He paused and pondered there for some moments as if thunderstruck, while the truth stood stoutly reminding and growling at him. Hare thrived on deceit, manipulation and misinformation. He always won races hands down against other animals by hook and crook. Some animals saw him as a divinely anointed runner. In fact, many animals had come to accept that Hare was as invincible as he was slippery. He constantly vaulted and dodged with ease and rapidity so as to elude his pursuer. Precipice or no cliff, he was simply untouchable. That was his trademark.
Then one stupid day the impossible happened ...Tortoise, the most unexpected and most foolish-looking foot-dragger of them all, beat the flat-footed and witty Hare at his game, much to the delight and amazement of the other animals who were tired of the one-way, one-man affair he had been subjecting them to over years and years. The animals' lives had been a tempest of actual and imagined unease and betrayal. They had a knot in their bellies as the grisly acts of Hare unfolded like a plot in their midst. Hare suffered a series of fall-outs with friends and other animals the moment he acted and thought of himself as the centre of the jungle. When other animals, old or young, counselled him, he closed his ears with stubs in a condescending fashion, declaring to himself that they were noisy nosey fools. On those occasions, he would get up from one of his kingly and gold-coated chairs he had won year in year out, and would swagger towards the counsellor, cough once or twice for good measure and rhetorically ask, "What have you just said?"
Then he would ensconce on his raised grass-and-leaf-cushioned bed, then roll and dance on it without a care in the world. He would let out an obviously forced and elongated laughter, declaring that he had run his eyes over the breadth and width of the forest and had not seen any single animal worthy and capable of outrunning him, even during his sleepiest and weakest moments. Not in his lifetime, no animal, no insect, no reptile, no bird should delude himself or herself of taking the crown away from him, he swore boastfully. No animal, no insect, no reptile, no bird deserved to sit at that throne. He forgot the old African adage: The words of an elder do not fall down into thin air.
A clean braggart, Hare had treated most of the entire forest's animals like dirt and rags. His heinous escapades were known throughout the forest. He was infamous because his claws dripped with the blood of innocent animates. With his unbounded pride, cruelty, and deceit, he thought he was beyond reproof. Therefore, the sweet victory of Tortoise over Hare threw the entire jungle into wild celebrations characterised by whistling, ululation and dancing never known before. The rains pounded the forest in an unprecedented way, too. The leaves of the trees gaily waved at the celebrants. The grass smiled with renewed life and liveliness. The birds chirped, soared and whispered among themselves with an amazing jollity, marveling at the wonder of wonders. The reptiles waltzed and waggled about with excitement.
The groups were many and various beyond count. They seemed to be in the seventh heaven of happiness. For example, there was an army of ants and caterpillars, a herd of buffalo and antelope, a brood of chickens, a litter of cubs, a cowardice of curs, a clowder of cats, a quiver of cobras and an intrusion of cockroaches, all crowning the entire gathering a beauty of diversity. It was a bustle and hustle. A colourful hive of activity, it was. Indeed the forest was intoxicated with the newly found glee of freedom, hope and unity.
Peacock in her many colours swayed and strutted like a comedian. Dove hugged her with her loving wings.
"Guess who is here, compatriots and friends? Who has joined the party? Yes, the queen of all flashy snobs and fakes. Oops! She's here to spoil our coveted party with her sickening colours and conceit!" carped Eagle.
Duck hobbled about and squeaked, "She's welcome. We're different and beautiful, please let us learn to embrace one another with unconditional love like Dove. Queen Peacock symbolises the colours of the rainbow, the diversity of our paradise, the rich forest bestowed upon us by the Supreme Being. What can be more beautiful than that? Nothing."
Queen Bee concurred, her protruding back wiggling in majestic concentration.
On that day, Hyena, a nocturnal drifter, heaved in sight. So did Owl. Ngcethe, the smallest bird in the vicinity, immediately flew off and landed on the neck of Hyena, and before any one animal or bird or insect could ask what was the matter with Ngcethe, he had nestled on the head of Owl.
In fact, he soiled Owl's head with great generosity. When asked about the reason behind his antics, he chortled, "Wee! Wee! Wee! They say night is right for their naughty acts. These two are comrades in night crimes! We don't sleep because of their night craft!"
