Good deal of wonders occur in this world, and our country is, as many say, overflowing with wonders to such an extent that wonders are no longer wonders. There are people here on very high positions who do not think at all, and as a compensation, or maybe for some other reasons, an ordinary peasant’s ox, which differs not one bit from other Serbian oxen, started thinking. God knows what happened that made this ingenious animal dare to take up such a brash endeavour, especially since it had been proven that in Serbia this unfortunate occupation could only bring you disservice. Let us then say that this poor devil, in all his naïveté, didn’t even know that this endeavour is not profitable in his homeland, so we won’t attribute him with any particular civic courage. But it still remains a mystery why an ox should think since he is not a voter, nor a councillor, nor a magistrate, nor has he been elected a deputy in any bovine assembly, or even (if he has reached a certain age) a senator. And had the poor soul ever dreamt of becoming a minister of state in any bovine country, he should have known that on the contrary, he ought to practice how to think as little as possible, like those excellent ministers in some happier countries, although our country is not so lucky in this respect either. In the end, why should we care about why an ox in Serbia has taken up an endeavour abandoned by the people? Also, it might have happened that he started thinking merely due to some natural instinct of his.
So, what kind of an ox is it? An ordinary ox which has, as zoology teaches us, a head, body, and limbs, like all the other oxen; he pulls a cart, grazes on grass, licks salt, ruminates and brays. His name is Sivonja, the grey ox.
Here is how he started thinking. One day his master yoked him and his buddy, Galonja, loaded some stolen pickets on the cart and took them to the town to sell. Almost immediately upon entering the town, he sold the pickets and then unyoked Sivonja and his comrade, hooked the chain that ties them to the yoke, threw a sheaf of thimbleweed in front of them, and merrily went into a small tavern to refresh with a few drinks. There was a festival ongoing in the town, so there were men, women, and children passing by from all sides. Galonja, otherwise known to other oxen as being somewhat dumb, did not look at anything, instead, he stuck into his lunch in all seriousness, ate a bellyful, brayed a bit out of pure enjoyment, and then lay down, sweetly dozing and ruminating. All those people passing by were no concern of his. He is just dozing and ruminating peacefully (it’s a pity he is not a human, with all these predispositions for a lofty career). But Sivonja could not take a single bite. His dreamy eyes and the sad expression on his face showed at first glance that this was a thinker, and a sweet, impressionable soul. People, Serbs, are passing him by, proud of their glorious past, their name, their nation, and this pride shows in their stern demeanour and pace. Sivonja observed all this, and his soul was all of a sudden consumed by sorrow and pain due to the tremendous injustice, and he couldn’t but succumb to such a strong, sudden and powerful emotion; he brayed sadly, painfully, tears rolling in his eyes. And in his immense pain, Sivonja started to think:
– What are my master and his compatriots, the Serbs, so proud of? Why do they hold their heads so high and look at my people with haughty pride and contempt? They are proud of their motherland, proud that merciful fate has granted them to be born here in Serbia. My mother gave birth to me here in Serbia as well, and Serbia is not only my native land but my father’s also, and my ancestors have, just like theirs, all together, come to these lands from the old Slavic homeland. And yet none of us oxen have felt proud of it, we only took pride in our ability to pull a heavier load uphill; to this day, never has an ox told a German ox: “What do you want with me, I am a Serbian ox, my homeland is the proud country of Serbia, all my ancestors had been calved here, and here, in this land, are the graves of my forefathers. ” God forbid, we never took pride in this, never has it come to our mind, and they are even proud of that. Strange folk!
Taken by these thoughts, the ox sadly shook his head, bell on his neck ringing and yoke crackling. Galonja opened his eyes, looked at his friend, and mooed:
– There you go again with that tomfoolery of yours! Eat, fool, grow some fat, look at your ribs all sticking out; if it were good to think, people would not have left it to us oxen. No way would we’ve been so fortunate!
Sivonja looked at his comrade with pity, turned his head away from him, and immersed back in his thoughts.
