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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207–1273)

The Invalid and his Deaf Visitor

From “Stories in Rime” (Masnavi)

A DEAF man was informed that a neighbor of his was ill, so he resolved upon going to see him. “But,” said he to himself, “owing to my deafness I shall not be able to catch the words of the sick man, whose voice must be very feeble at this time. However, go I must. When I see his lips moving I shall be able to make a reasonably good conjecture of what he is saying. When I ask him, ‘How are you, oh, my afflicted friend?’ he will probably reply, ‘I am well,’ or ‘I am better.’ I shall then say, ‘Thanks be to God! Tell me, what have you taken for food?’ He will probably mention some liquid food or gruel. I shall then wish that the food may agree with him, and shall ask him the name of the physician under whose treatment he is. On his naming the man, I shall say, ‘He is a skilful leech. Since it is he who is attending upon you, you will soon be well. I have had experience of him. Wherever he goes, his patients very soon recover.’”

So the deaf man, having prepared himself for the visit, went to the invalid’s bedside, and sat down near the pillow. Then, rubbing his hands together with assumed cheerfulness, he inquired, “How are you?” “I am dying,” replied the patient. “Thanks be to God!” rejoined the deaf man.

The sick man was troubled in his heart, and said to himself, “What kind of thanksgiving is this? Surely he must be an enemy of mine!”—little thinking that his visitor’s remark was but the result of wrong conjecture.

“What have you been eating?” was the next question; to which the reply was, “Poison!” “May it agree with you,” was the wish expressed by the deaf man, which only increased the other’s vexation.

“And pray, who is your physician?” again asked the visitor. “Azrael, the Angel of Death. And now, begone with you!” growled the invalid. “Oh, is he?” pursued the deaf man. “Then you ought to rejoice, for he is a man of auspicious footsteps. I saw him only just now, and asked him to devote to you his best possible attention.”

With these words he bade the sick man good-by, and withdrew, rejoicing that he had satisfactorily performed a neighborly duty. Meanwhile, the other man was angrily muttering to himself, “This fellow is an implacable foe of mine. I did not know his heart was so full of malignity.”