Lion roared, "No, this is not the time for witch-hunting. Whether these comrades embark on nocturnal sprees or not is neither here nor there. This is not the time to fuel hostilities. This is our carnival, our victory against degradation, our time of freedom. This is the time to bury our differences of the past, and restore dignity and fair play for sake of the present and the future. We are starting on a new page and a new chapter. We therefore call for unity in diversity; we emphasise and preach tolerance and forgiveness. We cannot consolidate the fruits of our freedom and peace with petty squabbles. Let us demonstrate the spirit of love and respect. Even Hen shouldn't entertain an idea of ever swallowing up Locust one day no matter how ravenous for that tender meat she is. No. We seek actions and words that contribute to our collective development. We seek efforts that will promote our thrust towards civilisation. There's a mammoth task ahead of all of us. We have to be level-minded and to revive the spirit of togetherness for our betterment. We have to rebuild where there is a signature of destruction, bring hope where there is despondency, and render security where there is danger. Change mindsets, challenge stereotypes, and chart out the way towards total emancipation and active participation, irrespective of whether one is a bird, insect, animal or reptile.
"In the true spirit of love, peace and progress, let me say this in a humble way, we're now friends, brothers and sisters. By the same token, I mean in the spirit of fairness, we're all equal and worthy of utmost love, respect and protection.
"However, the same cannot be said for Hare and Elephant. I know that Hare's patently embarrassing defeat has come as quite a shock for Elephant. Honestly, in life, whenever one is taking others for granted, the hour of judgment is always coming. It does not matter how long it takes. It does not matter how slippery one is. The moment of truth is always on the doorway, ready to knock and unmask someone's age-long lies, follies and fallings. Just like the hour of our demise. It is always nearing, and rearing its head.
"It is easy for the axe which hacks off the tree, to forget about its wanton act, but the tree cannot forget. To this end, we've been clear and unanimous in that the twosome sow seeds of destruction, trepidation, and hatred. To this end, dark or blue, the twosome has to account for their actions and decisions. They have made their bed, they just have to lie on it. They have to explain to us what they did, and for what reason they did whatever they did. They cannot harvest oranges of life and love, if they sow poison. Not at all. He who puts a seed of death in the soil, cannot expect to reap a fruit of life. It's as basic as that. If those two felons walk scot free, a cow will certainly give birth to a person in Mhlanhlandlela!
"My father will resurrect and storm out of the grave and demand justice! I swear with my own father, who was tricked into holding on to a boulder by Hare until tiredness took its toll on him, and eventually the rock crushed him to death. I am an orphan, but he is still around and alive, and ready to do much more harm. No. Simply No. Hare has always deluded himself that he monopolises wisdom and power. The time of reckoning is upon us. What does not end is portentous, our elders aptly said. What flies, no matter high, at one time or the other does what? Yes, it will land on the surface. There is no wiseacre who licked their own back, our seniors cautioned. Woe to Hare because he deluded himself by thinking that he could lick his own back.
"We want to set an example. The fish has run out of water. Zobohla MaNyosi. It will catch up with him. The tears will flood and dry up, because the sweetness of crime is the bitterness of comeuppance. We want to open a new chapter of justice, and bury prejudice. On the same score, Elephant will also show us where beer is being brewed. (He will face the consequences). He who carries Tortoise on his hand must not cry foul when the confined animal defecates on him. We all know that Elephant played a big role in perpetuating our suffering and humiliation. He stifled our mumblings and jeerings. A torment, he was. Elephant chased away many good birds. Remember, whenever Hare let out bad air that really outraged everyone who was there, Elephant, firstly, did not want to acknowledge that there was an aerial invasion; two, he did not want to see us block our nostrils; and three, he castigated us for complaining that the unpleasant air emanating from his friend and ally was undoubtedly unbearable and unmatched; and lastly, he said we should never ever suggest that his dear friend and ally move away or contain it because he would be merely responding to the call of nature! We, however, insisted that if he really cared about and respected other animates, he would know when and how to rein it in next time!"
