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István KAMARÁS OJD: Three-Humps and the Three Magi (tale)



 Three-Humps and the Three Magi

(Translated by Márton Mesterházi)


            As is well-known, camels in this part of the world are domestic animals for whom getting into the zoo is, sincerely, a shame. Such a shame, or perhaps rather piece of luck, befell Three-Humps who was also called Kilometer. When this once sturdy creature was no longer able to fend for himself, and when he had become unwanted for anyone, he was placed – in view of his three humps – into the zoological garden of Baghdad. He was first put into the Africa paddock. He was put there in spite of the fact that Three-Humps looked much rather like the Asian two-humps camels than the Arabian-African one-hump dromedaries, but the scientists of the zoological garden had brought their decision on account of the odd number of the humps. However, the decision provoked a debate of unexpected intensity, because camelology in this respect has been divided into two trends of thought up to this day. According to Lombardini and his followers, the dromedary is the bred-in-stock form of the two-humps camel. This opinion is supported by the lack of records from ancient Egypt, and enhanced by the discovery of wild two-humps camels in Central Asia. In opposition to this, Keller and Hilzheimer have reasoned to the effect that by the testimony of out-fossilized remains, wild camels doubtlessly lived in North-Africa. But according to the far-famed Lesbre, both the dromedary and the two-humped camel show common characteristics with the Pliocene species of the Indian Camelus sivalensis, to which the dromedary none the less comes somewhat nearer. Nowadays the majority of the representatives of camelology have come to agree in the presumption that – to be sure – two different species must be spoken of: dromedaries have come to our sight together with the Arabs, thus their birthplace can be surmised to have been in Arabia or Africa, whereas the cradle of the tame two-humps must have most probably rocked in Central Asia. As a result, and to the demands of world famous Egyptian and Kazakh camelologues, Three-Humps was transferred to the Central Asia padlock, which would have been the proper place for the two-humps camels, had they not been domestic animals in this part of the world.

            Three-Humps preserved his neutrality all during the above debate. He simply considered himself a three-humps camel, who during his long-long lifetime carried countless kilos and covered countless meters, and for this reason was called Kilometer in the days of yore when burden was measured in pounds and remoteness in miles in this part of the world. He had all the reason to pride in his Kilometerhood, and was even held in some esteem in the Baghdad zoo for it, but – three humps or no three humps – he made no sensation. First of all because he was making no – or hardly any – show of himself. He just rested in the cool and meditated in the background, so far from the visitors that his humps merged in the distance. As a matter of fact, Three-Humps’ lack of enthusiasm for parading in front of the visitors is fully understandable in view of the board explaining his character:

            Two-humped camel. Differentiated from the dromedary by its two humps, of which one grows on the withers, the other at the rump. Its Physique is clumsy and awkward, its size bigger, its coat much thicker than the dromedary’s; its colour being ordinarily darker than that of the latter, usually dark brown, reddish in the summer. Although the nature and character of the tame two-humped camel could be declared equal to those of the dromedary, it cannot be denied that the former has more goodwill than the latter. It easily allows itself to be tethered, diligently heeds its master’s commands, lies down without any difficulty with a silent growl or a loud bray, it stops by itself when the cargo on its back comes out of place. But it will remain a camel in the full sense of the word. Apart from its Spartan wantlessness, its strength, its indefatigability and tenacity, little can be said for its praise. Its spiritual abilities are on the same low level as the dromedary’s, and it is just as dull, indolent and cowardly as the latter. A big black stone on the road, a heap of bones or a dropped-down saddle may frighten it to the extent of losing all sense, and causing disturbance in the whole caravan. If attacked by a wolf, it will not even think of defending itself, though it could kill the aggressor with one kick; still, it will only spit on the wolf, and bray with all its lungs.

            On thick pastures the two-humped camel does not breed well, conversely, it thrives on steppe plants hardly digestible by other animals, as for instance wormwood, onions, sprouts of various shrubs and the like, but when it wants to gain or retain strength, it will seek salty plants. When tormented by hunger, it will gobble up anything it can swallow, leather straps, felt covers, bones, animal leather, meat, fish, anything.

            Similarly to the dromedary, the two-humped camel is unable to support being overburdened. Due to its sociability, it will go with the caravan as long as its strength holds out, but when it lies down for fatigue there is no power to put it on its feet again. In such cases it is generally left to the care of the master of the nearest Yurta, of whom it will be led away only later – when it has regained strength after a longer rest.

