The Thing Called Gratitude
A certain town was infested with serpents of every size and color, and they lived by eating the people of that town, and the children. The serpents dwelt in holes in the ground and also in the thatched roofs of the houses; during the day they crawled from their holes and hunted children, and by night they dropped from ceilings onto sleeping men and women. In this fashion many people were devoured, and the townsfolk lived in terror of their lives.
In those days the hearts of men were soft, and few cared to hurt a living thing; only women and animals had learned cruelty. But there came a time when the people grew weary of the serpents, and they called in a powerful medicine man to rid the town of them.
The medicine man was Tagboh Walakpu, a famous man, and he brought with him several followers skilled in killing spirits, devils, djinn and common monsters. He entered the town from the east, and his followers played such sweet music on stringed instruments that serpents issued forth from holes and housetops to sway and dance about the streets. Walakpu walked among them blowing his medicine horn, and whenever he did this every serpent near him died.
Only one escaped. This was an elderly serpent filled with the cunning of its years, and called Wulu. He fled from Walakpu, and finding a woman cooking soap he said to her:
“A medicine man has come and is killing all my kin; hide me, and I will do you good.”
The woman was afraid of him.
“Be not afraid. Hide me in a secret place, and I will make you rich and bring you bowls of happiness. I will not harm you.”
At length the woman agreed to hide him, and made Wulu crawl into her box, or behind a pot, or under a fishing net; but this he refused to do.
“Walakpu would find me in such places. You must put me in your stomach.”
He persuaded the woman to open her mouth and he crawled into her stomach. Walakpu passed by blowing his medicine horn, but Wulu was unharmed; and when the medicine man had gone the woman asked Wulu to come forth from her stomach, for she had work to do.
“If you do not stop talking,” Wulu said, “I shall eat your tongue.”
“What is this? You promised to give me happiness if I saved you.”
“Words are dead when they are spoken. Be quiet!”
A nearby crew happened to overhear this conversation, and he asked the woman to explain what he had heard. When she began to talk the serpent said:
“If you tell anything to Crow I’ll sink my fangs into your heart. be quiet, woman!” “Ah,” said Crew, “I heard that.” He then asked Wulu: “Since this woman has helped you when you needed help, should you not be grateful?”
“Gratitude is weakness,” said the serpent.
“Gratitude is wisdom,” Crow declared, “and has three eyes, like me.”
“You have three eyes?”
“Of course I have three eyes, as you can see.”
“I have never seen a three-eyed bird.” Wulu crawled up the woman’s throat and put his head outside her mouth that he might look at Crow. Crow seized him is his beck and pulled him forth. He carried Wulu high in the air, then dropped him on the ground and broke his back. The woman was overjoyed, and brought rice for Crow to cat: but even as he ate she laid hands on him, saying:
“I must make a sacrifice on my children’s graves. I will put your blood in their graves.”
Crow protested loudly, and an old man came. This old man had a black hen which he loved. He asked the woman:
“Since Crow helped you when you needed help, should you not be grateful?”
“Gratitude is foolishness,” the woman said.
“Gratitude is God’s best gift to men, but it seems that women have none. I will give you my black hen if you will let Crow go.”
The woman agreed to this. As Crow flew off he snatched one eye from the poor old man and crushed it in his beak and swallowed it.
“Gratitude is an egg without a shell,” he cried, “or an eye without a head… soft, and easily wounded. the first armor anyone must have is a shell about his heart, or he will suffer.”
From a serpent, a woman and a crow men learned to harden their soft hearts.