THE BRAVEST ANIMAL
By Dino J. Martins
The heat shimmered over the dry plains. The mighty lion had just finished his drink by the waterhole. He lay back, stretching his massive paws and yawning.
From a safe distance dozens of thirsty eyes watched the sweet, shimmering water.
The other animals were all very, very thirsty because the rains had failed to arrive this year. All the rivers, swamps and watering holes had long since dried up. All except this one.
This watering hole was very special. It was located in a grove of sacred Mugumo trees. The trees roots’ formed a protective net around the edges of the pool, their branches met in a protective umbrella, shading the pool from drying up even in the greatest heat. It seemed as if the trees themselves kept the pool filled by drawing water from the depths of the earth with their roots. This is why dozens of animals had converged on the pool in the middle of the afternoon heat- they desperately needed to drink.
However, the arrival of Lion had disrupted the normally peaceful afternoon.
“As if it wasn’t bad enough that he scared us out of the shade,” cried the guineafowl, “Why did he have to fall asleep by the edge of the pool? Now none of us can get any water,” they cackled.
A striped body leapt out of the bush beyond, and then startled by the sight of the sleeping lion, rushed back.
It was Kudu, and she was very thirsty. Kudu jumped back, almost trampling the guineafowl, who scampered out of the way.
“Hey! Look where you are going!” they yelled.
“I,m sorry,” said Kudu, shaking her large ears, “I was startled by Lion.”
“You aren’t the only one who’s been startled this afternoon,” said one of the guineafowl pointing to a family of frightened baboons sitting high up in a thorny euphorbia.
Kudu looked around, she noticed many different animals waiting in the scant shade, others had simply collapsed panting in the sun, they all wanted the same thing, a drink from the pool. There were families of warthogs, the children running in circles around their exhausted parents. A pair of shy dik dik, watching everyone else nervously. Twelve ostriches, stood behind a family of impala, all of them eyeing the water with increasing thirst. A giraffe ambled by, casting a weary eye on the sleeping lion, then leaned down his long neck to whisper, in a hollow voice, coarse from thirst:
“Water, please, I need water.”
As thirsty as all the animals were, none of them dared venture close to the pool as long as Lion was asleep by it. As they waited and grew evermore thirsty and impatient, they began to squabble amongst each other. After several hours of blaming and teasing each other, Kudu suddenly retorted to an insult about her long legs by saying to the guineafowl:
“Oh, so then why don’t you use your short fluffy feet to run down and get a drink for yourself- go on, that will make you the bravest animals of us all!”
The guineafowl huddled together, whispering in hushed tones. The other animals watched closely to see whether or not they would accept Kudu’s challenge.
After several minutes of frenetic consultation, the guineafowl formed a line and began to march down to the water’s edge.
Kudu and the other animals watched from a safe distance in disbelief. Heads held high, the guineafowl marched as determinedly as possible, keeping close together.
“I hope that Lion eats them,” muttered Kudu, “then we can go down and get some water.”
The column of guineafowl marched forward. A small fly landed on Lion’s tail, he flicked it sharply. The tension in the air fractured as the orderly flock of guineafowl transformed into feathery bundles of screaming terror. They flew back in every possible direction, scratching and screaming, trampling a small snake and scaring the baby warthogs.
Kudu and the impala laughed at the guineafowl, saying,”Oh my! How brave you were.”
“Brave! Brave!???” screamed the leader of the guineafowl, in between trying to catch his breath, “Why don’t you try? Go on! Now I challenge you!”
Kudu stepped back in surprise. All the other animals eyes were fixed on her- would she do it?
“So will you be called the bravest animal then?” said guineafowl in a sarcastic voice. Kudus are very proud and guineafowl knew this,- that was why he taunted her.
“All right then,” replied Kudu, “I’m going down to get a drink.”
She stepped out of the bushes, and marched slowly towards the edge of the pool. As she got closer, her steps grew shorter and shorter. Eventually, about halfway down, she was just placing one hoof in front of the other. The animals held their breath in the shadows. Kudu moved so slowly forward that the sun travelled through the sky and soon was shining in Lion’s face. Lion rolled over. This was too much for Kudu. She leapt backwards as high as she could and scampered back into the bushes knocking over several guineafowl.
“Oh my,” they laughed, “You got so much closer to the water than we did.”