            In spite of all its faults, we can consider the two-humped camel one of the most useful animals among those which serve mankind. Its services are in all respects so important that it cannot be replaced by any other domestic animal. Its coat, its milk, its leather and meat are equally used; it can be harnessed in a cart, or can transport burden on its back. With its master it can cross arid, barren steppes where the horse would be unable to move, it can climb mountains higher than 4000 meters, where only the yak is able to do work. The steppe man’s companion is the horse, but the two-humped camel is his servant.

            The camel of our zoological garden, in spite of its three humps, belongs to the two-humps (Camelus bactrianus) species.

            Well, it is no great wonder that having heard all this, the graceful antelopes in the Central Asia paddock did not pay much respect to Three-Humps, however countless his kilos and his meters might have been. But, considering him first of all a servant, they – the free of the boundless steppes – duly pitied him. Once a year, however, Three-Humps got into the centre of the attention of the inmates of the Central Asia paddock: and this was at Christmas. Three-Humps then told his companions caught in the zoo about the NOTABLE EVENT, that is the story of how it happened in his stripling camel years that he carried the Three Magi to Bethlehem to help them pay their respects to Jesus. He was heard through attentively at every single occasion even by those who had heard the story a dozen times, because it was a ravishingly beautiful story, no denying that. Though afterwards his listeners duly brought it to his knowledge that they readily believe him Jesus, Mary and Joseph, readily believe him the shepherds, the lambs and the ewe-cheese, the Three Magi, and they believe him the gold, the frankincense and the myrrh, they believe him Herod, even the angels they believe him, but they will never believe that it would have been himself who – with a Mage on each hump – was the one to have gone to Bethlehem. When urged for evidence, Three-Humps could but repeat: “Still, it happened like that.” “Never mind and never grieve”, the graceful steppe antelopes and the weather-beaten wool-bearing yak said, “your story is just as ravishingly beautiful if you did not figure in it yourself.” In vain did Three-Humps repeat that he would simply be unable to invent such a ravishingly beautiful story, as – all have read it written on the board explaining his character – his “spiritual abilities are on the same low level as the dromedary’s.” As an answer, he was given even louder words of comfort, and made to promise that the following Christmas he would tell them again about the NOTABLE EVENT, which for them, Islam-believing creatures, is also something holy, because (though they do not believe Jesus to be their Saviour) they count Him among the very greatest Prophets whose second coming they, too, are awaiting.

            The following Christmas, however, found no-one apart him in the Central Asia paddock of the Baghdad Zoological Garden, as after the bombings the remaining unhurt herbivora were fed to the remaining unhurt carnivores, then the remaining unhurt carnivores were sold to those reckless animal dealers whom not even the fiercest fightings could frighten off making good business. Of the whole Baghdad zoo barely four items remained: a seven-banded tatu (who was also called armadillo) protected by its armour, a blind mouse preserved by its mouse-hole, an old-age pensioner pelican with a red crescent painted on one wing and a red cross painted on the other, and – marvel of marvels – Three-Humps. The four of them were adopted by the Oecumenical Relief Service, in the company of four hundred bombed-out orphans. The four of them were obliged to eat the same food as the orphans. Three-Humps was the least incommodated by having to be satisfied with soup, mush and tinned baby-food, as he had been for many years unable to chew oats, he could only munch oat-flakes.

            Three-Humps was always looking forward to Christmas-time, thus also to the Christmas of 2004, so that he could tell again of the NOTABLE EVENT, and forget – at least for one day – about old age, infirmity, jeering and the war, but he especially hoped to forget about what had been tormenting him for quite a while, that is the problem of how a camel can go through the eye of a needle. He was sure of the fact that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man, because these were the words of Jesus, Prophet of Prophets, to whom he had carried the wise men from the East, or as people in general call them, the Three Magi; but at the same time it did not seem a trifle (for a camel either) to go through the eye of the needle – and he somehow felt this must come about quite soon.

            On the Christmas morning of 2004 he woke up in great-great hope, but when he remembered whom he wanted to tell about the NOTABLE EVENT, he nearly lost his hopes. The old-age pensioner pelican had willingly been bustling about him, taking care of his lunch and his health, but it was nearly impossible to make conversation with it, because the pelican started every time with the question: “Cavan youvou speaveak livike thavat?” And when Three-Humps answered: “Ivi cavan novot.” the conversation came to its end. No-one could tell about the seven-banded, armoured tatu (who was also called armadillo) whether it was simply deaf or had taken a vow of silence. The blind mouse was kindly devoted to Three-Humps. It was incessantly besieging him with very clever and very difficult questions, like How many kilos had he carried? How many meters had he covered? Was it true that ‘there’s camels with one hump, and two humps, and four humps, and more’? and if it was true why there was no other three-humps camel apart from him? Three-Humps could not give clever answers to those questions. And in vain did the blind mouse seem to be very clever, Three-Humps had fears about the mouse, blind as it was, being unable to imagine the NOTABLE EVENT.

