1-4 Chapters

                                                           

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A tale of love and friendship shared between a young girl and her beloved giant donkey.

Chapter 1 - The Nomad

“I shall tell you a story that happened a very long time ago, well before you were born,” reflected the nomad.

This nomad, who had wondered into the group of goat herder’s campsite seemingly by chance, had been with them now for several days. He had asked to continue with them for company, explaining the road was a long and solitary one for the distance he intended to travel. The group had welcomed him in as they did not see him as a burden, he looked fit enough and they were more than happy to accept the help he gave them.

The nomad leaned back against a small tree, resting his hands on top of his now full belly and began again with his story, “The story begins at a time of a festive scene,” he paused mainly for effect as he watched from beneath his lashes, the child Alimud’s eyes widen with interest, this made him smile. He continued to gather his thoughts and added, “There were many people all dressed in colourful robes and were throwing palms at this beautiful big handsome donkey being ridden by an equally handsome young man through the town. People gasped as they watched the man and donkey riding in so regally together.”

Alimud listened attentively, “But why were they throwing palms at both of them? Would not the palms hitting at their bodies be painful?” she asked quizzically.

“Well the reason the people were throwing palms was because they were welcoming the man into their village. They believed him to be a great healer,” he replied.

“And was he?” asked Alimud. “As great a healer as they thought?”

“Yes,” nomad said softly, “he was one of the greatest healers of all time. “But what was very special about this story was the presence of the donkey.”

Now very curious, Alimud looked up into the nomad’s eyes asking, “What was so special about the donkey?” Did he have a special gift?”

He cleared his throat from the emotion that welled from recalling the details of a tale that had continued through time to the present and replied, “You could say that. He was different from all the other donkeys. He was very large and tall, a very beautiful donkey, like none other before him. Bigger than a stallion, even.”

Although Alimud was intrigued, she queried, “He sounds a bit like your own donkey. Are you certain nomad that you are not confusing him with your own donkey?”

To this, the nomad gave a little laugh and replied, “Patience, little one let me continue with the story and it shall all become much clearer to you.”

“The donkey how was he different then?” Alimud asked her curiosity peaked.

The nomad looked into the flickering flames of the campfire, “His behaviour and actions were more like a person than an animal. He had very strong intuition and also possessed amazing strength. As the story unfolds Alimud you shall become better acquainted with this special donkey’s attributes.”

Alimud’s parents were sitting nearby and smiled at their daughter’s many questions to the stranger. To them he seemed pleasant enough and had shared his food equally well with the remainder of the camp.

The nomad had proved himself to be a hard worker. Herding the goats during the day and feeding them before nightfall. There was also an air about him which made him seem trustworthy and good.

The nomad looked over at Alimud’s parents his eyes twinkling, giving them a quick wink and then into Alimud’s innocent large brown eyes said, “So now Alimud let me start the story from the beginning for you.”

Alimud could not resist interrupting him again and had to ask, “Why have I not heard of such a donkey before? What was his name?”

The nomad took a deep breath feeling a slight catch in his throat as he answered tenderly, his eyes slightly out of focus as though instead of retelling a tale he was actually remembering another time that had no place in the present and yet had played a large part in shaping it. Misty eyed, the nomad lifted his head to look at the young girl Alimud, waiting poised on the edge of an overturned basket as if ready to jump up from it, to which he replied, “His name was Aba and he came to be known as the father of all donkeys!”

Alimud let out a little gasp and as she repeated the donkey’s name to herself under her breath she felt a shiver travel down along her spine.

Still a little miffed, she attempted to reason, “There are many donkeys that are not all from the same family. They come from other places, in many different shapes and sizes. How could he be father to all of them?”

“I understand your confusion little one, but this donkey changed the essence from within of all future donkeys. Aba’s service to a family that was to become eventually regarded as a very important holy family since that time had changed the donkey’s spirit from one of mundane existence to that of bravery and courage.

This transmuted bloodline courses through the donkeys veins on a very deep heart level and the essence of the foundation Aba laid, is passed on from generation to generation, to this very day and shall continue to do so long after we are gone. This is only made possible through actions of extreme valour and is a gift that only God may bestow,” the nomad replied patiently.

Alimud had never before heard of any stories about Aba and she was beginning to get frustrated as she believed the nomad was lying to her. She would have preferred that he simply told her it was a story of his invention so that she would not be disappointed. Alimud now so wanted the story of the donkey, Aba to be true. She loved the vision she had started to develop in her mind’s eye of him, one she had not expected to be quite so vivid and wished somehow that he was alive today.

“I think you are making this story up,” she said, slightly annoyed at the nomad, then asked, “How can you be sure if ever lived at all?”

The nomad had been watching her carefully as she struggled with the notion that the donkey Aba had ever lived. He gently added, “Do you see that donkey in amongst your herd over in the enclosure?” he asked, pointing to the small group of animals on the edge of the camp. “That large donkey is Manu and I know this about Aba because Manu is his direct bloodline descendant. He was given to me as a gift by a very kind family many years ago. Aba had once belonged to this family’s ancestors who had carefully recorded his story over their lifetime.”

Alimud peered into the darkness to where the donkeys where gathered and by the moonlight could make out where Manu stood. He was certainly by far the biggest and tallest of the donkeys in the group. She noted strangely how the smaller donkeys all gathered around him to form a circle.

As she returned her gaze upon the nomad she felt by the way he was observing her that he could somehow read her thoughts.

Nomad smiled at her then continued, “That you have not heard of Aba is now in the process of being changed because I shall now pass on his story to you so that you can go forth and tell your children. Then they too shall tell their children, so that the story may continue to live on, as it should.”

Alimud content with the explanation given, leaned slightly forward, now in eager anticipation, her eyes open wide and mouth slightly parted, as she waited to hear more of Aba’s story. Satisfied, that he had appeased her initial disbelief of Aba’s existence and had finally secured her attention, the nomad proceeded to open up the doors of time to welcome into the present the story of Aba.

Transfixed as she listened to the nomad continue his story about the brave donkey Aba, Alimud felt a stirring start deep within her soul as the image of a majestic large black donkey with liquid brown eyes sprung up in her mind as if he were right there large as life before her. Alimud gasped in wonder and leaned in even closer for she did not want to miss the slightest bit of the story about Aba, father of all donkeys.

