by William Michaelian
The old donkey with sorrowful black eyes stumbled beneath its burden of baskets and flowers. Hurry up, its owner yelled, I donít have all day. Look at the sun. We should have been at the market two hours ago. If we donít get there soon, I wonít sell any merchandise. Understanding all too well the anger in the manís voice, the poor animal summoned its strength and trudged on.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning. The road from the village was already crowded with people going to the city. Those with things to sell had left early, to find a stall and get ready for the busy day ahead. Often, being late meant having a stall with a poor location. Sometimes, it meant having to do without a stall entirely.
This time, when they finally arrived, the man found out it was worse than he had thought. The only space available was at the very edge of the market in the hot sun, next to an old blind woman sitting on the ground selling seeds and grain. While he was unloading the donkey, the tired beast accidentally bumped into one of her big sacks, spilling some of the grain on the ground. Oh, oh, oh, she said, feeling the result with her hands. Now look what youíve done. I donít know who you are, but you will have to pay me for this loss.
The man was about to tell the old woman that only a small portion of her grain had been spilled when the donkey shuddered and stepped directly into the sack. Oh, the woman said, whatís this? Now my barley is contaminated. Who will buy barley that a donkey has walked in?
To avoid unwanted attention, the man quickly paid the old woman for her spoiled grain. Then he turned to his donkey and showered it with curses. You old fool, he said. This is all your fault. But the old woman, being blind, thought his harsh words were intended for her. So! she said. This is the way you treat those less fortunate than yourself. You should be ashamed. It would be wise for you to remember, young man, that even though I am blind, I am still someoneís mother.
The man, who was over sixty himself, couldnít believe his bad luck. Trying hard to stay calm, he told the old woman that he was talking to his donkey, not her. It isnít easy to make a living, he said, with this dumb animal interfering all the time. If you need further proof, half the day is gone, and I still havenít unloaded all my merchandise. At this rate, I am sure to starve.
The woman, though, wasnít sympathetic. Pooh, she said, waving her arms. What kind of man are you, blaming your problems on a poor donkey? Besides, you should have a wagon, like everyone else. When the man told her he couldnít afford to buy a wagon, she laughed. I know just the wagon for you, she said. Itís parked in a field just outside the city. The man asked her who the wagon belonged to. No one, she said. Itís abandoned. My son told me all about it. He already has a wagon, otherwise he would have taken the thing home himself.
About this time, several customers came along who were interested in buying some of the blind womanís grain. Taking advantage of the opportunity, the man took the rest of his flowers and baskets off the donkey and arranged them as attractively as he could on the ground. When the old womanís customers were through buying grain, they stopped to look at his colorful display. But, much to his surprise, no one bought anything. After theyíd gone, he addressed his donkey in a disgusted voice. They would have bought something, he said, if it wasnít for you staring at them and looking half dead.
Hearing this, the old woman immediately retaliated. How dare you? she said. Youíre a grown man, not a child. You know I canít help the way I look.
Once again, the man had to explain to his fellow merchant that he was speaking to his miserable donkey, not her. And, once again, she answered by saying he had no business blaming his mistakes on a poor, defenseless animal, especially when there was a free wagon waiting for him in a nearby field. Itís a good wagon, she said. Even a donkey as feeble as yours can pull it.
The day wore on. With each passing hour, the woman sold more and more of her grain. Meanwhile, the man hardly sold a thing. By the end of the afternoon, the old woman had sold everything and was ready to go home. He, on the other hand, was faced with the disastrous prospect of having to load his wilted flowers and baskets back onto his donkey and go back to the village in defeat.
He was never so unhappy in all his life. Then it occurred to him. Why not leave everything where it was, take the donkey, and go get the wagon? That way, the long trip home would be easier, and the whole day wouldnít be a failure.
After paying a small boy to look after his belongings, he and the donkey set out. You will thank me later, the old woman called after them. Next week, you will be a real merchant with a real wagon. Everyone will look up to you and want to buy your merchandise. But the man didnít answer. Crazy woman, he told the donkey. If I never see her again, it will still be too soon. Then he laughed at the idea and gave the donkey a friendly slap.
Before long, they came to the first field at the edge of the city. There was no wagon. It must be a little further, the man said to the donkey, and they continued to walk. After walking for half an hour, they still hadnít seen a wagon. This is odd, the man said. Iím sure that old woman said the wagon was parked in a field just outside the city. I wonder where it is? The donkey looked at the man with its sorrowful black eyes. Eh? the man said. What are you thinking about? If you know the answer, say so. Donít just stand there. The man gazed off into the distance. I think I see it, he said finally. Over there. Yes, thatís it. Iím sure thatís our new wagon.
They set off again. After walking several more minutes, they came to a stop in front of the oldest wagon the man had ever seen. Vye, he said. Will you look at that? This wagon must have been used by Noah himself. He walked up to the wagon and looked at the bed. It was half rotted away. The wheels were in even worse shape. One kick was enough to make the first one give way. When it did, the wagon groaned and tilted to one side. Free wagon indeed! the man shouted. Thatís what I get for listening to an old blind woman. To show his anger, he gave the wagon a powerful shove. This time, the wheel he had kicked came all the way off.
There was nothing to do but turn around and walk back to the city. By the time they arrived, it was growing dark. The market was empty and the stalls were closed. The boy who was supposed to look after the baskets and flowers was gone, as were most of the baskets and flowers themselves. Only the old blind woman remained. My son didnít come, she said. Iím worried. I think he may have been killed.
The man looked at the old woman. While they had been away, she seemed to have grown roots in the ground. She looked so sad sitting there that he didnít bother to complain about the wagon. Iím sure your son is all right, he said. I havenít heard of any trouble. Then, as if to lend credence to his words, the son came riding up in a nice sturdy wagon. Hey, Mayrig, he called out in a happy voice. Iím sorry to be so late. But you remember that wagon I told you about. The good news is, I decided to take it after all.
To keep from killing the old woman and her son, the man slapped his donkey and the two immediately started for home. This is all your fault, he said as they walked off down the road. And the donkey looked at him with his sorrowful eyes.
William Michaelianís newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelianís other books and links to this siteís other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.