Once there was a woodcutter and a barber. One day, the barber went to the woodcutter and said, “I want to buy some fuel.”
The woodcutter had the wood on the back of his donkey. “That is wonderful,” he said. “How much do you want?”
“Everything that you have,” the barber replied.
So the woodcutter gave him all the wood and said, “Now, please give me the money.”
“No,” said the barber. “First you have to give me everything; otherwise, I won’t give you any money.”
The woodcutter explained, “I can’t give you that last piece of wood. It is tied to the donkey’s back and it always remains there as the foundation for the wood pile.”
The barber insisted, “You have to give me everything.”
“I can’t,” the woodcutter said again. “That one always remains on the donkey.”
“Then I won’t give you money,” said the barber. “I told you that you have to give everything. Since you are not giving everything and because you have wasted my time, I am taking away some of this wood without paying.”
The woodcutter tried to stop him, but the barber was so strong that the woodcutter had no choice but to allow the barber to take the wood.
“That barber is such a rogue!” cried the woodcutter, and he went immediately to the village chief and made a complaint against him.
The village chief said to him, “You also do the same kind of thing to him. Then everything will be all right.”
In a few weeks the woodcutter went to the barber’s shop and said, “O barber, I am so glad to see you after such a long time. I also have my friend with me. First you cut my hair and give me a shave, and then I will go bring my friend.”
The barber was delighted to have two customers. “Wonderful,” he said, and he shaved the woodcutter and cut his hair.
“Excellent,” said the woodcutter. “Now I am going to bring my friend. Once you have shaved him, I will give you money for both of us.”
The woodcutter went out and brought his donkey into the barber shop. “After you shave my friend, then only I will pay you.”
“You rascal!” shouted the barber. “How can I shave a donkey?”
“Please,” said the woodcutter, “you can see that he has got a beard, and his moustache looks so awful. If you don’t shave him, I am not going to pay for my shave and haircut. This is my only friend, my best friend. You saw my friend a few weeks ago. I have no more intimate friend on earth than this donkey. He is my only friend.”
The barber got furious. “You have to pay.”
The woodcutter said calmly, “The last time you took wood from me, you wanted me to give you everything. I could not, so you got mad and took away my precious wood without paying me. Now, before I came to you, I told you that I had a friend who also needs a shave. Since you have not shaved my friend, why should I give you any money, dear barber?”
The woodcutter took his donkey and left. The barber was so angry that he went immediately to see the village chief. The chief remembered the complaint that he had received from the woodcutter against the barber. So the chief simply said, “Tit for tat.”
GIM 106. 27 January 1979↩