BY DANIYAL A.
Copyright is held by the author.
THE WORK on the Ring Road near Kathmandu Airport continued on with rage and roars, as it had for who knows how many years. The road seemed not to have been planned and built so much as sprung out spontaneously around the city like an ancient civilization out of a delta plain. And the road workers seemed to be restoring and restructuring an antique glory — patching a ditch here, repaving a tract there, frenetically (albeit in vain) trying to intercept and correct deterioration.
Namu and his donkey were given the only job that can be given to a man with a donkey in a city rapidly and clumsily advancing towards modernization. They hauled rocks and gravel around the various work areas, distributed within a range of a few kilometres. For Namu, who had just emigrated from his village at the outskirts of Kathmandu, his donkey seemed obsolete and miserable in front of the huge asphalt layers and rollers working on the road.
It was their sixth or seventh day at work. They still hadn’t worked enough hours to afford to be fed properly. The donkey was tired and weak, and the owner was faring only slightly better. Each day, with each load, the donkey would trail behind Namu, who tugged and pulled at his animal, while the rollers drove past and sped away. The foreman hollered at the construction crew for being late and lazy, and the man with the donkey would get the worst of the foreman’s wrath.
“You’re an ass hauling an ass! Get out of the way!” He yelled at Namu everytime he went by and delivered a heavy frustrated kick at the donkey’s ass. The donkey would bray in weak protest, but unable to move any faster under its load, its brays would fade into the roar and clatter of other equipment present on the site.
“You ass! Look at what shit you’re getting me into!” Namu would then burst out against his animal as if it understood Nepali, and would land a shower of punches on its snout.
Almost near the end of the day, after dumping a load of fill at the construction site, Namu was approached by the foreman.
“The hajurs are angry as Hell at how slow you bastards work! You don’t give a shit. But then, I get my ass busted! If you can’t get your motherfucking donkey to move its ass, then both of you get the fuck out and don’t show your muzzles here again, clear? Now go to the gravel pit near the river and haul another load as fast as you can, move it!”
“Yes, hajur.” Namu couldn’t even respond properly, because he was already putting all his energy racing — or rather dragging — his donkey back towards the gravel pit.
Namu ran with a desperate energy animating his tired legs that made his feet sink even more into the mud of the uneven pathway. The donkey skidded behind, stumbling and panting. The early morning rain had created puddles all over the area around the Ring Road and the river. In some areas, where the surface was uneven, pothole lakes of stagnant mud and rain water had formed. They navigated these lakes of mud and finally reached the gravel pit. Namu grabbed a shovel and, with the movements of a mechanical forklift, started loading gravel into the bags harnessed to either side of the donkey’s back. He didn’t stop when the harness bags overflowed. The donkey just stared into the blank space ahead of it.
They headed back for the construction site. The donkey was now dragged down with weight, its hooves sinking in the mud, barely trudging forward. When they arrived at a huge puddle of rain water, the disaster occurred. The donkey stumbled in the mud, and fell on his side, weighed down by the gravel on its back. The gravel spilled out of one of the bags and quickly disappeared into the puddle. The donkey let out a bray and then it lay quiet, almost as if expecting and resigning itself to its owner’s wrath and punishment.
Namu spun his head backward and watched incredulously as his donkey collapsed in the mud, and all his fatigue dissolved in rainwater. It took him a few seconds to accept his demise, and then think of obscenities to hurl at the animal. He pulled at the reins uselessly. The donkey lay motionless, unwillingly resistant to the commands, pulls and obscenities of its owner.
Namu tugged at the reins again, but this time his sandal broke and he slipped in the mud, landing with his hips on the ground. Another round of obscenities ensued. He took up a wooden stick and crawled closer to the donkey. He held its reins and then whacked its snout. The donkey brayed, but no other result was achieved. He then started relentlessly whacking the donkey’s snout with all his remaining force. Whack, whack, whack. Soon it was only the whacks and the gnashing of Namu’s teeth that could be heard, as the donkey had stopped even braying. Namu raised his stick and brought it with full force down on the animal’s face.
The women washing their clothes at the river stopped to stare at the spectacle, so did a motorcyclist passing by. Kids stopped playing and started to watch and giggle, everyday madmen are as amusing as screenings at a cinema. Some young students watched in disdain, some older men watched with no emotion on their faces. Nobody tried to stop Namu.
“MOVE, YOU SON OF A BITCH! STAND UP, YOU PIECE OF SHIT!” Namu yelled as he landed another one on the donkey’s face, hopelessly, knowing that his job was already lost. Finally after another whack his stick broke, and he was forced to open his eyes and look at the animal with pitiful hatred. He growled and threw the remaining part of the stick at the donkey’s muzzle too, and let out an inhumane yell.
Then he calmed down. He didn’t cry in despair, his tears perhaps had already been spent in the form of sweat. He panted and looked at the animal. The donkey had not moved an inch. Half the gravel was gone and was saturating the puddle. The snout was full of mud and blood trickling through it, forming rivers in a muddy delta. There was a lot of mud around the eye sockets, so it was hard to determine whether the eyes were open or close. The remaining gravel pushed on the animal’s ribs so it was also hard to determine whether it was breathing.
The audience continued to stare at Namu as he continued to stare at the donkey. With rage departing and numbness arriving, so were long-ignored religious notions occurring in Namu’s mind. What had they done to deserve all this? Their present condition must have been a punishment for their sins in the past life. Maybe Namu was a foreman in his past life, abusing and pushing his underlings to the edge. The foreman himself would have been a middle-man between the superiors, the investors, the big hajurs, who may have pressured his foreman into madness in his previous incarnation.
Namu looked again at the half-dead ass lying in front of him. On its motionless snout, there was a serenity that it never had demonstrated before. He realized that because of his behaviour he might well be reborn into a donkey himself in his next life. He might be beaten up and dragged through dirt and dust by the foreman-turned-Namu. And now, the donkey, lying probably dead there, had it achieved Nirvana? If suffering was the only way to achieve liberation, had it suffered enough to finally break the endless cycle of oppression? Or would it be reborn as the foreman’s boss, exacting revenge and repeating the whole cycle?
But the hajurs, the investors and bosses at the top of the pyramid, what would they be reborn as? Perhaps they belonged to a different religion altogether.