There once was a gentle little donkey named Zel Nan Pye. Everyone in town would call out, “Hello, Zel!” as she trotted by, and Zel’s long, furry ears would stick straight up at the sound. Although Zel longed to turn her big, brown eyes and reply, Madame Charity, her owner, held her reins too tight.
“Keep moving!” Madame Charity would call out from above her. “I haven’t time for any social calls.”
As much as everyone in town loved Zel, they feared Madame Charity. She was an angry, spiteful old woman who threw stones at birds when they sang and hollered at little girls when they laughed. But to poor Zel, she was the meanest of all.
Every Saturday, Madame Charity loaded Zel down with heavy sacks of rice and sugar that she sold at the market. Although the old woman knew that whoever arrived at the market earliest sold the most, she always woke up late.
In a flurry of curses, she would rush to gather her sacks of rice and sugar. Then, throwing them across Zel’s back, she’d tie the cords so tight that Zel could hardly breathe. Finally, she’d heave herself on top of Zel, kick her in the belly, and ride off in a cloud of dust, screaming, “Faster, you stupid donkey! Faster!”
Zel never understood why Madame Charity was so mean to her. Zel always trotted to the market as quickly as she could. Besides, she liked the market. All the other donkeys from around the countryside gathered there. Under the cool shade of banana trees, Zel would trade jokes and play games with the other donkeys. But Madame Charity’s whippings made her dread the trip.
One evening, after Zel had returned home from the market, Zel’s friend Touloulou crawled over the see her. Touloulou was a crab that lived in Madame Charity’s backyard.
“Did you have a good day, Zel?” Touloulou asked.
“Well,” said Zel with a sigh, “it was nice
to see the other donkeys, but Madame Charity hit me so hard that I couldn’t join their games. I had to lie down.
“You know,” Zel continued, “I trot fast and I’m not afraid to carry a heavy load on my back. I just don’t understand why she hits me.”
“Madame always gets up late for the market – and you know she will never blame herself – so she hits you,” replied Touloulou, matter-of-factly.
“I think you’re right,” Zel agreed. “Today she didn’t sell very much, and she whipped me even more than usual. The other donkeys say that everyone is afraid of Madame, and that’s why she sells so little.
“But, Touloulou,” Zel continued, “I can’t take it anymore. My back aches, my feet hurt, and I’m tired of Madame’s beatings.”
“Why don’t you just give Madame a great big kick back?” Touloulou suggested.
Shocked, Zel answered, “Oh, no, I couldn’t! It wouldn’t be right! Besides, she’d just beat me all the more.”
“Don’t worry, Zel,” said Touloulou. “Touloulou the Crab is at your service! The next time Madame Charity goes to the market, I’ll take care of her. She won’t ever beat you again.”
The following Saturday, Madame Charity woke up and screamed, “Aaaugh! It’s 9 o’clock! I’m late.” Just as she was scrambling to gather her sacks for the market, Touloulou crawled past Madame’s doorway and hid himself deep inside a sack of sugar. After Madame Charity threw the sacks across Zel and climbed on top, Touloulou scuttled down from his hiding place. Then he held onto the hem of Madame’s long skirt, making sure he was close to Madame’s ankle.
No sooner had they started down the road than Madame Charity, remembering how late she was, raised her hand to swat Zel.