Nomadfinish

Chapter 2 - Aba – The Beginning

One evening long ago, in a barn a father and his young daughter worked together to help one of their pregnant donkeys to deliver safely of its foal. The father, Usef worked feverishly as their prized donkey Jenna was struggling to give birth as the foal appeared to have become stuck.

Usef had known for some time that Jenna had experienced problems with this pregnancy and had been keeping a close watch over her. He was concerned that when her time came to deliver she would not be strong enough. At the moment he examined Jenna, Usef’s concern was starting to realise and he feared the worst for her. Nevertheless he worked relentlessly throughout the night to help poor Jenna who had become increasingly agitated and panicked. Jenna had lain on her side as she had no further energy to stand for the birth.

Usef’s daughter, Shamana sat with Jenna’s head on her lap whispering soft, gentle words into her ear as she knew this would soothe her and tenderly wiped her muzzle with a warm wet cloth scented with an herbal mixture . However, Jenna too far gone in pain, showed no sign of knowing the little girl was even cradling and wiping her head.

Shamana looked at Usef in alarm as she had seen this happen before, vividly remembering another time, when the little foal along with its mother had perished.

Jenna was growing ever so weaker. Usef was trying hard to keep Jenna alert while at the same time he massaged her swollen belly as she lay on the hay. Usef manipulated the outside of Jenna’s belly to move the foal around sufficiently to dislodge it from its position.

All of a sudden Jenna shook all over to force herself up on shaky legs, she heaved forward letting out a huge breath when little hooves could be seen emerging. As more of the foal’s legs began to protrude, Usef managed to pull slightly on them to assist Jenna to deliver the foal. The little foal landed on the soft hay near her legs.

Shamana had sprung out of the way when Jenna had risen suddenly and had quickly moved forward to retrieve the foal to place him at a safe distance from Jenna’s legs which were starting to crumple beneath her. Jenna fell back onto the hay on her side, her terrified eyes wide open, as she took in quick rasping breaths.

Usef went over to the little foal, to begin working on rubbing its chest and limbs in an attempt to enable it to take its first breath. The little foal made little mewling noises much like a kitten. Usef got up to grab some hessian bags stacked in a corner and wrapped the foal in them to keep him warm. While watching her father work on the little foal, Shamana moved over to Jenna and placed her head back on her lap to comfort her. Shamana felt hot tears roll down her cheeks as Jenna’s eyes started to roll back. “Father, look at Jenna’s eyes!” she said startled, a sob catching in her throat, “Please help her, something is very wrong!”

Usef left the little foal bundled in hessian on the hay, to inspect Jenna and knew instantly that she would not last much longer.

“Daughter, dear you must prepare yourself for the worst. Jenna has lost all of her energy during the birthing and from this she shall be unable to recover.” Usef said sadly as he brushed his hand over the top of Shamana’s head.

Shamana continued to stroke Jenna’s head as it lay on her lap, while crying for the brave donkey. Usef poured a little water into Jenna’s mouth, then rubbed her legs and belly down with a mixture he had made to attempt to revive her but Jenna had no fight left in her to live.

As if knowing that her time had come, Jenna lifted her head looked over to where the little foal lay mewling, then gratefully at Usef in thanks for his help and finally pushed her muzzle into Shamana’s hand licking it in a final kiss goodbye. Jenna’s head then slumped back onto Shamana’s lap as she issued forth one final breath.

Shamana let out an anguished sob and started to beg for Usef to do something, anything he could to help bring Jenna back but sadly Usef knew there was nothing more that he could do for her. Usef got up to take down from one of the barn hooks, Jenna’s favourite blanket, a rough piece of bright blue dyed hessian to which Shamana had woven little coloured beads into its hem and that Jenna had often proudly worn around the farm, only now it was to drape it over her lifeless form. Where once the blanket’s cheerful brightness delighted, it stood out almost garish as an irreverent reminder that its owner now lay still in death beneath it.

“Goodbye dear Jenna, you were very good to us and we shall always hold you dear in our hearts. I promise I shall do everything I am able to help your little foal live to grow big and strong. Rest in peace our dearest girl.” Usef said sadly while he patted her head, as he too felt the sorrow of her death wash over him.

Usef brushed his hand over her muzzle. Sighing sadly he raised himself up and walked over to where the little defenceless foal lay bundled mewling in the corner. As he knelt down to pick up the foal before him he cleared his throat before saying out loud, “I have made a promise to your mother little one and we shall not lose you this night.”

Shamana eased herself from under Jenna’s head and gently laid it back down onto the hay giving her muzzle one last stroke, then pulled the blanket all the way across to cover her head. Heavy hearted Shamana rose up to walk over to where her father was standing now holding the foal in his arms.

“How shall you help him father? He needs Jenna’s milk to survive.” Shamana asked him worriedly, then implored. “Please do not let him die, father, please!”

Usef touched by his daughter’s plea said gently, “Do not worry Shamana, we shall work hard together, from which you shall see he shall survive not just this night but grow up fit and strong for many more to come.”

Shamana hugged her father which made the little foal squeak in protest. Although her heart was heavy with sadness from the loss of Jenna, she could not help but smile at this.

“You see daughter, already this is a good sign he squeaks and you smile. Now let us get to work.” Usef said feeling a little more reassured about his promise to his daughter.

Usef placed the little foal on a bed of hay in another area of the barn further from where Jenna’s body lay. He parted the blankets to reveal the skinny little foal pathetically moving its gangly limbs. Although, he was full term he was very small. Usef was still very worried and knew he would have to work fast to provide the little foal with the proper care if he was to survive the night. There were no other female donkeys available on his farm from which he could extract some precious milk containing within it protective qualities with which to feed the little foal.

Usef made a mental note to himself that he would visit his nearest neighbours in the morning and ask for their assistance but right now he needed to act quickly in order for the little foal to survive the night.

Shamana you stay here with the foal and keep him warm while I go inside the house to prepare a mixture for him to drink. In the meantime squeeze a little water into his mouth by using one of the clean rags dipped in one of the water buckets in the corner,” Usef instructed her.

“Very well Father,” said Shamana, then added, “Please do not be too long as I feel very worried for him.”

