Chapter 7 – The Thief

They kept going until about midday when they chanced upon two young men coming up from the fields with spades on their shoulders. They exchanged greetings and continued together along the track.

They chatted a while about ploughing and harvesting, and then Amsiggel asked, “What are your names?” One replied, “I’m Hamu the Beard, and we call this fellow Hamu the Thief.” Amsiggel was surprised. He enquired of them, “I can see why they call you the Beard because your beard – but ‘the Thief’, why that name?” “Well,” he replied sadly, “I once stole a chicken from the village magistrate and they found it in my house.” In surprise, Amsiggel asked him, “How long ago did this happen?” “Two years ago,” he replied, “and from that time I’ve never stolen anything.” “Well then,” said Amsiggel, “it’s clear you’re no longer a thief!” Hamu the Beard intervened, “A shady character,” he said, “is always open to suspicion!”

Amsiggel thought about this, then said to him, “You have a beard – anytime you want, you can shave it off and change your appearance. So can’t your friend change too?” “Ah” replied Hamu the Beard, “hair grows on the surface of a man but a thieving nature lies deep inside him.” “Well, can’t someone change what’s inside him?” asked Amsiggel. “This fellow,” Hamu the Beard replied, “he’s had thieving nature since he was a child – sucked from his mother’s breast and eaten from his father’s toil. A small boy is like oleander wood – while still green you can make what you want of it, but once it dries out it’s good only for the hearth!”

Turning to the Thief, Amsiggel asked, “Has the magistrate forgiven you?” “He forgave me,” he replied, “when I returned the chicken, but he’s never forgotten what I did. Whenever I meet him he laughs at me and insults me, both him and his family and all his relations.” “But if you promised never to steal again,” said Amsiggel, “won’t they let you turn over a new leaf? Can’t you find some way to be reconciled to them?” “Oh no,” he said, “because they always suspect me. And whenever anything gets stolen anywhere in the village, they think I’ve taken it!” Amsiggel was amazed at this.

“These people,” the Thief continued sadly, “are like an apple, looking good on the outside but rotten within. The wrong I did was seen straightaway, but the wrong they do – they just know how to hide it. They tell you how good they are, but I know for a fact they’re worse than me. They just act in secret so no-one sees them.” “You’re quite right,” agreed Amsiggel, “People are not ashamed of what they do if there’s no-one around to see it.”

“In wintertime,” said the Thief, “the snow falls and covers up all the rubbish littered on the ground. But when the sun comes out, it melts the snow and reveals the rubbish still there. The snow is like someone who says ‘I’m a good person – I’ve done nothing wrong!’ That person is lying, because he’s covering up the filth in his heart and mind. God will reveal it all on the Day of Judgment, just as the sun reveals the bad things that the snow hides from view.” “Many people say they’re good,” agreed Hamu the Beard, “but they have a lying nature, betraying the trust of others and cheating them. They have an envious nature, wanting what belongs to others. They have an aggressive nature, quarreling with anyone who opposes them. They have a lustful nature, wanting other women. They have a conceited nature, taking advantage of their brothers and workmates. They have a lazy nature, not keeping their promises. Well, we all know what we’re like!” “You’re right,” agreed Amsiggel, “We know what’s hidden in the heart of man. But none of us wants to forgive someone who’s done us wrong, because we all want to give the impression we’re better than others. We may hide our faults, but how could we ever really purify ourselves from that evil hidden deep within us?”

“It’s not at all easy!” said Hamu the Beard, “Like the cow, for instance, continually bothered by flies. She waves her tail, stamps her feet, shuts her eyes, shakes her head, but she just can’t get rid of those flies. They won’t leave her alone. Every day they keep on itching and annoying her. That’s how the cow spends her days until eventually she dies. It’s like that for us too. Evil words and wicked thoughts come to us from all sides. They bother us and upset us and entice us and preoccupy us. We don’t like it at all and we feel quite ill at ease. We flap around, just as the cow wafts her tail, trying to send away all those evil things – we say our prayers, we keep the fast, we read and recite, we give alms, but we cannot get away from the evil of the world which keeps settling on our body. That’s how we spend our days until eventually we die. The flies don’t actually get inside the cow until she’s dead, but evil things get right inside us even while we’re still alive.”

“God save us!” exclaimed the Thief, “because we cannot avoid the polluting things of this world, nor do we know any way to remove the pollution within us.” “You’re right!” said Hamu the Beard regarding him closely, “because, as we said, a bad person can’t become good in the sight of God or in the sight of other people.” Amsiggel spoke up: “All this goes to alienate a person from his neighbour, to alienate him from himself, and to alienate him from God too. If only there could be reconciliation and peace between us all! If only there could be compassion which might draw together those at odds!” None of them spoke, all absorbed in their own thoughts. Then Hamu the Beard said, “I’ve heard there’s a place on the other side of these mountains which they call Peace. Perhaps the people there will know a way for us to be at peace with one another.”