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schulenburg

 

CHANTAL BRUCHEZ-HALL

 

 

The Donkey

 

When the hurricane calmed down, the old man went on his journey. The road was long and twisty, and he felt like stopping many times. Why should he keep on, was going to die anyway. Today or tomorrow. Who cared? But the wind kept calling him, enthralling him, the wind felt good in his beard, soft and lively, like a song he used to know, though he couldn’t remember what song, still he followed its rhythm and kept walking. Maybe he would find that old pot of gold he heard clinking at night when the wind blew. Maybe he would find the secret, the door hidden in the lost tree far away in the mountains.

He had to go on because that’s what he had been doing all his life, walking, listening to the wind. Though he would hate to admit it, the wind was his friend, especially a good strong wind he could identify with; one that would twist his soul and break it if he were not strong enough.

On his way, the man met a donkey, standing all alone in its patch of mud since the grass had been eaten long ago. He could see the bones protruding on the donkey’s flanks; it was not a nice sight. There were patches of hair missing; it was a little wobbly on its feet, but it still had beautiful ears, pink and shiny.

"Hey brother! Want some company?"

The old man felt lonely, had been walking on this road for hours without seeing anybody, just the cars driving by, accelerating when they passed him for fear that he would ask for a ride. The donkey looked at him, didn’t say anything – what did you expect? This is not a fairy tale – but it looked up, and the old man sat down on a rock beside it. When he opened his backpack, the donkey nuzzled his neck, curious, hungry, both maybe. They shared a piece of bread. The old man kept the meat for himself, wouldn’t feed a donkey a piece of horsemeat, would he?

When the old man got ready to leave, the donkey stared at him with its sad eyes, didn’t have to talk, just looked at him, and the old man couldn’t move.

"What do you want? I can’t give you anything, don’t have anything more to give."

On this, the old man tried to leave, avoiding the donkey’s eyes, but again he couldn’t move. He started getting angry, tried not to look at the beast that seemed so pitiful he knew he might be tempted to help it.

"What’s the matter with you. Let me go now! Enough!"

Still he could not move. He checked his legs, his shoes. Nothing. Everything seemed to be working. He wasn’t superstitious and wasn’t going to start to be now. Without looking at the donkey, he put one foot down, then the other, then one foot after the other, started walking. At last! He kept walking, at first as fast as he could, then he slowed down. Was getting tired; could see the sun falling behind the hill. The sky darkened suddenly.

He saw a cottage that seemed abandoned; the windows in the top floor were broken. It was empty, moldy, stank a little, but not too much. He found a place on the porch were he could be comfortable and before he knew it the old man fell asleep. He dreamt that night, tossed and dreamed so much that when he woke up the next day his bones ached. He stirred slowly, looked around him, surprised at first, then he saw a familiar face staring into his eyes, as if waiting for him to awaken.

The donkey. He couldn’t believe it. It was the donkey, still looking at him with its sad eyes, and the old man read something in those eyes that he did not want to read.

Please, take me with you!

He got angry suddenly, so angry that he lashed out at the ass:

"I don’t want anything to do with you, old fart! You can barely walk, just going to die on me. D’you think I need that, do you?"

The donkey looked.

"I can barely take care of myself, what can I do for you? Don’t even have a good enough knife to eat your meat once you’re dead. Did you look at your scratchy hide? Couldn’t even use it to pee in. Leave me alone!"

The donkey kept looking straight at him.

"If you don’t stop that I’m going to hit you, that’s what you want? I’m going to kick your ass so hard, I’ll send you directly into the other world!"

The donkey kept looking, its ears pink and shiny in the sunrise. The old man was so angry that he hurled his backpack at the donkey’s head. The donkey fell on its knees, but kept looking at him. Its eyes were now sad, so sad. The old man lost his anger, sputtered:

"I can’t do it, don’t you understand. Can’t! Did it, done it, can’t do it anymore. CAAAnnn’t".

The donkey kept staring until the old man gave up, sat down on the ground beside it, took its head in his lap and started petting it, carefully, at first barely touching it, then his fingers freed themselves and moved all along the donkey’s body, feeling it, feeling the life as it slowly left it. When the old man got to the donkey’s head, he looked into its eyes for the first time. He saw the most beautiful piece of water he had ever seen, water lilies dancing in the sky, moving into the breeze.

He kept stroking the donkey’s head. The sun was shining brightly into the donkey’s eyes where he saw the back of a wave deep down in the water; he kept stroking. For the first time in his life, the old man felt happy.

 


 

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