Once upon a time, many many years ago, there was an era when all animals lived in harmony in the jungle of Aipotu. During that time it was common to find animals e.g a monkey and a giraffe in great conversation at the top of a tree. Discussions would range from the petty matters of how best to tackle a storm, to more serious matters about whether bananas were better to eat than acacia leaves..
In that picturesque land, harmony was also built of in-depth knowledge about each other. Everyone knew to beware of a nut-storm when the giggling baboons arrived with their hands behind their backs. Similarly, it was accepted as a fact that the carnivores would eat, and that they would eat other less fortunate animals. It was therefore customary to have conversations with them from a safe distance, or better, from places where they couldn’t reach. Rabbits, for example, would stay just within the boundaries of their burrows.
It so happened that one day a fire broke out in that not-so-perfect forest.. Seeing that the huge river Agnag ran through the middle of the forest north to south, the desperate fauna all made for it, hoping to make the other bank before the fire reached it. Unfortunately for them all, the wind was also blowing towards the river, lending speed to the greedy flames..
Coming to the edge of the river, each made do with what they had to try and cross.. The deer bravely took to the torrent and were followed by all others that could swim. Those that couldnt tried their best to hitch a ride on the backs of others, and so the rabbits were able to get across on the backs of the bullocks. The beavers being good swimmers got through without problem.
It so happened that a scorpion arrived on the bank and with no twigs or trunks left, found no means to cross the torrent. In sheer panic it started pleading with everyone to please help it to cross. Every animal it encountered declined, in fear of being stung half-way through and meeting a ignominious death. However much they empathised with it, noone dared risk that venomous sting, because, as we all know, scorpions sting. So the poor scorpion was left all to itself on the bank of the river with the raging fire coming closer and closer..
Just as there seemed no hope left for it, the scorpion noticed a dark rounded silhouette slowly appearing against the backdrop of the crimson sky. A tortoise was making its way along the forest floor, racing the flames at its own heavy pace. A last glimmer of hope appeared in the eyes of scorpion and it immediately ran toward the tortoise.
– Please, i beg of you, help me get to the other side of the river. Its a matter of my life or death.
Tortoise focused on him and said with distrust:
– You Scorpion, I cannot trust. You will sting me.. Im sorry but i’ll be risking my life with you on my back, and that is a risk i cannot take.
Scorpion went on to beseech tortoise:
-You’re my last hope Tortoise, if you dont get me over, my whole lineage will disappear. If you just allow me to travel on your back, we can both reach there safe and sound.
Unfortunately, Tortoise couldnt carry someone on its back while swimming, but would have to turn over and expose its soft underbelly. It again told Scorpion it could not take that risk, and this went on for a few minutes, scorpion countering that it couldnt sting Tortoise knowing they would both sink as a consequence.. All the while the flames were coming closer and Scorpion was getting more and more desperate.
– I promise you, i’ll do whatever you want if you help me across. i’ll be your slave all my life, i’ll sting everyone who hurts you or says something bad about you. I’ll be your bodyguard and i’ll find all the best food for you.
Tortoise was someone too good at heart for its own good. Seeing the mounting panic on Scorpion’s face, its heart melted.
-Ok Scorpion, for this once i trust you. But remember, control your sting, because if you sting me in the middle of the torrent i will sink and so will you.
The elated Scorpion jumped with joy and said thanks a million times, promising never to sting a tortoise again in its whole life, and never to say any harm of reptiles. And so tortoise waded into the torrent and turned its stomach up to allow Scorpion a place while it swam. As it pushed off the flaming bank, scorpion watched with growing relief as the flare receded in the distance.
Halfway through the Agnag, the only relics of the burning trees was a crimson glow in the dark sky. Scorpion started talking about its family, and how its parents hailed from a proud dynasty of Stingers. Tortoise waded quietly, concentrating its efforts on its arm-strokes. It was also silently praying that Scorpion would keep its promise of not stinging.
Unfortunately, that was precisely what was on the mind of our proud Stinger. Slowly, the itch to sting was growing, and the soft flesh of Tortoise’s underbelly was like a dish waiting to be savoured. Scorpion started talking more and more to hide its discomfort, while Tortoise waded on.
Finally, Scorpion could take it no longer. While Tortoise was continuing its purposeful strokes and although they were just a minute or two away from the shore, Scorpion poised, stood straight and directed a full-fledged blow with its sting, right at the centre of Tortoise’s underbelly. Scorpion’s poison was fast-acting and had a paralysing effect as well. This caused an immediate seizure in poor Tortoise who was petrified, being able only to move his head. Its eyes widened in shock as it registered both the pain and the realisation that Scorpion had broken its promise.
“Why?” Tortoise managed to utter, as they both started swirling to the bottom, “Why did you sting when you knew we would drown?”
Scorpion turned and replied with some part fulfillment and some part guilt:
“Because it is my nature to sting..”