It was a warm summer's night when my dream caught flame. Lion stood proudly at the edge of the watering hole, basking in the glow of the antelopes, elephants, and even the giraffes, all laughing loudly as hyenas. It struck me then: just how esteemed I would be if I could tell stories like him. Perhaps I wouldn't feel so small, so invisible.
I began my education that very evening, spinning Lion's tales into my web. Over the weeks that followed, my ambition grew. I started to lurk around the edges of rooms, hiding under stools, and even once beneath a calabash, listening attentively for the hint of a story. I learned a few tales, but it wasn't enough. I needed more, I needed them all.
From beneath a mat, I heard it said that Onyankopon, The Sky God, had command over all the stories of the world. My ambition kindled and burst into flame. I wove the most glorious web imaginable—an offering of sorts. I climbed and climbed until I finally stood before him. I bowed all eight of my tired legs before his throne and waited to be called upon.
"Anansi, rise," Onyankopon commanded.
I stood tall and proud. "Oh Great One, please accept my tribute."
Onyankopon nodded. "What can I do for you?"
"I must learn all the stories of the world, immediately," I replied.
"For popularity," I admitted, feeling ashamed.
He frowned. "You claim that fame and esteem grip you, yet you seek so much more."
I nodded, wishing I knew my story as he clearly did.
"To discover what you truly want, you must embark on a journey. You've yet to face anything truly challenging in this life. That must change."
"Your holiness, if I may?" I asked.
"I exhausted myself spinning this web for you over weeks and weeks. I could not imagine a greater challenge."
"It was hard labour, but was it complicated? Did you need to ponder it, or was it straightforward? Not everything easy is simple, and not everything hard is complex."
I nodded, though still confused.
"What you truly seek," he continued, "you will find when you bring me three things: a python, a nest of hornets, and an Aboatia."
I nodded and climbed back down my web.
Determined, I set to my tasks with haste. Speeding to the edge of the jungle, I contemplated how I would find the Mmoatia, let alone capture an Aboatia. I stopped at a huge rock by the watering hole, thinking there was sure to be a python under such a majestic rock.
Sure enough, when I stuck my head under the rock, I saw him slide over to me.
"I sssssee you've chosen to harassssss me thisssss morning, Ananssssssi," he hissed.
"What do you want?"
"Your daughter's hand in marriage."
"I don't have a daughter, you useless fool."
I hadn't thought he would listen, but I had hoped it would buy me time. And it did. Time enough to form a plan as I wound him up.
"One day you will fall in love, and your love will lay an egg. I hope my future love will hatch from that egg and grow into a beautiful serpent to capture my heart."
He lunged at me. I leapt to the edge of the rock, and he lunged again.
"You almost got me there, chale," I said with a grin.
He scowled and struck again. I jumped to a branch, hopping away as he got closer and closer, then jumping back to the edge of the rock.
"I have you now, Anansssssi," he declared.
"Are you sure?" I asked, jumping onto his head.
Then he realised his error. He'd been so focused on slithering after me that he'd tied himself into a knot around a branch. I tugged on his tail, and he gasped for air, then collapsed into sleep. All I needed to do next was drag the branch up my web to Onyankopon. Simple.
After the python was securely bound in my web, I made a pulley ready to transport him to the heavens once I had all three tasks completed. I felt proud of my ingenuity and bold enough to approach the Mmoatia. However, I still lacked a plan.
Next, I ventured deeper into the forest until I reached the hornet's nest. It was a huge, unwieldy structure. I'd have to spin all night to wrap it up enough to be lifted by my web pulley, but that would be the simple part. The difficult part was emptying it of hornets. They wouldn't easily part with their palace. Then it struck me: everyone liked a snack.
I scurried over to my den and grabbed a yam, then I snuck into a nearby hive and took some honey. Once I had my ingredients, I ground and mixed them together in a calabash until I had a delicious paste. I dove straight into it, swimming around until I was coated. Quite the treat , I made.
I lay under the hornet's nest and whistled a simple tune. One hornet popped out, and I lay still, a snack, a mystery, a delicious piece of bait. From below the paste, I opened one of my eyes and saw a flurry of black and red. The hornet flew down, inspected me, and then returned to get the others. They buzzed back and forth, trying to solve the mystery of what this delicious-looking corpse was, until their leader finally came out to investigate.