Animals, birds, reptiles and insects could not contain the urge to laugh. Lark's eyes were tearful.
"I remember one day, again, Hare let it off, and it was so pervasive and strong that Ngcethe exclaimed with disgust. Elephant did not take kindly to that exclamation, and ordered the small bird to retract his statement and admit that it was a slip of the tongue on his part. Imagine, he then encouraged us to inhale that poison quietly and blissfully as if our bodies were artificial! It means our wellbeing was nothing to the two villains. Hare ate things he ate alone by virtue of his greedy heart. He was heartless. He did not give us anything except problems. Now, Elephant wanted us to be passive receivers of Hare's emissions! Oh, please! We all know how Eagle was tortured for saying Hare should behave himself and refrain from letting his tail off his wild aperture now and then in public. Elephant was a menace. He forgot that in the process, he was fetching a piece of firewood stuck with a noxious scorpion. Through his actions and words, we can see that he was, in effect, taking out his own spear and plunging it into his own his body. Yes, step by step, slowly but surely, he was doing more harm to himself than good. Comrades and friends, our illustrious elders said: We don't mourn the culprit, we shed tears for the victim. He who has a bed must lie on it now. In this case, the two cold-blooded criminals will have no choice but to lie on it."
There was a thunderous round of applause. Touchy and sluggish Snail wriggled towards snorting Pig, and for a while, together they seemed to be performing a special duet, a heavenly ritual of conquest with their jiving bodies. That day, Baboon's protruding forehead did not steal the thunder from his vocal dexterity and bodily wizardry. He was singing with a voice of its own life and exhibiting an eye-riveting go-easy dance style he called a get-down sideways. Even the insects and ants shrieked with boundless joy upon hearing that Elephant, who hitherto had given them a tough time at the beck and call of the hateful Hare would be punished severely.
In fact, chatty Cat clapped his claws, and shouted, "Well done, Snail and Pig! What a scintillating performance to mark a great occasion!" He bent his neck towards Cockroach and remarked, "I am sure we are unanimous that Elephant has to carry his own trunk, because it cannot be too heavy for him now! His mere presence and sight used to get tongues wagging. He was Hare's eyes and ears. He instilled fear in us, we watched whatever we had to say in his presence. Remember, Dog, though loyal as he was -- one day decided to say enough is enough. He said it amongst many animals, including Elephant, that he was going to catch Hare with his claws, shake him down to mother earth and bring him to our court, presided over by none other than our respected, tested and dependable elder animals, so that justice could be administered. You know what happened? The following day, Dog disappeared without as much as a howl or trace! It was a common mystery. However, we all know that evil Elephant had a claw in this foul play. And we know too, under whose instructions Elephant was acting. The Day of Justice has been awaiting them. Finally and fortunately, it is here."
Cockroach nodded, thinking of how quiet Sheep was clubbed by Elephant, acting on the orders of Hare. Elephant had claimed he was beating him up because Sheep had an unsightly habit of keeping mucus on his face. He added that the mucus made him (Elephant) feel like throwing up. However, it turned out that Sheep's crime was his eventual refusal to sing praises for Hare. In a subservient fashion, he used to do whatever he was told to do. Hare used to order him to jump and he would ask, "How high, Sir?"
Hare and Elephant were hauled to a court of justice. The ten-member jury had insects, birds, reptiles and animals in it. Bat presided over the deliberations. Every bird, every reptile, every animal and every insect watched the proceedings with keen interest. Hare wanted to talk, but most animals reacted angrily to this. "Shut up, shut up, father of thieves and killers! Your time is up, can't you see? You have no right to address us. After all, we all know that you want to shield yourself with lies! Not this time. Close your big mouth!"
Bull-frog, whose neck all along had been vibrating so vividly that partially blind Bat could see, croaked, "You sent Elephant to crush all my children, you evil Hare, just because we disagreed on a number of things, especially about your treatment of other animals, reptiles, insects, and birds.
"Today, I want to spit on you. Today, you will die between my feet like lice. I will crush you as I spill your blood, bloody sucker!" He was approaching Hare when Bat ordered other animals to hold him back and calm him down.
