As a child, I’ve always enjoyed reading classic short stories by Hans Christian Anderson and fables from La Fontaine or Aesop. These stories are not only interesting and fun but also impart some sort of wisdom or moral lessons which are easy to understand and relate to.
I’ve long forgotten the joy of reading them until I came across one story by Beverly Naidoo in a book I’m currently reading, Lebanon, Lebanon; an anthology of short stories by a panel of world-renowned writers across the world. Since the book is sort of a tribute to the Lebanese people after the Israeli-Lebanon war in 2006, this story managed to capture the essence of how most wars come to being.
I hope I’m not infringing any copyrights law by replicating the story here. All credit must be given to the author. According to the book’s list of contributors, Beverly Naidoo joined the resistance to apartheid as a student in South Africa. After detention without trial she came to England, into exile. Her writings have won many awards including the Carnegie Medal.
THE CROCODILE AND THE STORK
Stork was in mourning. Her black feathers hung like a cloak around her white breast. Crying had made her eyes as blood red as her long beak. But tears could not bring back her babies. She was resolved to have her revenge on Crocodile, who had raided her nest.
“Crocodile shall cry tears like mine,” she vowed.
Everyday she waited for hours in the reeds beside the water. The leg on which she stood was as still as a reed itself. Only in the evening shadows, when hunger made her feel faint, did her beak strike down like an arrow to catch one or two fish. Afterwards, she returned to her mute pose.
From her hiding place she saw where Crocodile hid her eggs in a hole on the riverbank. Patiently Stork waited, day after day, until the young had hatched. Silently she watched Crocodile carry the first baby in her mouth and lower it gently into the water. Stork remained perfectly quiet. As soon as the little crocodile began to swim away from the bank, its mother set off for her nest to collect another. Stork saw her chance and swooped. Lifting the crocodile baby in the cradle of her beak, she flew down the river and dropped it into an empty animal pen at the edge of the village. By the time the baby shrieked, its mother was too far away to hear.
One by one, while Crocodile’s back was turned, Stork captured every one of her twelve babies. When Crocodile realized that they had all disappeared. she screeched with rage and pain. Stork now flew up into a tree above the riverbank.
“Have you seen my children?” Crocodile cried. Giant tears welled up in her eyes.
“Oh yes,” Stork replied. “I have taken them.”
“Where are they?” Crocodile roared. “Give them back or I’ll..”
“If you want them back, you will have to bring me seventy fish for each child,” Stork said calmly.
Crocodile gnashed her teeth and whipped her tail but, in the end, it was agreed that the exchange would take place three days later. Crocodile knew that she would have to work night and day to collect enough fish in time.
On the day of the exchange, Crocodile pulled heavy basket of fish upstream towards the appointed place. On the way, she passed some villagers plucking a large bird near a fire. A small gust of wind caught one of the feathers and blew it towards Crocodile. It was a long, black feather. Fear lodged in Crocodile’s throat. She swam closer to the shore, and sure enough, the bird that the villagers were preparing to roast was Stork!
Crocodile wept tears of fury. She knew that she would never see her babies again. With a heavy heart, she turned away, swearing to kill all those who ate the bird that had stolen her babies.