Piotr Karpenko

I have myself read and heard many statements by Europeans about these so-called fakirs, asserting that their tricks are supernatural and miraculous, whereas actually, in the judgement of all more or less normal people in Asia, such tricks are performed by unconscionable swindlers and cheats of the highest order.

To show what confusion the wrong use of this word has caused among Europeans, I think it will be sufficient to say that, although I have travelled in almost all the countries where these fakirs, as imagined by Europeans, are supposed to live, I have never seen a single one of them; but I did have the good fortune recently to see a genuine fakhr, in the sense used by people of the continent of Asia, only not in India or any of those countries where Europeans think they live, but in the very heart of Europe, in the city of Berlin.

I was strolling one day along Kurfurstendamm in the direction of the main entrance to the Zoological Gardens, when I saw on the pavement, on a little hand-wagon, a cripple who had lost both legs, turning an antediluvian musical-box.

In Berlin, the capital city of Germany, as in other large centres representing, as it were, the epitome of contemporary civilization, it is forbidden to ask for charity directly, but anyone who wishes may beg and will not be bothered by the police, if he grinds an old barrel-organ, or sells empty match­boxes or indecent postcards and various kindred literature.

This beggar, dressed like a German soldier, was turning his musical­ box, which had half its notes missing. As I passed by I threw him a few small coins and, happening to glance at him, his face seemed familiar to me. I did not question him, as in general I did not then, any more than now, risk speaking alone with strangers in my broken German, but I began to think where I could have seen him before.

When I had finished my business, I returned along the same street. The cripple was still there. I approached very slowly and looked at him closely, trying to recall why his face was so familiar, but at that moment I could not. It was only on arriving at the Romanische Cafe, that it suddenly came to me that the man was no other than the husband of a lady who, several years before in Constantinople, was sent to me by a close friend of mine, with a letter of introduction appealing to me to give her medical treatment. The lady’s husband was a former Russian officer who, it seems, had been evacuated from Russia to Constantinople with Wrangel’s Army.