For a while, animals seemed to discuss and whisper about the recent actions and words of Bull-frog. Bat cleared his throat and thundered, "Please order! Order! May I call everyone to order. Hush, comrades!" Immediately there was utter silence.
Bat resumed, "Justice is what we seek here? Is that so?"
All the insects, animals, reptiles and birds chorused, "Yes, judge!"
Bat pointed at Hare and Elephant, and said, "These animals deserve to see justice in action. Let us not convict them. Let them convict themselves, if need be. Now, I call upon Hare to respond to the accusations that he has been cheating when it comes to running competition, secondly many birds, animals, reptiles and insects have suffered and perished at his claws."
Hare, looking pale and piteous, stood up, and he was atypically shivering. His voice quivered, "Yes, Judge. I ... I b-b-b ... butchered m-m-m ... more animals, b-b-b ... birds ... ree ... reptiles, inn ... insects than I can ... remember ..." To think that he used to deliver brilliant and coherent speeches, and to compare those presentations to that stuttered revelation was like some kind of a joke or a dream. Animals, reptiles, insects, and reptiles were speechless. They were stunned.
Bat asked Elephant to respond to the accusations of perpetuating of an ogre of intimidations, disappearances, and mass murders under the instructions of Hare. He tried to stand up, and as if his trunk was too heavy for him, he flopped on the ground. His mouth was ajar. His breathing was heavy, and before they could do anything the big animal breathed his last. While everyone was trying to come to terms with the fateful tumble of Elephant, Hare collapsed. His body looked motionless and lifeless. Bat ordered Rodent to fetch cold water, wondering whether Hare was not up to his old tricks. Cold water was poured over the body of the speedy animal. However, cold water did not resurrect Hare from the dead. He was cold ...
Meanwhile, Cat could not believe that Hare was dead. His mind wandered to the fact that was no secret, the truth that he had killed and eaten many an animal by playing a cooking game with them. They said he was worse than a hen that ate her own eggs, and then professed ignorance of their stealthy decrease and disappearance.
Though he was advanced in age, toothless and hard of hearing, he relished tucking into other animal's meat. He derived pleasure from the eating game. And he always had a game up his sleeve. The soot of his pot he always ingeniously rubbed it off on other animals. The game usually started like this: Hare would ask the other animals to heave him up into a huge pot under which a fire raged. A lid would be slapped on the three legged vessel. When the inside of the container got too searing to bear, he would ask the other beast to take off the lid and promptly take him out. Telling the other animal to relax, he would help it to clumber up into the pot and slam the lid on with a cynical smile.
However, after a while, when the other animal duly requested to be rescued from the high temperature, he merrily sang, "Burn, my little animal, burn!" The other animal would plead, "Please, please open up the pot. I'm being fried alive!" He would sing with contentment, "Yes, that suits you well, my little animal! Tshana nyamazana yami tshana (Burn my little animal, burn!)" The poor animal would thus be clandestinely cooked and eaten by none other than him.
He and only he would enjoy the meat like a glutton and after the meal, whistle through the bone opening of that animal, boasting, "I said let us cook one another, he agreed. But I ended up cooking him!" Sometimes he would trick a creature and leave him holding on to a boulder! He considered other clawed animals' meat as his favourite relish.
Cat was still thinking of the antics and travesties of justice committed by Hare and his crony when Bat asked everyone to help ferry the two bodies to a nearby anthill, where the deceased would be laid to rest. Ants, birds, animals, and reptiles did not shirk the task at hand. They struggled with the bodies, panting, falling, and picking themselves up until they arrived at the final resting place for the two friends who were foes of everyone. The anthill was a hub for termites.
After the burial, Tortoise became the animal of the moment, the centre of attraction. He climbed over a tree and addressed the swelling crowd. He looked humble and calm. Even his usually hard and rocky body looked shiny and squashy. The horde of animals and birds thundered, "Tortoise! Tortoise! Be our servant leader!"
He took a long breath. His greeting words were greeted with thunderous ovation. He mentioned that animals came in many and various forms, sizes, and shapes, and that it was common to lump them together for different reasons. He also stressed that animals usually worked as a team for gathering food in an effective and efficient way, for grooming, for protection, for raising of their young, for migration and -- of course, life was too short to be spent whining about -- for playing as well. In response to this, laughter and whistles shot up.
