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The Man and His Mule

By @Caleb-L

The man and his mule were exhausted and sore from a long journey. They have been walking for days, from city to city, through the void of the vapid and barren desert, and through streams barely surviving the scorching heat. The dryness engulfed him, the sun was beating him down relentlessly. The sand stung in his eyes, even finding its way into his mouth — the grains cracking when he gritted his teeth. It was rough going, but for him, when was it not? He would endure this, as he always had, for his livelihood depended on it. He needed the money, desperately. So endure he will, like those meek streams will.

The mule, however, soon had enough of this whole ordeal and halted in its tracks. The farmer grew frustrated at first, but drew a deep breath and calmed himself. He knew yelling at and punishing this beast of burden would do nothing, for mules are stubborn and won’t move no matter how hard you tug on the rope. Instead, the man looked over his animal companion to see what was causing it trouble. Placing a hand on its hide, a fiery warmth enveloped and almost burned his hand. The mule was overheated. He should have known better to check earlier, but it was better late than never. He went to the cart and heaved a barrel of cool, clear water out of it. He dragged it to the front of the mule and allowed it to drink. The man grabbed some cloth and buried it in the water, running the wet cloth over the hide of the mule. Soon, the animal began to cool down and was satisfied.

“We are almost there,“ whispered the man, “Come, keep pushing.“

As if the mule understood him, the animal grunted and began walking again. As he lead the mule and cart along the path, he looked at the desert and sighed. He thought of those old American western movies that his father would always take him to in town. Oh, how he wished he was a gunslinger, but instead he was just a farmer. A sense of longing grew in him. He longed for the renegade lifestyle those outlaws lived, but this wasn’t America and the handgun he had was rusted and worn. Besides, every gunslinger needed a horse and all he had was a mule. Hardworking and sturdy as it was, it will never be a horse. If only, if only it was a horse. The man soon realized he was daydreaming and quickly snapped out of it. Best not to dream when there was work to be done.

The farmer trekked on diligently for what seemed to be hours. Stopping little, save for taking swigs of water or letting the mule drink at a stream. Every so often he’d pick up little stones and stuff them in his pockets for later. As he did so, memories flooded back to him. He smiled as he thought of his youth, throwing little pebbles at goats in the green pastures of his home, as his mother yelled at him and his brother to stop. Those times were long gone, and as he grew up so did his memories; maturing into something resembling a rose-tinted fever dream rather than a recollection of past events. Oh, how he missed those days. Though, he still has one last remnant of the past, for the mule was a gift from his father. He felt guilty for wishing his mule was a horse earlier. Perhaps there was a reason the mule was a mule and not a horse, perhaps the beast was fine as he was, no need in changing what it was only to please and serve him. He supposed there was no need for a gunslinger in his life either. He is a farmer, the farmer-son to a farmer-father, no need to break such a tradition. After all, it was the tradition of life.

On the horizon grew a city. Mud houses clashed with those that were made from industry. Instantly, he could tell there were two groups in this village: the houses of those who have nothing, and the houses of those who had everything. However, he couldn’t quite figure out which houses held which. Those industrial houses held folk that had material wealth but he wasn’t quite sure if they had much else. The mud houses held folk who had nothing save for the clothes on their backs, but he assumed they had something meaningful or else there would be no reason to carry on. He pondered long about this as the city grew nearer, not quite sure what was the answer. He eventually settled on a guess that both these folk had something worth living for, at the very least.

He soon found himself in this busy city. People hurried out of the way of the mule cart as it moved through the crowded streets. He smelled all kinds of food, along with all kinds of filth. The simple farmer did not like the cities. To him, cities gave center stage to the worst of humanity, and he was not very keen on theater.

The man and his mule pushed their way through the winding streets, taking turns down narrow roads and broad ones alike. He eventually entered the downtown region of the city, filled with shops, markets, and customers. He was finally here. Suddenly, the rope jerked his shoulder up. He screamed in agony and shock. He spun around to find his mule suspended in the air as a group of boys ran from him, snickering and laughing cruelly. Glancing around he saw everyone staring at him. Some people were surprised, some were laughing and mocking, some were sympathetic, but none helped. He sighed and tried to pull down the mule but to no avail. Frustrated, he stomped his foot and trudged to the back to look at the cart. He found that those boys had put heavy bags of rocks at the back of it, causing it to become unstable and tilt backward and bring the mule with it. The farmer grumbled curses and heaved the heavy bags off the cart, each one slowly bringing the mule safely back to the earth. When the mule was now able to touch the road again the farmer looked around for the boys, he soon found them mocking him from a distance. Angry, he shouted at them and pulled out his handgun and sent the boys running with eyes as big and as white as the moon. The sight of his terrified foes made him crack up and it was he who had the last laugh.

