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Yuni and the Ox

2006-07-14 00:35

  Most people like oxen, but not Yuni. Instead, he much preferred horses. He couldn't bring himself to like oxen. An ox was slow, whereas a horse could be ridden, could be easily led, and could also pull a cart. It was hard to pet an ox because its horns, and then, too, an ox was always chewing something, acting just like a glutton.

  However, in addition to these reasons, something happened one day that made Yuni Dislike oxen even more. The small village where he lived had about ten houses, and in front of it there was an open space that all the villagers used for threshing rice. All around were sloping path and rice paddies, and in the distance there towered a range of mountains. It was only natural that the village children regarded the threshing space as their playground.

  It was early spring, the time for plowing the paddy fields. Beside the threshing ground, tied to a weeping-willow tree, there was an ox that was all brown except for black eyes, a black stomach, and black markings on its hoofs. The tips of the willow branches were turning green.

  After lunch and a good long nap, Yuni took his ball, which was old and ragged, and went to play on the threshing ground.

  The immense, fierce-looking ox took him by surprise. He gave a loud cry, and his eyes grew as big as saucers. For a every movement. Every now and then the ox switched its tail to chase away the flies. Even though the animal seemed to be gazing at some blooming peach trees across valley, it was probably thinking of nothing in particular as it chewed its cud.

  As Yuni's fears gradually subsided he became very curious. Step by step he went nearer the ox. All of a sudden the ox turns its head in Yuni's direction. The boy stopped dead in his tracks and put his ball behind his back, feeling sure that the ox was intending to snatch it away from him. Instead, the ox licked its flank several times with its tongue, switched its tail, lowered its eyes, and once again began chewing its cud.

  Still holding the ball tightly behind his back, Yuni began to wonder: “Why don't horses have horns? If an ox and a horse got into a fight, I wonder which would win?” No matter how he thought about it, he was sure that the ox would win because of its horns. Yuni liked horses and could not help regretting that the ox would no doubt be the victor.

  And it was a mystery to him how the ox seemed to be continually eating something. No matter how closely he watched, he never saw the animal put anything into its mouth, and yet it kept chewing, chewing, chewing.

  His curiosity lessened. As he began to lose interest in the ox, he turned around and started to play with his ball, throwing it up in the air and catching it. Then he bounced the ball on the stone walkway, but this time he missed catching it, and the ball rolled directly under the ox.

  Chasing the ball, Yuni suddenly found himself within only a few feet of the animal. He didn't know what to do. The ox, with half-shut eyes and chewing its cud, appeared not to notice the ball or even to be concerned by the boy's presence. Yuni felt sure that the ox didn't know his ball had rolled under it.

  Yuni decided to try to retrieve the ball before the ox realized what had happened. His eyes fixed on the ox, he carefully inched his way under the animal's stomach. He held his breath and kneeled down. But just as he was about to pick the ball up, the ox suddenly shook its head, making the bells on its halter ring out loudly. At the same time the ox switched its tail.

  Yuni shot out from under the ox, tumbling head over heels. Then he leaned backwards on his two clenched fists, stamped his feet, and cried: “Stupid! Stupid!”

  As if to show that it did not care, the ox twitched its ears once or twice and again started chewing its cud.

  Yuni was upset. He crossed his legs, leaned his chin on his hand, and asked himself: “How can I get my ball back? It isn't his ball, so why won't he let me have it back? Shall I go get a stick? But suppose ox tries to hide my ball while I'm looking for a stick? What would I do then?”

  The more he thought, the more angry and impatient he became. Yuni peeked at the ox out of the corners of his eyes. The ox was napping. Its eyes were tightly shut, but, oddly enough, it kept on chewing its cud. Yuni felt he shouldn't miss this chance of getting his ball back. Once again he looked at the ox. Without a doubt, the animal was asleep. Kneeling down, Yuni stretched out his hand.

  Suddenly, without any warning, the ox switched its tail, hitting Yuni on the cheek. He cried out in pain as he put his hand to his cheek and scrambled out from under the ox. His chest was heaving, and his cheek burned. His mouth turned down at the corners, and he knew that sobs would come if he opened his mouth.

  When was it that he had bragged how he could win in a fight with a tiger? And that time when he had fallen down and cut his elbow, and even though blood was running down arm, he had been able to hold back the tears. But this time was different. He was badly shaking with fright.

  Though his eyes filled with tears, he didn't cry. Gradually his fright changed to anger. He started at the ox with daggers in his eyes, just as though he were about to blindly attack the beast. Then he cried out in a sobbing voice: “Stupid! So you won't give my ball back?”

  The ox only kept on chewing.

  “It's my ball, stupid!” His voice broken by sobs, Yuni clenched his fists in a last attempt to frighten the ox. But, however hard he might try, he knew he was no match for those horns. If only the ox didn't have horns, he might even try to box him.

  As though very annoyed, the ox noisily licked its nostrils with its tongue and then again closed its eyes. The red welt on Yuni's left cheek looked like an earthworm. Rubbing it with his hand, he cried out: “I'll go get my father, and then you'll see! He'll take care of you all right!”

  Yuni glared once more at the ox, his lips curled. Then he turned and ran home.

  His parents were gone when he reached home. The housemaid was making a fire under a pot of barley in the kitchen. Yuni kept after her until she came out with him to look for his ball.

  By the time they threshing ground, however, the ox was far away with a yoke around its neck, plowing a water-filled paddy field with its owner walking behind, urging it on. The threshing ground was bare, the ball nowhere in sight.

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