The Tortoise and the Hare
After dinner, Nwike and his sisters immediately went to wash the dishes. Washing dishes was a chore they didn't like because it was a lot of work. It involved washing the dirty dishes in a big basin filled with soapy water and rinsing them in another basin filled with just clean water. On that very cold and rainy day, they had to collect rain water in a big bucket and use it for doing the dishes. It was always very uncomfortable as rainy water tends to be very cold.
The electric supply had been cut thrice by the time Nwike and his sisters were done. He was about to start rinsing the last set of dishes when the electric supply was restored. When he was done, he and Nneka carefully arranged them in another big basin so they could all dry up. He sneezed and wiped his nose with the sleeve of his shirt as he tried to make his way across the corridor. Grandpa was sitting on the couch and grandma on the floor when he walked into the sitting room. She sat on a local raffia mat while fanning herself with a triangular raffia hand fan she had bought from the local Tuesday market. Raffia mats were very popular in the Eastern region of Nigeria. The raffia fibres were obtained from the leaves of the raffia palm and used for tying plants and other objects and also for making mats, baskets and hats. They were also used for decorating traditional meeting halls and palaces of chieftains in the villages.
"Nwike, get my mobile phone so we can charge it", said grandma. She was expecting a call from her daughter, Fumnanya, and didn't want a dead phone battery to be the reason she couldn't pick the call. Grandpa's attention was fully focused on the television. He was watching the 9 pm news and was also complaining about something the president of the nation had done. Nwike never understood why grandpa paid so much attention to the news. He found it boring and felt like all the bad news did nothing but depress him. He was about to sit down and do his homework when the electric supply was cut off again. He cursed under his breath and stood up to fetch the kerosene lamp in the kitchen. It was very dark and while he tried to make his way there, grandma called out his name to hand him the flashlight. He followed the sound of her voice till he could feel the tail of the flashlight and then he immediately grabbed it.
When Nwike returned, grandpa was being urged by Nneka and Elizabeth to tell them a story. Grandpa always told the best stories and he always ended his stories with lessons on morals. Once, he told them a story of how the zebra got its stripes and how the snake lost its legs and had to crawl on its belly for the rest of its days. His stories were always so interesting and it was no secret that he was a master at telling pourquoi stories and the children loved every bit of it. Nwike immediately sat down next to grandma on the raffia mat and chuckling to his sisters, watched eagerly as grandpa cleared his throat to begin his story.
"Do you know the story of the tortoise and the hare?" he asked, taking a sip of water. They all shook their heads and then smiling, he went on to tell the story.
"Once upon a time in the animal kingdom, there was a hare who, boasting how he could run faster than anyone else, always amused himself by teasing the tortoise for how slow he was. Then one day, the irate tortoise answered back: “Who do you think you are Mr. Hare? There’s no denying you’re swift, but I bet you can be beaten!” The hare was overcome by an uncontrollable laughter. “Beat me in a race? Who is going to do that? Not you, Mr. Tortoise! I bet there’s nobody in the world that can win against me, I’m so fast. Now, why don’t you try?” Annoyed by such bragging and overconfidence, the tortoise accepted the challenge. A course was planned, and everyone retired to their homes.
The next day at dawn, they stood at the starting line. The hare yawned sleepily as the meek tortoise trudged slowly off. When the hare saw how painfully slow his rival was, he decided, half asleep on his feet, to have a quick nap. “Take your time!” he said. “I’ll have me a short nap and catch up with you in a minute.”
Grandpa paused for a while as he took a sip of water and slapped his left breast in an attempt to kill a mosquito. The light from the kerosene lamp burned brightly as he reached out to adjust it. "You shouldn't burn the lamp this brightly Nwike", he said. The kerosene won't last for long if it burns like this every night and you know we aren't rich enough to buy kerosene that often", he added. Lifting the lamp up to his left thigh, he adjusted it till only a tip of the burning wick was visible, and then he continued with his story.
"The hare woke up with a horrendous startle and looked around, searching for the tortoise and noticed that he was only a short distance away, having barely covered a third of the course. Breathing a sigh of relief, he decided he might as well have breakfast after such a wonderful nap and immediately rushed into the bushes in search of some cabbages and carrots.
After the heavy meal, the hare decided to take another nap. With a careless glance at the tortoise, now halfway along the course, he smiled at the thought of speeding past him and making it to the finish line first while everyone cheered for him. He was soon snoring happily as the sun started to sink below the horizon and the tortoise, who had been plodding towards the winning post since morning, was scarcely a yard from the finish line.
At that very point, the hare woke up with a jolt. He could see the tortoise in the distance and he immediately dashed away trying to catch up. He leaped and raced at a great rate, his tongue lolling, and gasping for breath. Just a little more and he'd be first at the finish line, he thought. Unfortunately, his last leap was just too late as the tortoise had already beaten him to the winning post. Poor hare! Exhausted and in disgrace, he slumped down besides the tortoise who smiled and silently whispered to him, "slow and steady always wins the race!"
And that, children, is the end of my story." grandpa said, looking around to see if they were still eagerly listening.
"So tell me Nwike, what is the moral of this story?" grandpa asked, turning around to fully face a confused Nwike who was still trying to understand how a hare could lose a race against a tortoise. "Overconfidence is a very bad thing and humility pays", Nwike blurted out, not really sure if he gave the right answer. Satisfied with the answer, grandpa turned to Nneka and asked the same question. She hesitated for 5 seconds and said, "It doesn't really matter how slow your progress in life is, but as long as you keep going, you'll definitely get to where you want to be." He smiled as he felt a warm sense of pride engulf him. He couldn't believe how wise his grandchildren were and it made him extremely proud to know that they could extract deep meaning and useful life lessons from his stories. He was about to turn to Elizabeth when he noticed she was already fast asleep.
It was almost 10:30 pm when grandpa finished telling his story. It had stopped raining cats and dogs outside and had started drizzling. Nwike yawned as he prepared to bolt the windows and doors and then go to bed. He could feel the cold wind sipping into the sitting room as he slowly slid the bolt into the tiny hole on the wooden window pane. He was soon done with bolting the doors and windows and immediately went to lie down. As he lay down to sleep, he thought about grandpa's story and the moral lesson he had learned from it.
"Slow and steady always wins the race."
To be continued next week ...