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FROM the folds of his loose jacket, Ali was bringing forth something large, smooth, round, and yellow. He held it proudly toward the Hodja and Fatima.

"A donkey egg," he announced. "All you need do is sit on this egg for three weeks. Then a baby donkey will hatch from it. He will grow and grow. In a few months you will have a second sturdy donkey to carry your loads and to take you both on journeys."

Nasr-ed-Din Hodja and Fatima were amazed at Ali's kindness. They had never thought of him before as a very good friend. In fact they had almost had a quarrel with him just the week before. And here he was planning how they could own a second donkey!

"We thank you up to the heavens and seven times above the heavens!" they said as they kissed Ali's hand and pressed it to their foreheads. As Ali walked toward the gate, they called after him their promises to be his servants forever, in gratitude for this wonderful gift.

The next three weeks were long ones for Nasr-ed-Din Hodja and Fatima. While the Hodja sat on the donkey egg, his wife prepared the meals and cleaned the house and visited the neighbor women. While Fatima sat on the donkey egg, the Hodja went to the market place and chopped the wood and sat talking in the coffee house. Sitting on the donkey egg, the Hodja smoked his bubbling water pipe, or thought of wise advice to give to his neighbors, or nodded in a lazy doze. Sitting on the donkey egg, Fatima twirled her hand spindle until she had spun pounds and pounds of wool into scratchy yarn. The neighbors came in to talk to them. The men came when they knew the Hodja was sitting on the donkey egg. The women came when they knew Fatima was sitting on the donkey egg.

"Let us see the donkey egg," the neighbors would ask. "We have never seen one."

"Oh, no," Nasr-ed-Din Hodja or Fatima would reply. "We cannot take any chances of letting the donkey egg grow cold." And so it happened that from the time Ali brought the egg, no one saw it but the two who were so patiently and hopefully keeping it warm and dreaming of the little donkey that was to come from it.

A market day passed. A holy day passed. A bath day passed. The first week was gone. A second time the villagers brought their produce to the market place of Ak Shehir. A second time the men went to the mosque. A second time the people gathered at the public baths, the men in the morning, the women in the afternoon. The second week was gone. Another market day, another mosque day, another bath day marked the passing of the third week. The Hodja and his wife knew that the time to look for their baby donkey had arrived at last.

They tapped cautiously on the donkey egg. It was much softer. Surely it would hatch soon. They patiently took turns sitting on the donkey egg through one more market day, one more mosque day, one more bath day. The egg was softer but no baby donkey had hatched from it. The softer the egg grew, the more peculiar was its odor.

"This donkey egg is rotten," Nasr-ed-Din Hodja was finally forced to admit. "We can hope for no baby donkey."

Disappointed, he picked up the withered donkey egg to throw it away. As he walked slowly through the narrow cobblestoned street, he wondered why people looked so amused. The men smiled in such a queer way when they saw the donkey egg under his arm. The women tittered behind their veils and looked at each other. The children followed him, laughing and calling out something which finally settled into a rhythmic chant.

"Donkey eggs grow on pumpkin vines! Donkey eggs grow on pumpkin vines!" sang the children.

Too sad to notice what the children were saying, Nasr-ed-Din Hodja finally passed through the gate of the mud walls which surrounded the town. He stood at the top of a rough hillside and let his pumpkin, which he still thought was a donkey egg, roll down between the rocks and low bushes. As it rolled under a thorn-apple tree, it hit a stone and cracked open. A rabbit had been sleeping under the tree. Frightened by the bursting pumpkin, it went hopping down the hillside and disappeared. Seeing the long-eared rabbit leaping away, Nasr-ed-Din Hodja groaned.

"The baby donkey at last! The egg was just ready to hatch! Now our baby donkey is lost forever! Allah yardum etsin! May Allah help us!"

illustration illustration

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