The man continued through the rows of shops, looking for a specific store. He had heard this shopkeeper was nothing but a fraud, often scamming his customers and sellers alike. He wasn’t afraid though, that was what the gun was for, but he hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Eventually, he found an unremarkable store named “ABBAS’ GOODS” and he walked in.

Abbas was a big man. Very, very big. He was tall with a sturdy, muscular build, but he had a potbelly as well, and it jiggled a little whenever he walked. Abbas was an imposing figure, filled with strength and intimidation. He had a long and fully grown beard, which stood in stark contrast to the meek, small, clean-shaven man. The farmer knew instantly that Abbas scammed people with brute force rather than persuasion and a silver tongue.

“Are you the farmer, the one I ordered from?” barked Abbas, frowning as he sized up the man. “If so, you’re late.”

“Yes, my apologies Abbas,” answered the farmer, “My name is Mah-”

“I don’t care,” interrupted the Abbas as he glanced out the window to see the mule cart, “I’ll give you about a thousand for the produce.”

“A thousand? That out there is worth at least fifteen hundred! Have you gone mad?” 

“You test my patience, boy,” growled Abbas, seeing that his workers were already unloading the cart. “Do you want trouble? Because I will gladly give it.”

The farmer grew heated, but then he saw the large man stepping forward threateningly and the small man felt a pang of fear run through his veins. He sighed as he submitted to Abbas’ will. 

“Fine Abbas, so be it.” said the farmer harshly.

Abbas grinned and threw him the money. “Good, good. Glad we can see eye to eye,” he taunted “Though, I will be taking your mule as compensation for the trouble you’ve given me.” 

The farmer’s eyes widened with anger. His blood boiled, he could not take his mule. Anything but that mule. Rage grew in the man. A hot, white rage.

“NO! You will not!” as he screeched, he yanked out his gun and aimed it at the devilish man.

The shock and pure terror in Abbas’ eyes were soon replaced with cruel glee as the gun clicked with no discharge. Abbas picked the man up by his collar and threw him down the steps of the entrance. The impact was jarring and the searing pain instant as he was sprawled out pitifully in the sand.

“Fine, fine! Keep your mule. Now take your **** money and leave.” bickered Abbas as he slammed his door. The farmer got up slowly and stumbled off with his mule and an empty cart, to take the long road back home. He could almost hear the evil laugh of that nasty man as he left the city.

The man walked out of town and back onto the familiar road with a slight limp. The same old desert, now more bleak and bland than ever before. Touching his hip gently, he recoiled as a sharp pain came instantly as it swelled up. He felt like a fool for not taking proper care of his gun, an idiot certainly. Coughing as he surveyed the land, he saw a peculiar sight, a tree. A large tree filled with leaves of green and bark of a rich deep brown. The man was floored, How could this tree survive alone here, where nothing grew? How could he have missed this sight on the journey here? He had no answer.

The forsaken man walked to the tree and sat in its shade. He welcomed the requiem from the sun, savoring the cool sand and calm breeze as it drifted by. He sat there for hours, unjamming and cleaning the gun.

It was a horrible day, but it wasn’t all bad he supposed. He smiled at the thought of Abbas realizing that he was the fool all along, the face of disbelief as he sees that those bags did not contain produce, but rather stones and pebbles. Eyes filled with rage and a sinking depression when he figures out he paid a thousand coins for worthless rocks. Abbas could have cut his losses if he kept the mule, but instead, he got nothing, for it was what he deserved. While the near mule theft and the beating were not expected, it did work out in the end and now he was rich from not just Abbas, but other fraudulent shopkeepers who never bothered to look in the bags before buying them. He long ago swore to never be made a fool by them again, and now they were the fools.

As he laughed alone under the tree, all was well. Nothing bothered the man, not even the pain in his hip, not even the long journey back seemed daunting anymore. However, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Abbas again, walking towards him with a butcher knife. His smile unnerving and his eyes cold with seething hatred, his sweat beading on his face and soaking into his attire. He must have been searching for the deceptive man to take back his pride and to get bloody revenge. The farmer was not afraid, not this time, never again. The wind never heard them talk, but it did hear three shots ring out as the man named Mahir had the last laugh.

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