Opera of the Hungry Sheep
Place: Somewhere on earth. In the middle of a desert, perhaps.
Time: Open throughout history
Event: A story inspired by the eye of the moon
The Protagonists: The Sheppard as the Musical Composer
The Dog as the Maestro
The Ram as the Metronome
The Flock of Sheep as the Chorus
When the first rays of the sun emerged and the last of the moon beams disappeared, the herd, as usual, let out a loud bleat to announce the start of march. The sound echoed in the desert to awaken the shepherd who was sleeping in his warm, soft bed. The shepherd got up and turned his sheep's wool robe inside out to protect him from the heat of the sun, as its other face protects him from the cold of the night. Fleece on the inside, leather on the outside. He put the robe on his shoulder and drank some milk from the leather pouch he carried with him at all times.
He walked slowly in front of a large crowd of sheep. The dog barked to awaken the rest of the sheep and he started organising the herd into columns and flanks. So started the journey into the depth of the desert in search of a way out, an oasis, or a pasture to give the herd some respite from the fatigue of continuous travel and to end their growing hunger pangs.
It is from the wool of the herd, and during coldest nights and the hottest days, that the shepherd wove his luxurious and warm robe, leaving the sheep to sleep in the open with shaved bodies. The distances ahead of them were very long, there were many directions they could follow, and the desert - piercing cold at night, scalding hot at noon - was endless.
The shepherd walked in the leather moccasins he made from the skin of one of the ewes. The large, fat, sagging ram lethargically followed the shepherd's footprints, his head bobbing up and down, his two large horns randomly overlapping as telltale signs of his age and diminishing abilities. The black and white spotted dog, drooling with every bark, rallied the rest of the herd by continuously circling them.
Many hours passed as they marched in a monotonous trajectory toward the unknown. The sun rose slowly and the hot breeze struck the naked bodies. The horizon was wide open.
Some sheep emitted random bleats as they moved forward heavily, their hunger exacerbated by several days walk on empty stomachs. Even the weeds disappeared from this arid spot. The sheep were fast losing confidence in their shepherd; this was clearly reflected in their increased bleating day by day. The sheep believed that they were continually going in the opposite direction, that their destination was always behind them.
The sheep got hungry but had nothing to eat.
The shepherd got hungry, so he stopped and looked behind him. He glanced at the hungry herd with two beady eyes. He unsheathed his dagger from under his robe and grabbed the ewe that was the first to bleat. He slaughtered her in front of everyone and he ravished her.
Nothing stops the hungry barks of the dog except the scraps of bone the shepherd tossed him.
The old ram walked on carelessly, bobbing his head.
The heat intensified, the desert sands burn, the sheep seemed to bounce as they tried not to let their hooves touch the searing heat of the sand.
The sheep got thirsty so they licked their sweaty bodies with tongues dangling breathlessly from their lower jaws.
The shepherd felt thirsty. He took out the leather pouch that he carried with him at all times and drank the last of the milk he squeezed into it from the udders an ewe.
The dog got thirsty so he drank the urine the shepherd stored in a special leather container to give to the dog when necessary.
The hungry sheep bleated again, announcing a greater hunger.
The hours of the day went by slowly as they marched on an endless trail.
When night-time arrived and the wind temperature became tolerable, the shepherd felt bored and hungry. He got up, raised his hand to the sky, and with the usual sign of his wooden nay, the shepherd announced that today's walk has come to an end.
To break the monotony of the journey and to entertain himself after a long, barren day, the shepherd grabbed an ewe and ordered her with his gravel voice to sing and dance for him in front of everyone. But she refused and tried to escape his grasp. He quickly took out his knife and held her by the neck. He slaughtered her so swiftly that she danced in pain. He took up his wooden nay and played until the ewe's body fell still to the floor. Then he ate her. The dog stood a few meters away waiting for his share of the bones with fearful eyes and tongue drooping from the side of his mouth.
The ram continued bobbing his head up and down like an alarm or a pendulum in the desert, or perhaps he was signalling his objection to what was happening to his ewes with one motion and his approval with the other.
The moon replaced the sun in the middle of the sky. The cold got even colder. The shepherd took out his wooden nay from under his warm robe, and played random, irregular notes with trembling fingers to express how lost he was. He stopped for a moment and looked around with hollowed eyes and without moving his head; it was as if he knew deep inside that the wolves were hovering nearby. He went back to playing his nay in obvious fear. At that precise moment, the sheep let out low and scattered bleats that mingled with the sound of the nay. The shepherd blew harder into the nay, to make a louder sound, to boost his confidence, and to break the silence of the desert. The bleating got louder and more harmonious with the tunes of the shepherd's nay. That went on for a while before the musical concert started.
In this musical celebration all the players were afraid of one another. The sheep were afraid of the shepherd and the ram was afraid of the dog who was afraid of the shepherd. The shepherd was afraid of the sheep and their rebellion. He was also afraid that the dog might run away or that the ram might die. Fear and hunger revolved in a vicious circle.
The shepherd was afraid, his fear turned into hunger. He pounced on an ewe and wolved her down. The sheep raised their operatic voices in panic.
The dog got hungry. He looked at the shepherd with caution and fear before he attacked an ewe and gulped her all up.
The bellowing of the sheep got louder, becoming more harmonious until it turned into a boisterous, hungry, pleading, opera that overshadowed the barking of the dog and the sound of the shepherd's nay.
Fear that turned into a hunger revolved in a vicious cycle inside the shepherd who got afraid, got hungry, ate an ewe. The sheep bleated in distress. The dog barked continuously. The metronome ram bobbed his head to the beat. And all the time the herd was getting smaller and smaller.
For a few moments the whole world went silent for the opera of the hungry sheep.
Suddenly, the raving sheep surrounded the mad dog. They looked into each other's eyes. They pounced on him and ate him up, bones and all. The incident went down in history as the first time sheep become carnivorous.
The shepherd's fear increased. He got so hungry that his stomach hurt. He pounced on an ewe, slaughtered and ate her.
The sheep's eyes gleamed in the desert darkness, after a passing black cloud blocked the light of the moon. At that moment, the sheep gradually surrounded the shepherd while they continued to sing, their voices peaking. They spun around him like a tornado, causing a sand storm to rise around them. They pushed him with their heads until he was in the centre, surrounded by sheep from all sides. Then they slowly gnawed his flesh until they left nothing of him or his luxurious robe.
The sheep raised their heads high upon hearing a strong sound coming from the sky, a sound similar to lightening, and then they continued singing as they walked alone on a long path without a horizon.
The metronome ram walked on behind, bobbing up and down his head as usual.
Translation by: Fadwa Al Qasem