There was once a trio of merchants, travelling on a return journey back from the ancient city of Bukhara, part of modern-day Uzbekistan. A man, his son, and their donkey. The man being of middle age, his bachelor son in a ready-to-marry state, and their donkey moving without any load left on his back, made their way back to Kabul with looks of satisfaction over a successful trade made. Altogether, they made a company of traders where no difference was given any importance between the status of an animal and human beings taming it. They band together as a team with one common objective, to earn wealth to survive and thrive, in an almost utopic, yet also a very hypocritical and at the same time a very insecure society, part of what is considered today as, the middle east.
Simply by retracing their steps towards their native village near the city of Kabul, did the trio made their way home. As a habit of the merchants, they would stop by at local stores and places where familiar friends would be seen as they pass by; some asking for their time to have a cup of chai (tea) or three (and gluttony is synonymous with hospitality in Afghanistan, till this very day), along with some who just want to know how their health was, and to give blessings in return for the temporary company the trio would provide, considering it as a form of labor given out of generosity.
Life seemed well so far. It was at the point when they began to pass by a neighboring village known for its talkative locals. Being loud and gossiping becomes a norm, after a series of wars and fighting a nation has gone through over many years, one can never know when a similar trial may strike again. And so people make the most out of the oxygenated peace-of-mind that they have now, whether in a good or bad way.
As the father sat solo on the donkey as he tired every now and then, and had his son upfront handle the reins of the donkey, passer bys made astonishing looks and eyes of disturbance towards the trio. One khanam-e-buzurg (elderly lady) went by speaking to herself in a noticeable tone of voice, complaining of the day’s work she had to put up with while returning home with food supplies, and being of age while at it, gave away a taunt straight to the father’s face while halting them.
“It’s strange isn’t it? An elderly man takes advantage of his own son while my own are living with their second mother….the buzurgs (elders) of today! They should be making sacrifices for the comfort of their own children instead of the opposite.” She clinged onto the sleeve of the father saying so, before gently giving blessings to both and departing. “Sadly, I wish I should have taken advantage at times like that….” she exclaimed along the way.
The father felt piqued. A disturbed expression on his face shown with his son taking notice.
Knowing his old friend’s sensitive attitude towards misbehavior the son asked “Pather, (dad) was it something she said? I know you have issues with women and the way they talk, but…,”
He grunts back, “If she thinks I am an ass on a donkey, then fine with me. But let’s see how others will think if we exchange places…. just to fulfill our curiosity.” The father decides to handle the donkey and his son then sits on its back. It really wasn’t nor isn’t today considered a custom for a youngster to be on the receiving end of convenience and the elder providing it despite the difference in respect and age.
But as the father had a past of reacting to whatever people had to say good or bad about his family, he wasn’t someone who would take it lightly, despite being gentle at heart. But it seems today that he had plans. From there they moved on, anticipating something new to come by….
The village they were still in, was large enough for more than a hundred people to consume so much space for walking, but there were plenty of people who still possessed a liking for conversation despite the daily traffic. People of all ages stop by to talk and give each other the daily brief before heading on. All of this was due to the lack of worry for time, as the people weren’t very much known for their punctuality.
Two daughters of an old friend of the father carrying loads of cloth for home, stopped to receive blessings from the father, who hopes that one of them will one day see themselves in matrimony with his son. His young friend who tries to be reserved, is always at an emotional tug-of-war within himself, on whether he should seek a partner or just a sweetheart in a fundamentalist society.
Nonetheless, his old man helps him out by keeping an eye on him. “Kaka,(Uncle) is he sick?”, the younger of the two inquired.
“Who, my boy? No, he just loves his donkey.”
The girls looked surprised, with the older one advising “We help our family each day with housework and errands and he can’t let you rest instead? Our own brothers are the same — freeloaders. And no wonder he’s still single, he can’t take care of you, how will he look after a woman? We at least expected better.”
Though in a hurry initially, the sisters made time to let their hearts out when they found the chance. A kind farewell given and they went off; the father disliked every word they said of his best friend, and abruptly pulls his son off the donkey with a slap to the back of his head.
“It’s time neither of us should sit on top,” proclaimed the old man, “I feel as if this time that no one will think of us as cruel savages if we let live our pet without any other ass for it to carry.” The son agreed never more, as he was a part of his pain.
They both agreed to handle their donkey empty-loaded. It was not a norm to act this friendly towards a mutual animal known for carrying much more than its own weight, but it was all a part of the father’s intentions. Donkeys were and are still renown for carrying a variety of cargo such as bricks, metal works, and various other equipment. But they have more of a variety of skills than just putting up load that they are not acquainted to, similar to that of humans.
The trio then were near the end of the village’s main quarters until they stumbled upon an ironsmith known for his very little number of customers. “Salaam Farhan jaan! Chitori? How are you?” he said to the father.
“Alive and dead Salim Jaan”, was his reply. The ironsmith was a childhood friend; Farhan knew for a fact that he was no ordinary man running his business, as his mouth tended to be bigger than his craft. “This is unusual, I have never seen a donkey rode without load, it seems Farhan jaan is either too kind these days or just forgot that air doesn’t really take up space on a donkey’s back,” judged Salim.
“It’s been like that for awhile…” claimed the father.
“What, a donkey with nothing to carry?” , the ironsmith blunted.
“Our friend has been carrying our load for miles until we sold all of it; we thought we might give him a break.” Farhan replied.
