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Tunu and the Donkey

2006-07-14 00:29

  Tunu and her brother, Safdar, were young, lively children. They lived in a beautiful hill town, where there father was a high official of the Department of Agriculture; everyone called him “doctor sahib” out of respect for his position. Their devoted mother was full of patience-and needed every bit of it, because her children often got into mischief, especially Tunu. The children had two favorite pets, a German shepherd named Tiger that followed Tunu everywhere she went and a small deer that lived in the barn.

  Tunu was something of a tomboy and loved playing outdoors. She particularly liked the pool in the garden, where her father had taught the two children how to swim. Her mother, however, wished she would be more docile and ladylike. “Who ever heard of girls running around so much?” she would say. “Why, you'd think she was actually a boy.”

  “Yes,” her father would answer, smiling tolerantly. “We have a rather topsy-turvy family. Maybe she should have been a boy, and then Safdar would have had to be a girl.”

  “It's no wonder,” the mother would say, “the way you spoil her.”

  One Sunday their father left the house early in the morning to go hunting. It was the season for wild ducks, and the nearby lake was full of them. The weather was beautiful, and their cousin, a boy of Safdar's age, was visiting them. So after breakfast the children decided to play outside in the garden. They spread a rug under one of the big shade trees and brought out some coloring the picture of a bird, but you could tell she was really more interested in the toy building set; she kept watching what the boys were building and making suggestions for improvements.

  They'd been playing only a short time when they heard a donkey bray loudly just outside the gate. This announced the arrival of the laundryman who came each Sunday morning with the family's clean laundry piled high on the back of his donkey. The children jumped up and raced to open the gate for him. Fat-bellied and bald, with large, clumsy hands, the laundryman was a source of much amusement for the children. They loved to tease and make fun of him.

  As the donkey followed his master through the gate, Safdar turned to his sister: “Go tell mother the laundryman is here.”

  “Go tell her yourself,” answered Tunu. “Can't you see I'm busy?” And to prove it she went back to the bird in her coloring book.

  “Oh, all right,” said her brother.

  Safdar and his cousin went into the house, but they found the mother had gone to a neighbor's. so they went to look for her, leaving Tunu alone in the garden.

  Presently, bored with coloring, Tunu let the book fall to the rug and joined her dog, Tiger, in his close watching of a squirrel playing in a nearby tree. Then she tried to get the waiting laundryman to talk with her. But he spoke such a funny dialect that the children always made fun of the way he talked, and he preferred to keep quite. Soon he tied the donkey to one of the trees and carried his big bundle of clean laundry up onto the veranda and into the house.

  Looking about idly for something to do next, Tunu happened to catch sight of the donkey. Her eyes lit up with a flash. There was no one watching. Even the old gardener was out of sight, probably resting in the little tool shed. Quickly the untied the donkey and pulled it around to the back yard, intending to have a ride. But just then she heard her mother's voice. Alarmed, she looked for a place to hide the donkey. She realized that the laundryman would raise a big fuss as he searched for his animal, but presently he would give up and go home. Then, she told herself, I'll have plenty of time to ride the donkey as much as I please.

  From his weekly visit to this house, the donkey was used to these children and their teasing ways. But today this charming little girl was acting so tender toward him that he thought she must be taking him to the barn to give him some of the delicious food they gave their pet stag. So he followed Tunu happily. Poor thing, little did he know what was in store for him!

  Tunu led him all around but couldn't find a safe place to hide him. Time was running out. At any moment someone might catch sight of her and the donkey. Just then, at the far end of the courtyard, she noticed the outside door to the guest bathroom. Yes, the donkey would be quite safe there; no one would ever think of looking for a donkey in the guest bathroom.

  Hurrying across the courtyard, she opened the door quietly, pushed the donkey inside, and quickly bolted the door from the outside. Then she ran back to the rug under the tree. The boys hadn't returned yet. She heaved a sigh of relief and, just as though nothing had happened, went on coloring the bird. How innocent she looked when they came back!

  Suddenly a scream rent the air. It was the laundryman, who had just come out of the house with a big bundles of soiled clothes to take home and launder, and had found his donkey missing. Dropping the clothes on the veranda, he ran about in all directions crying out for his dear donkey. But all his searching was in vain. Tunu of course swore she had no idea where the donkey was. She said she'd seen him break loose and go toward the forest. And, still screaming for his donkey, the laundryman went running off toward the forest.

