The Tale of the Bull and the Ass ©
There was a merchant in Mosul and he had a wife by name Zainaba. She loved him to distraction. She wanted to engage him at all hours in conversation. While in the middle of crossword puzzle she was sure to ask whatever popped in her mind. It was her way of being of one mind. One day while he was testing his skills against so many other contestants ‘Who Want to be a Millionaire’ she called him up to ask if he remembered the last episode of ‘The Bold and the Beautiful.’ In trying to oblige her he lost his concentration and was eliminated at the penultimate round. Poor Faizal! There was no escape for him . She peppered him whether at home or by long distance.
So he took to his Koran and read at one stretch from the beginning to the end fifteen times. Every time he heard his wife’s footfalls he pushed a note for her, ‘Do not disturb! Angel Gabriel may strike me dead for impiety.’ Of course the ruse worked. Zainaba loved him as I said, to distraction. But to displease Allah, Oh no it was unthinkable.
On the fourth month Faizal was about to prepare for his evening prayer and an angel appeared and saluted him. The angel said he was sent to bless him for his devotion. ‘Such thirst for knowledge! Allah shall reward you, O righteous One.’
Faizal wasn’t sure what it was he wanted most. ‘May be you want to understand the mind of your devoted wife?’ the Angel prodded helpfully.
‘Oh no!’ he spluttered, ‘I would like to understand the animal talk. Cows chew the cud more than they care to talk. The ass may bray but only at the dawn.’ Faizal muttered aloud. The angel understood the drift and said, ‘Allah, the Most Benevolent is pleased to grant your heart’s desire.’
The angel warned Faizal not to tell this to another soul. Punishment for breaking his oath would be death, the angel had warned. Faizal was sure the chance to live among his farm animals and avoid having to answer all his wife’s questions was well worth the risk.
Thus Faizal began to show all of a sudden undue attention to his farm. His wife naturally wondered about this. Whenever she could buttonhole him he found excuses to remove himself. ‘The farm must need all the attention it can get,’ she said to herself.
One morning Faizal sat before the stalls to hear the Bull chat with the Ass.
He heard the Ass ask, ‘You think our master can follow our conversation?’
Mr. Bull said, ‘Our master is so pious that he only wants to make his wife think in the same lines as he does.’
The Ass exclaimed, ‘ If that is the case he doesn’t understand his wife at all.’
The Bull asked him to explain. The Ass said, ‘Every time I carry our mistress to the market or her folks she will tug at the reins or relax; and I instantly know what is expected of me. She tells me ‘I need to tell in many words to make your master do a thing. I wish he were as clever as you. Oh many a times I have nearly died of vexation!’’
The Bull nodded wisely, ‘Allah ought to have married her to you. Then our master would have been left in peace.’
The master burst out laughing. His wife came at that precise moment and asked, ‘What on earth has got into you!’
Faizal would not answer. It struck her odd. She came to his side, ‘No man laughs for nothing! Unless he is insane.’ She stood there and asked him to tell the reason.
‘No I cannot !’ Faizal replied. She became very amazed and suspected there was something very sinister in his laugh.
‘Why did you laugh?’ She pestered him for day and night. In the end wearied by her constant sulking and demands he thought it was better to be struck dead by the angel than living under the same roof with her. ‘I shall tell it all,’ he thought to himself, ‘and break my oath’.
Next morning he went to the Kazi’s office to set his affairs in order and came home.
The woman stood at the gate and asked eagerly, ‘Are you going to tell me or not?’
‘O woman,’ Faizal said wearily, ‘I will tell my secret after I have purified myself. For by telling it I shall die.’ Zainaba was so possessed by curiosity that she asked him to get ready.
While he was washing himself in an out-house adjoining the house he saw all the farm animals wore a sad expression except a cock that strutted among some fifty hens. The dog asked if he didn’t care for the fate of his master.
‘Why should I if he cannot manage one woman in his household?’ Faizal realized that the cock managed his harem as he deemed fit and the hens were all contented for his highhandedness.
After the ceremonial wash he went into the house. His wife approached him to ask, ‘Are you going to tell your secret or not?’ He reached for his walking stick and beat her till she pleaded mercy.
‘Do you still want to hear my secret?’
‘Oh no!’ wailed the woman.
He threatened to beat her if she ever irritated him with unnecessary demands.
She promised not to repeat this and said she had learned her lesson.
That night he went to make peace with her. After all they had lived some forty years and raised children. He tried to speak but could only bray. His wife wondered what got into him.
A month later she was going to visit her son and along the way she told the Ass, ‘I got the most wonderful husband. He is pearl among men. He loves my company and makes me feel like a woman. Only fault is that he brays like you. Then no man is perfect.’