'The Unjust Justice' | Circle Round 4719:46

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Think about some things you can do… to be fair.

Like listening to other people’s ideas with an open mind. Or making sure you tell the truth.

There’s a lot we can do to be fair… and just. But in today’s story, we’ll meet a man who disregards all these things... even though being just… is actually his job!

Our tale is called “The Unjust Justice.” Versions of this story come from Turkey, as well as the region in Central Asia that includes the countries of Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.

Special thanks to this week’s actors: Evan Casey, Jeff Song, Sophie Williams and Jackie Tohn. Grown-ups, you can see Jackie on the Netflix series G.L.O.W. And kids: listen for Jackie’s voice in a new animated musical series she’s producing with Kristen Bell. Do, Re & Mi will be available on Amazon.

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

Pick a grown-up in your life, and talk about ways you can show justice and fairness, each and every day. Maybe you can take turns when playing a game with friends. Or stand up for someone who’s being treated unfairly. All those things can make a difference.

Musical Spotlight: Acoustic Guitar

(Jim Hutcheson/WikiMediaCommons)
(Jim Hutcheson/WikiMediaCommons)

The origins of what we now know as a “guitar” go back a long, long time: you’ll see instruments resembling a guitar in carvings that date back more than 3,000 years! But it wasn’t until the late 18th century that the acoustic guitar took a giant leap toward its modern-day form, by going from just four or five strings to the six strings we know and play today. Those strings can be made of nylon or steel (the guitar we used for this story has the latter), and nowadays they’re used to play every type of music under the sun - from classical, blues and country, to jazz, rock, folk and world music.

Story Transcript

NARRATOR: Once upon a time, in a small town, there lived… a Justice. “Justice” is basically a fancy word for “judge.”

The Justice was new to the job... and to the town... so nobody knew him very well. But since he was a judge, it was assumed he was an intelligent man, not to mention fair and trustworthy.

The truth is, the Justice was an intelligent man. He’d gone to the best of schools and graduated top of his class. But as for “fair” and “trustworthy,” well, listen to the rest of our tale and see what you think.

One day, a stranger arrived in town. His overalls were faded and covered in sawdust... and hanging from his belt were a hammer, screwdriver, and tape measure.

Months earlier, the man had left his home and his family on the other side of the country to find work... as a carpenter. Since then, he’d wandered far and wide — building bookshelves here, remodeling homes there — and had managed to scrape together a decent amount of savings.

The carpenter was looking to make just a little more money before traveling back to his family. So he was thrilled when the new Justice hired him to fix up his house.

You see, the Justice had just moved into a home that was owned by the previous judge. The house was all the way at the edge of town, and it was very, very old. The carpenter could see it definitely needed work.

CARPENTER: Thank you, Your Honor, for taking me on! I’m a very fast worker, and I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

JUSTICE: Well, this ramshackle place couldn’t get any worse than it already is! Anything you do is bound to be an improvement. But tell me. Where are you staying while you’re in town? Where do you sleep?

NARRATOR: The carpenter shrugged.

CARPENTER: I’m actually camping out in the forest, not far from your place! It’s far less expensive than a boarding house or hotel. I’m trying to save up as much money as I can before returning to my family.

JUSTICE: (hatching a scheme) I see…

NARRATOR: The judge paused, and stroked his chin.

JUSTICE: ...And how much money would you say you’ve saved up so far?

CARPENTER: Well, I’ve been working very hard as I’ve traveled across the country. I must have saved up at least a half-a-dozen bags of gold coins by now.

NARRATOR: The judge’s eyes grew wide.

JUSTICE: (starting to lay it on a little thick as he sets his scheme in motion) Half-a-dozen bags of gold coins, you say? But where are you keeping them? Surely you’re not stashing all that money in your tent in the woods! Someone could come by during the day and steal them while you’re working! Or, worse, they could sneak over at night, and pickpocket you in your sleep!

