The Animal Band
(the Puerto Rican version of "The Bremen Town Musicians")
translated and retold by Marisa Montes
Copyright © 2001 by Marisa Montes. All rights reserved.
On a small farm in the highlands of Puerto Rico lived an old donkey. One day, as he was passing by the farmhouse, he overheard the farmer speaking to his wife.
"Our donkey is too old to pull the cart," the farmer said, shaking his head sadly.
"What can we do?" asked his wife.
"I have no choice. He is useless, and we cannot afford to feed a useless animal. Tomorrow I must kill him."
The old donkey began to tremble. Kill him? Just because he was old? Surely there must be some useful thing he could do. If only the farmer would take the time to help him find out what he could be useful at.
It took all the donkey's strength to stumble back to the stable. But he made up his mind. He would escape. A donkey was more useful alive than dead. And he was determined to discover his purpose in life.
That night, when everyone was asleep, the old donkey ran like a young burritio into the forest. He hid there till morning. Then he ran as far as he could from the farm.
On the third day of his travels, the donkey met a goat who was tied to a tree. The goat tugged at the rope. He gnawed at the rope. He even tried to use the point of his horns to sever the rope. But still, he could not break free.
"What are you doing, amigo?" asked the donkey.
"I'm trying to escape. My master says I am too old to protect to barnyard. He believes I am useless," replied the goat. "He's going to kill me in the morning."
"Ah, I am familiar with that sad story. I shall try to set you free. You may join me if you like. I could use the company."
The donkey's teeth were much larger than the goat's. He gnawed at the rope and bit through it. When the goat found that he was free, he leapt into the air. He felt so giddy, he butted the tree a few times the way he used to when he was a kid.
The goat was grateful to the donkey and thrilled to have a traveling companion. He joined the donkey, and they set off to travel the countryside.
A few days later, the pair met a dog sitting by the side of the road. He was panting and covered with mud.
"What's the problem, amigo perro?" asked the donkey.
"I am very thirsty," he said, letting his tongue hang out the side of his mouth. "I have been running for two days and two nights."
"Why are you running?" asked the goat.
"My master says I'm too old to guard the sheep. He was going to kill me, but I escaped."
The donkey nodded sadly. "A far too familiar tale, old friend."
"The same thing happened to us," said the goat. "Won't you join us in our travels?"
The dog was tired of traveling alone and happily accepted their kind offer. The donkey and goat shared their food and water with their new companion. As they ate, they talked about the ungratefulness of their masters. The next morning, the dog was so well fed and refreshed, he trotted beside his new companions like a frisky puppy.
One evening, the trio found an old cat lying at the foot of a tree. She was almost dead from hunger. The companions fed her and waited while she rested.
When the cat awoke, the donkey asked: "What happened to you, friend gata?"
"My master said I have gotten too old to hunt mice, and I am useless. He was going to drown me in the river. But I escaped."
"Our masters wanted to kill us for the same reason," said the goat.
The cat's eyes grew as wide as a kitten's. "Each of you used to hunt mice?"
The donkey kicked up his hind legs in laughter. "Hee-haw! Hee-haw!"
The dog rolled in the dirt, howling. "Imagine a dog, a goat, and a donkey chasing mice! Har, har, har!"
The old goat blushed. "No, amiga gata. I meant that we, also, are too old to do our jobs. Our masters wanted to kill us, too."
"Sí," said the dog, calming down. "We, too, ran away."
"Would you like to join us in our travels?" asked the donkey, also calmed down and looking more dignified.
"Gracias." The cat rubbed up against the donkey's legs. "I'd like that."
So the four friends traveled through barrio after barrio, enjoying the sights, until a rooster ran across their path.
"Where are you going in such a hurry, friend gallo?" asked the donkey.
"No time to talk," the rooster shouted over his shoulder. "I'm being pursued by my master."
"Wait, amigo," cried the dog. "Perhaps we can help you."
The rooster slowed down and looked back at the four travelers. Then he flew up into a nearby tree.
"Shh-hhh!" said the rooster. "You four keep a lookout below, and I'll watch from up here."
The four companions stationed themselves around the trunk of the tree and listened to the rooster's sad tale.
"My master says I'm too old and scrawny to crow in the mornings and to rule the roost. He lead me to the block to chop off my head. The moment he turned to pick up the ax, I took off as if the devil were on my tail. I haven't stopped running all day."
"Our masters think we are useless, too," said the donkey.
"And they wanted to kill us," said the goat.
"So we ran away," said the dog.
"And we're traveling together," said the cat. "You're welcome to join us, isn't he amigos?"
The donkey, the goat, and the dog nodded and offered to share their food with the tired rooster. The rooster was grateful for their kindness, and as he had no better plans, agreed to join them.
For many months, the five amigos traveled together. They took great pains to avoid people as their luck with humans had not been the best. During their travels they often talked about their purpose in life. There must be something they could do to earn a living and to again become useful to humans!
One day, the rooster had an idea.
"Why don't we form a band and sing and make music?" he said. "I, for one, have a very rich voice. Listen." The rooster took a deep breath and puffed out his chest so far his chest feathers stood on end. "Qui-qui-ri-qui-qui-iii!"
"Not a bad idea," said the cat, licking a forepaw and passing it over one ear. "I don't want to brag, but I used to serenade my old neighborhood every night."
