“Come on, Tito, it’s time to get to work!” Pedro stretched his arms toward the early dawn sky, then reached over and scratched the donkey’s ears.
Pedro and Tito were a team and had an important but difficult job. As they did every morning before daybreak, they went down to the sea where there were large mounds of salt that had been evaporated from the salty seawater. The donkey stood still and sleepily watched as his master shoveled salt into two large gunnysacks. When they were full, Pedro hoisted them onto Tito’s back and tied them down securely.
“You are loaded, old friend, so now we are off.” Pedro picked up the lead rope and guided the donkey toward the foothills.
The city where the salt was to be delivered was several miles away and was reached only by traveling along a dirt path that wound over stony, steep hills. Day after day the pair would make the long journey, sell the salt in the open-air market, and return, tired and hungry, to their little shack near the sea. To relieve his loneliness on these trips, Pedro often sang or talked to his shaggy brown friend as they walked along. Tito would twitch his long ears and keep on plodding.
About halfway to the city, they had to cross a small river. And as there was no bridge, Pedro would jump across from stone to stone. But Tito had to slosh through the knee-deep water. The donkey never seemed to like wading across the river, and he needed a lot of coaxing each time they came to it. “Now, come on,” Pedro would say, impatiently pulling the lead rope. “Every day it is the same. You know that you must get to the other side, so why don’t you just do it!”
But Tito would always dig in his heels and refuse to budge.
“The water won’t hurt you. Do you expect me to carry you across?”
Finally the donkey would put his ears back, bat his big brown eyes resentfully at his master, then slowly and carefully step into the water.
One day the current was a little stronger than usual. When Tito got to the middle of the stream, he stumbled and fell to his knees. The salt in the sacks started to wash away, so that by the time the donkey got back on his feet, they were nearly empty.
“What a foolish thing to do!” scolded Pedro. He was very unhappy to lose so much salt, but it was too late to turn back. They would have to go on and sell what was left. To Tito’s delight, his load was much lighter, and it was much easier to climb the hills!
The next day the little team got their load of salt and headed for the hills. When they got to the stream, Tito slipped and fell again. And again a lot of the salt washed away, leaving very little to sell in the city.
Day after day the canny donkey slipped and fell into the water. Realizing that Tito was doing it on purpose, Pedro scolded him and even used the switch on him. But it was no use.
Pedro was not only angry but worried. Hauling salt was the way that he made his living. Without money, he couldn’t eat or buy clothing. “What shall I do?” Pedro asked a friend one evening. “I must stop that dishonest little donkey from shirking his part of the work!”
“He is a smart one,” his friend said. “He does not like carrying that heavy load over all those hills.”
“But what can I do?”
“I have an idea,” said the friend. “Not too much farther down the shore is a man who has harvested a pile of sponges from the sea. He is looking for someone to take them to the city. Perhaps it would make a good load for your donkey to carry.”
“Thank you. I shall go see him right away,” said Pedro.
The next day Pedro loaded Tito down with sponges. The cargo wasn’t very heavy, and the donkey twitched his ears happily, thinking that his master had finally learned that he, Tito, didn’t like working hard.
When they got to the river, Pedro warned the animal, “If you fall in this time, you’ll learn a hard lesson!”
Tito stepped slowly into the river, and, as usual, “fell” into the water. But this time he was in for a big surprise! The sponges filled with water so that when he got to his feet, his load was many times heavier than before! Now it was even harder to climb the hills than when he had carried salt!
After two more days of hauling sponges, falling into the water, and increasing the weight of his load, Tito was careful to keep his footing while crossing the river. A few days later Pedro again loaded sacks filled with salt on Tito’s back and headed toward the city. When they came to the water, the little donkey didn’t hesitate a moment but crossed the river quickly and willingly did his share of hauling the salt to market.