It was customary for them to ramble whenever they met. But this time around, Farhan knew that his long-time friend’s business wasn’t going too well and he just had to say something out of the ordinary, to lighten the pain in his heart due to the lack of any commotion. Walking a donkey home seemed to be a good form of exercise for the ironsmith who mentioned so. “It seems they really are man’s best friend.” Said Salim.
With blessings and farewells they departed and they only had one more place to pass by before a straight way home. “You know what, there seems to be no way to please everybody….but we can do one last thing, Amir jaan,” said the father to his son. “Let’s both ride our donkey home. It already has enough of a “break” and now it’s our turn to reap the benefits.”
Amir the son, was reluctant on doing so, but he realized that this can be the only way for everyone to somehow — leave them be.
The local tea shop near their village came up, as they finally managed to reach lands close to home. Both father and son decided to have a last tea before they can go on another couple of miles before they reach their final destination.
The host was well-acquainted to them and vice versa. The father ordered his green and the son his regular black. The host saw them coming from afar and beforehand prepared their usual favorites. As they sat, a third cup was placed on their table. “What is the third cup of tea for Feroz baradar? (Brother in Dari).
“ Ha! Why do you ask Farhan jaan? It’s for your strong friend here, who carried both of you all the way here to my shop. I’ve never seen so much pain anyone can give to an animal for no apparent reason. Was it to show off?”, said the teamaker.
“Why yes…to show who is the better ass!”, exclaimed Farhan, annoyed (as ever).
A misunderstanding as usual, lead to Farhan to make a leave early with his son and their donkey for home. With a tip given and blessings exchanged the trio departed. “Oh God, I should’ve served some confectionary right away. No wonder he gave such a tip lesser than before….” wondered Feroz the teamaker. Need he to wonder anymore?
The last steps came to light as the last mile towards home was almost covered. All three were fatigued with travel and anxiety to reach the women of their household.
“Pather, may I ask, why don’t people ever manage to leave others alone? Why can’t they just see everyone else in peace so that they can also find it for themselves as well?,” inquired Amir jaan.
“That’s because we all have pains, problems, and insecurities, in our lives,” answered the sage.
“ We always try to find someone or something to help us solve these complications in life and solving them can be very hard. And people will just empty their hearts to release those pains, by speaking out. That’s just how it is. It’s natural,” he elaborated.
“If you could ask yourself, why?”, progressed the old man, “Because we all need someone to at least listen to what we want to say, without having to leave our emotions trapped in our hearts, which can also lead us to commit very wrong things.”
“I see,” affirmed Amir jaan. “And if that is the case…is it also because people were all born differently and behave in different ways? Doesn’t that seem bothersome?”
“It may at first,” explained the old man, “But differences teach us new things about life. Different people, animals, things, and cultures, make the world a better place and give meaning to its beauty. Which is why we are all still here. To celebrate that beauty. Everything being the same….would’ve been an even greater mistake,” professed Farhan jaan.
Amir jaan listened intently to his father’s words and grew calmer each time, while simultaneously having this restless anxiety and impatience that pushed his curiosity. Being young, is not what makes him a bad student, but in fact a better human being, who wants to know more after going through certain events, before finally becoming content.
“That is all nice in its own way, but what about all these wars that we see? Can there be peace in the future despite these wonderful differences?”, inquired again Amir jaan.
Farhan argues further “All can be done once the day arrives when we can all truly understand each other’s problems and insecurities, which make us start all these wars in the first place.”
“Misunderstandings bring about all sorts of negative emotions that bring about these conflicts in turn; but once they’re cleansed through empathy and knowledge….only then a beautiful thing like peace, can come true,” claims Farhan.
“Then is the devil responsible for all this shit?” said Amir jaan. “Doesn’t he instigate everything in the world that gives us pain and grief? My pain, yours, his or her and just about everyone else’s?”
“ That maybe…” affirmed his father.
“That maybe…” said he again, softer.
“But like every other living creature made by God, he may also have insecurities that we may not be able to understand, but those of his own kind and age can empathize.”
“And now he is letting it all out on us after what happened with him and Adam.” states Farhan jaan.
Amir jaan counters once more: “Then if he becomes damned after everything horrible he has done, wouldn’t that be enough to end his own suffering?”
Farhan answers: “The sad thing is that we do not know him very much other than a little of ourselves; his pain is at another level as he is an entity of another kind. For now, only God knows his pain; He has sent him to test our love for each other. Once we get to know him at some point, maybe even he can be helped so long as he gives his tawbah, his plea for mercy, whenever he will feel ready for it.”
And then finally all was answered.
Amir jaan felt surprised after every word heard from his father; he felt somewhat relieved from the aggravation he gathered from the words of the people concerned with them and their donkey.
“Then what should we do now?” was the boy’s final inquiry
“Stay alive. And keep our friends close. Whether they maybe our parents, brothers, sisters, relatives, or anyone outside the family. Friendship sees no blood. Only humanity. Don’t ever forget that.”
“Where the hell did you get all these ideas? Did you just made them up ? Or did you manage to get high somewhere on the way??? I think I know you that much at least…you fucking guy”. Asked humorously, Amir.
“Well, travelling for long distances by walk or ride can be a very good exercise! It helps open up our brains for new ideas, if you know what I mean, with your inexperienced ass…” counters yet again, the sage.
A hearty laugh shared and after all that, home finally appeared in sight, with the women of the household waving their heroes welcome.