First Date With Kaïcha

26th July 2022

The night before meeting Kaïcha, Christophe started loading on the bad news. She simply can’t stop eating roadside growth; she feigns tiredness by 11am; recently, she’s taken to sitting down in the middle of the walk with all bags strapped to her sides; and then rolls in the dirt.

Tell me some good news, I said, amused by the hail of gunfire regarding my gentle lady. Well, he said, she’s seventeen, and she’s just lovely.

The striking thing about a donkey is how magnificently beautiful they are. The exquisite sheen of a coat that is well-cared for; the sleek, mildly concave, long neck which draws your hip in for a side-hug by gravitational force; the beautifully clever revolving ears which forecast the future in both directions at once, through majestic hearing abilities. And then there’s the pastern, perhaps the most beguiling bone design in all of nature. Just when you think her slender legs must hit the ground, there comes the pastern – that extra bit of angled skeletal kit which, when at an angle equal to the slope of the shoulders, provides stability and sure-footedness by way of shock absorption.

Having spent some days in pulsing, sweaty Marseille, I was glad to escape here, to the Cévennes highlands. The change is refreshing. People seem eager to tell me their stories.

Pascal, on his way to do some ‘camping sauvage’, warned me of billionaires who seek to rule our lives and sedate us with Covid jabs. He gifted me a miraculous medal and a rosary ring. Faith, for Pascal, is the only way to keep the silicon bears from the door.

Olivier stood behind the bar and told me of his life as I ate the breakfast he had prepared. He’s been running this place for ten years. He told me of his business woes, his love for his three girls who don’t get to see Daddy; and of his excellent chef who he has nurtured over several years. Olivier, a man in his 40s, was distinguished by the high nobility of his ordinary life. I was staying in one of three guest rooms above his living room. I had to walk through his living space to get to mine. Each room was clean and curated, named for ease and clarity. Mine was called Cecile.

I have to be frank. The donkey briefing was quite intense. Christophe was pounding through the chapter and verse of it all. It is a solemn thing to have another life in your care. But there were more questions than time. Every now and then I took photos, lest I forget how the hell Kaicha’s paraphernalia should look. Perhaps all briefings are destined to fail, experience is the only three dimensional teacher.

And suddenly, off we went.

What happened next is largely the result of evolutionary psychology. Kaicha, representing equus asinus africanus, worked hard for what she perceived as reward; and I, representing homo sapiens, did the same. Unfortunately, our rewards systems differed. Kaicha was motivated by pleasure and rest; I was motivated by progress.

We had many, many moments of complete stall. A full and utter refusal to move. This often came when people were staring. Three gendarmes came to me wondering if they could help, Kaicha being stuck in the middle of the road. But they simply began petting her, pistols bearing, and then returned happily to the squad car.

There were swathes of interminable sloth, as if chewing gum were affixed to all six of our legs. I began a stern conversation with Kaicha. Will you please, please move your ass, I demanded.

And then, joy! Sometimes Kaicha created a melody of movement reminiscent of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (summer edition). The thing is, you can’t possibly draw attention to them, as this would precipitate a complete stall.

I am noticing patterns. Often Kaicha’s dead stop is linked to walkers behind us, well before I can hear them. She moves faster and happier on grass than gravel. In the afternoon, she’s a glutton for shade, despite her Saharan roots.

And my girl loves a good old sniff of donkey poo on the trail. This, I have to admit, is indeed worth a stop, being the equivalent of neighbourhood gossip.

Perhaps she is noticing my patterns too.

At length, and somewhat to my surprise, we descend into Goudet, a one-horse town which, today, boasts two donkeys.

As we arrive from above, the vast expanse of the Loire river sparkles in the afternoon sun. For once, my companion is playing ball, dozily walking behind me at a consistent rhythm. I allow the sun’s radiance fully in. I feel we have gotten to know each other better. It has been, all told, a good first date.

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