illustration of a donkey and a rabbit looking at each other

Why the Rabbit Looks Pityingly Upon the Donkey (An Iranian-American Folktale From Long Ago) by Siamak Vossoughi

In Farsi, the word for “donkey” is khar and the word for “rabbit” is khargoosh, which means “donkey ears.” Way back in the old days when words were still relatively new, the rabbits got together and started asking why they should be named after the donkey. Why couldn’t they have a name of their own?

“You don’t see a kerm (worm) named after a mar (snake),” one said. “Though their bodies bear a resemblance.”

“That’s true,” another said. “You don’t see a sag (dog) named after a rooba (fox), even though they look even more alike.”

“You’re right,” the first one said. “I don’t think our ears even look that much like a donkey’s. Ours are much more attractive.”

To this last point all the other rabbits concurred, as they were generally vain animals.

So all the rabbits went to see Old Allah (God), who’d made all the animals and named them. The real reason that Old Allah had given them the name khargoosh was that they were one of the last animals he’d made and he was tuckered out after making and naming animals all day. He’d noticed their long ears looked like the donkey’s, called them khargoosh and that was that. But he also remembered that in his tiredness he’d accidentally spilled an extra dose of vanity on them, so he was ready for them when they came.

The rabbits told Old Allah that he’d done a fine job making them, but that such fine-looking animals deserved a better name than a reference to the donkey and its ears.

Old Allah listened to them and when they were finished, he said, “You ever taken a long look at a donkey?”

Before they could respond, he said, “A more pathetic-looking animal I could not make. Not graceful like an asb (horse), not powerful like a nar (bull). Not good for anything except dragging things around for the ensans (humans).”

The rabbits looked at each other, as it seemed like Old Allah was making their case for them.

“Do you know the one source of pride this poor, pathetic animal has?” Old Allah said.

The rabbits did not know.

“Its one source of pride is that the beautiful and magnificent khargoosh, due to a merely passing resemblance to its ears, is named after it. It is the one thing keeping the poor old fellow from the abyss of despair. Whenever it sees a khargoosh and remembers that connection, it thinks that maybe there is a little hope in this life after all.”

The rabbits were quiet and deeply moved. Given their beauty and magnificence, they couldn’t say they were altogether surprised, though.

Since then, whenever a khargoosh encounters a khar, it looks upon it with great pity, remembering that the merely passing resemblance of their ears is the khar‘s one source of pride. As a donkey is not a very expressive animal, one could say it feels whatever a viewer thinks it is feeling. The rabbit would swear it sees a spark of hope in its eyes.

Siamak Vossoughi was born in Tehran, grew up in Seattle, and lives in San Francisco. He writes and works as a tutor at Presidio Hill School. He is currently writing a novel and still trying to write short stories at the same time. It is a good challenge. Some of his stories have appeared in Faultline, Fourteen Hills, Prick of the Spindle, River and Sound Review, and Sparkle and Blink. He is the recipient of the 2013 Very Short Fiction Award from Glimmer Train magazine. He hopes you enjoy reading his story.

Lead image“I’m The Daddy” ! (via Flickr user rubyblossom)