Latif’s story, by Jorge Bucay

Latif was the poorest beggar in a middle eastern village. Every night he slept in the hall of a different house, facing the city’s central square.

Every day he lay under a different tree, his hand outstretched and his gaze lost in thought.

Every afternoon he ate from the alms or the crumbs that some charitable person brought him. But to feel that he deserved the alms he received, he offered to answer questions that were asked in exchange for coins (if they were satisfied with the answer).

Despite his appearance and the way he spent his days, Latif was considered by all to be the wisest man in the village, perhaps not so much for his intelligence, but for everything he had lived.

One sunny morning, the king himself appeared on the market. Surrounded by guards, he walked among the fruit and trinket stalls. In the midst of many people he finds Latif, who was sleeping under the shade of an oak tree and asks his advisors who he is.

Someone told him that he was facing the poorest of his subjects, but also facing one of the most respected men for his wisdom. And that he exchanges his knowledge for coins

The king then turned to Latif and said:

– “If you answer me a question, I will give you this gold coin.”

Latif looked at him and replied:

– “If you like the answer… What is your question?

And the King asked him a complex question that had been bothering him for days and that he couldn’t resolve. A problem of goods and resources that your analysts have not been able to resolve.

Latif’s response was precise, sensible and creative.

The king was surprised; he left his coin at the beggar’s feet and continued on his way through the market, mulling over what had happened.

The next day, the king reappeared in the marketplace. He went straight to where Lafit was resting, this time under an olive grove.

Again, the king asked a question and again Latif answered quickly and wisely. The king was surprised again by such lucidity.

“Lafit, I need you” – said the king – “I am overwhelmed with the decisions I have to make as king. I don’t want to harm my people and I don’t want to be a bad sovereign either. I ask you to come to the palace and be my adviser. I promise you that you will lack nothing, that you will be respected and that you can leave whenever you want… please.”

Out of compassion, service or surprise, the fact is that Latif, after thinking for a few minutes, accepted the King’s proposal.

That same afternoon Latif arrived at the palace, where he was immediately assigned a luxurious room just two hundred meters from the royal bedroom. In the room, a tub of essences and warm water awaited him.

During the following weeks the King’s consultations became habitual. Every day, in the morning and in the afternoon, the monarch called his new adviser to consult him about the problems of the kingdom, about his own life or about his spiritual doubts. Latif always answered with clarity and precision.

The newcomer became the King’s favourite interlocutor.

Three months after his stay there was no measure, decision or ruling that the monarch did not consult with his precious adviser.

Obviously, this triggered the jealousy of all the courtiers who saw in the beggar-consultant a threat to his own influence and a detriment to his material interests.

One day all the other advisors requested an audience with the King. Very circumspect and gravely they told him:

– “Your friend Latif, as you call him, is conspiring to overthrow you.”

– “It can’t be” – said the king – “I don’t think so.”

“You can confirm it with your own eyes” – they all said – “Every afternoon at about five o’clock, Latif sneaks out of the palace to the South wing and in a hidden room he secretly meets, we don’t know who. We have asked him where he was going one of those afternoons and he has answered evasively. That attitude ended up alerting us to his conspiracy.”

The King felt disappointed and hurt. He had to confirm those versions.

That afternoon, at five, he was waiting hidden in a stairwell.

From there he saw how, indeed, Latif reached the door, looked around and with the key that hung from his neck opened the wooden door and sneaked into the room.

– “You saw it?” – the courtiers shouted – “Did you see him?”

Followed by his personal guard, the monarch knocked on the door.

-“Who’s there?” – Latif said from inside.

– “It is me, the King” – said the sovereign – “Open the door for me.”

Latif opened the door. There was no one there except Latif. No door, or window, no secret door, no piece of furniture that would allow someone to hide.

There was only a worn wooden plate on the floor, in a corner a walking stick and in the center of the room a threadbare tunic hanging from a hook in the ceiling.

– “Are you conspiring against me, Latif?” – asked the King.

-“How can you think that, Your Majesty?”-Latif answered – “No way. Why would I do it?”

– “But you come here every afternoon in secret. What are you looking for if you don’t see anyone? Why do you come to this hovel secretly?

Latif smiled and walked over to the ragged tunic that hung from the ceiling. He caressed it and said to the King: – “Only six months ago when I arrived, all I had were this tunic, this plate and this wooden stick” – Latif said. “Now I feel so comfortable in the clothes I wear, the bed I sleep in is so comfortable, the respect you give me is so flattering and the power that my place at your side gives me is so fascinating……that I come here every day to be sure not to forget WHO I AM AND WHERE I CAME FROM.”

The School of We

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