Long ago when the world was brand-new, the sun rose in the sky and brought the first day. Flowers jumped up and stared, astonished. Then from every side, from under leaves and from behind rocks, creatures began to appear. To begin with, all creatures were very alike – very different from what they are now.
They had no idea what they were going to become. Some wanted to be birds and others, lions and so on. The ones who wanted to be lions practised at being lions – and by and by they began to turn into lions. Thus all the creatures practised at what they wanted to become and began to change. But…
There was one creature that never seemed to change at all. This didn’t worry him though. He hated the thought of becoming any single creature. Oh no, he wanted to become all creatures together, all at once. He used to practise them all in turn – first a lion, then an eagle, then a bull, then a cockatoo, and so on – for five minutes each.
He was a strange looking beast in those days. A kind of no-shape-in-particular. He had legs sure enough, and eyes and ears and all the rest. But there was something vague about him.
He really did look as if he might suddenly turn into anything. He was called Donkey, which in the language of that time meant ‘unable to stick to one thing’. “You’ll never become anything”, the other creatures said, “until you stick to one thing and that thing alone.”
“Become a lion with us,” the Lion-becomers said. “You are so good at lioning, it’s a pity to waste your time eagling”. And the eagles said: “Never mind lioning, you should concentrate on becoming an eagle. You have a gift for it.”
All the creatures spoke to him in this way, which made him very proud. So proud, in fact, that he became boastful. “I’m going to be an Everykind,” Donkey cried, kicking up his heels. “I’m going to be a Lionocerangoutangadinf”.
But Donkey had a secret worry. He had no means of earning a living. He could not earn his living as a lion – not when he only practised at lion few minutes a day. He couldn’t earn his living as any other creature either – for the same reason. So he had to beg.
“When you help me grow up into a Lionocerangoutangadinf”, he said as he begged a mouthful of fish from Otter, “you’ll be glad you helped me when I was only learning.”
“The trouble is,” he thought, “there is no place among these creatures for somebody with real ambition. But one day – I’ll make them stare! I’ll be a better lion than lion, a better eagle than eagle and a better kangaroo than kangaroo – and all at the same time. Then they will be sorry!” At the same time he wished he could earn his living without having to beg.
As he sat, he heard a long sigh. He looked around. He hadn’t noticed he was so near to Man’s farm. He looked over the fence and saw Man sitting beside a well, with his head resting in his hands. As he looked, Man gave another sigh.
“What’s the matter?” asked Donkey. Man looked up. “I’m weary”, he said, “drawing water from the well is hard work.”
“Hard?” Donkey cried, “If it’s strength you are wanting, here I am. I’m the strongest creature on these plains.”
“But still not strong enough to draw water,” sighed Man.
“Just watch this,” cried Donkey, marched across. He took hold of the long pole that stuck out over the well, and began to drag it around. He had often seen Man doing this, so he knew how. Water gushed out of the pipe on to Man’s field of corn.
“Wonderful!” cried Man, “Wonderful!”
Donkey flattened back his ears and pulled all the harder. Man danced around, crying, “You are marvellous! What wouldn’t I give to have you working for me?”
As he said that Donkey had an idea. He stopped. “If you will give me food,” he said, “I’ll do this everyday for you.”
“It’s a bargain!” said Man.
And that’s how the Donkey came to be, as he started to work for Man.