now, he sat down and fell asleep. But he was so tired and hungry that he could not stay asleep.
Then he thought he heard a voice, just like the first, telling him to follow him. The voice told him to stand up, close his eyes and to raise his right leg, as if mounting a stair.
'But I do not se a stair,' he said.
'Nevertheless,' the voice insisted: 'If you wish me to help you, do as I say. Stand up, close your eyes and raise your right leg, as if mounting a stair.'
The old man did as he was told and as soon as he thought of it, he found himself standing up. He lifted his right leg and, sure enough, when he put his foot down, he could feel a step beneath him.
'Keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them,' the voice commanded.
And not the old woodcutter could feel that the staircase was moving quickly and he could feel himself being lifted up with it.
Finally he reached the top of the staircase and the voice told him that it was alright to open his eyes now.
So the old man opened his eyes and when he did so, he was astonished to find himself in a place that looked like a desert, except that instead of sand, the place seemed to be made out of gleaming stones in all colours: red, green and blue.
'Now, gather up as many of these stones as you can,' the voice told him, and he filled his pockets and his shirt with them until he could carry no more.
'Now, close your eyes once more,' the voice said. 'And don't open them until you are at the bottom of the staircase.'
He did so, and again he felt something like a staircase, moving beneath him. And when he opened his eyes, he saw that he was back home, standing outside his own little hut.
He knocked at the door and Samira came out to greet him, and he told her what had happened to him while he'd been away. But his story seemed so far-fetched to her and she could make little sense of it.
They did not know what to do with the stones - they looke dlike ordinary stones to them - so they placed them in a corner of the room and left them there.
'Nevertheless, you may not know it,' he said, as they ate their meal and shared some dates that evening: 'but we have been helped by Mushkil Gusha. Mushkil Gusha is the remover of all difficulties, and we must always be grateful. Every Thursday evening we must give thanks or give a gift to the needy, in the name of Mushkil Gusha.'
Each day for a week, he collected wood and sold it easily for a god price, so he bought different kinds of food for himself and his daughter to eat.
Then one evening, there was a knock at the door and when he opened it, he found it was his neighbours. 'Our fire has gone out. Please give us some of those wonderful lights which you have in your window.'
'What lights?' the old woodcutter asked.
'Come outside,' said one of his neighbours, 'and see for yourself.'
And, sure enough, when he went outside and looked, Ahmed saw all-manner of wonderful lights streaming out of the window.
He went inside and checked, but found that the light coming from the stones was cold and he could not have kindled a fire from it, so he went outside and said: 'Neighbours, I am sorry, but I have no light to give you.'
He shut the door in the neighbours' faces, and they went away muttering. But they leave our story here.
Then the old man and his daughter Samira covered the stones up with all the scraps of cloth they could find, for fear that someone would come and steal them.
Next morning, when they uncovered the stones they found a heap od sparkling precious gems. And each day they took them to different towns and sold them, and with the money they received they built a fine mansion right opposite the king's palace.
One morning, the king's daughter got up and saw the mansion. 'Who has built it?' she demanded to know. 'How dare they build such a thing so close to the palace?' And she sent her servants to assertain the woodcutter's story as best they were able.
So the princess set out to confront the woodcutter and his daughter, but when the princess and Samira met they soon became fast friends and they used to go and play in the stream which the princess's father had built for her.
Then one day, as the princess was going to swim in the stream, she took off a valuable necklace her father had given her and hung it on the branch of a tree overlooking the stream. And when she came out, she forgot it.
When she got back home, the princess noticed that the necklace was missing and she thought a little and decided that the woodcutter's daughter must have taken it, so she ran to her father the king and told him. He had the woodcutter arrested and thrown into jail, had his land confiscated, and had the daughter sent to an orphanage.
After a time, according to the customs of the country, the old woodcutter was taken from the cells and put in the stocks in the town square with a sign around his neck which read: 'This is what happens to people who steal from kings.' And for a time the townspeople would jeer at him and throw rotten vegetables in his face. But after a time they forgot about him, as is the way of men. Sometimes a passer-by would toss him a little food; sometimes they would not and he would go hungry.
Then one Thursday evening, the old man suddenly realized that it was the eve of Mushkil Gusha, the remover of all difficulties, and that he'd forgotten to commemorate the occasion for so long.
No sooner had the thought entered his mind than a passing merchant tossed him a tiny copper coin.
'Kind sir,' said the woodcutter. 'This coin is of no use to me. But if your generosity would stretch to buying a handful of dates with the money and you would come and share them with me, I would be eternally grateful.'
And so the merchant bought some dates and shared them with the old man and Ahmed told him his whole story right from the time his daughter first asked for different kinds of food to eat, and how he'd been helped by Mushkil Gusha, the remover of all difficulties.
'You must be mad,' the merchant said, but he himself was beset by difficulties and when he returned home he found they had been remarkably removed, which made him think a great deal about Mushkil Gusha. But he leaves our story here.
The very next day, the princess went back to her favourite bathing place and as she bent down to dive in, she thought she saw something glistening in the bottom of the pool. At that moment, she happened to sneeze and as her head went back she noticed her necklace hanging in a branch where she'd left it so long ago, and that what she'd thought was a necklace in the stream was merely a reflection.
So she took the necklace and ran back to the palace to tell her father, the king, and he had the woodcutter released and his daughter brought back from the orphanage.
And they all lived happily ever after.
These are some of the events in the story of Mushkil Gusha, which is never ended. It has many forms and many names, but it is because of Mushkil Gusha that this tale is remembered day and night, wherever there are people.
Will you share some dates on a Thursday evening and tell the story, or give a gift to the needy in the name of Mushkil Gusha, the remover of all difficulties?