– They take pride in their glorious past. They have their Field of Kosovo, Battle of Kosovo. Big deal, haven’t my ancestors pulled carts with food and armaments even back then? If it weren’t for us, people would’ve had to do it themselves. Then there is the uprising against the Turks. A grand, noble endeavour, but who was there at the time? Was it these high-nosed dimwits, strutting proudly before me as if it were their merit, who raised the uprising? Here, take my master as an example. He too is so proud and brags about the uprising, especially with the fact that his great-grandfather perished in the war of liberation as a true hero. And is this my master’s merit? His great-grandfather had the right to be proud, but not him; his great-grandfather died so that my master, his descendant, could be free. So he is free, and how does he use his freedom? He steals other people’s pickets, sits on the cart, and I have to pull both him and the pickets while he’s asleep at the reins. Now he has sold his pickets, he’s drinking liquor, doing nothing and being proud with his glorious past. And just how many of my ancestors had been slaughtered in the uprising to feed the fighters? And did not my ancestors at the time pull the armaments, cannons, food, ammunition? And yet we don’t take pride in their merits because we haven’t changed; we still do our duty today, just as our ancestors did, patiently and conscientiously.
They are proud of their ancestors’ suffering and of five hundred years of slavery. My kin has suffered throughout our existence, and today still we suffer and are enslaved, and yet we don’t scream about it at the top of our voices. They say that Turks had tortured, slaughtered and impaled them; well, my ancestors were slaughtered by both Serbs and Turks alike, and roasted, and put on all kinds of torture.
They are proud of their religion, and yet they believe in nothing. What is the fault of me and my folk that we cannot be accepted among Christians? Their religion tells them “thou shalt not steal” and there is my master stealing and drinking for the money he got for stealing. Their religion instructs them to love their neighbours, and yet they only do harm to one another. For them, the best of men, an example of virtue, is the one who doesn’t do any harm, and of course, nobody even considers asking anyone to do something good as well, aside from not doing harm. That’s just how low they’ve got that their examples of virtue amount to no more than any useless item that doesn’t do harm.
The ox sighed deeply, and his sigh raised the dust from the road.
– So – the ox continued with his sad thoughts – in this case, aren’t me and my kin better in all that than any of them? I have never murdered anyone, I have never defamed anyone, haven’t stolen anything, haven’t fired an innocent man from public service, haven’t made a deficit in the state treasury, haven’t declared a fake bankruptcy, I have never chained or arrested innocent people, I have never slandered my friends, I have never gone against my ox principles, I haven’t made false testimonies, I was never a minister of state and never did the country any harm, and not only did I not do any harm, I even do good to those who do me harm. My mother gave birth to me, and immediately, evil men even took my mother’s milk from me. God has at least created grass for us oxen, and not for men, and yet they deprive us of it as well. Still, besides all that beating, we pull men’s carts, plough their fields and feed them bread. And yet nobody admits our merits that we do for the motherland…
– Or take fasting as an example; well, to men, religion tells to fast on all feast days, and yet they are not even willing to endure this little fasting, while I and my folk are fasting all our lives, ever since we are first weaned from mother’s breast.
Ox lowered his head as if he were worried, then raised it again, snorted angrily, and it seemed that something important was coming back to him, tormenting him; all of a sudden, he mooed joyously:
– Oh, I know now, it has to be that – and he continued thinking, – that’s what it is; they are proud of their freedom and civil rights. I need to put my mind to it seriously.
And he was thinking, thinking, but couldn’t make it out.
– What are these rights of theirs? If the police order them to vote, they vote, and like that, we could just as easily moo out: “Foo-o-o-or!”And if they are not ordered to, they dare not vote, or even dabble in politics, just like us. They also suffer beatings in prison, even if completely innocent. At least we bray and wave our tails, and they don’t even have that little civic courage.
And at that moment, his master came out of the tavern. Drunken, staggering, eyes blurred, mumbling some incomprehensible words, he meanderingly walked towards the cart.
– Just behold, how is this proud descendant using the freedom that was won with the blood of his ancestors? Right, my master is a drunkard and a thief, but how do the others use this freedom? Just to idle away and take pride in the past and in the merit of their ancestors, in which they have as much contribution as I. And us oxen, we remained as hardworking and useful labourers just as our ancestors had been. We are oxen, but we can still be proud of our arduous work and merits today.
The ox sighed deeply and readied his neck for the yoke.
In Belgrade, 1902.
For the “Radoje Domanović” Project translated by Vladimir Živanović, proofread by Julia Bleck. In Belgrade, 19 August 2019.