Omir the Storyteller

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Strength Contest


One day many years ago, farther back than even the oldest and wisest of men can remember . . .

The animals were bored.

It was a hot day in the jungle. In fact it was so hot, Leopard was chasing Gazelle . . . and they were both walking. (Thank you Henny Youngman, wherever you are.)

It was so hot the animals just didn't feel like doing anything.

Finally, along toward evening, when things began to cool a bit, one of the animals had an idea. "Let's have a strength contest!"

No one remembers whose idea it was, but all the animals thought it was a great idea! They decided to hold the contest on Saturday, in the cool of the morning, when they would all be feeling their strongest.

So, Saturday came around, and the animals began to arrive for the strength contest. First was Chimpanzee, who bounded around and swung from the trees and flexed his muscles.

Then came Deer, followed by Leopard, Python, Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus, Bushback . . . and finally, Elephant. All of the animals in the jungle were there. Some came to participate, and some came to watch.

Did I say Elephant was last? If so I misspoke, for the last one to the strength contest was Man. Man was last because he needed to take some extra time. You see, Man had brought his gun with him, and he had to find a tree to hide his gun behind.

Chimpanzee started the contest. He jumped, and he flipped, and he swung from one tree to another . . . and then to another farther away . . . and then to one still farther away than that! All the animals were most impressed, and cheered loudly.

Deer ran almost to the horizon, then ran back, and back and forth again. Everyone marveled at the deer's speed, and agreed that it was her strength that allowed her to run so fast.

Leopard flexed his claws and dug into the ground. Oh, how the earth flew! The others marveled at how well Leopard could dig.

And so the animals continued, leaping and squeezing and running and trampling and digging and all, until it came time for Elephant to show his strength. Elephant picked up a recently-fallen tree with his trunk, as big around as Gorilla's stomach, and tossed that log right into the river with a mighty splash! Everyone was most impressed and agreed that just to look at Elephant was to look at strength.

Then Man's turn came. He stepped out into the clearing and did some forward somersaults, then some backward somersaults, then cartwheeled and finished it up with a great leap into the air.

The animals looked at each other and talked among themselves. "What did you think?" "Well, that was good, but was it strength?" "I don't think he did anything Chimpanzee didn't do." "Yes, and Chimpanzee did it better." "And showed more strength besides."

This made Man angry.

So Man got down on all fours and started to dig in the ground. He dug and he dug, and as he dug the animals continued to talk. "Those are some large clods of earth." "Yes, but you know, they aren't going as far into the air as Leopard sent his." "And he's not digging nearly as fast as Leopard."

This made Man even angrier.

And so it continued. Man squeezed, but not as powerfully as Python; he ran, but not as fast as Deer; he could swim, but not as gracefully as Hippopotamus. With every attempt Man became angrier and angrier.

Then Man climbed to the top of the coconut tree and started pitching coconuts as far as he could throw them. No one had thrown anything yet, so Man thought maybe the animals would appreciate this feat. But when Man ran out of coconuts Elephant walked over to where the coconuts had landed. Elephant said nothing, and as the other animals looked on to see what Elephant would do, he picked up the cocohuts one by one, and started tossing them straight over the tree Man had thrown them out of, and they flew just as far to the other side of the tree.

This made Man angriest of all. So Man ran to the tree where he had concealed his gun. He ran back to the clearing, lifted his gun, aimed, and -- blam -- fired.

The bullet hit Elephant right behind the ear, and Elephant fell over dead.

Man pumped his fist into the air. "How's that for strength?" he shouted . . .

And then realized he was boasting to empty air, for the other animals had all fled into the jungle.

I said at the beginning of the story that this happened so long ago that not even the wisest and oldest of men remember. But the animals remember, and they still talk about Man, and they still remind each other to run away when Man enters the jungle. Because of all the creatures in the world, they know that Man is the only one who does not know the difference . . .

between strength . . .

and death.


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