Usef’s heart was torn to see the sadness in his little girl’s eyes and the worry frowns creasing her young forehead. Her tear streaked face looked at him with such hope that in that moment Usef vowed to himself that he would do whatever it would take to save the little foal and keep his promise to Jenna.

“Do not fret Shamana I shall not be away too long. Call out if you need me,” he said reassuringly. Usef hurried up to the house to make up the milk concoction he would need to feed the little foal. Despite his tiredness, Usef worked quickly, to prepare everything he needed.

While waiting for her father, Shamana sat with the little foal, its head resting on her lap as she sang to it gently while at the same time stroking its soft downy muzzle. He was so sweet and although weak managed to reach up and lick her hand.

Shamana giggled softly at him, this made him look up at her with big liquid brown eyes which reminded her of Jenna then he licked her hand again. She patted his head gently and noticed he had a little stringy tuft of hair dangling from his chin which looked like a little beard.

“Little baby donkey you look like my father with your little beard hanging down like that,” Shamana observed, then after a little while said, “I think you would suit the name Aba. Do you know that means Father, little one?”

The little foal looked up at Shamana again and licked her hand as if he agreed with her choice.

Shamana smiled down gently at him and said, “From now on your name shall be Aba.”

On saying that the most remarkable thing occurred, Shamana watched as the skinny little foal tentatively made to raise himself up onto his front wobbly legs which buckled at the knees.

However, this did not deter him in the least as he was determined to stand up on his shaky spindly legs.

Usef returned hurriedly to the barn just in time to watch in amazement as the little foal struggled to raise himself up and after several attempts succeeded. He knew then that this little foal was a fighter and somehow his will to live would see him through the next few agonising weeks.

Shamana looked up at her father and declared, “Father, he shall be named Aba, for he has a little beard just like yours and he seems to like the name. Look and see father how the name gives him strength.”

Usef had to agree with his daughter, “It seems you are right daughter to have chosen this name as it does suit him. I believe he shall get through this and we shall have a fine donkey out of him.” Usef then smiled over at his daughter.

He then commenced the arduous task of encouraging Aba to feed from the makeshift leather bladder he had filled with a mixture of goat’s milk, honey, water, and herb infusion.

As Usef placed the bladder’s corner with the slit cut into it into the little foal’s mouth and squeezed, little Aba hungrily began to gulp down the liquid. Some of the milk mixture flowed out the sides of his mouth to rivulet down his neck and legs. Shamana looked at her father and smiled while patting little Aba who continued to feed blissfully unaware of the tenuous state of his current predicament. Both father and daughter knew then that little Aba would survive this night and both let out a little sigh of relief.

“From now on Father may I please feed Aba? I want to do this and be like a mother to him?” she asked, and then added, “I think it would be very good for Aba.”

Shamana was still feeling very upset over the loss of her faithful donkey Jenna but was beginning to feel the stirrings of a deep sense of purpose within her which was to ensure little Aba grew big, strong and much loved.

“Certainly Shamana from now on you shall. I know that with you to care for him he shall stand a far greater chance of growing into a fine healthy donkey,” Usef acceded.

Usef motioned to Shamana to come over and hold the bladder in the same manner as he was doing, so that Aba could get as much nourishment as possible.

So it was on that sad fateful night, while Aba’s mother Jenna lay forever still on the hay in the barn covered with her favourite blue blanket, not far from her body, her newborn foal Aba for whom she had given up her life, continued on with a fighting spirit, to struggle to anchor his life to one here on earth.

Chapter 3 - Aba and Shamana

Under Shamana’s care Aba’s recovery was nothing short of a miracle. Usef was relieved if not a little amazed to see how well the little foal was progressing.

Aba and Shamana became inseparable. Wherever Shamana went Aba was certain to follow. He grew stronger with each passing day. Shamana spent most of her spare time tending to his needs and she was sure that if he could talk to her he would. As often Aba would noisily make guttural sounds which seemed to Shamana that he was attempting to speak. At times he would let out small bray like sounds that were a cross between a squeak and a kitten’s mewl. This would make Shamana laugh, which further encouraged Aba to continue to do it even more as he loved her attention.

Shamana found herself laughing often around Aba as she’d watch his antics around the fields. Many times she would catch him chasing some birds around the farm as they squawked flying about him just out of his reach and then to swoop down to teasingly nip at the top of his head. This would have him jump up at them in his feeble attempts to join them in flight. Aba would then bray up at the birds which sounded more like a high pitched squeal, which had the effect of driving them off in fright. This would set her off giggling. She would love how he would stop and look over at her to begin braying again, then stomp his hooves just so she would continue to laugh.

Shamana would watch on as he almost toppled over his gangly legs while attempting to creep up on a butterfly which he had spotted resting on a flower, to then thrust his muzzle onto it. She laughed at the way he jumped back in surprise when the butterfly flew off miffed at the intrusion.

Another time she caught Aba trotting in a panic braying wildly with a swarm of bees after him. It seemed he had inadvertently stumbled on their hive and went to investigate it a little too thoroughly for their liking. On seeing her Aba had then deviated for Shamana and hid behind her, trembling fearfully as the swarm of bees stopped in mid-flight just short of where she stood, to hover and buzz angrily in the air. Surprisingly, they looped back to return to their hive as if deciding he was not worth their effort!

“Aba, what a funny little donkey you are. You are frightening all the other creatures with your jumping and snooping,” she said laughingly, and this would make Aba lift his head high and shake it around squeaking loudly once again revelling in her attention.

Usef would also be amused when he would hear his beloved daughter’s laughter and he was secretly very pleased she had the little donkey Aba to love. His young daughter did not have a mother figure in her life since her own mother died several years before stricken by a lung infection which had refused to heal. Usef had watched on helplessly as his beloved wife, Ashkenara had struggled to breathe for air during the last few weeks of her life. The village healer had been around as often as she could to administer remedies and potions but did little good for his wife. Shamana had only been five years old when on a bitterly cold winter’s night her mother drew her last tortured breath. Usef had worked hard to comfort his daughter but he knew that it was a difficult thing for a little girl to be without her mother. They had been so close.

It took a long time for Shamana to learn to laugh out loud again and become more open with her feelings. Usef was saddened to think that Shamana at her young age had been forced to also endure another loss, that of her beloved donkey Jenna. However from that terrible event, they had been bestowed with the beautiful gift of little Aba. Usef was very grateful for Aba, his presence was a blessing around the farm and had brought a renewed bright energy to their household.

