Folktale From Haiti: Wings on Her Feet

adapted by Adam Price (Peace Corps Volunteer, Haiti, 1996–1998)

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Photo by Garrett Crawford

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. But just as her hand was about to rain down on Zel’s beautiful ears, Touloulou pinched her with his claw.

“Aaaugh!” shrieked the woman. “Ooouch! I must have hurt myself when I was loading the sacks and saddle,” she muttered to herself.

For a few moments, Madame Charity tried to soothe the ankle with her hand. She forgot how late she was. But then the image of the other rice and sugar sellers popped into her mind, and she yelled, “Can’t you go any faster, donkey!” Zel was already trotting as fast as she could.

Madame Charity raised her hand once more. But before she could bring her hand down on Zel, Touloulou pinched the back of Madame’s ankle again.

“Aaugh! Ooouch!” shouted Madame Charity. “What an awful pain. I must stay calm,” she told herself, “I don’t want to hurt my ankle further.”

And so Madame Charity rode on, thinking how she must be more careful loading those heavy sacks, and how she might just have to take more time in the morning to prepare for the market.

As they neared the market, Madame Charity steered Zel in the direction of her usual market stall. But as they approached, Madame Charity saw that someone else was already seated in her stall—and measuring a can of sugar to sell! In a fit of jealousy, Madame Charity raised her hand to strike Zel. But Touloulou clamped down with all his might on Madame’s ankle.

“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” screamed Madame Charity.

Hearing Madame’s screams, the people in the market gathered around her.

“What’s wrong?” asked a little girl with braids.

“I got up late,” said Madame with tears in her eyes, “and in hurrying to get ready, I must have injured my foot. It hurts so much!”

“You need to get up early, Madame,” said the fishmonger. Although the fishmonger was not fond of Madame Charity, she felt sorry for the old woman. “Next week, I will come by your house at six o’clock to make sure that you don’t oversleep.”

“Yes,” joined in the fruit seller, “I will come by and wake you, too. Let me take a look at your ankle.” This was the first time the fruit seller had even talked to Madame Charity. Although she knew her, she avoided Madame because she was so unpleasant. But today the old woman was in pain. The fruit seller spoke gently to her.

When Madame realized how concerned everyone was about her ankle, she smiled through her tears. That day, for the first time, Madame Charity sold all her rice and sugar. After the market was over, she saddled Zel and rode quietly home.

Back in the yard, unaware of Touloulou’s actions, Zel said to the crab, “She seemed to want to hit me, but stopped short and screamed in pain. And she rode all the way home without raising her hand or cursing me. I wonder what made her change?”

Touloulou smiled and recounted his adventures that day. “Every time her hand went up,” Touloulou laughed, “‘snap!’ went my claw on her heel!”

“Oh, my!” said Zel, worried about Madame Charity’s foot. “I guess she learned what it’s like to be me!”

The End

“Wings on Her Feet” adapted by the Peace Corps

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