  For a moment peace returned to the house, but then an unexpected guest arrived. It was Mr. Ali, an old friend of their father's who stayed in one of their guest rooms whenever he came their way. He was a tall, thin man with a short, gray beard but no mustache, and he was going bald.

  What a scurrying about his arrival caused! He was received warmly by their mother and shown into the best guest room-the one at the end of the courtyard.

  Tunu was becoming more and more nervous. As soon as she saw Mr. Ali arrive, she could smell trouble. But what could she do? On the one hand, her mother and the servants were in the guest room, busily making it ready, and on the other, she couldn't escape from Safdar and her cousin. All that was left, then, was to hope and pray Mr. Ali wouldn't go to the bathroom too soon, not until she'd had time to get the donkey out of it.

  As for the donkey, he sat peacefully in a corner of the dark bathroom, dreaming of the delicious meal he thought Tunu was bringing him.

  Now, Mr. Ali was a very cleanly man. He always bathed twice a day, and today, after a tiring journey, he wanted a bath more than ever. So he got out fresh clothes, changed his shoes for some wooden clogs, and made straight for the bathroom. He entered the small dark room by the inner door, the one from the bedroom, and locked the door behind him.

  It was very dark, but he knew the arrangement of the room well and didn't bother with a light. He put his clean clothes on the stand and started toward the tub. But suddenly, through the gloom, he saw a sight he simply couldn't believe. Poor Mr. Ali-his heart all but stopped beating.

  Meanwhile the donkey had continued daydreaming. When he heard voices in the next room, he told himself happily: “There, they're getting my food ready.” And then when the door opened, who should come in but a tall, scrawny fellow in wooden clogs. This was certainly no grass, no grain, no fodder. And by now the donkey had simply had enough. At the sight of the bald Mr. Ali, the long-suffering beast lost all control and jumped to his feet braying loudly.

  Now, in the darkness Mr. Ali couldn't make out exactly what kind of animal it was that was threatening him. All he knew was that it was some huge, ugly creature letting out monstrous, strange cries. Completely unnerved, Mr. Ali yelled for help.

  Leaving his clogs behind, he ran for the door, but in his confusion he went to the door Tunu had bolted from the outside. Struggle as he would, he simply couldn't open the door. How in the world could it be bolted from the outside when he had just bolted it from the inside? His worst fears were confirmed. Surely there was some jinni or ghost at work!

  The sound of Mr. Ali's shrieks and the donkey's frantic braying brought everyone running from all directions-the mother and the children and all the servants. What on earth could be the matter with Mr. Ali? Only Tunu knew what must be the trouble in the bathroom.

  Mr. Ali felt sure it was a wolf that was attacking him. He heard a bucket roll over with a clang. Next the wash jug came flying at him. Not an ordinary wolf, for certain, but some monster of an evil spirit. Jumping over another bucket, he was trying to dodge his attacker, and he kept yelling and screaming for help at the top of his voice.

  The servants were in the bedroom trying to break down the door, and the mother was standing just outside wringing her hands. Tiger the dog came running up barking up loudly. For once the mother did not tell him to be quiet but said: “That's right, Tiger, go inside and see what's happening.”

  And it was Tiger who let the cat out of the bag. Instead of running into the bedroom, he ran around to the courtyard door that Tunu had bolted. There he began barking even more furiously.

  Hearing all this new commotion-a mob pounding on one door and some huge beast slavering at the other- Mr. Ali thought more evil spirits had come to help their friend finish him off. His shrieking grew even louder, adding still more volume to the noise.

  Tunu was both frightened and angry-angry at Tiger for giving her away. Her mother saw where the dog was pointing and quickly unbolted the bathroom door. As it flew open, a perspiring, terrified, open-mouthed Mr. Ali came charging out. Right on his heels came the laundryman's donkey. The two ran straight for the garden at breakneck speed, trampling the plants, overturning flowerpots. And on the donkey ran, quite sure that he could only escape from his madman by getting home to his village as quickly as possible.

  The servants caught up with Mr. Ali in the garden, where he had given up out of breath. It was a long, long time before they could convince him that everything was all right. They kept explaining that it was only the laundryman's donkey who'd been in the bathroom with him. But how could the animal have gotten in there? Mr. Ali insisted that he must have come through the wall, since both the doors were locked. He remained quite convinced that it was an evil spirit in the form of a donkey who had attacked him in that bathroom.

  Inside the house, the mother was sorting things out with the children. She quickly understood who had done all the mischief, and for once her patience had reached its limit. You may be sure that Tunu got a spanking that she'll remember quite as long as Mr. Ali will remember being attacked by an evil spirit.

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