Usef noted how happy he had become when Shamana would seek him out to simply pass some time with him and would follow him about while he went about his daily chores. Usef’s heart was overjoyed that his little Shamana was smiling more and he had little Aba to thank for the change.

Aba made terrific progress and Usef was very impressed with him. Even Usef would at times find himself stop what he was doing to wander over and pat Aba. It surprised him how strong Aba had become and also how very tall!

“Father, I do look at Aba and wonder at times if he is not a horse, for he has grown quite so big, much bigger than our other donkeys, do you not think so?” Shamana had pointed out what Usef recently had been wondering himself.

Usef smiled down at Shamana saying, “I have to agree with you daughter, I too think Aba is no ordinary donkey. He has grown, thanks to you into a strong, healthy and rather large donkey for his age.”

Several months passed and Aba continued to grow stronger and bigger. It had become quite plain to see that he was special. By the time Aba was a little over a year and still growing to reach his full height, he was unusually big for a donkey.

He towered over the other donkeys he shared the barn with. It was interesting and rather strange to see that when Aba and the other donkeys were out in the field together the smaller donkeys would form a circle around Aba as though he were their leader. If Aba moved around the field, so too would the other donkeys follow him around.

Usef noted how Aba’s appearance was much different to Jenna’s. Where Jenna’s coat had been soft brown in colour, Aba’s on the other hand was a rich blue black colour that glistened in the light of day. Even his tail with a strip of white running through it was longer than usual and quite bushy. Much to Usef’s amusement he would watch as Aba would stand very still for Shamana as she sang him little songs, while standing on a stool as she plaited his tail, then adorned it with bright beads and ribbons. Usef considered Aba’s special feature to be his eyes. Aba had very distinctive eyes which were only partly due to their slanted shape and rich brown colour but mainly due to the intensity of his gaze when he turned to look at you. His eyes had a piercing intelligence that belied the fact that he was an animal. It seemed to Usef that Aba had a knowledge and wisdom that flowed out from his gaze that impacted on any who would look into his eyes. Aba had an uncanny ability to understand and communicate with both Usef and Shamana whenever they instructed him to do something. Aba would acknowledge his understanding by using his head and hooves to let them know. It was Usef’s belief that Aba had been given a gift by God which amongst other things made him more intuitive than other animals. Usef felt they were blessed to have him and that Aba was a good omen in their lives.

Usef thought back on how he would have loved to have both Aba and Jenna bounding around the farm but sadly that was not to be the case but he was grateful none the less that a part of their beautiful donkey Jenna still lived on in Aba.

What gave Aba an air of dignified poise was his little tufted beard which jutted from under his chin that is until Shamana got to work on it. Usef had to smile at Shamana’s handiwork on his little beard which had also been threaded with a string of brightly coloured beads. Aba would love it when Shamana would spend time grooming him. She would plait the wisps of hair which would flop into his eyes with colourful ribbons and beads. Shamana would then also plait beads into his long luxurious tail. In appreciation Aba would then lick the top of her head and nod his head vigorously. To finish off the overall effect of his grooming Shamana would then drape him with his very own brightly dyed vivid blue blanket and used long festive ribbons to secure it around his girth. Aba looked very handsome and regal, if not a bit ridiculous!

Usef would often catch himself chuckling to see how proudly Aba pranced around in all his colourful splendour with his head held high and tail swishing, totally unaware of how funny he really looked. Even the other donkeys brayed loudly as Aba paraded around, while trying to avoid him at all costs!

“Daughter if you continue to dress him as you do they will think that he is for the travelling parade and not a serious working donkey,” Usef could not resist saying with a smile on his lips.

Shamana would giggle delightedly. “I know father, but look at him is he not adorable?” she asked joyfully. To this Usef could only shake his head and laugh. Oh! Yes he thought they had been truly blessed with Aba!

Shamana would continue to look over at Aba indulgently which would prompt him to amble over to where she stood then bend his head so she could reach up to kiss his nose and scratch behind his ears.

At these times both Usef and Shamana would look at each other once again and laugh at Aba’s antics who of course did not mind as he loved being the centre of attention!

Every second Thursday was market day. Usef and Shamana would travel into the village to sell their own produce and to purchase more stock, feed and supplies for their farm. Shamana would help her father load their cart, which would be drawn by two older sturdy male donkeys, with their produce to sell at the village outdoor marketplace. Primarily, consisting of jars of preserved fruits, dried figs, dates, several crates of Usef’s homemade wine, medicinal herbal potions, assortments of Shamana’s hand sewn dyed hessian bags and woven rugs.

Shamana loved going into the village as she would be allowed to move around the stalls and look at all the wonderful wares the other villager’s had on display to sell. She enjoyed the different fragrances such as the incense and spices that would infuse the air around her to descend upon her shoulders like an invisible mantle. The scents would linger on in her clothes and hair, days after they had returned from the marketplace. The sweet aroma would fill her nostrils and act as an aid to fondly relive her recent memories there.

It had become a habit for them to bring Aba along as soon as he became able to walk for long periods on his own. In any event he would have followed the cart to be close to Shamana so there was no point leaving him behind. When he was still too small to follow along they had initially left him behind but had to concede to take Aba with them in the future when it had been passed on to Usef that he had brayed loudly and incessantly for hours giving the neighbouring farmers little to no respite. So it came to be that he would have to ride in the cart surrounded by all the goods destined for the market. Aba made a funny sight for the farmers and field hands to see as he stood proudly in the back of the cart his body adorned with colourful ribbons and beads as they headed off for the village market.

Many in the fields as they watched the cart roll past would call out to Usef to take care or they may find that the travelling parade would choose Aba for their mascot and take him away! To their suggestion Usef would call out to them with much humour to say that they would first have to try to take him away from Shamana! This was true for all could see how Shamana doted on Aba and that they were inseparable. Aba would often show his excitement at his upcoming adventure by braying loudly in the back of the cart making a din. Shamana and Usef would often laugh and let Aba continue on as they did not want to dampen his spirits. They knew eventually Aba would ease up however they did feel a little sorry for those working in the fields who were shielding their ears from the noise hoping their cart would be out of earshot soon! Shamana loved these times and would turn around often in the cart to reach across to pat her beautiful donkey. In return he would look upon her adoringly and lick her hand contentedly.

