The Jackal

Once upon a time, a jackal came upon a goat in the hill country. The goat was weeping, but it did not seem to know why. Bloodless and crafty, the jackal lured the goat to a well, telling it that the water was enchanted and would make it happy. When they reached the well, the jackal pushed the goat into its dark depths. The goat mourned its misfortune, but began to recite the old epics to calm itself. The goat was a kind of griot, a living history of all that had ever happened. The jackal was torn between admiration for the goat’s memory and distate for its belief in ancient myths without substance. Nevertheless, the jackal never left the side of the well, and kept vigil night and day as the goat talked itself to death, reciting the old epics, commenting on them, begging the jackal to believe them and see their beauty. Afterwards, the jackal suffered terrible dreams. The face of the goat kept appearing. Later, he dreamed of its white skeleton shining in the darkness below. It was a curse, and the only way to deal with a curse is to stage a drama. The jackal invited the other animals of the hill country to come mourn the death of his friend. The lion, the ox, the sheep, the donkey, and fire serpents came down to look into the well. The jackal would light lanterns, play the drums and wail about the dead goat. As there was little to do besides hunt or graze in that part of the wilderness, more and more animals came to hear the ululations and drumming of the jackal. Before long, the animals forgot their own dead, their own pain, the work they were supposed to do. Night after night, they came to hear the jackal. One day, a camel passed through. The camel had known both the goat and the old epics as he sometimes traveled from the deserts to the hill country. The animals were excited and asked to hear what he had to say. The camel recited what he could, but before long he found that his words displeased the audience. The jackal whispered to the animals and they believed the whispers. It was clear that the camel could not understand their pure love for the goat or their pain. When had the camel ever lost a friend? Besides, it was their hill country, their well, and their goat. Moreover, there was the sorrow of the jackal to consider. Everyone for miles around respected this jackal and felt deeply about his sorrow. It was cruel and unreasonable for the camel to intrude. The more they thought about it, the angrier they became, and refused to let the camel speak. The camel departed, and left the hill country to return to the deserts. The goat had been his last living friend and a true friend. The other friends, including a train of one hundred other camels, had long since perished in sandstorms. In the silence of the sands, under cloudless blue skies and starry heavens, the camel recited the old epics.

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