Famines are exhausting. Not because of the hunger, that’s something you get used to. Famines are exhausting because of the social scrambling. Every lowlife animal in the rainforest thinks to himself, ‘yes, the herd is weak with starvation, now is my time to shine.’
Me? I liked my position as the wisest storyteller and trickster in the land. I did not want the lion’s throne. I did not want to solve the famine. Like all the other sensible creatures, I planned to wait it out. But my precious son had a different special plan. I couldn’t tell you who raised this one.
One dusty afternoon when we were at the watering hole awaiting our portion of whatever the lion pulled off a skinny carcass that morning, who should appear but my son holding a pot and looking smug. I tried to ignore him, but he began causing palava.
“Citizens of the forest!” He shouted. “We will feast tonight.”
The animals gasped and looked in his direction.
My foolish boy grinned. “Watch. Then feast!” He held up the tiny pot, just about big enough for half a yam, and the wotless bother placed it on a tree stump and began to sing to it. I hung my head in shame, covering six of my eyes. With the other two I watched him as he sang,
please feed my friends,
create a fine feast
with a faraway end.”
I don’t know what shocked me more, the high pitched shrill with which these whiny lyrics were produced from the same boy I had hoped would bring pride to my name; or the fact that the little rascal actually did it.
Food poured out of the pot.
Gari flooded the floor around us and the animals scrambled to gather it up. The baboons shovelled it straight into their mouths then washed it down with great glugs of water from the stream. The chameleons used their tails to sweep gari into leaves they then dragged to their nests. The crocodiles pushed piles into the water and swallowed it as soon as the grains began to swell. There was revelry that night, singing, dancing, laughter and joy filled the air as gari from the pot filled the grass around us right until dawn when it abruptly stopped. Even I got involved against my better judgement.
Because it wasn’t until the morning after the festivities that it struck me. We had been so depleted by the famine that we’d suffered the grave indignity of feasting without meat, without even a vegetable or pepper to accompany plain old boring gari. How pitiful of us all. I had to put things right and remove our collective embarrassment.
Whatever the son could do, the father could do better, I had to change the story. So I woke up my self-satisfied little one trick son.
“Boy, where did you get the pot?” I asked, shaking him to his senses.
He smiled. “Father, I have a tale for you.”
I nodded for him to continue.
He cleared his throat and stood theatrically on his two back legs.
“After a long day of gathering but finding only a single shrivelled Asawa berry I saw a gecko. I chased the gecko down, hoping to snack on his legs, but he raced further and further into the forest until I was in too deep to make my way home. I screamed up to Nyame and kicked at the grass then slumped down by a tree. Under that tree lay three palm nuts. Then I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye and turned to see the most magnificent sight.
A gigantic cricket hopped into a hole. I ignored the cricket and turned back to the palm nuts. I picked the biggest one up and cracked it with a stone, but it rolled away down the cricket’s hole. I picked up the next biggest and cracked it open, but before I could eat it rolled down the hole too. I grabbed the third and prayed to Nyame that it wouldn’t roll away. He mocked me. The shell remained in my hands but the fruit went down the hole with the other nuts.
At this point I’d had enough. I decided to snack on the cricket and the palm nuts I’d cracked, so I jumped into the hole. When I arrived at the bottom, I saw an old haggard grandmother bent double over a yam in a saucepan. I asked her if I could help her. She sent me to gather more yams. She said the yams in her yard would sing to me and tell me to choose them, but I should only take one that said the others were better.
I listened to their songs for whole verses until I noticed a quiet bass singing a chorus about being the worst yam in town. That’s the yam I chose. When I brought it to her she told me to peel the yam and stick the skin in the pot. I was confused, but I always respect my elders so I followed her instructions. The grandma made the peel into the most delicious stew I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. When I was done eating I scraped the bowl clean, then washed it.
The kindly woman cracked her first smile. Then she pointed me to the forest behind her compound and told me to listen to the pots singing and take one that said the others were better.
I did so, and I found this pot. My pot. She told me to sing to it, but let it set the end. She said it was very important that I let it set the end. Then I thanked her and came straight to the village to share the good news.
“A very good tale, my boy,” I said. “A very good tale.”
My son skipped away, puffed up with pride, and I set about finding that gecko.
It didn’t take me long. A spider of my calibre is a deft hunter. I followed the skinny little gecko into the forest, pretended to kick at the grass and slumped by a palm tree. Once I saw a cricket I grabbed three palm nuts and flicked them one by one into the hole the cricket just jumped down. Then I followed him to meet the grandmother.
“Woman, may I help you.”
She kissed her teeth so loudly I almost jumped out of my hair. “What do you want Anansi?”
“Ah, my reputation precedes me.”
She rolled her eyes and sighed. “Just get the yams. The ones that say the others are better.”
“Yes mama.” I said.
I walked into the yard and saw the biggest, most delicious looking yam I’d ever seen. He sang, “No better yam has grown from soil, no better yam than me, no better yam could ever be, pick me and you’ll see.” I’m no fool, I grabbed that yam out of the soil faster than you could say, ‘fufu time.’
The yam was disgusting. The worst manure I’ve tasted in all my days. Filth. I poured it into the dirt outside and asked if I could take a pot.
She sighed. “Take one with a small ego, one that says the others are better.”
I nodded, then headed outside to be the hero I was hatched to be. I ignored the stumpy, pathetic little calabash looking pots singing tales of appreciation for the others. I stuck to my gut and went straight for the huge gleaming gold pot in the middle of the yard. The pot was stunning. The gloious pot was shaped perfectly, with bright blues and royal purples and reds lining the top, constrating wonderfully with the shimmering gold. I imagined swimming in the pot. I fantasied about a parade with the hyenas carrying me through the forest in my glorious pot.
I hugged the magnificent pot then tied it to my back using some vines I found tied around bundles of sticks, and lugged my beautiful pot back to the village.
When I got home, I called for a parade. That it was the middle of the night was irrelevant.
“Citizens of the forest!” I shouted. “We will truly feast tonight.”
The animals groggily came over to see what the noise was about.
I flashed my winning smile. “Watch. Then feast!” I held up the magnificent pot, placed it on a tree stump and began to sing to it.
Feed us right now,
With a feast fit for Kings
Make the people say wow.”
The pot began the shake. The ground began to rumble. Out of the pot climbed gruesome disfigured scorpions, locusts, even a rabid, hairless wombat. Horrors of the sort we’d never seen spilled out and rushed at us.
The giant gecko ran over and screeched at me, “feast on your jealousy, your greed and your arrogance.” As if I was to blame for this defective pot's juju.
Rather than defend me, the animals began to growl in anger and I knew I needed to disappear.
I made darkness my cover and scurried to the corner of the room faster than you could say, ‘step on that spider.’