The following is a story I wrote some time ago with a friend over at PanHistoria and before that at Ancient Sites. It is a reworking of the Aesop’s Tale, “The Man, The Boy and the Donkey.” I have long since lost track of my friend. I hope he does not mind my posting our collaboration on my blog here.
This is from another story of Sekhmet Meritamen and her adopted son, Meni. In this scene she is telling Meni about being different and the parable of trying to please everyone.
It was past dusk on board the Heart of Ra and Sekhmet Meritamen padded nimbly down the wooden deck steps to her cabin. As Royal Physician to a pregnant Per’aa, Sekhmet’s routine was unpredictable; she hurried from her work and was thinking of what to make herself and young Menenhetet for dinner when a sound reached her. It was the sound of a child’s crying and it drew the Lady Sekhmet with a tug on her heart. The sound came from her own cabin.
Inside, in the middle of the floor, a blanket clutched to his breast, lay Meni. Sekhmet’s heart ached at the sound of his sadness. She rushed to the curled up ball that was Meni. His face was a blustery thundercloud, bursting with tears. His sobs were a tiny thunder in his wan chest and lightning shone in the glisten of his tears. Drooping like a hippo’s tail, his new sidelock trembled from the weeping.
“Are you hurt?” Sekhmet asked, kneeling near him and looking over his tanned limbs with a professional calm that surprised even her. She saw no cuts or bruises, but her hands examined the frail boy out of habit.
Meni simply wept, blubbering and oblivious to the tender ministrations. Yet nothing seemed amiss.
“Please tell me what’s wrong?” Sekhmet almost felt as though she herself might cry as well, for the boy’s sobs were like pluckings on the strings of her heart.
“The .. boys .. and .. girls .. laughed .. at .. my .. hair!” he finally managed, hiccuping between each syllable and blinking a stream of tears out of each brown eye. Many of Per’aa’s entourage had children onboard the Coronation Barge. Apparently Meni had been teased by some of them.
Sekhmet relaxed inwardly, vastly relieved. She pursed her lips sympathetically and thumbed away the spill of tears on the boy’s wet cheeks. She held the boy’s head and tried to still his crying with a kiss upon his troubled brow. He huddled to her bosom and cried all the more. Rocking his sobs away, Sekhmet sighed.
“Meni, you like your new hairstyle, don’t you? Nebet Nefeti worked very hard to make you a handsome little man. She shaved your head, just like you wanted and even managed to salvage this sidelock for you to braid,” Sekhmet stroked the dark tail of hair on the side of Meni’s head.
“Yes nebet,” Meni sobbed. “But the … other kids … laughed at … me!”
“You mustn’t let them get to you like that” Sekhmet soothed,. ” They’ll get used to it and things will be better. I promise.”
Meni’s frown was unrelenting and his eyes were still freshets of tears. As fast as Sekhmet brushed them away, more scooted out to replenish the rivulets of on his cheeks.
“Meni,” Sekhmet said, lifting his chin up to her gaze. “It wouldn’t matter what you did with your hair. Any change would have gained the attention of the other children. If you had kept your ragged locks, or shaved your head as bald as an egg, or put it in braids just like mine, the children would have teased you all the same.”
“But I want … to play with … them!” Meni protested, calming a little but still afflicted with his hiccups.
“I know you do,” Sekhmet soothed. “And tomorrow you will try again. You will be strong for me, won’t you?”
Meni blinked doubtfully.
“Let me tell you a story that might help. It’s one my mother used to tell me when I was a girl. When I was your age I was not very graceful, and very much a tomboy, and the kids at school would tease me too. And no matter what I did it didn’t make them stop. But one day my mother found me like I found you, weeping. She told me this story…
“There once was a man, who lived in the far off reaches of the land. He was a craftsman and widower living with his son and a donkey. One day the man, knowing he would have to go to the great city to trade, carefully prepared his wares, and loaded them on the donkey and set off for town. When the animal was loaded he set his son upon the top of the load on the donkey and started toward the great city.”
“The man and his son and the loaded donkey walked and walked and at last they met upon the road two men coming from the great city. They nodded and smiled and exchanged greetings as they passed and the man with the donkey and son overheard the two other men they had passed whispering between themselves, ‘Did you see that selfish child riding on top of the donkey while his father walked!? That is terrible! What a selfish child!'”
Meni’s face grew fierce and he said, “But nebet! That boy might be lame! Those men aren’t nice!”
“Yes Meni,” Sekhmet nodded, finally seeing the flow of sadness drying in the boy’s eyes.
“The man…not wanting to appear to be a fool, stopped and thought about this and decided that it might be best if he rode and his son led the donkey. The boy agreed.
“‘Oh certainly, father,’ The boy replied. ‘I can lead the donkey and you can ride, I am young and my legs will not grow weary.’ And so they traded places.
“A few leagues down the road, the man and boy and donkey met a man and his wife going the other direction. The two parties nodded and smiled and exchanged greetings as they passed each other on the road, but the man overheard the woman whispering to her husband as they passed, ‘Did you see that*selfish* man riding the donkey while the poor child walked?! I’ve never seen anything so pathetic!'”
“That’s silly!” Meni pointed out. “Those people don’t know the man is nice!”
Sekhmet nodded and continued:
“This troubled the man; and not wanting to appear to be a fool–for fools are often taken advantage of in the marketplace of the great city–pondered the predicament. He came upon the idea that he and his son could both ride the donkey and it would satisfy all of the objections of everyone on the road thus far.
“A few more leagues and the man and his son and the donkey met a nobleman and his fanbearer on the road. They smiled and exchanged greetings and the man heard the fanbearer comment to the nobleman, ‘Master! What a terrible waste of a good animal to make him bear the weight of two people plus his load!'”
Meni just shook his head, tears forgotten, eyes wide, and in deep consternation at such things.
“The man, not wanting to appear to be a fool–for fools are sometimes regarded with suspicion and riducule and taken advantange of in the marketplace of the great city–pondered a moment and decided that neither he nor his son would ride the donkey but would walk alongside. There were a few more miles to go, but this was fine.
“The man and his son and the donkey then met a woman and her son on the road and they exchanged pleasantries with the man and his son and when they had passed the man overheard the woman say to her son, ‘Those fools! Neither rides when they have a fine donkey. Surely he can handle more than that simple load!'”
Exasperated at these silly people, Meni snorted.
“The man could take it no longer! He was tired of being everyone’s fool! He found a thicket of saplings and cut a strong sturdy one and then reached into the sacks for extra rope and lashed the legs of the donkey to the sapling and, struggling, he and his son carried the animal into the gates of the city. With astonishment the man wondered at why everyone was laughing at him for he had done everything that anyone had asked of him and in exasperation had done what he knew to be the last choice that was left.”
Sekhmet saw the glimmer of understanding in Meni’s eyes.
“The moral of the story is: If you try to please everyone, dear Meni, you in the end will end up looking like the fool, for there is no possible way to please everyone at all times.”
Meni looked up into the wise dark eyes of Lady Sekhmet and wondered if there were anything she couldn’t fix. Which led him inevitably to his next words.
Sekhmet laughed and held out a hand to Meni, “Let’s find something to eat then.”
Meni skipped beside Sekhmet, his sidelock twitching from side to side, looking very much like a switching tail.