It took all my power to stay still and not dance for joy when I realised that the flurry of gold and black above me meant every single hornet was out of the nest. I waited until the leader was close to me, then I leapt up and tipped over the calabash. I jumped on top, capturing the very angry hornets under the dish. I grabbed a rock and placed it on top, then spun through the night, almost as furiously as the hornets bashed at the calabash. Once the nest was covered in a thick web, I dragged it over to the pulley and hung it next to the sleeping python.
As I admired my handiwork, I muttered to myself, "How to find the Mmoatia?" I reflected on my persistence in capturing the hornets and reasoned that a similar approach could work with an Aboatia. But first, I had to find where the Mmoatia resided.
Then I remembered. I had seen a flutter of wings from the corner of my eye when I whistled to summon a hornet. Perhaps the Mmoatia liked a whistle too.
My father had warned me about the Mmoatia. If you caught an Aboatia with black wings, you were the luckiest creature in the whole jungle, but the red-winged Mmoatia were dangerous. Whether it was one red-winged Aboatia or a group of red-winged Mmoatia, it was trouble. The red-winged Mmoatia was the most dangerous trickster in town, as sly and troublesome as the black-winged Mmoatia were kind and helpful. The problem was they all hung out together and looked exactly the same from a distance. All Mmoatia, red-winged or black, were tiny creatures with backward-pointing feet and beautiful wings.
The Mmoatia were known in the jungle for their powerful healing abilities, the black and red-winged alike, but the red-winged creatures would heal for trickery. For instance, I recall a rhinoceros being put on trial for deliberately crushing a gazelle. The rhino was sentenced to five whips. After the whipping, the rhino was to march through the jungle so all could see his disgrace. Each time the rhino began his procession, a red-winged Aboatia popped up as if out of thin air and healed the whip marks, sending the rhino back to Lion to be whipped again. After the tenth time, the lion went on the procession with the rhino, feeling every bit as haggard and exhausted as the rhinoceros, until he spotted the mischievous Aboatia and chased her away.
The Mmoatia were not to be trifled with; they did the trifling. But I was so close to the stories. I'd struggled with these tasks: for the first time in my life I'd encountered difficulties and overcome them, and I would not let this final hurdle snatch everything away.
An Aboatia Onyankopon wanted, an Aboatia Onyankopon would get.
I wandered down to a particularly magical-looking stream and sat on a Kum tree leaf. From my green bed I watched the moonlight dazzle on the water and the starlight filter through the saf saf willow leaves. This looked like precisely the type of place a lone Aboatia might find herself. Throwing caution to the wind, I leapt into the stream and lay as still as I could as the gentle current carried me along. Then I heard the flutter of dainty wings. I kept my six eyes firmly shut, but I knew it was an Aboatia. I could sense it.
The Aboatia whispered to herself, her voice the most beautiful sound I'd ever heard. As lovely as the sunbird's song but more delicate. If the Aboatia had been a siren, I'd be under her spell. But alas, too bad for her I was not. She carried me gently to the grass on the edge of the river where I'd floated to, and she began to trickle a steady flow of water onto my head, no doubt to revive me. I opened my eyes, saw the calabash she poured from, and seized my opportunity. Not without great regret, I jumped atop the calabash and tipped it onto Aboatia, wetting her beautiful ebony-tipped wings and then trapping her and her beautiful gasp. I quickly wove a web around the calabash, then slid it under to ensure she couldn't escape when I dragged it over to my web.
I finally had the last task completed. I'd captured a python, a hornet's nest, and now an Aboatia. I was ready to return to Onyankopon.
I climbed as fast as my legs could move.
"Anansi, you did it," Onyankopon said as I approached him in his cloud garden.
"I did," I said, puffed up with pride.
"And what did you learn?"
"I am the slyest animal in the jungle."
"Hmm.” He looked disappointed and immediately lost interest. “Your story could have been different. But you chose. You all choose." He pointed to a cloud that had floated over to my sacrificial web. "You'll find the stories in scrolls. Take one, take them all."
"Thank you, Oh Great One," I whispered, scurrying down the web with the sack of scrolls before he could change his mind.
I returned to my most familiar web, under the saf saf, by the watering hole. There, at home, I opened the first scroll. The contents blew my mind, and I will share them with you when you bring me a calabash full of fruit flies, a jug of palm wine, and a red-winged Aboatia.