Dogs And Donkeys

[We welcome Yohannes Abraham to the family of writers. We are excited to have a talented writer, in both Tigrinya and English, and we are sure he will have many satisfied readers]

After he gobbled up a plateful of processed beef and licked empty a bowl full of milk, he once again realized how lovely his life was. He then flapped his long tongue against the big black nose which was dipped in the milk, polished it several times and finally, wriggled his tail cheerfully.

Taking that as an expression of thankfulness, the woman came with a smile, bent down, stroked his furry cheeks and kissed him on the forehead.

“We will go for a walk now, are you ready for some fresh air?”

Of course, she didn’t expect an answer from the dog; nonetheless, she grabbed the leash from a drawer, knelt on the carpet, and gently hooked it to the collar on his neck. Her delicious breaths blew in to his face as she passed both her hands behind his head. He longed for the time when he would once again be reborn as a man, to have that breath by his side for full night. Upon contemplating this fantasy, he mumbled something in his excitement which came out as normal dog wails. Having misunderstood it as a discomfort, she stroked his head apologetically and said, “I am sorry Bucci, but we have to do it, you know the rules.”

Bucci thought he was the luckiest donkey not only in Eritrea, but anywhere in the world. Although he has been reborn as a dog now, he still vividly remembers almost everything from his donkey life; in fact, his ‘donkeyness’ seems to exist somewhere buried in the backyard of his present consciousness; and there are brief moments where he mentally becomes a donkey again. He has always believed that he was very lucky to be reborn as a dog with a living memory of his miserable past. “But…” he thought, “even if I was not endowed with this rare gift of remembering past life, I would still be living by far better than even the dogs in my country.”

She locked their big house and led him through the familiar route where they both went for a walk every evening. A ten minute walk through ‘vaihinger strasse’ and then another ten minute through ‘Rohrer park’. The park has a narrow path and a young couple coming from their front stood aside to let them pass, making an appreciative smile. It’s always like that – people give him priority, people smile at him, people stroke him, ask what breed of a dog he is…etc. And he loves it. He always thinks Germans are the sweetest people to dogs and that he was particularly lucky to be reincarnated there from being a donkey somewhere in a dusty and dry land called Eritrea to somewhere green and serene.

They met Tom and Azani in the park. Tom was a bulldog with a large spreading nose and falling piece-of-blanket-like ears. There were extra folds of skin on his forehead which gave him the look of an old and sad creature which in fact he was. He wasn’t happy like Bucci. He told that he was a wild ass in a safari of Kenya called ‘Massai Mara’ and unlike Bucci, had quite free and abundant life.

“I remember that flat green meadow and the fresh smell of the grass as we grazed through it. I remember the fresh waters, the bright sun and the blue skies.” He would tell his friend in Kenyan accent Doggisch.

“The only discomfort that could be mentioned if so, is the occasional attack of the hyenas and leopards. But then, they were nothing in comparison to our numbers and thus, the possibility of getting eaten by one was no more likely than the bad fate of getting hit by lightning. That was the only fear I can remember from my previous life” he concludes pensively.

The two women greeted each other and sat on the concrete bench; both letting loose of the two dogs to go astray for a while. The dogs sniffed in to each other’s noses and started to chatter.

“It is a beautiful evening!” declared Bucci in his typical excitement.

Tom growled indifferently. “It is always beautiful for you. How can you love it every day – being a dog somebody controls? I am not even allowed to bark without getting a burning electric shock through my brains! And when is the last time you had sex? A non-barking and celibate dog! Oh, the sound of it!”  he laughed out loudly. “…what kind of donkey life did you have, brother?!”

Bucci was silent for a while. His hazy wide brown eyes momentarily seemed to be swimming in dreamlike melancholy.

“Yes, like yours, my last life was not what I would remember with longing. But I am grateful that I remember it as it was. My sad past memory makes possible my present happy life.”

“…let me tell you what my last owner did to me one day – which is also the last memory of my last life…” he went on, sitting straight on the asphalt with his tail laid on one side looking like a reptile creature in itself; and repeated the story which Tom had heard too often to almost confuse it with his own experience.

“…the previous day, I had carried all the corn up a hill of more than five kilometers alone; and when I got home, while the oxen were munching on a load of hay, I had to again go carry water from the village well until nine in the night in an empty stomach. I didn’t even show a slight protest; though I knew what They did was not fair. I wanted to make The Family happy and to be honest, I didn’t either believe that a Donkey had to be treated equal with oxen. But, as I returned to the stable in the dark, I was expecting a little leftover to be offered to me for my toiling the whole day; but there was none.”

