Can you divide…?

There was once a man who had three sons and seventeen camels. The sons were called Ben, Jim and Siam. (And we are not worried, in this story, by what the camels were called!)

The father was growing very old and one day he called his sons together and said,

 ‘Boys, I am old and one of these days I will die. Please promise me that when I am gone, you won’t quarrel over my camels.’

 The three sons looked gloomy. They did not want their father to die, but they were eager to hear what he had to say.

‘I want you divide the camels in this way,’ continued the old man.

‘Ben, you are my first son; you must have half the camels.’

Ben looked pleased. ‘Thank you father,’ he said.

‘Jim,’ said the old man, ‘you are the second boy and you must take a third of the camels.’

Then he turned to the youngest boy and said: ‘Siam, you will get a ninth.’

The youngest boys were a little disappointed but they did not complain. They promised not to quarrel and do exactly as their father requested.

The day came when the father died. The boys arranged the funeral, and when it was over, they got down to the business of sharing out the camels.

Ben, the eldest, said, ‘Father wanted me to have half the camels but half of seventeen is eight and a half. How can I take half a camel? The best idea would be for me to take nine camels and you two can share the rest.’

The other two brothers looked stunned. They disagreed with their brother’s idea.

‘You are already getting the biggest share,’ said Jim. ‘Why should you get half a camel more?’

‘It’s best that you take eight,’ added Siam.

‘Well, that is a good idea, too,’ agreed Ben. ‘But you know, it is not according to our father’s wish.’

The brothers sat and thought for a while. They did not want to get into a big argument or come to blows.

Then the youngest, Siam, broke the silence.

‘How about selling one camel and then dividing the money?’  He said brightly.

The other two scowled and made their dislike for this suggestion obvious.

‘Then what about killing one camel and feeding the village in memory of our father/’ asked Siam, seeing that they were unhappy with his idea.

‘What!’ shouted Ben, ‘Waste a good camel by feeding the whole village? You must be crazy!’

The argument went on and on in this way. Every time one of the sons made a suggestion the other two disagreed with it. Their voices grew louder and louder; their faces got redder and redder and there was must stamping of feet and shaking of fists. When the argument was reaching its height, a man passed by leading a camel by a rope. The man looked like a holy man. He paused to listen to the three brothers arguing.

The holy man came closer to the brothers.

‘Now, my friends,’ said the holy man, ‘I’m sorry to interrupt your discussion but can I am of any help? It is not very good to fight and shout at other; you may burst a blood vessel.’

At first the brothers wanted to send the man away, but then they decided that he might be able to help them with their problem.

‘Well,’ said Ben, ‘we are quarreling over the inheritance that was bequeathed to us by our father.

We did not mean to quarrel but there doesn’t seem to be a solution to our problem.’

Ben told the man all about the camels and how they were to be divided.

The holy man listened to the story with great interest. When Ben finished, the man smiled wisely.

‘Here,’ he said, ‘take my camel and see how that will help in your sharing.’

The holy man hand the rope down to Ben.

‘We can’t do that,’ replied the brothers. ‘It’s very kind of you to make this offer, but you must not give up your camel.’ The holy man smiled kindly.

‘No, no, please take it,’ he said. ‘If God wills, I shall not be the poorer for it.’

With these words, he gave them the camel.

The brothers thanked him and then led the camel and tied it next to their own camels. Then they started to make their calculations once again. They now had a total of eighteen camels.

Ben took his share, half–that was nine camels.

Jim took a third—that was six camels

And Siam took a ninth—that was two camels.

The brothers stood quite still. They were stuck with amazement and their jaws dropped open, for there, standing alone, was the holy man’s camel.

The holy man bent down and took up the rope which was tied to his camel.

‘You see, my friend,’ he said softly, ‘there is no need to quarrel.

Everything can be settled in a friendly manner if we try.’

He waved goodbye and went on his way…..!!!




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