In time, Aba became far too big, muscular and tall to ride in the cart so he would calmly walk alongside the cart as it headed toward the village marketplace. Aba simply loved the ritual of Shamana fussing over him while preparing him for the journey. He would nuzzle into her neck as she would place a specially made harness of different coloured woven rope around his neck and then drape his special blue blanket over his back, tying it around his belly with colourful ribbons to hold it in place for the journey.

“Aba my beautiful donkey you look just like a Prince of all donkeys,” she said tipping back her head to smile up at him.

Aba shook his head up and down as though he was agreeing with her and understood what she had said. Aba would stomp his hoof in approval, then prance around Shamana while the ribbons and beads flew up around him as he moved.

Both Usef and Shamana looked at each other once again moved to laughter at Aba’s dramatic flourish, for they were both convinced that their special donkey may soon start to talk to them too!

Off to the village they would go and often the villagers still outside tilling their farms would call out cheerfully with many praises for them as their cart proceeded past, often remarking on how handsome their donkey, Aba had become. This would have Aba jut his muzzle out and strut even more regally when he heard his name mentioned. He loved any praise that he thought was directed at him.

On reaching the marketplace, children would often gather around Aba while he in turn stayed close to Shamana. Aba would never leave her side even when she would go around inspecting the different goods on display. The children were amazed at his size and beauty and would follow the pair around until their parents called for them to return to their tents. What was incredible to see was how docile Aba was around Shamana.

Usef would give Shamana a few coins to buy herself something from the colourful stalls. Shamana would often opt for sweets and linen so that she could make herself some new item of clothing. She would also buy a few crispy apples for Aba and the other two donkeys that were waiting patiently near the cart, for their return.

Usef never worried about Shamana walking around the marketplace alone for he knew no one could get too close to her when Aba was nearby, as although he was as docile as a lamb with Shamana and himself, behold anyone who would try to get between them. Usef would not have believed it if he had not witnessed it with his own eyes. Aba would nudge in closer to Shamana and if anyone approached her unbidden, Aba would pull back the top of his lip to bare his very big, pronounced teeth!

There was no doubt to Aba’s intentions and the hapless person who had ventured too close, would just take the hint to continue to move along further away in a different direction from Shamana so as to not rise up Aba’s wrath.

While browsing the stalls Shamana would often turn to Aba and reach up on her toes to kiss his nose then scratch behind his ears. Aba would look down upon her adoringly and continue walking closely beside her. Market vendors would at times notice this to smile at each other for at times Shamana was unaware or so it seemed of Aba’s protective antics.

Shamana would talk to quite a few of the women folk who had stalls in the marketplace and also had been friends of her mother, Ashkenara. It was a common sight for them to see her moving around the marketplace holding onto Aba’s colourful woven rope as he walking placidly beside her more like a besotted dog than a donkey even one as enormous as Aba.

At times it was awkward as Aba was so large and tall that he could not enter the propped up colourful tents, which most likely would have been torn down because of his size had he attempted to do so. Aba would often begin to sulk at having to remain outside. However, after Shamana had spoken a few well-chosen loving words into his ears to appease him Aba would then become calm and wait patiently outside for her. While inside with the women folk, Shamana would at little intervals, tug Aba’s colourful rope as proof to him that she was still thinking of him. This action would be enough to keep him happy.

It was commonly known throughout the village of the amazing story of the little foal that had not been expected to live. How through Shamana’s unstinting devotion, she had helped him to valiantly embrace his life. However what was amazing to the villagers was that instead of Shamana having raised a normal donkey, she had been instrumental to rearing the giant beast before them although so far a gentle one!

It was still an amusing sight for the villagers to see such a large animal waiting like a faithful dog for the slight girl to re-emerge from the tent. Finally, when Shamana would reappear Aba’s sullen sulking stance would always change to one of joyful reunion with his mistress. He would happily stomp his hooves into the dirt, then nod his head up and down in ecstatic approval.

“Dear Aba, I was not gone for long. You see. I have bought you a treat,” she laughed, holding out her palm to reveal it, then placed it under his muzzle. Aba dipped his head low to inspect it. “You have such a sweet tooth dear heart, I am afraid that you might lose all those precious big teeth of yours,” she said dotingly, then asked, “how shall you protect me then eh?”

Once again he did not disappoint her. Aba nodded his head up and down and then proceeded to greedily lick the sugary treat from her hand. He leant his large head gently on top of Shamana’s head in thanks. The villagers were often kept amused by watching Shamana and Aba together as theirs was an entertaining spectacle. Aba was such an unusual donkey if he could be called that as he was unlike anything the villagers had ever seen before.

When Shamana reached her father’s stall, Usef said, “Well, my daughter it is now time for us to head off home as thankfully we have sold all of our goods today. I am also happy to have secured a list of orders from some of our regular customers who shall collect them from here, on our next return.”

“Oh, that is good to hear Father,” she replied, then proceeded to walk over to the other two donkeys, waiting loosely tethered near their cart under the shade of a large tree. Both were happy as she proffered each an apple as a reward for their patience. Shamana then gave them a hug and spoke endearingly to them, pleased with her attention they too nuzzled back into her.

Aba, all the while stood by docile, as he watched Shamana with the other donkeys for he too loved them, as they were his family as well.

Shamana dutifully proceeded to collect the donkey’s water and feed buckets then place a tight leather lid over each to prevent them from sloshing around or tipping while in the back of the cart on their homeward bound journey. Shamana placed them securely in the back of the cart, then went on to help her father pack their recently acquired supplies into the cart as well. The skies overhead looked quite grey and ominous, with Usef commenting, “Daughter we best make haste for home as the skies may not hold up against the rain for much longer.” Shamana looked up at the skies then nodded in agreement at her father. Quickly, they both worked to tie down the cart with a large waterproof cover and then boarded the cart to be on their way.

The other villager’s in the market place held the same idea. There was much noise and chatter as tents were dismantled, carts uploaded, readied for departure before the skies could open up and catch them out in its powerful downpour.

