Folk Nuggets

The Story of

Abu Hassan’s Loafers

Shoemaker Abu Hassan worked long hours in his shop

Shoemaker Abu Hassan worked long hours in his shop


any years ago in the city of Baghdad there lived a shoemaker whose name was Abu Hassan. Abu Hassan was a master shoemaker. With his skilful hands everyday he created loafers for men, women, children; for young and old; for people of all ages. And the number of his customers was endless. But you should have seen Abu Hassan’s loafers!

They were so old that they were riddled with holes
their colour had faded
their heels were tattered,
the noses were crooked,
and they were always filthy and muddy.

Everybody in town gossiped about Abu Hassan and his infamous loafers and wondered when would he finally make a pair of new loafers for himself?

The sweat running down his back and nose, everyday Abu Hassan worked long hours in this hot and dusty city. He could hardly keep up with the orders of his customers and had no time to rest or even bathe. Weeks had gone by since he had taken a bath and his shirt and pantaloons had become almost as filthy as his loafers. What a shame for a talented shoemaker like him, known all over town!

Finally one Friday morning Abu Hassan couldn’t take his filthy condition any more, so he bundled up his soap, luffa, towel, a change of clean clothes and his washbowl and headed out to the bathhouse. Once there, he took off his loafers in the foyer, got undressed, and entered one of the steamy rooms of the bathhouse. Sitting on a marble bench in front of a basin full of hot water he bathed for hours, scrubbing his body from head to toe, pouring steamy water on himself with his washbowl over and over again, who knows for how many hours.

Fishermen find Abu Hassan's loafers

Fishermen find Abu Hassan's loafers

Finally when his bar of soap had melted down, the skin on his fingers had become puckered, his stomach started grumbling with hunger and thirst, it dawned on him that many long hours had gone by. So he got up, patted his body dry with the clean white towels, got dressed, rested for a while on the divan of the foyer, slurped a couple of juicy orange to quench his thirst, and then took a well-deserved nap.

When he woke up and was ready to leave, he noticed a pair of magnificent new colourful loafers right next to his. “Somebody with a generous heart has given me a pair of new loafers,” he thought. He slipped his feet into them and walked out of the bathhouse with a happy heart. Little did he know that the loafers he had now claimed belonged to the judge, who was still bathing.

When the judge was ready to leave the bathhouse he realized that his loafers had been replaced by some old filthy and muddy ones. And of course he immediately recognized them. “These are Abu Hassan’s loafers,” he shouted and ordered Abu Hassan to be brought to him. The owner of the bathhouse sent his servants after Abu Hassan, who was swiftly dragged back to the bathhouse. The judge demanded his loafers, made Abu Hassan pay a fine for his misdeed and sent him off.

“O-o-f!” sighed Abou Hassan, “These loafers have brought me nothing but bad luck.” On his way back home he threw them into the stream that passed near his house.

Three days later some fishermen fished out a pair of loafers from the stream and soon recognized them. “These are unmistakably Abu Hassan’s loafers,” they told one another.

Look, they are riddled with holes
their colour has faded
their heels are tattered,
the noses are crooked,
as always they are filthy and muddy.

“What are Abu Hassan’s loafers doing in our fishing net?” one of them exclaimed. The fishermen scurried to Abu Hassan’s house and threw the loafers into the house through one of the open windows. It just so happened that one of the loafers landed on an old porcelain vase Abu Hassan had inherited from his parents and shattered it.

My loafers have come back with a vengeance!” Abu Hassan shouted. “I am definitely going to get rid of them this evening!” he told himself with determination. So soon after the sun set behind the hills, he stepped out into his orchard and buried the loafers deep under a tree. Little did he know that one of his neighbours had noticed what he was doing and thought Abu Hassan was burying his treasures in the garden.

That night the neighbour tiptoed into Abu Hassan’s orchard and started digging. He dug here; he dug there; he uprooted plants everywhere. He dug all over the orchard to find what he thought was Abu Hassan’s buried treasure. The neighbour worked until the wee hours of dawn turning the orchard upside down, when finally under one of the trees his shovel hit something. When he pulled out what he thought was Abu Hassan’s treasure, he realized he was holding Abu Hassan’s filthy loafers; now filthier than ever!

