The day before I would take the taxi ride that resulted in my learning the story below, I was in a fourth-year English seminar discussing The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. The professor talked about how the Orient tale was often used in the eighteenth-century as a fantastical narrative form by Western writers concocting stories that commented on their own domestic circumstances. Orient tales like Nights were then often abridged into children’s books imbued with bourgeois morals designed to educate Western readers on how to be good, upstanding Britons.
I don’t drive, and living in Toronto I’ve been happy to take public transit wherever I go. Yet my family doctor is in Oakville, so when I need to see her I go home for the weekend and take a cab to my appointment on the days when my parents can’t give me a lift. So it was that the day after my class I found myself speaking with a middle-aged cab driver who told me that he was from Turkey.
After talking for a while about his family and kids, he then asked about me. I told him that I was about to graduate from U of T in June.
“You are entering your donkey years,” he said.
I thought that I had misheard him, but when I saw him looking at me through the rear-view mirror, eyes smiling, I realized I hadn’t. I asked him what he meant, and he told me this story.
Once upon a time there lived a donkey, a dog, a monkey, and a human. The donkey, dog, and monkey each had a life expectancy of forty years while the Human’s was only twenty. Yet each animal had their unique grievances: the donkey was weary of a life spent working hard for others and being treated poorly for little compensation. The dog was weary of guarding his property and spending its days barking to protect it. The monkey was upset because all anyone ever did was make fun of how silly it was. Yet the human had no grievances because it’s life was easy and pleasant; its only complaint was that it was so short.
Watching from above, God saw their grieving and transported them to Heaven. He listened the donkey, dog, and monkey’s complaints in turn before turning to the human.
“The other animals say that they wish their lives were shorter because their lives are so tedious and difficult, but your life is good,” God said. “What is then is your grievance?”
“Nothing; I only wish that my life were longer,” the human replied.
Thinking for a moment, God at last announced that he had a solution to all their grievances.
“The donkey, dog, and monkey are all weary of their lives and wish them to be shorter. So I will cut each of their lives in half, and give these extra years to the human,” he said.
The cabbie said that I was now, at twenty-one, one year out of my human years and into my donkey years. My human years were easy, carefree, and pleasant. Upon graduating, my donkey years would involve my taking jobs where I worked hard for long hours with little pay as I climbed my career ladder. When I turn forty, he said, I will enter my dog years, where I have made it to the top of my career and am now barking orders at people below me and guarding the success that I earned in my twenties and thirties. When I turn sixty, I will spend the rest of my life in my monkey years, when my grandchildren will make fun of me for being so silly.
“In all my life, I have never met anyone who was able to disprove my story. Can you?” He asked me. I said I couldn’t. He was exactly right.
When we arrived at the clinic I told him that I would share his story, and I did, with my family and friends. Now I am sharing it here, so you too can share the wisdom I learned from a cabbie.