Zed, the free rider….
And it happened that three women were standing with their children, and their husbands besides, and they beheld this scene, and discussed it long afterwards. For it was the case that they had decided to go outside because it was a warm summer day, and they were in a public place watching eating bratwurst, chips, and mustard. And there was a man painted silver and he was playing a guitar, and he was collectinig money for his work.
“Ah come on ladies, don’t have so many babies, and your life will be sweet, aha!” And then he sang, “Come Come Come on Ladies, you know that babies get rabies, and you will all have scabies aha!” And as he sang these and other such absurd and insulting lines, the three women felt self-conscious, and ashamed. But they did not feel this way for very long because one of the children saw someone approaching, and cried out, “Look, a donkey!”
Zed was not riding the ass, but was leading it quietly along, feeling fulsore and tired in all bones and flesh. And truth be said, the free rider knew not what this place was nor cared little about it. “Hey Aunty can we pat your donkey!” “Yes, can we! Can we!” And Zed looked at the onager, and it looked also weary, but the free rider, said yes, you can pat this beast, but remember it is an onager!”
“An onager!” And the children’s eyes grew round, and the parents’ eyes grew narrow, and the crowd buckled and folded around Zed. And a stranger there was, dressed fulwell in beautiful clothes from looms that scarce exist anymore, as of old Calicutt, and this stranger watched Zed from afar, a little grimly.
And the busker became angry, and with the angry face said, “Hey you, hobo, you get out of here, for you are an abomination and this is my spot.”
But Zed said, “I hardly think this spot yours, any more than hers or mine or this child here.” But the player became more angry and said, “Go and busk somewhere else with that ridiculous donkey of yours!” Zed smiled then, for this was not an ordinary donkey but an onager, small enough for a strong person to carry across a flooded stream. And that meant that, “This is an onager and it goes where it pleases.”
But this was not to the young fire-eating guitar playing ball juggling man’s taste, and he said, “This is my spot, and I have a right to it. I have a permit. Where is your permit? I am a legal busker! What are you?”
“Why, I am the free rider, and I ride where I please. I also sometimes cease riding, for my arse is sore, and my legs are sore, my shoulders are heavy, and even my head throbs from too much riding.”
“O come over here,” called out another busker who was buying a large sausage. “Come and stand with me. I am not making any money anyway, and I would like to talk to you.” So Zed followed the young woman, and so did the onager, for Zed was leading it, and so did the children, and so did the parents of the children, for the children were leading them. And so did the man in the expensive clothes with the face of grim aspect. But the young man did not follow Zed, and tried to keep on busking, but now no one was interested in his show, for Zed had taken the interest of the crowd.
And the young woman’s name was Elsa and she was as lovely as a swan. And in truth she marvelled at Zed, and said, “I have never seen anyone like you before.” And Zed said, “I am like everyone, but that means, I suppose that I am like no one.” And Elsa began to play her instrument which was an oud. It was a stringed instrument and the sound it made brought fire to the eyes of the grim man in the expensive clothes, for you will know by now that he is from the people of fire. But the children did not see the fire in his eyes nor even hear the lovely oud for they were patting the Onager and touching Zed’s clothes, and the mothers did not hear it for they were looking at Zed with narrowed eyes.
But soon other people came, because when a group of people stand looking at any object, even if there be only an insignificant object, or even no object at all, yet if they stare intently enough at it, others will join and they too will stare intently at that same object, even if no object be there at all. But as Zed was there, and as the onager also was there, then they came and they stayed, and others soon came as well. And as Elsa finished playing, many were the coins thrown in her hat, and many were the coins thrown down on the mat next to Zed and the onager.
But then a young boy who did not want to be like the other children said, “Hey raggedy witch, raggedy bitch, raggedy witch, raggedy bitch!” And Zed looked around at this young boy and wondered why he would say such a thing. And the other children did not notice, until the boy threw an apple at Zed but hit instead the onager, which was startled. And the children backed away in fear, and they narrowed their eyes, and the mothers narrowed their eyes, and the fathers narrowed their eyes besides.
And the grim man stepped forward then, “You are the abomination, the parasite of the earth.” And with these words, he looked around at the boys who were teasing the onager, and his face was so terrifying that some said it was the very face of Sheitan, as if carven from stone, and then turned the full face of his fury back towards Zed. “So you then are Zed!”
But Zed said, “I also know you, for I remember you from the villages near the Towers of Silence many hundreds of years ago.” And the grim man said, “Yea, and even if it were thousands of years ago, yet still I would remember you, that brazen free rider who travels anywhere and recks not who she sees nor yet who dies around, nor even pays a siglos for a meal.” And Zed smiled, “Aye that is me, and it is good to see you again after all these years.”
But the grim stranger remained yet grim and said, “I have suffered much for those who believe in me, and even though they name motor cars for my name, yea still I am sorrowing, and walking only sorrowing lands.” And Zed felt then the grim man’s pain, and said, “yea and even though I am only a parasite, and even though I walk soft upon the earth yet still am I sad to see you so.” And saying this, Zed sat down with the girl and they sang a lovely Western song on the oud. And as the song played, the grim man’s face softened, and soon was wet with tears. The tears put out the fires in his heart, at least for a time, and he turned and walked quickly away, sorrowing deeply in his heart, yet touched by the free rider. And it was not Zed’s song, for Zed never invents any thing, nor keeps it besides.
And after the song was finished many were touched. And many put more coins by the Onager, and these were not siglos but euros, and the boys were mortified and they too made offerings. And the girl and the old man looked to Zed, and said, “Well, we normally do not make money singing these songs, but today, we have earned much, and now you can have a job with us.”
But Zed said, I do not have jobs, for I am a free rider, and I do not earn money nor yet know what to do with it, for it is of no interest to me. Take you this money and throw it into that river should you so wish.”
“I will not throw this money into the river, no I will not!”
“Well then,” said Zed, “take you this money and do with it as you please.”
And she took her share of the money, and she took her and her father’s share of the money besides, and she did with it as she pleased.
And so ended the three and twentieth tale of Zed, wherein the free rider acquires without noticing both money and a job, but leaves both behind. For such is the way of the free rider…..
And this was a song with an oud just like the one they played that day