NARRATOR: Now it was the carpenter’s eyes that grew wide. The thought of all those hard-earned gold coins vanishing — just like that — made him shiver.

CARPENTER: (trembling/shivering) Well, gosh! I’d never considered the possibility of someone taking all my savings! I really should keep those coins somewhere safe!

JUSTICE: (happy his scheme is working, keeping it going) Yes! You should! But, you don’t want to go to the trouble of opening a bank account; you’re only in town for a short while, after all. You need someone fair, someone trustworthy, to guard all those gold coins for you. (faux-pondering) Now let me see. Who could that be…?

NARRATOR: Again, the judge stroked his chin. The carpenter stroked his chin, too.

CARPENTER: Hmmm. Well, I’ve been working so many hours here at the edge of town that I haven’t really met anyone. Well, nobody except for - (gasp) Wait! What if you guarded my gold coins?

JUSTICE: (faux-surprise, thrilled that his scheme is working) Me…?!?

CARPENTER: Yes, you! You’re a Justice, after all. And I can’t think of anyone more fair or trustworthy than a Justice!

NARRATOR: The Justice smiled.

JUSTICE: (faux-humbled) Well, I am honored that you’ve chosen me. And let me tell you, I will watch every single one of those gold coins like a hawk. I’ll even hold on to your salary each week, and add that to the stash, too.

NARRATOR: The carpenter leaped up in the air with joy.

CARPENTER: Thank you, Your Honor. Now, time to get to work!

NARRATOR: Over the next few weeks, the carpenter rebuilt walls and floors, staircases and ceilings. And what he said was true: he was a fast worker, and the Justice seemed very pleased with the results.

Once the carpenter had installed the very last window, he packed up his tools and approached the Justice with a spring in his step.

CARPENTER: Your Honor. The job is done, and I’ve finally saved up enough money to go back home again. So… may I please have my bags of gold coins now?

NARRATOR: The Justice furrowed his brow. He looked at the carpenter as if the man had sprouted an extra arm and two extra heads.

JUSTICE: (totally pretending) “Bags of gold coins”? What “bags of gold coins”?

NARRATOR: The carpenter was confused.

CARPENTER: The half-a-dozen bags of gold coins you were keeping safe for me! The ones you said you’d watch like a hawk!

NARRATOR: The judge threw up his hands.

JUSTICE: I don’t know what you’re talking about! Look at you - with your ragged clothing, covered in sawdust. There’s no way you could own half-a-dozen bags of gold coins!

CARPENTER: (puzzled, trying to convince) But I do own them! Plus the salary you’ve been holding on to! For every week that I’ve worked on your house!

JUSTICE: Worked on my house? I have no idea what you’re talking about! In fact, I’ve never even seen you before. Get out of my house at once, or I’ll have you arrested!

NARRATOR: The expression on the Justice’s face was so very serious, so very grave, the carpenter didn’t know what else to do. He pulled on his coat and rushed out the door.

CARPENTER: (to himself, as he walks away from the house) I can’t believe this! The Justice has gone and taken all of my money! So much for “fair” and “trustworthy.” That guy is a total cheat!

NARRATOR: It was almost dinner time, and the carpenter was very hungry. But thanks to the Justice, he didn’t have a penny to his name!

The carpenter did have his tools, however. So he decided he’d sell some of them at a pawn shop. At least then he could make enough money to buy something to eat.

As he headed toward the center of town, he felt so dejected, he hung his head low. Suddenly...

CARPENTER: Oh! Excuse me!

GROCER: (polite) Excuse me!

NARRATOR: ...he bumped into someone. A woman. She was scrambling to pick up two bags of groceries that had fallen to the ground.

CARPENTER: I’m so sorry! Here - let me help you.

NARRATOR: As the carpenter squatted down to put the woman’s groceries back in her bags, she gazed at him.

GROCER: (kindly) Excuse me for asking, but when you were walking just now, you looked so very sad. Is everything alright?