Though he suffered bouts of stammering and characteristic sluggishness, monotony did not see the light of the day as every animal and bird was all ears.
"Just like our bleating or chirping, we all seek to live and thrive. We seek abundant lives. We are animals. We are mammals. The bottom line is that we're all animates. Whether clawed animal or not. Whether reptile or not. Whether bird or insect. Whether black or white. Whether big or small. Whether smelly or smart. What's the point of laughing narcissistically at the physical appearance of one animal? Suppose you 're Baboon, then you start to say Hippo's ugliness is suffocating. Okay ... Fine for you for a while. Think deeper. Now, if Hippopotamus says, well, enough is enough, and hurls the live snake at you, and says Baboon your protruding forehead is just too sharp-edged for comfort.
"In fact, it's like a spear! It makes us jittery. We don't want to live jumpy lives forever. What happens? Anxieties take centre stage. The stage is set for tension to mount, for tempers flare up. What ensues? A war of words that can turn nasty. And you claim to be smart? How can you be so ambivalent as to be nasty and smart? Hate and love at the same time? An author of confusion and destruction. No. A vicious cycle of bickering, breaking, bragging, and even biting does not make this forest a better place to live in. It makes it bitter rather than better. It makes it hellish and devilish. We don't need such a habitat. We don't need devils in our midst. We don't need confusionists running loose. Neither do we need destroyers disguised as builders and peace-makers.
"What happens to Giraffe also happens to Lion. Laugh at an invalid when you are no more. Beyond the grave. That's what our foresighted elders admonished us to bear in mind. Do not ever laugh at the wound of another animate. For you don't know whether tomorrow your body will remain intact and healthy. We know that it is not encouraged for someone to talk ill of the dead, but let us face it. This is the moment of truth. Hare did not laugh with other animals, instead he smiled at them, and how? In his insincere and insidious ways, he smiled at them. He is infamous. He authoured other animals' miseries. History has it. It is recorded. His misdeeds. As if that were not enough, he gloated over their wretchedness, he presided over their ruins, and their sense of helplessness whilst his wife whistled and giggled, curled up in an expansive grass-cushioned couch. Such was Hare. Hare, who is lying there. His actions were divisive and sinister. He favoured those who did not question things or who clapped claws or feet or wings for him, no matter how lost he was. He hated with a passion those who sought to correct his wrongs. Destruction he fed them. Destruction was his trump card. That is his legacy. During times of our misfortunes, for example, long dry spells and drought, what did he do? He shed gallons and gallons of precious but crocodile tears through his cynical tirades and eulogies. What a shameless pretender he was! Never genuine and remorseful. He was ever manipulative, brutal, and slippery. He was one of the meanest animals to live under his self-imposed rule. A reign of terror."
Bull-frog bellowed, "He is in Hell now!"
Nonetheless Tortoise continued with his speech, "This is a dawn of love and unity, a sunrise of hope and humility, a time to forge ahead. This is not my task alone. It is too heavy for one animate to carry alone. I risk breaking down if you don't come to the party. Carry your cross. I carry my cross. This is our struggle. Our collective duty and responsibility. Our exercise for the restoration of dignity and freedom. Our regeneration. Our rebirth. Lessons of the past have been learnt. We can't be seen receding, yes eating the vomit of the times of yore. The era of Hare and his sooty ways is over. He made us look dirty and always used us as his scapegoat. He was mired in mess and callousness, but was in mulish denial. Damage and decay are his legacy. If one day someone had said: "Hare has suffered a heart attack." Would we have accepted or believed the news? No ways! A big NO. We couldn't have. Why? He couldn't suffer a heart attack because he had no heart. He was heartless. However, the past events should inform us, teach us, guide us, and arm us with the map to chart out the way forward. We are our liberators through our actions and visions."
There was another round of applause. The rains soaked the soil of the bush like never before. What a hauntingly rare day it turned out to be.
Article © Ndaba Sibanda. All rights reserved.
Published on 2014-07-14