Rahim and Zaghali followed and listened to him explain how the pistachios and hazelnuts were doing “exceedingly well this year,” but the almonds “left a little to be desired.”
Kerem opened his arms. “Welcome to my home.” They stepped inside. The one room, mud brick, flat roofed home, Rahim assumed, differed little from the dozens of others scattered along the mountain’s base. “It’s not much, but it suits me just fine. Here sit, sit.” Kerem pulled two cushions to the home’s center and ducked behind a carpet he used as a partition.
“You like it?” Kerem asked, handing his guests to cups of tea.
“Indeed,” said Rahim, unable to take his eyes off the carpet. He noticed, as they walked through the city before entering the restaurant, the people loved their carpets. They hung in every shop, even on the outer walls. They’d sat on one in the restaurant. He’d shaken his head, thinking of his father and how, had he known about this place, he would have stocked his stall from floor to ceiling with works of such rarified beauty.
“You see there, the donkey, the chicken, and the goat?” He pointed to the top panel where the three animals sat under a tree, and took a sip of tea. “There was a time, long long ago, when the animals could talk. There they are, eating and talking.”
Kerem paused; Zaghali lifted his hand and leaned toward Rahim. “What is he saying?”
Rahim explained; Zaghali looked at Kerem, smiled, and nodded. Kerem proceeded to unravel the carpet’s story, giving space to allow Rahim his best attempt at translation. He pointed to the second scene where a wolf crouched behind a bush. “The chicken thought the wolf would not come for him because he was too small. The goat thought he was safe too. So too the donkey. He thought he was too big for the wolf. But, you see here—no goat. The wolf ate him first. Then the donkey and the chicken saw the wolf behind him. The donkey thought the same again and the wolf snatched the chicken. The donkey still thought he was safe because he figured the wolf got his fill. So he thought. The wolf snuck behind and bit him on the ass! The donkey screamed.” Kerem mimicked the donkey’s bray, then said, “Since then donkeys can only make that sound. Unfortunately for the wolf, he lost a tooth with that final bite. Some say blessings will come to whoever wears it.”
“Interesting story,” said Zaghali.
“Indeed, indeed, it is,” answered Kerem.
“You speak the official language?”
“Of course I do.”
“Then why didn’t you use it?”
Kerem’s smile peeked from behind the cup to his mouth. “Rahim needed the practice.”
“Why this carpet?” asked Rahim. “Why not something that tells the story of someone like Rusho? He was a hero right? A great warrior?”
“Yes, yes he was. But the woman who wove this said the tale reminded her of me. She said the story was my story.”
“So who are you,” pried Zaghali, “the wolf, the chicken, the goat, or the ass?”
“I am all of them of course.”
“All of them?” Rahim scratched his arm. “You can’t be all of them.”
“And why not? Maybe that is how you think. Not me. Not us here. Look close. See the threads, all together? That is the way it is—so too with the animals. Tell me, who does the wolf eat first?”
“Right, the wolf eats the goat. As I’m sure you saw, we keep goats here. You should see them climb. Sure feet, the surest of feet they have. The wolf, as I am sure you know, is free, but so the same, the wolf is a loyal guard. He swallows the goat whole, wastes not a portion. The goat becomes part of the wolf. It is a sacrifice. The wolf cannot climb like the goat, but the goat tells him when it is time to climb, to move forward. Then comes the chicken. Chickens lay many eggs. With the goat, the wolf learns to aspire, to climb, but it is the chicken who gives birth to that. That’s why he has to eat the chicken second. He can’t give birth to that which is not already inside him. So what do you think about the donkey?” he asked Rahim.
“The donkey was stupid.”
“No, no, no,” he replied, setting his cup down. “Quite the contrary. The donkey is wise.”
“Then why didn’t the wolf eat the donkey?”
“Donkeys can be stubborn, no? The donkey makes sure we learn—that’s why the wolf can’t eat him. The donkey is like the goat—it has sure feet, slow, but sure. So what if he is stubborn? The goal matters not for the donkey, but knowing when and when not to move is what is important. That is his wisdom. The wolf, he is wild—that’s why he needed to eat the chicken and the goat. Now he has in him what the donkey always had. The wolf bites him in the ass to remind him. But he could teach him nothing if he did not eat the goat and the chicken. See?”
Despite his twisted mouth, Rahim nodded.
“I get it,” said Zaghali. “That sometimes we all need a little bite in the ass to remind us of…of—”
“Potential,” completed the old man.
“Yes, potential. And that is how the wolf is a loyal guard. The bite gives the donkey resolve, makes his action—when he acts, that is—count, utilizing that which is already in him for the betterment of all.”
“Now do you understand?”
“Getting it…” Rahim paused and squinted. “I think.”
“You don’t need to get it, as you say. When the donkey starts moving, it climbs. Then you can stand under it. Right?”
“When you can stand under, you can understand. So the donkey has to move first. And that takes the wolf. But you must also remember to beware, for sometimes the wolf, as some say—” His eyes fell upon Zaghali, adjusting his woolen robe. “—dress in sheep’s clothing.”