In desperation and anger the neighbour hurled the loafers at Abu Hassan’s door. The loafers hit the door with a loud thump and woke up pour Abu Hassan with a thumping heart. “Thieves are after me!” he whispered to himself, He covered his head with his comforter and started beseeching God for help.

In the morning, Abu Hassan walked towards his door, cracked it open with trepidation, and couldn’t believe his eyes. His loafers had turned his magnificent orchard upside down and sitting on his porch, were impertinently staring at him. He was so shocked, that his knees gave away and he fell to the ground proclaiming, Oh God! What kind of punishment is this! Please have mercy on me!

That whole day Abu Hassan sat on his bed pondering how to get rid of these horrible loafers once and for all. He couldn’t sleep that night. Early next morning he took his loafers and rode his donkey towards the big river outside of town. He dumped the loafers into the waves of the big river and screamed “Good bye loafers! Go to the ocean! I never want to see you again!” then he continued on shouting at the top of his lungs, “Go, go and never come back!”

That night, for the first time in a long while, he slept with a peaceful heart.

The next day Abu Hassan woke up hearing a commotion in the neighbourhood. All the women who had gone out to the water reservoir to fetch water had come back with empty buckets. The reservoir was empty. The water, which had been diverted from the big river to the reservoir, had stopped pouring into it. Everybody was saying that the pipe bringing down the water from the river had been clogged for some mysterious reason.

Workers dug from the reservoir all the way up to the big river and finally found a pair of old loafers clogging it. Is it hard to guess whose loafers these were?

They were riddled with holes,
their colour had faded,
their heels were tattered,
the noses were crooked,
and they were muddier than ever.

“Aren’t these Abu Hassan’s loafers? Oh no, not again!” One of the workers exclaimed in frustration.

The angry workers dragged Abu Hassan one more time to the courthouse. Abu Hassan was cursing his fate “God help me,” he yelled, “These loafers are going to kill me!” This time around he had to pay an even bigger fine for his misdeed and the soles of his feet were whipped 50 times!

“The ultimate way to get rid of them is to burn them! I have to burn them!” Abu Hassan yelled as he limped back home. But of course the loafers were now drenched in water. So Abu Hassan placed the soaking-wet loafers on his second story windowsill to dry. But that is where his cat used to take his naps. When the cat jumped on the windowsill the loafers fell towards the street and hit the head of a woman who was passing by. Her forehead started to bleed. She shrieked. People gathered around her. One person who was looking around to figure out what had hit the woman, exclaimed, “Look at these loafers:

they are riddled with holes,
their colour has faded,
their heels are tattered,
the noses are crooked,
they are filthy and muddy.

Aren’t these Abu Hassan’s horrific loafers?”

“Abu Hassan! Abu Hassan! Get out of your hideout, you killer!” The crowd chanted louder and louder and once again they dragged him to the courthouse. Abu Hassan fell at the judge’s feet, “Have mercy on me my lord, have mercy! These deadly loafers have ruined my life and made me the laughing stock of the people for whom I have made shoes all my life! Have mercy on me o lord!” begged Abu Hassan to the judge.

Abu Hassan is dragged to the judge

Abu Hassan is dragged to the judge

The judge first looked at Abu Hassan sternly, then, all of a sudden burst into laughter. “Stand up, Abu Hassan and listen to me!” he said.” You see; at first you did not want to separate from your loafers. Now they do not want to separate from you. Just ask this woman for forgiveness and pay for the medical expenses of her injury; give your old loafers to me, then return to your shop and make a pair of new loafers for yourself!

Next day the judge ordered Abu Hassan’s loafers to be hung from a pole in the central square of Baghdad. And since that day, who knows how many children, women, men, kings, queens, princes, princesses, merchants, thieves, travellers, beggars have passed by that pole, have heard the story of Abu Hassan’s infamous loafers, have carried the story from village to town to city; have carried it over mountains, valleys, oceans and seas; and today, what a miracle! The story of Abou Hassan’s Loafers has finally reached each one of us and with its tiny fingers is tickling our eardrums.

And now it’s your turn to tell the story of Abu Hassan’s loafers. That’s the way of this world. On our planet earth, we humans cannot exist without telling stories.

— Illustrations by F. Goulounian