For many nights, I have found the very donkey that has worked so hard to carry the load of his masters, lying at the same dark corner of the dirty street I pass by every night, on my way home. Its front legs seem broken and he tries to move. I tried to avoid him because he reminds me of our destiny. He tries oh so hard to get up. He tries to labor for his master but finds himself with barely any strength.
One night I decided to stop to watch him. He tried to stand up. After finally getting on his feet, he started to move his body into different positions. This seemed to tire him and before long he fell down again. He manages to move ahead about four to five feet each day, seeming as though he's trying to get somewhere, causing him to fall down each time.
His desire to go on reminds me of the people of my country. He's pitiful. I want to help him because he reminds me of Hussani Poweley, a real close friend of mine. One whom I have learned about. Though it is through the studies of humanities that enables us to recognize man, I learned through mathematics, which enabled me to identify humans, helping me to understand more about Hussani Poweley.
In my childhood, Father tested my studies: "Son, how many animals are in our courtyard?"
With confidence I replied, "Nine."
"No, there are not nine, my son."
According to what I learned I felt father was wrong. To prove what I thought was true, I started counting on my ten fingers. There were two cows, three goats, one mare, one donkey, one dog, and one Hussani Poweley.
Father laughed, "But Hussani Poweley is not an animal. He is a human being like us."
I disagreed with him. How could Hussani be a human being when he is always with the animals?
Before long our dispute led us to a court case before my grandfather. The whole family was present and later a final decision was announced. Hussani Poweley was human and though I had lost my case, I still received one rupee for my strong argument.
It was hard to sleep that night because my tiny brain was not ready to accept the fact that Hussani was human. Questions were storming in my mind: If he is a man, then why does he not live like us? Why is he always with the animals; he even sleeps on the ground among the animals? Even in my dreams that night, I saw Hussani eating grass, walking like a donkey, and I even heard him bark like a dog.
Hussani became the only servant to our big family. With his big front teeth one always thought he was smiling. His complexion was like burnt black stone because of the extreme weather of the region. His mother died when he was only ten years old. No one knew about his father because his mother didn't want to reveal that secret. After his mother passed away, the other Poweleys drove him out because he was thought of as a whoredom's son. It was then my grandfather, who was chief of the village, brought him to our house.
Our village is on the foot of hot and dry mountains. Due to the very low water level, our land is not appropriate for agriculture. There is only one well in the village that supplies a huge population. Before Hussani goes to graze with the animals, he gets up early each morning to draw water. I have never seen him at home in the day time. At sunset he appears in the village on his slow moving ass. He looked like a man of the old stone age because of the colour of his skin, initiating human form from monkeys. He was mocked as he rode through the streets because evil rumors were spread that he had some unacceptable relationship with the ass.
They would shout, "Hey Hussani, the ass' movements show you have made good use of her today." Someone cried from the tea-hut, "No, no do not say that. This ass is the only sister of Hussani. How can he do it with his sister?"
Hussani was like the donkey I spoke of at the beginning. He had a heart of gold. He offered his smiles, hoping he would make the people laugh with happiness. It didn't matter if he had no home and his clothes with ragged and worn, he still felt grateful to all.
He also had a mare but because he was born to ride donkeys he didn't ride the mare. Each evening as I stood at the big front door of our courtyard, I could hear the sounding chimes of melancholy, like tragic music in an old film, as Hussani came down the Black mountains with his slow moving animals, like a ragged line of retreating troops. He never came empty handed, he always brought something for me, wild fruits, flowers and very often mushrooms but one thing above all, he had stories to tell me. Stories of mysterious creatures and wolves.
Thursdays and Fridays were the best days for Hussani. The simple villagers would cook special dishes to put under the thick trees of barren fields. They believed that ghosts lived in the trees and the only way to please them was to offer sweet dishes. Hussani would secretly eat as much as he could and affirm the belief of staunch believers.
Years passed, we became young men. Our grandparents died, elder brothers became fathers but Hussani didn't change. His responsibilities increased and he had to lift more water on his feeble shoulders. My elder uncle became the head of the family. He was very strict and often beat Hussani for his growing lethargy.
Then Hussani's personality changed. He started wearing very neat clothes. He used to wear only one dress that he only washed once a month but now he was washing his clothes every week and his fastidiousness did not go long, unnoticed nor it's foundation. Hussani fell in love with the beggars'daughter. They lived outside the village and were even more detestable than the Poweleys. Hussani Poweley had some little status, being the servant of the chief in the village.
Soon the news of the disgusting love affair reached my uncle. He could have punished him alone but it was to become an event of great entertainment for the nobles of the village. The issue was to be decided in the presence of them all. At night, all the nobles gathered in the big sitting room of my uncle's. Hussani would always set on the ground in the center of the crowd.
"Well Hussani, is it true that you are in love with the daughter of beggar?" said Uncle in his heavy voice.
Hussani didn't reply but only sat silently with his head bowed.
Another voice spoke up, "His mother was also a great lover."
Everyone laughed loudly.
There was a rude session when they narrated dirty jokes about his mother.
"She was the teacher of our youth. She was sharing the violent burden of puberty."
Hussani's love wilted and died under the stifling of laughter. When he rose from the meeting, he felt himself free from the burden of love. His mother taught him how to live but she never taught him how to dance with death. He lifted his pitchers and started doinghis work as though nothing had happened. After that meeting no one ever saw him near the huts of beggars again.
Later I was drug into lives vicious circle. Hussani was left behind when I had left the village in search for a job. After many years, when I returned back to the village to attend my cousin's wedding, I did not find Hussani anywhere. I heard he was in the barren hut outside the village. He was suffering from tuberculosis and the disease had almost finished him. I knew no one would take him to get help because everyone thought it would be humiliating to go with that donkey-like man. As soon as I heard that, I quickly went to that hut.
He was lying in the dark, cold. For a few minutes he did not recognize me. Realizing who I was, he began to weep. He tried to speak but each time he tried he would cough, keeping him from saying a word. I noticed it even hurt him to breathe.
Barely able to stand the smell of the atmosphere I said, "Hussani, don't you worry. Tomorrow I will take you to a doctor. You will soon be alright."
At the open door of the hut I looked back at him. The shadow of death showed upon his face. He called me back and in a whisper he said, "Khan, life would continue on whether I wish it to or not."
I stared upon him in silence.
That night he died. The next morning he was buried. He had no religious ceremony because no one knew what his religion was.
It still makes me wonder, how did the people of the village allow his body to be buried in the graveyard of man? He never lived the life of man.
He was still smiling when they laid him in his grave. He could not abandon it even if he had broken his relationship with life. It seemed as though he was saying that death wasn't as horrible as we humans think.
Now after so many years, this dying donkey has
refreshed that forgotten image of Hussani Poweley. I still
ask myself, "Was Hussani a man or a donkey? God
© 2004 Muhammad Nasrullah Khan, all rights reserved
appears here by permission