Once upon a time, there lived a poor farmer in a village. His name was Ahmed and he was an orphan. His parents had died when he was young. When Ahmed was born, his mother became severely ill and his father, also a farmer, did not have enough money to get timely treatment for his wife. So he decided to ask the landlord of the village for a loan.
The sly and miserly landlord cleverly manipulated the poor to take loans from him. When Ahmed’s father asked for a loan, the landlord told him that he would be charging an interest on it, which meant that Ahmed’s father had to pay back more money than he took from the landlord. Being a simple person in a desperate situation, he agreed to the landlord’s terms and conditions.
This way the treatment of Ahmed’s mother began but, unfortunately, she couldn’t recover and soon passed away. At that time Ahmed was just seven years old. Ahmed’s father was devastated, he lost interest in his business and he started to be careless about his own health, which later cost him his own life. Ahmed was 15 years old when his father passed away. All this time, the loan remained unpaid and it doubled with the interest that had to be paid back to the landlord
Ahmed had grown up with little supervision and guidance, and so was not skilled or smart enough to do any work that could earn him any money. As a result, he was unable to pay back the landlord any money after his father’s death. The landlord took away his house, his cattle and the small farm his parents had left him.
The villagers sympathised with Ahmed for a few days by giving him food and water.
Meanwhile, Ahmed built a small shack in the forest outside the village. To earn his living, he used to tend to the flock of sheep of the villagers and worked on their farms. But he didn’t earn enough money to fulfil his basic needs.
One day, sitting all by himself in his shack, he sadly thought about not having learnt a skill that would bring him enough money to live comfortably. Then he thought that this was not the end of the world. He could try his luck in the city because there were much better job opportunities there.
The next day, early in the morning, he set off on his journey towards the city which was a few miles away. After few hours, he reached the city. Suddenly, he heard a commotion. The guards were ushering people to one side.
Ahmed asked an old man about what was happening. The old man replied that a royal procession was about to pass, for which the path was being cleared up.
Soon, a royal carriage with several horse riders appeared. The front of the procession was led by people blowing horns while a group of acrobats were performing at the back. In the carriage sat the royal princess. She was the only child of the king and the queen.
Ahmed was mesmerised by the sight of the princess. “Lucky would be the person who gets to marry this beautiful princess,” Ahmed thought.
Ahmed was lost in his thoughts when the old man shook him. “Are you alright? Your face looks so pale!” he said.
Ahmed was jolted back from his thoughts and managed to say that he was fine. He then asked the old man if there were any job opportunities available. The old man asked him what he could do.
“I can do heavy labour work,” Ahmed quickly replied.
The old man smiled and patted his back. “I’m a transporter. I convay goods from warehouses to wholesalers. You can work for me. I will pay sufficient amount.”
Ahmed accepted his offer. From that day onwards, he started his job which included loading and unloading the goods from the vehicle. He also bought a donkey to help carry the load. Although he was earning a fair amount, he could not afford to reside in the city due to high rent. Therefore, after completing his job in the day, he used to go back to his shack in the forest in the evening and spend the night there. He also built a small barn for his donkey close to the shack.
The days went by until one day, it was raining heavily. Ahmed stayed in his shack and didn’t go to the city because he didn’t feel well. In the morning, Ahmed had untied the rope of his donkey so that it could roam in the forest and eat by itself. This was not the first time he had done this. He would usually let his donkey go into the forest and the loyal animal always returned to the barn after a while. But that day, the donkey did not return.
It had rained all day and even by midnight the rain had not stopped. Ahmed did not have the energy to go out into the dark, cold and damp forest to look for his donkey. On top of everything, the roof of his shack had started to drip.
Ahmed lay on his bed and stared at the ceiling. He did not know that a lion was hiding in the barn to take shelter from the rain. When Ahmed heard a sound from the barn, he assumed that the donkey had returned. He sighed in relief, but soon rain drops started to fall on his face through the roof. Frustrated, he sat up on his bed. He moved over to where it was drier and fell asleep.
The rain stopped after an hour and Ahmed woke up. It was still dark outside, but soon dawn was about to arrive. Ahmed quickly got up, changed into drier clothes and went outside into the barn where the lion was still asleep. As it was still dark, Ahmed did not recognise the animal lying there. He sat on its back thinking it was his donkey and touched it with a stick to give it a cue to walk. The lion quietly obeyed and started walking.
They reached the city a bit later than usual because the lion was walking at a slow pace. Along the way, Ahmed fell asleep again on the lion’s back. When the people saw a lion, they screamed and ran away.
Princess Sara was standing in the balcony of the palace, deep in thoughts. “I am going to marry the most courageous and bravest person that I find. But the problem here is how in the world am I going to find one?”
At that moment, her attention was drawn to the commotion on the road. She saw a man riding a lion. “This is the bravest man that I have ever seen,” she exclaimed in excitement.
She told her guards to bring that man to her. The guards nodded and went to Ahmed who was still asleep on the lion’s back. They grabbed Ahmed from his shoulders and started to drag him to the castle. The lion took this opportunity to run back to the forest.
Ahmed woke up and started shouting. “What have I done? Please, leave me alone!”
A few days later, the princess married Ahmed who was thrilled with the turn that his life had suddenly taken. But one thing he couldn’t understand — why did the princess think he was the bravest man she had ever seen and why were the people calling him a lion rider?
Published in Dawn, Young World, November 16th, 2019