Usef and Shamana arrived home just as nightfall descended. The rain started at first as a sprinkle but soon the droplets became bigger and began splashing onto the ground. Shamana helped Usef unpack the supplies into the house and the stock into the barn both working quickly to avoid the produce from getting spoilt from the rain.

They had just enough time to lead the donkeys into the barn, as sounds of large splashes of rain began to pelt down on the barn’s rooftop. Usef and Shamana covered the donkeys in their stalls and hurriedly prepared the feeds as they both wanted to get back into the house as soon as they could.

Usef’s care during the summer months to ensure that the barn roofs were properly thatched and treated with a special mixture he had come up with to rainproof the barns had paid off as there was no threat of the roof collapsing under the present deluge. Satisfied the animals were taken care of for the night they hastily closed the barn doors and raced back for the safety of their home.

Usef cold and wet now from the rain, his hands shaking from the cold lit the hearth fire to warm their home throughout. As Usef carefully tended the fire it sprang to life and within a short time had it crackling for both of them to warm up quickly. Shamana had gone into her room to change out of her wet clothes then went to sit by the fire to dry off her hair using a large linen cloth. Usef too had removed his wet leather sandals to dry his frozen feet by the warming fire and had hastily thrown a blanket over his shoulders to ward off the cold while the home began to heat up.

Once their bodies were sufficiently warmed through they both got up to hastily put together a meal consisting of goat’s cheese, flat bread and olives and ate in silence, the only sounds made were those when they took sips from their mugs of a hot herbal honey sweetened tea to help wash down their food. Once their simple meal was finished, they each washed their own plate and cup in a bowl filled with water on an extended wooden ledge near a window then placed the dried crockery in a wood chest on the floor.

Both very tired from the full day’s work they bid each other goodnight. Shamana left her father to head off to her room. As Shamana lay warm in her bed, she smiled to herself as she recalled the day’s events at the marketplace and how everyone had sidestepped Aba believing her to be unaware of his protective manner toward her.

She was so lucky she had Aba in her life she thought to herself, her life had become so happy since the little foal had come into it. Aba had changed it for the better. Every night Shamana would offer up a small prayer to her beloved mother thanking her for watching over them and to continue to do so as knowing she was there to watch over them gave her the feeling of great comfort.

That night she dreamt she was running in a vast field filled with bright coloured flowers. Aba was trotting alongside her while up ahead, standing on a nearby hilltop surrounded by sunlight, was the outline of a young child waving and calling out to her. She could hear the sweetness in the voice but was unable to make out whom it was.

In the dream Shamana felt she knew the child well and was filled with a feeling of profound peace which enveloped her like a beautiful mantle. In that moment Shamana felt safe and loved to a depth she had never experienced before. There was a sense, which stirred within her soul that something wonderful was about to occur. With a little smile on her lips, still immersed in her dream world, Shamana turned over on her side to burrow further beneath her covers to sleep on fitfully throughout the night, undisturbed by the thunderous rain outside that continued to pound mercilessly against the roof of their home.

Chapter 4 - Strangers’ arrival in the night

The following evening while Shamana and Usef were quietly enjoying their meal, a light tapping coming from the front door, interrupted them. In concern, they both looked at each other.

“I wonder who that could be at this time of night and out in this terrible weather,” Usef asked out loud, shaking his head as he rose up from his chair. Usef made a sign for Shamana to stay seated where she was as he made his way to the front door. The rain from the night before had continued on unabated through the most part of the day and well into the evening. Gusts of wind could still be heard from inside the shelter of their home, whistling through the trees around the farm, as torrents of rain splashed onto the rooftops.

On opening the front door, standing under a canopy which extended from the home’s roof to provide shelter from the weather, Usef found before him a gaunt, trembling young man, his rain sodden robes clinging to him. In a softly spoken voice, with kindly imploring eyes the man looked at Usef and asked formally, with a hand placed over his heart, as he bowed his head slightly, “Master of this house, I ask your forgiveness for this intrusion at this late hour but my wife you see is about to give birth this night. She is very weak from our long journey having been without proper food and rest for some time. Please can you help us?”

Usef took in the overall demeanour of the man and determined there was nothing to fear of him and said, “Just wait here one moment I shall go inside and get some blankets and a lamp.”

Usef was certain that the man’s request was a genuine one as he asked himself who would be foolish enough to be out on a night such as this if it were not the case. There was also something about him that instilled him with a sense of calmness and peace.

As he hurried inside the house he quickly called out instructions to Shamana to fill one of the Jugs with water and also fill another with milk. Usef explained what was happening as he moved around the room gathering supplies for the couple.

Shamana also put some leftover food from their meal onto a plate and wrapped it with a cloth. She placed them all into a large woven basket ready for her father to carry.

Usef arms fully laden moved quickly to the front door where the young man waited patiently. On seeing Usef, arms full, the young man immediately stepped forward to relieve him of his load and help carry some of the supplies toward the barn that Usef pointed to. An outline of a heavily pregnant woman could be seen through smatterings of starlight, leaning against a little donkey for support.

Usef unlatched the barn door and ushered them both inside, including the little donkey. Once inside he placed the lamp down on a small table, motioning for the young man to take the blankets and cover them both. Usef then gathered a large hessian bag hanging against the barn wall to cover their little donkey that was trembling from the cold and rain. Usef led it to a nearby stall and enclosed the shaking animal in it for the night. Usef then turned his attention back to the couple worriedly saying, “Please eat something while I prepare one of the stalls for you as it will be far more comfortable than the little cot inside the house.”

Gratefully, the man reached into the basket and poured some water from the jug into a cup for his wife who looked very pale and exhausted.

He then said, “I cannot thank you enough for your generosity and hospitality, your kindness is a blessing to us.”

Usef looked over at the pale young woman, and said, “My name is Usef and I live with my daughter, Shamana who is waiting inside the house.”

The young man quickly responded, “Thank you Usef for everything. My name is Josef and my wife here beside me is named Mariah. We had thought that the journey to reach our friends within the village would have been sooner and Mariah would have had help with the birthing but the weather forced us to stop many times which caused us to delay for several days from reaching the village.”

Usef‘s curiousity peaked, asked, “Who are the friends you seek in the village? I have lived here all my life so may know of them.”

Josef answered, “Shimeon and Azra Ben-Alya are close friends of my father’s and had asked for us to stay with them while Mariah had the babe. Shimeon has offered me work in his woodwork shop and assured us that we would have our own home.”