"Is that so?" said the donkey, obviously impressed.
"Sí, amigos. I was such a favorite that the humans used to shower me with gifts during each performance. Mostly useless to me--old shoes and rolling pins--that sort of thing. But it's the thought that counts."
"You don't say?" mumbled the goat. "Perhaps they would shower our band with gifts."
"We have to be careful," the cat replied. "Sometimes humans get so carried away with their praise that they throw their gifts directly at you. One time I got beaned with a rubber ball and fell right off the fence and into a thorny rosebush."
"I know what you mean," said the dog. "One of my favorite evening pastimes is howling at the moon. On several occasions, I, too, have been lavished with such gifts."
The rooster crowed his approval. "Excellent!" he said. "But what about friends goat and donkey?"
The goat had an idea. "Amigo burro and I can keep rhythm by drumming wood with our hooves."
"Well, it's settled then," said the donkey. "We'll form a band. With three talented singers in our group, how could we go wrong?"
The five friends were pleased that they would be able to become useful again and no longer needed to travel and hide in the forests. Eager to show humans that they were useful creatures and worthy of living, they decided to serenade the first house they reached.
The rooster flew to a treetop and scanned the countryside for the nearest house. He spotted a light in the distance and flew down to tell his friends. They trotted off in the direction of the light and soon came to an old house. Light shone through the windows, and people moved around in the house.
"This is it, amigos!" whispered the donkey. "Now is our opportunity to show humans how useful we are."
Very quietly, so as to surprise the humans with their music, the donkey led his friends to the side of the house. Because the window was quite high, the musical quintet formed a ladder.
The goat climbed on the donkey's back.
The dog balanced on the goat's back.
The cat jumped on the dog.
And the rooster perched at the very top, on the cat's head.
The concert began. The rooster crowed like a young cock. The cat meowed like she'd never meowed before. The dog howled as though his heart would break. The goat butted his horns against the wooden planks of the house like a feisty kid. The donkey was so moved by the talent of his friends that not only did he drum the wall with his hind legs, he also brayed so long and deep that his tail stood straight out behind him.
Unknown to the musical friends, the house was occupied by a group of bandits. And to the bandits, the animals' beautiful music was so loud and terrifying it sounded like the Hounds of Hades had been unleashed and set upon them.
"Bloodhounds!" cried one of the bandits.
"With soldiers!" cried another bandit.
"RUN!" they all cried.
Without waiting for the soldiers to show themselves, the bandits fled from the house as fast as they could. They never even stopped to see what had been causing the noise.
The five friends were disappointed to see their audience run off. This was not at all what they had planned!
But the animals were also tired and hungry, and they were a practical lot. They decided to check the house for food. The bandits had left a generous helping of cheese and bread and meat, plenty to fill the empty bellies of the five amigos. After their feast, the animals agreed to spend the night in the house.
The donkey stretched out in bedroom.
The goat slept in the dinning room.
The cat curled up on the kitchen floor next to the stove.
The dog guarded the front door.
And the rooster perched at the top of a door.
In the meantime, the bandits had tired of running and hiding. They elected the bravest of the bandits to be their spy. He would return to the house to find out whether the soldiers had left.
The bandit snuck up to the house and searched the yard. The house appeared deserted, so the bandit crept into the kitchen through the back door. On the floor, next to the stove, he saw two glowing objects that looked like live coals. He grabbed a candle and reached down to light it on one of the coals. Something sliced his hand--a knife!
"Ay, ay, ay!" the bandit cried and bolted from the kitchen.
Thinking that the soldier with the knife was still after him, he raced into the bedroom and tripped on the donkey. The startled beast awoke, dazed and confused, and did what came naturally--he kicked the bandit into the dining room.
The bandit landed on the goat, who promptly butted him to the door, where he stepped on the dog's forepaw.
The dog yowled in pain and bit the bandit on the leg.
The bandit hopped on his good leg and bumped into a door, causing the rooster to fall off his perch and onto his head. The rooster grasped the bandit's hair and scalp with his claws, scratching and flapping his wings. All the while he crowed, "Qui-qui-ri-qui-qui-iii! Qui-qui-ri-qui-qui-iii!"
The terrified bandit threw open the front door and fled the house. He crashed through the forest and stumbled into the bandits' campsite, bleeding and shaking.
"¿Qué pasó, Paco?" said the leader of the bandits. "What happened to you?"
"Soldiers!" Paco cried, collapsing to the ground. "The house is full of them. They almost killed me! The one in the kitchen stabbed me with his knife. A strong man heaved me into another room. Another struck me across the back with his sword. A crazy one screamed obscenities and whacked me on the leg with his hatchet. Still another kept slicing me with his knife with one hand, swatting me with his hat with the other, and all the while yelling, "Kick-him-in-the-knee! Kick-him-in-the-knee!"
"We've no time to lose," said the leader. "The soldiers may have followed you here. We must leave this barrio and never come back!"
The five amigos never again heard from the bandits. They remained in the house and practiced their music every night. Those who happened by the house while the animals were practicing fled in terror. The word spread throughout the barrio that the house was possessed by demons.
Needless to say, people kept away from the haunted house. So the musical quintet lived happily in the house, undisturbed by humans. They spent their remaining years tending the yard, maintaining the house, hunting for food, and feeling very useful indeed.
Copyright © 2011 by Marisa Montes. All rights reserved.