It was past dusk at the Chateau de Rochefort as I went inside of the main house from the gardens outside. My routine, as of late, had become unpredictable; leaving me to hurry from my work around the hacienda. After another exhausting day in the afternoon heat, I was thinking of what to make for Caroline and myself for dinner when a sound reached me. It was the sound of a child’s crying and it drew me with a sharp tug on my heart. The sound was coming from the library.
Inside, in the middle of the floor, a blanket clutched to her breast, lay Caroline. My heart ached at the sound of her sadness. I rushed beside the curled up ball that was my daughter. Hers was a face that resembled a blustery thundercloud, bursting with tears. Her sobs were a tiny thunder in her little chest and lightning shone in the glisten of her tears. Drooping like a sheep’s tail, her curls shook from her weeping.
“Are you hurt?” I asked, kneeling near her and looking over her small limbs with a calm that surprised even me. I saw no cuts nor bruises, but my hands examined her small body out of habit.
Caroline simply wept, blubbering and oblivious to the tender ministrations. Yet nothing seemed amiss.
“Will you please tell me what’s wrong?” I almost felt as though I might cry myself as well, for her sobs were like discordant pluckings on the strings of my heart.
“The .. boys .. and .. girls ..at….school….they… laughed .. at .. my .. hair!” she finally managed, hiccuping between each syllable and blinking a stream of tears out of each green eye. Caroline had just started in her new school, and being newer than the rest, she was beside herself as the result of what must have been teasing at their hands.
I felt myself relax inwardly, vastly relieved. I shushed her, stroking her small shoulders and sympathetically thumbing away the spill of tears on the child’s wet cheeks. I held Caroline’s head and tried to still her crying with a kiss upon her troubled brow. She huddled against my breast and cried all the more. Rocking her sobs away, I let out a ong sigh.
“Caroline, you know that your Papa and I and everyone here love your curls, don’t you?” I stroked the blonde masses of of hair on her head. Her curls were truly a wonder. But in doing so, I caught sight that a tip of one lock of hair had been stained India black. No doubt she had been the victim of a little practical joke as well.
“Yes Mama,” Caroline sobbed. “But the … other kids … laughed at … me! And Michel, who sits behind me put my hair in the ink!”
“You must not let them get to you like that I soothed, “They will get used to it and things will be better. I promise.”
Caroline’s frown was unrelenting and her eyes were still freshets of tears. As fast as I would brush them away, more welled up and overflowed to replenish the rivulets of moisture on her cheeks.
“Caroline,” I said, lifting her chin up to my gaze. “It would not matter what you your hair looked like. Being new would have the only reason to gain the attention of the other children. If you had shaved your head as bald as an egg, or put it in braids as you did with Beavis’ tail this summer, the children would have teased you all the same.”
“But I want … to play with … them!” Caroline protested, calming a little but still afflicted with her hiccups.
“I know you do,” I patted her back. “However, tomorrow you will go to school and you will try again. You will be strong for me, oui?”
Caroline blinked doubtfully at me, saying nothing.
“Let me tell you a story that might help,” I said gathering her into my lap, “ It’s one my real mother used to tell me when I was a girl younger even than you. You see, 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!'”
Caroline’s face grew fierce and she said, “But, Mama! That boy might be lame! Those men aren’t nice!”
“Yes,” I nodded, finally seeing the flow of sadness drying in Caroline’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 thatselfish man riding the donkey while the poor child walked?! I’ve never seen anything so pathetic!'”
“That’s silly!” Caroline pointed out. “Those people don’t know – the man might be nice!”
Again I 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 squire on the road. They smiled and exchanged greetings and the man heard the squire 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!'”
Caroline by now just shook her head, tears forgotten, eyes wide, and in deep consternation about such things.
“The man, not wanting to appear to be a fool–for fools are sometimes regarded with suspicion and ridicule and taken advantage 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 I had been describing, Caroline snorted and let out a small giggle.
“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.”
I at last saw the glimmer of understanding in Caroline’s eyes.
“The moral of the story is, this, my child: If you try to please everyone, dear lamb, you in the end will end up looking like the fool, for there is no possible way to please everyone at all times.”
Caroline looked up into my eyes, the corners of her lips turned into a smile. “That was s good story, Maman! But I’m hungry!” she said, her dilemma forgotten.
I laughed and held out a hand to her, “Let’s find something to eat then,” I said, “I am sure Monsieur Jacques has something for us to nibble on.”
Caroline skipped beside me, twitching her heavy curls from side to side, looking very much, I noted, like a switching tail.
OOC: Adapted from the Ancient Egyptian, as translated by William Kelly Simpson.
Muse: Fanny Fae
Fandom: Original Character / Folklore /Mythology
Word Count: 1530 words