The baboons sitting up in the tree also joined in. One of them laughed so hard he fell out of the tree and landed on his back in the dust. He lay there laughing, kicking his feet in the air.
“Ha ha hee hee hooooo ha ha hooooo he,” he chortled.
“Can you do any better?” asked Kudu, rolling him over with her shiny hoof.
Baboon sobered up instantly. Kudu stared at him, her eyes glowing. All the other animals watched- this was turning out to be quite an entertaining afternoon at the waterhole.
Baboon looked up towards the rest of his troop up in the trees. He wished he hadn’t laughed so hard. He knew though what he had to do- the family honour was at stake.
“Go on our son,” called the leader, “show them that we are the bravest and cleverest animals of all.”
“Yes sir,” Baboon replied, shuffling forward nudged by Kudu.
Baboon walked on tip toe towards the pool. The sweet water beckoned him, for a moment he forgot that there was a lion there and thought that he could make it. He forgot to watch where he was going.
He stepped on a twig, it snapped loudly- all the animals gasped. Lion opened one eye to see what it was. All he saw was a puff of dust where Baboon had been standing. He rolled over and went back to sleep.
In the bushes, the troop had descended from their tree to comfort their terrified son. Kudu and the other animals stood around shaking their heads.
“We have to find someone who isn’t afraid of Lion,” she said to the other animals, “there must be someone here who can go down and get some water.”
The animals looked at each other- who would it be, they all wondered silently. Kudu looked at Impala, Impala looked at Ostrich, Ostrich looked back at Kudu. As the animals exchanged glances, a tiny voice shouted to make itself heard.
It was Singing-Ant.
Singing-Ant climbed up into a bush and in her loudest, most musical voice declared, “I will go down and get some water!”
All the animals turned to look at her in disbelief. There was a moment of silence, then they began to laugh. Kudu laughed so hard she fell on the ground, the baboons laughed until tears rolled down their cheeks.
“You are so small and weak,” giggled the guineafowl, “you’ll be crushed in an instant.”
“All Lion has to do is cough and you’re finished,” said Ostrich laughing so hard that several feathers fell out of his tail.
Singing-Ant watched them without a word. She simply climbed down from the bush and walked out towards the water. Most of the animals carried on laughing, a few stood up to watch. Wh
en she was halfway down, Kudu said,
“Any minute now she’ll come scurrying back.” The other animals nodded their heads in agreement. Singing-Ant carried on, oblivious to the teasing. As she got closer and closer to Lion, fewer animals laughed at her from the bushes. Soon she was just a foot away from his mighty paws. Now all the animals were silent.
“That’s it,” said Kudu, “Lion will finish her off.”
Singing-Ant stepped forward. The animals watching trembled.
Ostrich fainted and had to be fanned by his wives.
Baboon covered his eyes with his hands, “I can’t bear to watch,” he said, peeping through a gap in his fingers.
Singing-Ant carried on, she walked right over Lion’s paws and down to the water’s edge. Once there she bent down and drunk as deeply as she could.
All the animals in the bushes wanted to cry- they could not believe that Singing-Ant, the smallest amongst them had made it down to the water. If her courage had shocked them, what she did next surprised them even more. Singing-Ant plucked a leaf from the low branches that touched the water. She rolled it into a cone and held it in her jaws. Then bending down, struggling to keep her balance, she filled it with water, hoisted it up and wobbled back with her heavy load towards the thirsty animals.
“I brought you some water,” said Singing-Ant.
The animals stood around in an embarrassed silence wishing they hadn’t laughed at her. Finally Kudu stepped forward,
“We’re sorry that we laughed at you, we really are, please forgive us.”
“Yes, yes, please forgive us,” the other animals echoed.
“You are the BRAVEST animal!” shouted Giraffe and he lifted Singing-Ant and her leaf of water up. Singing-Ant smiled shyly as the animals cheered, then she whispered in Giraffe’s ear. He nodded and reached down tipping his head so that Singing-Ant could place a drop of water from her leaf on each parched tongue. The animals cried in gratitude at her generosity.
Singing-Ant simply picked up her leaf, called to her sisters and marched down to the water again.
“She really is the bravest animal,” said Kudu.
“Learn from her act of kindness,” said the oldest baboon…
“That is her strength!”
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