By Ramona Scarborough
Honorable Mention in BWG’s 2020 Short Story Contest
“Papi, that burro is smiling at me.”
Diego’s father, Manuel, shook his head. “Burros don’t smile. Where do you get such ideas?”
Diego stared at his sandal pushing dirt around on the road and didn’t answer. He wanted to say, “But she looks like she’s smiling.”
“Stay right here. I’m going to bargain with owner.”
Diego waited until his father had started to walk away toward the adobe. A clump of clover grew next to a fence post. He yanked at the blossoming plant and placed it on his flat palm.
“Come here,” Diego said. “I’ve got something for you.”
The jenny ambled over and leaned her head over the fence. She opened her lips and grasped all the clover, then pulled it into her mouth, and ground it up with her big teeth.
He reached out, stroked her fuzzy head. and scratched behind her ear. Her smile got even bigger.
“I will call you Clover. Maybe Papi will let me ride you.”
Diego’s father came up behind him. “Don’t be getting attached to her. She’s a work animal, not a pet.”
But his father’s warning came too late. Diego looked into Clover’s big brown eyes and saw a friend.
“Papi, could I please ride Cl—the burro home?”
His father sighed. “I suppose, but she’ll be working in the field with me tomorrow.”
His father hoisted Diego onto her back. He sat up straight as they plodded along, looking to see if passers-by noticed. He remembered Mamá reading the Bible story about Jesus riding on a burro.
“Papi, can I feed the burro?”
Manuel rubbed his chin. “You must not overfeed her. Burros can be greedy and eat too much. Then they get sick. Can you clean up after her as well?”
Diego puffed out his chest. “I can do it.”
Mamá Rosita came out when they came close to their small home. She clapped her hands. “Oh, Manuel, what a beautiful burro. You picked the best one.”
She walked up to Clover and put her arms around the donkey’s neck. “Welcome, my little one.”
Manuel slapped his hand to his forehead. “What will I do with you two? This is not a new child born into the family.”
Rosita just smiled. “Come in, the tamales are ready and there’s beans and fresh salsa.”
“I’ll put the burro in the pen, then I’ll be there,” Manuel said. Diego’s eyes followed his new friend.
At the table, Manuel said, “I’m sorry, Rosita, I had to use all our savings for getting the animal. The granjero on the ranch wouldn’t come down on his price.”
“Mi Corazon, I rejoice. This donkey will make work so much easier for you. We must think of a name for her.”
Manuel stared at his wife. “Did you hear anything I said? Giving her a name only makes you and Diego become fonder.”
“Mamá, I already gave her a name. She loves clover, so that’s what I named her.”
“Clover, how lovely.” She stood. “Manuel, more beans?”
“Why don’t you just set an extra place at the table for . . . Clover.”
“Manuel, you are so funny.”
“Diego has offered to feed the animal and shovel the manure.”
“Diego, I’m so proud of you,” his mother said.
The sun was sliding down to the earth as Diego lugged the heavy bucket from the well.
“Work hard for Papi, so he will like you too,” Diego whispered in Clover’s ear.
But Diego didn’t have to worry. Just four days after Clover came to live with them, Manuel came into the house for dinner, wiping his forehead with his handkerchief
“That little jenny, she has heart. She pulls the plow with all her might.”
Rosita turned from stirring the pot of sopa on the stove. “Oh, you mean our little Clover.”
Manuel came behind her, put his arms around her waist and kissed her cheek. “I give up. Yes, Clover, our new child.”
In April, Rosita went to the market in Otumbo. This time instead of walking into town, Diego scrambled up behind her on Clover’s back.
After selling homemade tortillas, she brought Diego to one of his favorite places. A stand sold shaved ices with sweet syrup poured over it. Diego stood looking at the sign. So many flavors.
“Mijo, look at this.” Rosita pointed at another poster tacked on the front of the stand. The Otumbo Festival to Honor Donkeys. May 1st. Costume contest. Best costumed donkey wins $500.00. The woman with the most donkey knowledge becomes Miss Burro.
Rosita’s eyes shone. “Five hundred pesos. Can you imagine? Do you think we could bring Clover?”
“Do you think Papi would let us?”
Rosita stuck out her lower lip. “Probably not. Anyway, look at the winner’s picture from last year. We don’t have the money to dress up Clover like that.”
Diego nodded sadly. “I guess I’ll have the guava ice this time, Mamá.”
Back home, Diego fed Clover.
‘You are the best burro in all Mexico,” Diego said, pressing his brown cheek against her fur. “How would you like to dress up and be in a contest?”
“He-haw, he-haw,” Clover said.
Skipping toward the house, Diego could smell spices and tortillas frying. Mama was making Papi’s favorite, migas, with eggs, onions and red-hot chili peppers.
After Manuel finished a large plate full, he sat back and loosened his belt.
“Mi Vida,” Rosita said to Manuel, “I have a question.”
Manuel belched loudly. “Yes?”
“How would you like to attend a festival in Otumbo next month?”
“What kind of festival?”
“It’s to honor donkeys.”
“Are you joking me?”
“No, I think we should bring Clover.”
“Papi, please,” Diego begged. “There are contests, lots of food and music.”
Manuel groaned. “So now we are to honor Clover as well?”