NARRATOR: The carpenter’s eyes welled up with tears.

CARPENTER: (eyes welling up with tears) Well, since you asked… no, ma’am. Everything is not alright. It’s not alright at all!

GROCER: Tell me - what happened?

NARRATOR: So the carpenter took a deep breath... and told the woman everything. How he’d worked so hard fixing up the Justice’s house… and how the Justice had swindled him out of his entire savings, plus his salary!

CARPENTER: I mean, what a mess, right? I’m a stranger in this town, I’m far from home, and now I’m totally broke. What am I going to do?

NARRATOR: Now it just so happens that the woman the carpenter had bumped into… was the town grocer. And she had a reputation for being very kind, very generous... and very clever.

As she listened to the carpenter’s story, her heart went out to him… and her mind concocted… a plan.

GROCER: You’re right, my friend. This is a mess. But I think I know a way to get you out of it. And if it works? You’ll definitely get justice… from the Justice!

NARRATOR: What do you think the clever grocer is planning?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.


NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “The Unjust Justice.”

When we left off, a clever grocer was hatching a plan to help a carpenter. The carpenter had been working for the new court Justice. He’d also been keeping all of his money with the judge… and now the judge refused to give back a cent. In fact, the judge claimed he didn’t even know the carpenter!

So the grocer told the carpenter that as soon as the sun went down, she would pay the judge... a visit.

GROCER: Here’s what I want you to do. Meet me at the Justice’s house. I’ll go inside, but I want you to stay outside, and peek through the window. As soon as you see me put both my hands on a giant chest, I want you to walk through the door and ask the Justice for your gold coins — as if you’d never asked for them before!

NARRATOR: The carpenter was puzzled, but he agreed to meet the grocer at sundown. Then he headed back to his campsite.

The grocer, meanwhile, headed home, where her young daughter was waiting. She greeted the girl with a hug and a kiss.

GROCER: (kiss) Hello, darling!

NARRATOR: The grocer then knelt down, and whispered something in her daughter’s ear. The girl smiled, and followed her mother upstairs.

There, the two of them changed into their fanciest dresses and best jewelry. Then, they walked to the grocery store.

The shop was closed for the day, so they unlocked the door. Then, they got a giant chest, and began filling it with the heaviest items on the shelves: watermelons… cantaloupes… great big bags of flour and rice. After cramming everything in there, they closed the chest’s lid.

GROCER: Alright, darling. You know what to do. Follow me to the Justice’s house and stay hidden outside. When you see the carpenter come walking out the door… that’s your cue!

NARRATOR: Just before the sun slipped below the horizon, the grocer and her daughter heaved the giant chest of groceries onto a small wagon. Then the grocer pulled the wagon all the way to the Justice’s house, with her daughter following behind. The Carpenter was waiting outside.

GROCER: Okay, friend. Are you ready?

CARPENTER: Readier than ever!

NARRATOR: The carpenter hid himself next to a window as the grocer pulled her wagon to the front door. She rang the doorbell. When the Justice saw the grocer’s elegant clothing and glittering jewelry, he ushered her... and her wagon... inside.

JUSTICE: Welcome, welcome! (admiring/coveting her finery) How can I help you?

NARRATOR: The grocer took a deep breath.

GROCER: (launching her plan) Your Honor, my husband is a merchant. He’s been away on business for a long time now, and my young daughter and I have no idea when he will return. His absence leaves a hole in our hearts. So the two of us are going to journey across the country to see him. We leave first thing tomorrow.

NARRATOR: The Justice stared at the grocer’s emerald earrings sparkling in the light. He was definitely intrigued.

JUSTICE: (curious about where this is going) Alright… so… what can I do? And — if I may ask — what’s in the wagon?

NARRATOR: The grocer gestured toward the giant chest. The Justice noticed the diamond ring gleaming on her finger.

GROCER: Well, this chest contains every single treasure in my home. All my money, plus silver, crystal, and precious gemstones. (coyly, aware of how the Justice is admiring her jewelry) Aside from the ones I’m wearing, of course!