“Ah, Shimeon Ben-Alya, I know of him,” said Usef, “He is a very good farmer and has built his home with his own hands. I have known Shimeon as a friend for many years. He shall be pleased to learn you have arrived,” then added, “Josef, Mariah you are both in good hands here, amongst new friends. Do not be concerned.”

Usef looked over at Mariah and asked, “Do you think Mariah you could stand and walk over to this stall? It is clean and warm and I have covered a soft blanket on the hay for you. This shall be more comfortable for you.”

Mariah nodded and attempted to rise but slumped back down unable to do so. Usef and Josef both used their strength in unison to help her up and carried her over to the stall. Gently, the men eased Mariah down onto the blanket covered hay. Usef reached across and covered her with another dry woollen blanket to keep her warm, as Josef bundled up the hay beneath her head to aid as a pillow.

Usef lit another lamp and hung it on a nearby hook on the wall. The light it cast was soft and soothing around the enclosure. He then placed all the things needed on a large stool. Usef turned to her and asked his tone gentle, “How are you feeling now, Mariah? How is the pain?”

Usef looked worriedly over at Josef as Mariah had a light sheen of sweat forming over her face and neck. In the lantern’s light she looked very pale, which greatly concerned Usef. Mariah looked up at Usef and replied weakly as she tried to raise herself up into a more comfortable position, “The pain it comes in rolling waves of which I have little control. I feel the babe is preparing for this world and it shall not be long.” She gasped as the pain ripped through her again and gripped her swollen belly Mariah then slumped back down panting lightly from the exertion.

Usef with a sense of urgency said to Josef, “I shall go and retrieve further supplies from the house which may help your wife.” As an afterthought Usef added to reassure them, “Although, I am not a healer do not be afraid for I do have a sound understanding of the various herbs and drinks which shall ease the birthing pain.”

He left them then to hurry back to the house where Shamana waited anxiously, and asked him, “Who are the strangers, Father?”

Usef moved around the kitchen gathering up more supplies. He then began to prepare an herbal mixture from them, which would work to relieve some of Mariah’s pain, as he explained, “The young man is named Josef and his wife, Mariah is about to have a babe. She needs our help. We shall need hot water. Shamana please see that there is plenty of it heating in the pot over the hearth. Also, prepare some soft clean cloths, linens and woollen shawls with which to cover the babe with when it is born.”

Shamana acted quickly and began preparing the things her father had instructed her to do.

Father, these strangers, do you know of them?” she asked curiously.

“They are friends of Shimeon and Azra,” replied Usef as he tested that the water held in a copper pot over the hearth was suitably hot.

“Oh!” exclaimed Shamana, “I frequently visit Azra’s tent at the marketplace and speak with her. She was also a friend of mother’s and speaks to me of her.”

Usef looked at his young daughter to recall with sadness that his dear wife, her sweet mother Ashkenara was no longer amongst them. He sighed sadly at how life could be so unfair and death so unyielding. Usef pushed aside any further thoughts of the past, to consider only the present matter at hand which was to assist their unexpected visitors in their hour of need.

He then set off for the front door, carrying in one hand the pot wrapped with a thick cloth around the handle, while with the other he carried the basket filled with herbs and supplies Shamana had readied for him. Shamana ran over to him and draped his head with one of her shawls to protect him from the rain outside.

Shamana then waited for him, as she held the door opened. As Usef stepped outside he turned to Shamana and said, “Daughter stay inside the house as it is very cold and wet outside. If it gets too late please go to sleep. Should I have need of your help I shall come for you.”

Usef thought to himself worriedly as he hurried toward the barn, that there was much work to be done this night if both mother and babe were to survive.

Shamana stood at the door frame and watched as her father trudged through the rain soaked ground toward the barn. As she peered out into the darkness she contemplated whether she should disregard her father’s request to stay indoors or go out to help him.

With all the excitement of the impending birth Shamana felt that she simply could not go to bed for sleep would evade her, of this she was certain and held on to the notion that she would be better off helping her father. So Shamana decided to disobey her father’s instructions this one time, to gently pull the door closed behind her and race off after her father.

Usef looked up from where he was crouched, as he helped plump the hay behind Mariah’s back for additional support, to see his daughter wet from the downpour creeping into the barn. Rather than being annoyed he was secretly thankful for her being there as he could use her help. “Very well Shamana now that you are here you may help me, in the meantime gather a blanket from the pile and wrap it around yourself so that you too shall not catch a chill from the cold.” he stated firmly although his tone held no anger.

Shamana took a furtive look at Josef and Mariah and gave them both a shy smile. Just then she caught Mariah’s eye and was stunned by her beauty. There was a light that surrounded the young woman, one Shamana had never before seen but it was the beautiful light that shone from Mariah’s face that entranced Shamana.

Usef said softly, “Mariah and Josef this is my daughter Shamana.” To which Josef smiled up at her and Mariah also managed to return a weak smile. Josef added, “Mariah and I both thank you also for your help on this night.”

In the moment her eyes met Mariah’s, Shamana experienced a dreamlike vision of future times. She saw herself older and running to keep up with a beautiful golden haired, laughing child, whose face shone with the most wonderful light. Shamana then felt herself return to the present moment to catch Mariah watching her closely.

Mariah’s faint smile reached Shamana’s heart. It was as if Mariah knew of the vision Shamana had just experienced and heard her softly say just above a whisper, “Yes Shamana dear we shall be great friends, especially you and the babe.” In her heart Shamana knew this to be true. She had seen it in her recent dream.

At that moment Mariah groaned and felt her body arch from the contraction’s intensity. Josef and Usef hurried to her side to offer their arms for support while she prepared to brace herself for another spasm. Shamana asked Usef how she may help. Usef instructed Shamana to rub some of the birthing ointment around Mariah’s stomach and back as this would help alleviate the pain. He also had her give Mariah sips from the cup of herb tisane which would also offer her further relief.

As Shamana administered to Mariah she could hear Aba stomping his hooves from within his stall and called out to Aba saying “Aba, father of donkeys, be still for our new friend Mariah needs our help this night. Like you on the day of your birth she needs to have a lot of strength and courage.”