            Just when Three-Humps, with some difficulty, rallied his companions around him and – anticipating the pelican’s question – ventured upon relating the NOTABLE EVENT, something unexpected happened. The activists of the Oecumenical Relief Service – a Catholic sister of Mercy, a Calvinist pastor, a Lutheran deaconess and a Baptist doctor – invited them to their Christmas celebration, more exactly led them to the miraculously preserved elephant house where they established the emergency refuge for the orphans. It was there that they set up the Christmas tree, which the orphaned Baghdad children gazed at open-mouthed, as they could not have seen such a thing at all, or perhaps in some American movie, which very few of them had the occasion to see. In this besieged city not even the privileged could seriously hope for a finely decorated Christmas tree with beautiful presents under it; so the four of them figured as main decorations of that poorish wartime Christmas tree: the blind mouse, the seven-banded tatu (who was also called armadillo), the pelican with the red crescent and the red cross, and the three-humped camel. But the children, who had never seen a real Christmas tree decorated with tinsel, glittering glass balls and sparklers, could easily believe that a Christmas tree is made a Christmas tree by the blind mouse, the tatu (who was also called armadillo), the pelican and the extraordinary camel lodging under it. So they thanked the festive show with great applause and singing, then (those who could leave their sick-beds) with a dance. A great silence followed, because a miracle took place: from a big basket a piece of exquisite sultanas bread (or Turkish delight) was conjured up for each and everyone of them. There was also talk about some Jesus, son of the Sultan of Sultans, who was born at Christmas, but that was double-Dutch for the orphaned children.

            It was in this deep silence that Three-Humps began to tell his zoo companions under the Christmas tree about the NOTABLE EVENT.

 – Now, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying…

 – Cavan youvou speaveak livike thavat? – butted in flightily the pelican.

 – Ivi cavan! – answered Three-Humps.

 – Ivi avam veverivy glavad! – enthused the pelican, who fell silent suddenly, promising with an aplogetic gesture to pay really strong attention from then on.

 – And the wise men from the east asked: “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.”

            When Herod learned from his chief priests and scribes that Christ should be born in Bethlehem, for this is written by the prophet, he had privily called the wise men from the east, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared, then sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and search diligently for the young child; and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.”

 – Are you sure he wanted to worship the child? – asked the blind mouse suspiciously.

 – No! No! No! He was lying! – whooped somebody.

            They have never heard this voice. Nor could they have, because the voice belonged to the seven-banded, armoured tatu (who was also called armadillo).

            So they were quite a bit amazed.

 – Excuse me – apologized the tatu (who was also called armadillo)  huskily, then added softly – Please, go on.

 – In my opinion, too, he was lying. He was lying, wasn’t he? – insisted the blind mouse.

 – But the Magi could not know that then – continued Three-Humps. – As, having heard out the wicked king, they departed and followed the star, but they did not get very far, because their dromedaries, exhausted by the countless kilos and meters, lay down, and in such a case, as you may have read, there is no power to put them on their feet again. So the wise men from the east, clad in their mage’s pomp, got off their dromedaries, leaving them to their servants, and set out on foot, carrying their treasure-chests on their own shoulders with great difficulty. They could set their remaining hopes in the star only, and indeed, the star led them to me. I was young, very courageous and very strong, it was child’s play for me to carry the three wise men from the east, or for that matter the three Magi, because I, too, took them for magi by their splendid robes. I did not have to be led or goaded, following the star I went, or rather gallopped. And when the star came and stopped, we arrived, and then we rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

            At that moment there was a hammering on the door of the elephant house, but fortunately it was neither the Americans, nor the men of the provisional government, nor the insurgents either, but three Sultans, or such as might have been ones once, but now they were like three bombed-out sultans, that is like three war-stricken homeless men, ragged, stinking, stubbly.

 – Come in, good men! – invited them the sister of Mercy.

 – You have come just in good time, there still are some pieces of sultanas bread (or Turkish delight) left – explained the Lutheran deaconess.

 – They are the spitting image of the three Magi – whispered the Baptist doctor to the Calvinist pastor.

 – That’s just what we are – said the one called Jasper in choice Arabic, at once introducing himself.

