Once upon a time, not so long ago, in a town much like yours, on a street you would be familiar with, there was a girl.
This girl sat in the doorway of an old dilapidated shop. Very little of the worn facades revealed its once popular past. The name of the original proprietor faded and obscured by graffiti.
There was nothing remarkable about this girl, indeed hardly anyone knew she was there. The girl just sat in the dimness of the doorway with her knees pulled up to her face, head bowed.
No one knew if she had been there a day, a week, a month or even a year. In fact no one ever thought to ask her but then again no one thought to actually speak to her. They just simply went about their day without giving this girl a moment of thought.
Then one day, a day much like the one you are having now, something curious happened.
The girl was no longer alone in that dingy, dank doorway. She now had company, for laying next to her was a mule.
Now the people of the town immediately noticed that there was a mule laying in the doorway of a shop. It is, after all, an unusual sight.
“Where has that mule come from?” someone asked.
“It must have escaped from the local farm.” suggested another.
The local farmer was called who declared that his mule was still very much at his farm. Such news panicked the town folk.
“It’s a wild mule!”
“It may kick us!”
“It’ll bite the children!”
Concerned for their safety and the havoc such a wild beast may cause a call went out to all manner of emergency services to remove this ferocious animal from their town.
Yet no one seemed too concerned for the girl whom the mule lay next to.
Soon, nearly all the town were surrounding this doorway.
“A wild mule! In our town? We must get rid of it”
The local fireman and vet were called upon to remove this creature from their town. The crowd were silent as they approached.
The mule did not run away as they approached. Nor did he try to kick them or bite them. Instead, he did something rather strange.
It was such an odd thing to see a mule dance that at first the townfolk thought their eyes were deceiving them.
“Is that mule dancing?” they asked in unison.
The mule had slowly lifted himself up on to his legs and proceeded to perform a merry jig.
On seeing this the crowd forgot their previous fear that he may have a disease or might bite or kick them.
“Oh! How unusual to see a dancing mule” they cheered and applauded along with the merry steps of the mule.
When the mule had finished he gave a bow much to the warm hilarity of the crowd.
“Have you ever seen something so magical?” the crowd exclaimed.
It was settled. The town would not be removing this mule. How could anyone exile such a creature of talent?
The mule slowly returned to the doorway and curled up next to the girl, who had not moved at all throughout the performance.
“Such a majestic thing cannot stay there” someone said
“You’re right” agreed another “He can stay with me!”
“I have a large stable he can stay in” a voice was heard to say.
But the mule would not be moved. No amount of coaxing budged him from his spot next to the girl.
Reluctantly, the town folk let him remain in that wet, uncomfortable doorway.
By morning the crowd had gathered again and the mule was happy to perform another jovial dance. Then, as before, he would return to the doorway.
This continued day after day and the people of the town grew fond of the mule. At night, many would bring it food, water and blankets commenting as they did as to why someone would chose to sleep in such an awful place.
Before long news of this dancing mule spread to the neighbouring towns and many people came far and wide to see this amazing beast perform.
The mule did not disappoint the eager onlookers and performed dances and tricks much to the delight of the ever growing number of people who came to watch.
All eyes firmly on this funny dancing mule but never on the girl who sat still, head bowed as the crowd clapped and cheered along to the creature’s antics.
Then as suddenly as he had appeared the mule was gone. It happened on a fine spring morning and the crowd,as in previous days, had arrived eager for their daily show. Yet there was no mule in the doorway, just the girl.
The crowd, of course, did not see the girl. They were too concerned with the absence of the mule to notice anything else.
“Where has he gone?” they asked
“Maybe he will be back soon” suggested someone, hopefully.
Day after day the people of the town returned to doorway in the hope that the mule would be there. However like the day before and the day before that the only person who occupied the doorway was the girl.
Before long, the people had given up hope of ever seeing the mule again. With a heavy heart they went about their normal daily life.
Occasionally they would stop as they walked past the doorway, their eyes never on the girl but at the space where the mule used to sleep.
One day, a Mother was walking down the street with her young son. Stopping at the doorway the mother sighed in remembrance of how fun the mule was and how she missed him. She allowed herself a moment to wish he was safe and well.
She went to move off but her son did not follow. She tugged on his arm but he remained rooted to the spot, his eyes fixed on the doorway.
“The mule isn’t coming today. Let’s go” the Mother said impatiently.
Looking up at his Mother the boy asked “Do you think the mule belonged to the girl and she is missing him?”
Puzzled the Mother replied “What girl?”
The boy stretched out his arm and pointed to the girl who sat in the doorway, her knees raised, head bowed.
The Mother followed her son’s finger and gasped with amazement as she saw the girl. She’d never noticed a girl in the doorway before. Where had she come from?
Walking over to the girl, the Mother bent down and asked “Have you just got here? Are you waiting for the mule?”
The girl slowly lifted her head, her skin a map of the extremities she had endured, her eyes swollen and red, her lips dry and cracked.
“Oh My!” exclaimed the Mother.
The Mother’s actions had alerted the other townsfolk who had thought the mule had returned.
They rushed over to the doorway to see the Mother knelt next to the girl.
“Who is she?” someone asked
“Careful she might bite” said another.
“She looks dirty”
“Well she can’t stay here. This is where the mule sleeps. What if he comes back?” warned someone else.
As the crowd argued as to who should remove the girl from the doorway no one noticed her leave. As she rose from the spot she had occupied for so long she was as invisible as she had always been.
Indeed, it took a while before anyone noticed that the doorway was now empty. Yet the townfolk could vividly remember the mule being there but never the girl.
It is a number of miles to the next town. A long road the only route between the two.
Those travelling between the neighbouring towns often reported seeing the mule walking along the dusty track but they never saw the girl who walked beside him.