NARRATOR: The Justice reached down and tried lifting the chest. He felt how heavy it was. His hands shook with greed.

JUSTICE: My! This chest must weigh a ton!

GROCER: It sure does! And with so many priceless treasures, I’d rather not take them along on such a long and dangerous voyage. (echoing the carpenter’s words) What I need is someone fair, someone trustworthy, to guard all my treasures until my family and I return. (beat) And I wonder if that someone… could be you.

NARRATOR: The Justice’s hands shook even more.

JUSTICE: (thrilled, but trying to act cool) Me…?!?

GROCER: (again, echoing the carpenter’s words) Yes, you! You are a Justice, after all. And I can’t think of anyone more fair or trustworthy than a Justice!

NARRATOR: The Justice smiled.

GROCER: There’s just one thing…

NARRATOR: The Justice frowned.

JUSTICE: (worried) What’s that?

GROCER: How can I be absolutely certain that my treasure will be safe with you? And, more importantly, that you’ll give it back when I return? As you know, it’s so very dear to me…

NARRATOR: The grocer reached down and, with a flourish, she placed both her hands on the giant chest.

Well, that was the carpenter’s cue! He’d been watching through the window all this time, and when he saw the grocer place her hands on the chest, he came walking through the door.

CARPENTER: (as if he’s never asked before) Good evening, Your Honor! Now that I’m done fixing up your house, may I please have my bags of gold coins? And my salary? I’ve finally saved up enough money to go back home to my family!

NARRATOR: The Justice beamed at the carpenter… as if earlier that day he hadn’t so rudely thrown the man out.

JUSTICE: (laying it on, to impress/convince the grocer) Ah, my friend! So you’re going already, are you? I sure will miss your company, but I appreciate your beautiful craftsmanship. Of course. You may have your gold coins.

NARRATOR: The Justice raced out of the room and came back carrying the carpenter’s half-a-dozen bags of gold coins… plus his salary from the past few weeks. He handed all of the money to the carpenter.

JUSTICE: Here you are, good sir.

CARPENTER: Thank you, Your Honor. Thank you!

NARRATOR: The carpenter flashed a grateful smile at the grocer, then waltzed out the door with his savings. The Justice turned to the grocer with a grin.

JUSTICE: You see? There’s no one more fair or trustworthy than I. Not only did I guard this humble carpenter’s money with my life… but I gave it right back to him, just as he asked! Now…

NARRATOR: He grabbed the handle of the grocer’s wagon, ready to roll the giant chest out of the room.

JUSTICE: ...about your treasure…

NARRATOR: Just then, who should come running through the door… but the grocer’s young daughter! Right on cue!

DAUGHTER: Mother! Mother! I have such wonderful news!

GROCER: (pretending to be surprised) What is it, daughter?

DAUGHTER: It’s Father! He’s home again!

NARRATOR: The grocer clapped her hands in delight.

GROCER: (playing along as her plan continues) That is wonderful news! Now we won’t have to leave tomorrow, and journey across the country to see him!

NARRATOR: Then she grabbed the wagon handle from the very surprised Justice and held it tight.

GROCER: (laying it on thick) It was so kind of you to offer to watch my treasure for me, Your Honor. But as you can see, your “fair” and “trustworthy” services are no longer needed. Good night!

NARRATOR: Then the clever grocer rolled the wagon out the door, her young daughter by her side.

As for the justice, remember: he was an intelligent man. And as he watched the giant chest roll out of sight, suddenly, it dawned on him.


NARRATOR: He realized that after trying to dupe the carpenter… and the grocer… it was the Justice himself who had been duped.

And being duped was not a very nice feeling.

From then on, the Justice decided he wouldn’t try to trick anyone else. Instead, he went out of his way to be fair… and trustworthy… and to dole out true justice… just as a Justice should.

Rebecca Sheir Twitter Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.