As always it was uncanny how Aba appeared to understand every word and moved closer to the edge of the stall nearest to where Mariah lay propped on the hay mound. Gently he leant his big head down to breathe gently over the top of her head.

Aba then did the most amazing thing, using his teeth he pulled his brightly coloured cover from his back and pushed it over the side of the stall so that it fell beside Mariah. Letting them all know this was his way of helping.

Usef smiled up at Aba saying, “Once again dear Aba, your heart is shining brightly.” He reached over and stretched the cover alongside Mariah. Mariah reached over and tugged at Aba’s brightly coloured cover and pulled it over herself smiling up at the donkey. Aba’s eyes lit up and he nodded his head in approval.

It was a long, arduous birth for Mariah. Josef would follow Usef’s instructions on tending to his wife. Gently, he would sponge her face and arms with the warm water. Then he would have her drink small sips of Usef’s herb tisane which would help dull some of the pain.

Mariah squeezed Josef’s hand and between heavy breaths said, “Josef I can feel the babe is coming.”

Josef reached to help Mariah sit up as she did so she managed one strong push for the babe to ease into the world onto the covered hay mound. Josef scooped the little babe in his arms and laid it gently onto the prepared linens. Usef helped Josef rub the babe gently until a lusty cry came forth. They worked quickly to clean and wrap the babe in clean linens. Both men beamed at each other. Josef turned to Mariah and extended his arms to place their new babe into her outstretched arms.

Josef filled with emotion said as tears wet his cheeks, “Mariah we have a son, may our hearts rejoice. We are blessed in the eyes of God. Mariah, my beloved, you shall be the one to name him. He is now and forever our everlasting joy!”

Mariah looked down into her newborn’s beautiful face his eyes wide open, exploring her face his pretty sweet mouth upturned almost smiling as if he already knew her.

Protectively holding him to her breast she softly said, “His name shall be Jesu and he shall cast forth a bright light upon the world. His name shall bring love into people’s hearts and souls.”

Exhausted, Mariah drew Aba’s colourful cover around both of them as they lay in the hay together. Within minutes both mother and child were fast asleep.

Aba shook his head up and down as he watched the babe Jesu ease his little hand from beneath his linens to clasp onto Aba’s cover. Aba then moved closer toward the babe and dropped down in his stall onto his knees so that his nose could poke out from between the wooden slats and nuzzle closer to the babe as he slept. It was as if the little babe Jesu was Aba’s very own.

Both Josef and Usef looked at each other surprised by the donkey’s unusual behaviour. Usef had seen firsthand Aba’s faithfulness toward Shamana but this was something different.

It was as if Aba was in deep reverence and adoration of this babe who had just been born in his barn.

Usef looked at the little hand that clutched Aba’s brightly coloured cover and witnessed what appeared to be light shining from his translucent skin.

He knew without a doubt that this babe, Jesu was different and special. Usef was certain the babe Jesu would bring about some form of change. Of what type he was unsure but change would clearly come as even now while standing in Jesu’s tiny presence, Usef felt a stirring deep in his soul of having found a reservoir of a depth of love he had not been aware existed in him to that extent before. Usef felt he was seeing things for the first time anew which could only be described as the very essence of beauty in everything within him and around him. Usef looked upon both mother and child as they slept on peacefully, to offer up a prayer to God of deep gratitude for their survival.

The wind and rain had died down and when Usef opened the barn door to return to the house, leaving Josef to care for his sleeping wife and new son, he witnessed something else that confirmed his thoughts. The largest star he had ever seen appeared to hover over the barn to cast its beam directly over it. It twinkled and sparkled brightly resembling more a small moon than a star! Usef looked up at the nearby hill lit up by the star to see the figures of several people waiting on camels, while some were on foot surrounded by sheep, all of them gazing at the enormous star in wonder. People had arrived from many different places, to be drawn together by an inexplicable urge to journey to where they now stood looking down from the hill onto a barn lit up by the giant star which had led them to this spot. They had yet to understand why they had been chosen to hear a trumpet call unheard by many others, to travel in the middle of the stormiest night they had ever known, so they could be present at an event which they knew in their souls would mark a time of great importance and would be the start from which great change would come. They now looked down in reverence at Usef’s barn as the words that rose up from their souls and filtered through their heart, came to echo in their thoughts, that on this night a King and saviour had been born in the barn below.

Usef thought how strange this all seemed, to see so many people out on what had been a wretched night, which strangely now had become very calm and still. However, it all leant to Usef’s feeling that this was also perfectly natural and that everything was unfolding exactly as it should.

Usef returned to the house and realised that Shamana had at some time just before the birthing, made her way back to the house to fall asleep on a chair near the hearth. The embers glowing in the fireplace were fading fast.

Usef added some additional wood to the fire to keep it from dying out. He then covered Shamana with her woollen shawl and carefully, so as not to wake her, placed her feet up onto a large padded footstool before making his way to his room. He sighed in exhaustion, stretched out on his bed to fall fast asleep within minutes.

That night Usef dreamt of an angel so beautiful that he had to shield his eyes from the pulsating light that surrounded its form. The angel’s voice was so pure it brought tears to Usef’s eyes. Usef understood that this little babe was a gift from heaven and the event heralded the birth of a king.

In his dream Usef looked up at the Angel and enquired who the new born king was. He watched as the angel pointed over to the barn as the door flew open. Usef could see a magnificent light shining around the new born babe Jesu while asleep in his mother’s arms and covered in Aba’s bright blue blanket, which he clasped tightly in his tiny fist. In his dream Usef fell to his knees and asked the angel if there was anything further he could do for little Jesu and his parents.

The angel gently smiled at Usef saying softly, “Usef you have already done great service this night and proven your worth well. Follow your heart at all times in all that you do. In this way your purpose shall unfold as it should. Heaven’s doors shall open wide for you when that time comes upon you. Shamana and Aba, with hearts of gold shall be great friends of the babe Jesu.”

As Usef slept his mouth twitched into a warm smile, so too did the angel as it gazed lovingly upon Usef’s sleeping form.

The angel then moved over to where Shamana lay asleep near the hearth and caressed Shamana’s hair ever so gently.

Shamana stirred slightly a soft smile forming on her lips as she whispered in her sleep, “I love you mother.” The angel then bent down to place a feather light kiss on top of Shamana’s head before vanishing from the room.