“Manuel, the boy needs a little fun. He works hard. Feeds the chickens, gathers the eggs, brings in the wood . . . ”
“Yes, yes, I know what he does.” He put his hands out palms up on the table. “So, when is it?”
She pointed to the calendar hanging beside the fly strip. “May 1st.”
Manuel turned to look. “You’ve already got it circled,” he sputtered.
Rosita shrugged. “Well, of course, how else would I remember the date to ask you about it?”
When Diego got in bed that night he couldn’t stop thinking about the contest.
He even daydreamed about it the next day while doing his early morning chores and while sitting on the hard bench at school.
He ran home afterward to find Mamá scrubbing clothes on her washboard in the tin tub.
“Mamá,” he said, “Can you help me think of a costume for Clover?”
“Yes, I’ve been thinking about it all day. I could sew together some of the flour sacks with patterns on them for a covering for her back. You could poke holes for her ears through my old straw sun hat. The daisies will be coming out by then, you could make a daisy chain and put it around her neck, and we could put some in the hat band.”
The day of the festival, Diego bounced out of his cot as the sun began getting out of his giant bed on the other side of the world. He threw on his pantalón, a shirt, and an old serape. He ran from one chore to another. He was panting by the time he came to the corral. He fed Clover, then went inside the gate and brushed her all over, paying special attention to the long hairs on the end of her tail.
Mamá came toward him as he picked daises near the dusty road. She wore a ruffly purple dress and had piled her long hair on top of her head.
“Give me a daisy too,” she said, “I’ll put it in my hair.”
As Diego led Clover in her finery toward the house, he thought she was smiling.
Manuel came out. His boots seemed stuck to the ground. “What is this?” He shouted.
“Now Manuel,” Rosita said. “This is part of the fun. They have a best-dressed burro contest.”
He shook his head. “Now I’ve heard of everything.”
“Papi,” Diego said. “The first prize is five hundred pesos.”
“I can’t believe it.”
“Yes, five hundred pesos.” Rosita said, “Can we go now? We might miss the crowning of the new Miss Burro or all the tacos we can eat.”
The hot sun had risen high in the sky by the time they arrived. Diego rushed to the stand with the ices. Manuel dug in his pocket.
“Rosita, you get one too.”
Diego tied Clover to a post and got her a bucket of water. Clover didn’t look as pretty as when they started out. The daisies were hanging limp and the ends of her cape had dragged on the ground and become dirty.
He looked around at some of the other burros. One had tinkling bells tied to his short mane hairs, another had a sparkly horn on his head and silver stars on the reins.
He saw Mamá looking too.
“She won’t win will she, Mamá?”
She put her arm around him and squeezed his shoulders.
“No, probably not. Why don’t you take off the cloth? She’s probably hot.”
Manuel went to play horseshoes with some neighbor men. Mamá visited with some of the ladies from the market, while Diego joined in a sack race with boys and girls from his school. A girl named Elena knew about everything there was to know about burros. When she was chosen as Miss Burro, she jumped up and down and clapped her hands.
Miss Burro’s mother was wiping tears from her eyes. “That’s my daughter, Elena,” she said to the onlookers. A mariachi band began playing, and dust swirled as dancers filled the plaza. Rosita’s dress flared out as she twirled with Manuel. Later, the family regrouped, and they sat in the shade eating tacos.
A man shouted into a megaphone. “Now, the highlight of the festival. The parade of the donkeys to choose this year’s winner of the costume contest.”
“Andale, Diego. Go get Clover,” his father said.
“No, Papi. We took off her covering and the daisies are all dying. He sniffed. “She doesn’t look . . . she doesn’t look . . . ” He couldn’t finish.
“Didn’t we come to honor our donkey? We don’t have to be in the costume contest. Go get her. Come on, muchacha,” he said to Rosita, “Our family will walk in the parade.”
Diego obeyed and strutted down the street holding tight to Clover’s rope, but when they got even with the stage, Clover veered toward the man announcing the contest winner who sported a blond wig and a purple velvet cape.
“No, Clover,” Diego said, yanking on the rope. But Clover stubbornly disobeyed and pranced toward the ramp leading toward the stage. She pulled Diego along up the ramp. Clover stood right next to the winner.
“Well, what have we here?” the announcer boomed. “Another contender? Just look at this burro. I do believe she is smiling. Perhaps we should include a prize for the Mexico’s happiest burro.”
He motioned for Miss Burro to come forward. “You are an expert on burros. What do you think we should do for this—” He turned to Diego. “Does your burro have a name?
“Yes, Clover,” Diego said loudly.
“For Clover,” the man said.
Miss Burro took the big red bow from her hair and tied it around Clover’s neck. “You should give her some apples too. Burros love them.”
The crowd applauded as much for Clover as they had the winning burro.
Manuel had to come and pull and push Clover off the stage, which made the children laugh.
Finally, it was time to go. Slowly, the family retraced their steps down the dusty road toward home.
“Well, Clover,” Manuel said. “I did not know I picked an award-winning burro.
Rosita put her hand over her smile and winked at Diego.
Ramona Scarborough crafts many of the more than one hundred stories she’s published from current topics in the news, her own and other’s experiences, shameless eavesdropping, and prompts. Her story, “Clover,” was inspired by a picture her talented daughter-in-law, Ramona Krueger, drew of her donkey.