In my ninth year (well, the day of my eighth birthday in fact) a flop-eared old donkey arrived unexpectedly in the back of a pick-up truck. “Remember,” Aunt Kassie warned, “We’ll send her back if you don’t look after her.”
“Just get on her back, man,” Uncle Sarel called.
“Not in front of the other animals,” I pleaded. “She’d be embarrassed.”
“Listen kid,” Kassie scolded, “You’re not getting a pony, and that’s that. And if you don’t want that donkey, we’ll chop her up and feed her to the lion. So you can stop looking through those rosy colored glasses of yours, you hear?”
“Want her? But I do! I love her. Thank you. Thank you!”
Sarel laughed, “So? What you gonna call her?”
“Um? ‘Rosie’. Rosie. I’ll take as good care of her as any old pony. You’ll see.”
“Rosie?” Kassie frowned. “Oh! Rosy-colored glasses, hay? Ha! You clever little bugger! See?” she muttered aside. “Never needed to worry about spending money on a blerrie pony at all.”
And when old M`dhalha, our Zulu manservant, first saw the tattered donkey he nodded. “Eyah. Yes. A man comes with nothing, he can own nothing, he can only care, I am thinking, that is all.”
But then again, many of old M`dhalha’s lessons need to be relived, many times.
It was on the second day of leading Rosie around that my Aunt, mocking me from her stodgy stance on the porch, yelled across the distance of the lawns, “Still too scared to ride him, seuntjie? Too much of a little boy, hay?”
I cupped my hand up to my mouth. “Her back may hurt”
“Ag man, you’re just a sissy!” she jeered, snorted derisively, turned, and went inside.
Tugging, I headed the reluctant animal over to M`dhalha who was busy with the garden shears, snip-snipping at the low-growing Christ-thorn hedges. And suddenly I was hopping painfully, stifling an ‘Ooh!’ and a ‘Ye-ouch!’ and then another ‘Ooh! Ow!’ as clutches of spiky grey clippings, like giant writhing centipedes seemed of their own to leap up and bite into my feet.
The donkey plodded among them, then stood absolutely still.
“Oh no!” I worried. “Whatsamatta? You got prickles in your feet too?”
Rosie looked away.
Hurriedly, I plucked the hard-spiked twists off me, and then, with a cautious big toe, prodded the prickly-sharp scatterlings away from her. “There, there,” I soothed. “We’ll soon have you out of here.” And at last I bent to her hoof. “Whatsamatta? Lift. Rosie, lift! I’ll take `em out!” But the more I tried to move her the more I stepped into thorns myself, until I ‘ouch’ and ‘ouw’ and ‘ooh’-ed, as though cruelly yanked by strings, jerking about like a marionette.
Still, the donkey did not move.
Unexpectedly, I felt myself hoisted onto Rosie’s back and M`dhalha, his face wrinkled with merriment, hooted, “Ha! I am for thinking we must be letting this donkey’s bony feet be for now taking your bare feet from this place, Inkosana kamiena, Boss-child of mine. I am thinking it knows its feet are made much more better for thorns than us! Hee-haw!”
‘Hee-haw!’ Rosie echoed, ‘Hee-haw! Hee-haw!’
Then again, not all of Rosie’s braying was a laugh.