Monday, August 28, 2023

A Murder Mystery, Part 1

One of the stories that is found in every fragment/manuscript of the 1001 Nights is called by two different titles: "The Three Apples" or "The Tale of the Murdered Woman." It's worth sharing, but is long and complex enough that, like Scheherazade, I will leave you waiting for the conclusion.

During the time of the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid, a fisherman discovers a large locked chest by the Tigris River which he sells to the caliph. Breaking it open, the al-Rashid finds the cut-up body of a young woman. Shocked by the crime in his domain, he gives his vizier, Ja'far ibn Yahya, three days to find the murderer; if he cannot find the murderer, Ja'far will be executed.

Although heavily motivated, Ja'far knows it will be impossible to carry out the caliph's orders, and so he hides away at home for the three days before presenting himself to al-Rashid. Just before he is about to be executed, however, two men appear—a young and handsome man and an older man—both confessing to the crime and each calling the other a liar. Finally, the young man proves himself the killer by accurately describing the chest, and he explains.

The young man was her husband, and the old man her father who tried to save his son-in-law by taking the blame. The woman was a faultless wife and mother with three children, but one day she fell ill and requested a special kind of apple. Her husband left Baghdad for a two-week journey to get it from an orchard; he took three. Returning home with them, he found his wife too ill to eat, so he left the apples with her and went to his work.

While at his shop, he sees a slave walk by with an apple that bears a remarkable resemblance to the apples he left with his wife. The slave tells him that he got the apple from his girlfriend. Returning home, the husband asks his wife where the apples are, and discovers that she only has two. He kills her for her infidelity, then cuts up the body and stuffs the parts into a heavy chest which he leaves by the Tigris. Coming back from the river, one of his children tells him that he took an apple and then it was taken by a slave. The husband realizes that his wife was not unfaithful. He tells Caliph Harun al-Rashid that he deserves death.

The caliph sympathizes with the young man. He tells his vizier Ja'far to find the slave who took the apple. If he cannot find the slave within three days, Ja'far will be put to death.

...and with that familiar phrase, I will leave you until tomorrow.

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