THE DONKEY |
January 21, 2013
Name: Ross Magee
Stationed in: Afghanistan
The donkey is a beast of burden. In Afghanistan they are a common sight, even in the cities. In Kabul traffic a donkey pulls a wooden cart, piled high with the debris of a day of scavenging. All things combustible are stacked on it; cardboard, scraps of wood and the other salvageable items culled from the trash bins and street-side heaps of Kabul and its environs.
The cart is itself a scavenged thing, cobbled together from miscellaneous items lashed to a small axle and paired with matching tires off a motorized device that has long since expired. It is small, clearly built to be matched to its animal counterpart. Unlike the trucks, cabs and buses, it has no decorations, no bright paint schemes, no picture of Ahmad Sha Massoud in the window. It is strictly utilitarian.
The donkey walks, tugging at the cart in Kabul traffic with his head down. He does not look side to side. He wears blinders, but they’re not necessary — he does not fear cars. He is surrounded by motorized transport; buses, armored trucks, cabs, motorcycles, small sedans, and lumbering Lories. He is dust-colored, but it is not readily apparent if it’s his natural color. He is swaddled in a grime-coated blanket which surely hides his bone-bare back and ribs. In Afghanistan, where motors fail the donkey remains viable.
His long ears stand erect and grey with their silver lining catching the last rays of a winter sun. Only his muzzle is white, and as the traffic jerks and starts he walks forward and rests it on the bumper of a white Corolla every time it stops. When he places his muzzle on the bumper of the car it is hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. It is a sad thing to see, an animal taking every bit of rest it can as it works. The donkey is a survivor.
His unshod hooves cover the ground in short, halting steps, landing without sound on the pavement. The long hair falls down from his fetlocks over his hooves in tangled clumps. When the cars move forward and a gap is created he breaks into a weary trot without being urged. He knows the path. He closes the gap to the Corolla and rests his head again, chin on bumper welding the 21st century to all of history for a moment. Plastic and flesh.
The driver sits motionless atop his cart of combustible material. He appears as weary and as dirty as the donkey. He wears a stained coat with blackened hands and his head is wrapped in a dustmal of indeterminate color that shields his view to the sides. He sits erect, but his head droops and there is nothing to rest it on. One hand holds the slack reins, the other clutches his coat across his chest. He is surrounded by the people of Kabul; residents, visitors, soldiers, and foreigners, in cars, on foot, on motorcycles and bikes. He pays them no mind whatsoever. He moves among them, but like the donkey he is from another time.
Winter has come to Kabul and as dusk falls a pall of smoke begins to appear over the city. In a few hours it will be so thick that it can be tasted. The leaves have fallen from the trees unaided by wind that is conspicuously absent from this town. Corolla-colored clouds dot the lapis sky and streetlights stand as naked as the trees along the sides of car-choked road. Among them moves a donkey, his cart and the rider.