I have been flogged with the dreaded stick for the second time today. The first time was because I was late at jumping when Master counted to three and the second time, I bleated at the wrong moment and frightened a little human child away.
These days are pretty tough because of the prevailing chilly weather. Master has a terrible cough and my companion, Bandar Khan, is not feeling up-to-date either. As for myself, the cold never bothered me. That is because the lands I come from are several times colder than this.
I feel a stabbing pain in my heart whenever I think of those lands. The lands where I was born, where I opened my eyes for the first time, I took my first breath, my first bleat, my first bite and my first trembling steps. Where I pranced happily with members of my kin and ate the sweet grass on the ground as much as I liked. My mother and family members were part of a herd of dozens, headed by a human shepherd. The shepherd was a kind soul. He never hit us or yelled at us or starved us. He took such good care of us all.
My companions and I used to frolic about carelessly, bleating and chasing each other. Then we would eat the juicy meals our shepherds provided for us, savoring each and every flavor of freshness and richness. The rocky mountainside and the fresh air were heavenly. There were no worries and life was beautiful. We were free to roam about where ever we liked. The human children of the village played with us, fed us scraps of food and stroked our coats lovingly. They used to stare with awe at our horns, which were of special interest to them.
But then a few new men came from below the mountains one day and started talking with our shepherd. They started inspecting each of the goats in the flock, rudely poking their grubby hands into our mouths and yanking our lips apart to see our teeth. Then they would pat our backs and legs and trace our horns with their fingers. I did not like it one bit, since their hands were rough and ragged.
The next thing they did was haul a few of us, including me, into the back of a truck. I was utterly surprised and retaliated with all my strength, but the humans were sturdier and managed one goat at a time. I bleated and shrieked till it seemed my lungs would burst. My family and friends were bleating at the top of their voices too, some from the truck, some from the ground. I was confused and frightened. I stood up on my hind legs to get a better view of my mother, who had not been loaded onto the truck. One of the men hollered at me and flogged me on the butt. That was the first time I felt the pain ripple through my body. I yelled and panicked.
The man, along with another, held me down and calmed me. All the goats on the truck now cowered and stood close to each other, unaware of what was going to happen. We were given stale leaf stalks to munch on and there were so many of us crammed up together that movement was difficult. After several hours, we were unloaded from the truck into a marketplace overflowing with other goats, sheep, cows and buffaloes. We had ropes around our necks, by which the men guided us to our stables.
All my friends and family members had been divided. I did not know a single animal in here and eating green smelly mush from the same stable as those gluttony sheep was unacceptable. Life was very different for me here. I could no longer roam about or breathe fresh air. I was nervous and didn’t make new friends either. Then a man with a monkey at his side came to my owner one day. He wore tattered clothes and dirty shoes. He pleaded to my owner to give him a goat in the little money he was offering. Since I was among the skinny ones and didn’t adjust well, I ended up with the monkey and the dirty man.
Life with the monkey and the dirty man was beyond the wildest of my thoughts. To think that I would let this scrawny human circus-train me into doing a bit of jumps and tricks and performances in the streets of the city was unimaginable. The training part I wish not to repeat because it was painful and confusing. Mostly because I felt homesick and could not grasp what the Master wanted me to do.
The monkey was my best friend during these times of hardship. Bandar Khan was a calm, composed and clever old monkey. He told me how he had been with the Master for eight years. He had been captured from the forest of Changa Manga and was being sent to a zoo along with his family members, but fate wrenched them apart and he ended up with the Master, who was just a small boy then. The Master had been poor and lived alone on the streets. He made friends with Bandar Khan, played with him and shared his food with him. Master had been a beggar then and did odd tasks like cleaning car windscreens, serving at dhabbas, picking up garbage etc. When Bandar Khan escaped from the truck taking his family to the zoo, he was lost, cold and hungry. Master found him and gave him a piece of dried roti and patted him on the head. They became friends, Master taught Bandar some tricks and then they hit it off in the streets.
Bandar was quick and witty and attracted people and children. The audience always applauded and gave generously, including notes of hundred and fifty, packets of chips, nimko and biscuits, and bananas. Bandar also helped me to train. He instructed to memorize the few commands the Master said and follow them in order to avoid the stick. I was usually good at all the jumping and twisting about, but sometimes I forgot. And the outcome depended on Master’s mood. If the money and the weather were both kind, Master always patted and comforted me. But if he was in a bad mood, he would flog me with the stick. I would bleat painfully and Bandar would jump and come to stand in front of me. Master would then melt and ruffle the hair on top of my head, saying he was sorry.
By the time a few months passed, I was still not used to this life of misery. Scarce food and water, no warm place to sleep, no companion animals, the smoke and the garbage-specked streets of the city were all very uncomfortable. At times like these, I would cry and wonder where my mother and brothers and other fellow goats were. I would miss the fresh air of the mountains and the crispy, luscious grass of my homeland. I could do anything to have one day in that heaven of a place. Then Bandar Khan would feel homesick for his family and forest too, and we would weep together, offering each other solace.
At times, we did get chances to smile. When we made little kids laugh with our tricks, their parents patted us or paid Master some extra money. Master would then buy corn from the street vendors or something else and treat us. When I saw the children happily talking and laughing and their mothers beaming, I would remember my own mother. I would bleat at them loudly and they would come closer to stroke my back. The touch of their loving warm hands reminded me of my mother and how I used to play with her as a kid and she would then caress me. I do wish one day I am able to return to the mountains and my mother, for I cannot tolerate the thought of my whole life on these drab streets. And I pray that Bandar Khan also finds his way back to his forest home.
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Aniqa is a student of BS Biochemistry at Quaid e Azam University, based in Islamabad. Her particular interests include reading novels, watching movies, writing, and a variety of artwork. She loves food and is a photographer by nature, loves to travel and explore new places.