“And the next morning, you had to pull a horse cart!” Tom jammed in . He looked too bored listening to the story.

“Cut it out Tommy!” cried Bucci. “…it is ‘my’ story! Let me tell it!”

“Ok brother, please tell your ‘great’ story!” answered the other with an obvious sarcasm. As he sneered, he displayed a set of long sharp teeth on the side of his chubby bull-dog mouth.

“Yes, the next morning, that fool was found dead where he slept and they had me take his place. Imagine a donkey pulling a horse cart! In an empty stomach!”

He paused and stared at Tom as if to see the effect of his words. The other was, however, following another reddish brown female dog with a very narrow waist and ears erect like a goat’s. She kept glancing back with her bubbly eyes which were frightened and flirty at the same time.

“Wow! Look at that bitch! I don’t think she is a pure German; she must be some African hybrid. Oh mine! What a gorgeous tail she has got!” he exclaimed, his mouth wide open in appreciation.

Bucci was clearly annoyed, “Would I please finish my story?!”

“My apologies, please go on…”

“Yes, like I said, I was going to take the horse’s place. I must say I wanted to make Them happy even then. I didn’t resist or kick my heels; I just consented willingly. When They put the bit in my mouth or They put the blinders alongside my eyes, I deprived myself the slightest flinch of discomfort lest they should be offended.(Neither did I trust my eyes, too; so, I even thought the blinders were for my good)  Thus, I pulled a hundred Gallons of milk from Adi-gombolo to Enda-achi, Asmara. I can’t tell you how terrifying it was to drive through that awfully smooth dark asphalt. Sometimes, in my drowsiness, I would see it as a dark river and leap in fright. Anyway, I pushed myself to the limits and finally made it to the milk factory.”

“…but was it over for me?”

“No” snapped Tom. “….you had to pull a ton of bricks up the Hazhaz hill”

“Quiet true, my friend”, said the other in a deliberately gentle voice. “…but I don’t think you know what that feels like. Because, at that time you were probably sniffing the piss of a lady ass and unfurling your ugly mouth in to the air!”

Despite this offense, Tom laughed. “Yes, probably. I miss those times” was all he said.

“It felt like I was pulling a solid wall…” continued Bucci. “…my limbs were shaking, the metal bit digging painfully in to my tongue, and the whip constantly flogging me around the ears inflicting sharp pains.”

“Nevertheless, I wanted to make Them happy. Thus, I gathered what was left of all my strength and pulled on that devilish stuff up that devilish hill. Then, I was done. They flogged me even harder and shouted with anger. Bu at that point I knew I wouldn’t be able to pull an inch further. I knew even if they started stabbing me with a knife I wouldn’t flinch. That is the first and last moment I regretted my Donkeyness. Then, They got down and beat me with a heavy stick on my cannon bone until I felt it crack. I couldn’t even hold to the spot I was standing after that. My legs gave way and the weight started pulling me back; the cart rolled backwards down the hill dragging me along!”

The pain in Buccis eyes was palpable as if he was physically experiencing it. He exhaled a long breath, with his eyes turned in to his past. He was looking forwards, but not really seeing anything.

“…I might have been dead instantly or had been handicapped and thrown away to the hyenas. I am not sure. Anyways, either way, I was dead all the same. But thanks to reincarnation; here I am now, as are other compatriots from previous donkey-life. No wonder many are deliberately facilitating the end of their donkey-life, and some are even committing direct suicide to join us.”

“Yes, that is the last I remember of my donkey life,” he finally uttered.

This time, he had retold the story a bit differently. Tom couldn’t say which detail of the story had been altered, or which sigh or groan had been more pronounced. Yet, this time the story was better felt and had a more outreaching effect. He felt slightly guilty of not ever caring to listen to his Eritrean friends stories of pain.

A few minutes later, the two women stood up and summoned them by their names. For Bucci the sound of his own name (as sounded by that angelic woman) was so strangely delightful that his whole body quivered with inexplicable feeling from head to tail. Before they even knew it, the two dogs instantly found themselves wagging their tails under their beloved ones’ legs. (the two pillars of safety, as Bucci calls them)

“I pity all the Eritrean dogs who can’t remember their donkey life.” He murmured to himself. “…otherwise, what is the advantage of being reborn?”

She once again pulled him up by the neck and attached the leash to his collar. As she did so, her delicious breath once again blew across his nostrils and almost impulsively he threw his tongue out to leak her face. She darted back in disgust, “Bucci! I told you not to do that again! That is unhygienic!” she scolded him. He withdrew and sank his head down, ruefully. But, in his heart, he wished for the day when he would be once again born as a man to kiss that small rosy mouth.


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