 – The star came and stopped above this house, though we have been looking for a stable – said the one called Melchior in choice Chaldean.

 – This is the elephant house, but now it is the emergency refuge for four hundred orphans and the four remaining inmates of the zoo – explained the Calvinist pastor.

 – Maybe you have brought us presents? – asked the Lutheran deaconess hopefully.

 – The gold was confiscated by the Americans – explained Jasper in choice Arabic.

 – The frankincense by the men of the provisional government – continued Melchior in choice Chaldean.

 – And the myrrh by the insurgents – finished Balthasar in choice Abyssinian.

            The activists of the Oecumenical Relief did not exactly understand all of this, but they understood the meaning: that the three have nothing.

 – And you have no camels either? – inquired the Baptist doctor.

 – None, and for a long time – they answered apologetically.

 – There is one here, though in ruins for a long time – and the sister of Mercy pointed at Three-Humps.

 – It is to him we have come – said Jasper in choice Arabic.

 – For him – continued Melchior in choice Chaldean.

 – We shall depart with him – finished Balthasar in choice Abyssinian.

            The activists of the Oecumenical Relief did not now exactly understand all of this either, but they understood the meaning: that Three-Humps has been let into the secret.

 – Though I have already begun to hope that they are voluntary blood-donors – whispered the Lutheran deaconess to the Baptist doctor.

 – That’s just what we are, at your disposal! – said the three together, each in his own tongue, at once offering their arms.

            And they gave blood abundantly, weakening so much that they were unable to stand up. The activists of the Oecumenical Relief, deeply moved, could only repeat:

 – Thank you in the name of Little Jesus!

            The three Magi did not first want to accept the pieces of sultanas bread (or Turkish delight) forced on them, saying in protest that they had come to give, as in those days of yore, and not to receive. But when the activists of the Oecumenical Relief fell silent and sad, because they, too, preferred giving to receiving, the three of them reluctantly accepted and nibbled up the pieces of sultanas bread (or Turkish delight). By the taste of which they recovered their strength so well that they were able to approach Three-Humps. Three-Humps could only nod his head so happy he was. Words also failed the three Magi, so they just patted him on the humps, wordless, then leaning against his side, fell asleep. The pelican, the tatu (who was also called armadillo) and the blind mouse just looked dumbfounded, like the man in the cinema.

 – Thevese avare thovose, avaren’t thevey? – asked the pelican.

 – Yes, they are. Themselves – answered Three-Humps.

 – Carry on with the notable event, then! – urged the blind mouse.

            And Three-Humps was happy to continue, as was written:

 – They were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him. And when they had greeted Joseph and Mary, they opened their treasures, and presented their gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

 – Theve savame avas thevese? – asked the pelican with gaping beak.

 – You can see with half an eye they are  – grunted the tatu (who was also called armadillo).

 – Of course they are! God and my foot! – the blind mouse said amazed.

 – Avand whavat avabouvout youvou? – asked the pelican.

 – I popped my head through the window, envying the ass and the ox, then I lulled the restless Infant to sleep with the following song: “Four colt camels, mum and dad / Are on the road to Baghdad, / Four colt camels whine and moan, / Mummy camel calms them down.”

 – And the Infant? – asked the pelican with motherly care.

 – Be assured the Infant fell happily asleep. – answered Three-Humps proudly.

            At this instant the three Magi woke up. All the three had the same dream: an angel warned them in choice Arabic, Chaldean and Abyssinian tongue to depart into their own country another way. Three-Humps could not but – mustering all his strength – scramble to his feet with cracking joints; then he nodded them his head to mount.

 – But howsomever! – remonstrated the three Magi.

 – Would you want to walk it? – Three-Humps protested – Mount, quick! Get a move on! Now!

            The three Magi, with great pain and difficulty, pushed each other up on Three-Humps’ three humps; while he, catching his breath, panted:

 – Well you, poor things, don’t weigh half the weight you had in the days of yore.

            The wise men from the east, that is the three Magi shook their heads:

 – Well, as a matter of fact, brother camel, we, too, have seen you in better shape!

            They made up their convoy. In front went the pelican with the red cross and the red crescent on its wings, hopefully they would not be shot at like this, though every holy thing was being shot at by then. Three-Humps followed with the three Magi, nearly sinking under his happiness. The line was closed by the seven-banded tatu (who was also called armadillo) as strategic armoured vehicle, taking the blind mouse into his care. They took leave of the activists of the Oecumenical Relief and the bombed-out children, and with a deep sigh set forth. Following the star.