“So tell me, “ the horse said, “what is it that you want from me. If you had to say it in just one sentence.”
The girl didn’t hesitate. “Friendship,” she answered. “I want to be friends.”
The look on the horse’s face was impossible to read. After a moment of silence, he finally spoke.
“I wasn’t planning on this subject right away, but we might as well dwell into it, because – “the horse turned his head and looked longingly over the fields. “Well, let's say it will help us reach the core of the real subject.” He chewed for a moment and then sighed.
“Can you tell me more about friendship?” he asked. “What does it mean to be friends?”
Now it was the girl’s turn to look over the fields.
“Well – when you are friends, you share secrets. A friend is always there to listen to you, to be on your side and to help you. And you do the same for your friend, of course.”
The horse snorted, but it sounded more like a scoff, as if he was laughing at her. The girl blushed, realizing how naïve she must have sounded, how stupid it was to even start to talk about mutual friendship with this horse she had so much trouble with.
“Okay, let’s stop there. My next question is: do you think we are friends?”
The girl looked down at her shoes. She pushed a rock around with her toe and wondered how she had gotten herself into this predicament.
The horse snorted again. “Does my question make you uncomfortable?”
“No.” The girl rolled her eyes. There was no point of lying if the horse really could read her mind like she thought it could. “I mean yes, but it’s not just that…” She didn’t know what to say, she could barely understand her own thoughts.
“No, I don’t think we are friends." She finally said. "But it’s not like I didn’t try, you know. I really wanted it. You have to believe me.”
“Oh, I believe you, don’t worry. I was there, remember.” The horse looked kind again and the girl felt the tears behind her eyes resurface.
“I just don’t think you really know what friendship is, my dear.”
“What do you mean?”
The horse shifted his weight and rested his left hind, the gesture made his body contort sideways.
“Do you have human friends?”
“Yes, of course I do.” She knew she sounded defensive, but she couldn’t help it.
“Do you lock your human friends in boxes the size of a phone booth and keep them there all their life separated from their other friends so you can then visit them for an hour or two a day, let them out and expect them to bend to your will and do what you want?”
“Of course not, that’s not friendship, that’s – “ She thought of a proper word, but failed.
“Imprisonment?” the horse suggested lightly. The girl looked up from her shoes. She felt the hair on her arms raise up and she shivered.
“Yes.” She said slowly, her brow wrinkling. The realization of the horse’s words crept into her consciousness and she gasped. The horse looked at her, his face was grave.
“You never thought about that before, did you?”
The girl was apologetic. “No, I didn’t.” She peered at the horse. “I thought you liked your box. You have a window to look outside and it’s right by the door where you see lots of activity.”
The horse nodded in agreement. “Yes, you are right, I have the window and - it is my home. The only one I have. But -”
“But what?” The girl was truly curious now.
“But in the end of the day, it is a prison cell.”
They looked at each other for a long time and a certain sadness hung between them, like a scent of something very old. The horse was the first to break the silence.
“Let me explain.”
“No, you don’t have to, I get it.” The girl was crying now.
“But I want to, to make sure you understand. You humans tend to think of everything from your point of view. Like for instance, you think horses like the deep, soft straw bedding but mostly we don’t really care of soft beds. Humans care and because they care, they think we care, too.”
“I thought you liked the bedding!” The girl wiped her face.
“My point exactly.”
They looked at each other again. For the first time the horse looked welcoming and the girl wanted to touch him, but didn’t dare.
“Tell me more.” She said.
“Horses would rather live outside, together. And with together I really mean that, together in a heard.”
“But –“ The girl found an old tissue in her coat pocket and blew her nose.
“But it rains outside? Is cold? Is that what you are wondering about?”
“Yeah.” She didn’t like the way he read her mind, as if he knew her every move.
“We have hair, we don’t care. Again, it’s just humans who care, because humans would never want to live outside like that, you like to live in a house.”
“That’s true. And I suppose you could use blankets.”
“Blankets?” the horse laughed.
“What’s so funny?” The girl felt left out and wondered if he was laughing at her.
“Oh, it’s just that blankets are the running joke in the barn. Between us horses, that is.”
The girl stared at the horse. “You joke about things?”
The horse continued, as if he had not heard the last comment.
“Why do you suppose you use blankets on horses?”
The girl shrugged. “To keep you warm?”
“But we have hair, why would we need the blankets?”
“Well, if we didn’t use the blankets, your hair would grow really long.”
“Then we would need to clip the hair.” The girl was not sure where this was going. She thought they were supposed to be talking about friendship.
“And why would you do that?”
“To keep the hair short, of course.” She was starting to get frustrated, it seemed like the horse didn’t understand what she was saying and the conversation was running in circles.
“It just makes things easier, like then you horses don’t sweat so much when we ride and it doesn’t take so long to cool you down.”
The horse moved his feet and started resting his right hind in turn.
“Clipping the horse’s hair makes life easier.” The horse looked at the girl and she nodded. “Easier for whom?”
The girl looked down. “Easier for us humans, I suppose.”
“You suppose?” There was a trace of irony in the horse’s voice. The girl felt like she wanted to get up and leave, like she was on trial over something she had done unintentionally.
“Sorry,” the horse said and she knew he meant it. “Let’s go back to the blankets. Don’t you think it’s a lot of work to blanket us? How many blankets does an average horse have? Three? Five?”
The girl laughed. “I get your point. My mom thinks you have too many. They’re expensive, you know.”
“So, what’s the point?”
The girl thought about it for a while and then she said: “I think ultimately we just don’t like to see a really hairy horse, we like the hair short because it looks better, prettier.” Somehow she felt ashamed, but was not quite sure why. The horse looked at her quizzically.
“How do you feel about that?”
“I don’t know.” The girl looked over the fields. “I think I’m embarrassed now.”
“Because I just realized that a lot of what we do here at the barn is based on… I don’t even know what to call it.” She looked at the horse for help, but he said nothing. They were silent for a while, then he spoke.
“I think you know the word.”
The girl nodded. She did know what she wanted to say, but the word was stuck in her throat. She stood up.
“I think I should leave now.”
The horse nodded. The girl wondered if he was disappointed in her.
“We can continue some other time, if you want.“ His voice was soft; as if he understood how she was feeling. She took a tentative step towards him.
“I’ll be back soon.”
The horse looked tired.
“It is up to you,” he said and the girl knew he was right, it was all up to her as far as he was concerned.