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The Young Man and the Python: a Fable

SEPTEMBER 12, 2014 By Martin Musa Kokofele

In a certain country along the West Coast of Africa, a certain dreaded disease broke out, with symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, headache and fever. This disease had no known cure, just as it had no name. It baffled medical doctors and international scientists. It baffled everybody. Some people ascribed it to witchcraft, and some to the spiritual state of the country and its leaders, especially the President.

There was no one to tell the President the truth. Instead his ministers and everyone in government sang his praises, saying he was God’s gift to the nation. Even when he decided to marginalize his Vice President for no just cause, no one said anything. His ministers still sang his praises and the President continued behaving as if he was God’s gift to humanity.

In this certain country along the West Coast of Africa, the President was the only star in the firmament. He did not want anybody to do anything for which he would receive praises from the people. A diplomat who knew the President well told journalists in an interview: “He does not only want to be the top dog: he wants to be the only dog at the top.” For this the diplomat was declared persona non grata.

One day however, the marginalized Vice President decided to meet with journalists. He called a press conference and challenged the journalists to be true to their profession by speaking the truth, instead of pushing things under the carpet.

“If you continue like this,” the Vice President told the journalists, “We shall never win the war against this deadly disease. Don’t think for once that the people in the international community do not know what is going on in this country. But they depend on you to be the voice of the people. They can’t do the work for you.”

All the newspapers and radio stations in the capital city carried the story, including the national public broadcaster. The next day the head of the national public broadcaster received strict instructions from the Deputy Minister of Information not to carry any more stories about the Vice President, for so he had been instructed to tell the head of the public broadcaster. At this the head of the public broadcaster threatened to resign, but he was dissuaded from doing so by his kinsmen, who were from the same clan like the President.

In this certain country along the West Coast of Africa, one of the President’s advisers felt very disturbed. He really did not see where the Vice President had gone wrong, in all his dealings with the President and the cabinet ministers. What’s more, the President had depended largely on the support of the Vice President before elections. At that time they were bosom friends. Only sleep could part them. And even recently he also saw nothing wrong with the Vice President calling a press conference. His conscience was disturbed. He wanted to talk to the President about this, and to tell him that what he was doing was not only wrong; it would cost them the next election. Was it that the President did not care again for the party since he already secured a second term? He pondered this for days and finally, he devised a strategy. As a Christian, he had read about the Prophet Nathan and how he made King David admit his guilt concerning the death of Uriah and the marriage of his wife Bathsheba by telling him a story. So he made an appointment to see the President in the evening.

It was a Saturday evening when the Adviser met the President in his farm just outside the capital. After dinner, the Adviser told the President:

“I know we are living in terrible times, Mr. President. But we should not always be looking dismal, as if the world is going to collapse tomorrow. So I want to tell you a story. It is one of those stories my grandmother told me when I was young. It is just a story.” And so the Adviser to the President started his narrative. It was about a young man and a python.

Once upon a time, a very long time ago when animals and human beings could talk to each other, there lived a King whose wife gave birth to identical twins. They so resembled him that he decided he would be personally in charge of bringing them up. He gave these children names which he alone knew. Even the queen, the mother of the twin boys, did not know the names of her twins. Only the King knew their names.

When the boys were five years old, they started appearing in public with their father. When they were ten years old, the King decided to do something dramatic in his kingdom to draw attention to how special these young Princes were. He threw a challenge that anybody who would give the correct names of the twins would receive half of his kingdom and his wealth. This delighted many people in the kingdom. So they started coming to the palace every day in the hope they would hit on the correct names of these young Princes.

This continued for over a month. But no one could even guess the correct names of these young Princes, no matter how hard they tried. Many diviners in the kingdom were consulted by adventurous men looking for a fortune, but all of them failed their clients.

Then one day, a young man who wanted to gain half of the kingdom and the King’s wealth went to visit a fruit garden just outside the town. He was hungry and wanted some fruits to eat. He had visited the palace three times to ask that he be given an opportunity to give the correct names of the Princes. But he had failed on all these three occasions, like many others before and after him.

When he arrived in the fruit garden that day, he saw a python. He was about to run when the python called his name and asked him to stop. Bewildered, he turned to the python and asked how he managed to know his name. The python asked him to forget about that triviality. He told the young man that he knew what the young man wanted. He was wondering how he would know the correct names of the King’s twins. If he helped him to know their names, all he wanted was for the young man to come back and express his gratitude. When the young man agreed to do that, the python showed him the names of the Princes.

It was already late in the evening but the young man could not wait until the next day. He wanted to get out of poverty by gaining half of the kingdom and the King’s wealth. So he went straight to the palace. “I am here, your majesty, to give you the correct names of the twins. And today, half your kingdom and half of your wealth will be mine.”

The King told him he was too sure of himself, and as a young man, he should learn a bit of humility. The young man bragged: ‘I know there is Truth on my side and his twin brother Gratitude cannot afford not to be on my side.’

The King was visibly shaken. For these were the names he had given to the boys when they were eight days old: Truth and Gratitude. How did this young man come up with these names?

The young man inherited half of the kingdom and the wealth of the King. But like all young and inexperienced men, he was overwhelmed. He was not mature to handle the new found power and wealth. He forgot to go back to the python and express his gratitude. And within three months, he lost everything, out of a lawsuit. It was then that he remembered the fruit garden and the python.

One morning he decided to go there perchance he would see the python again and apologise. The python was there. And he called out to the young man as soon as he arrived. “You did not come back to say thanks, my young friend. You forgot Truth and Gratitude, although they made you prosper. What do you want me to do for you this time?”

The young man did not take long to reply. He said he wanted to become wealthy again and he would not forget to come back this time round to express his gratitude. The python agreed. He decided to forget the past and make the young man wealthy again. Within a month the young man became wealthy. In fact he became wealthier than the legendary King Solomon. But what did he do? He gathered forty young men, paid them and said he would lead them to the fruit garden just outside the town, and if they see him talking to a python, they should run after it and kill it.

The young man arrived in the fruit garden early the next morning, with forty of his peers. When the python noticed that he was around, it came out, expecting to be shown gratitude. But out of nowhere, forty young men immediately started running after it with sticks and machetes.

The python ran and ran. So too did the young men, who had been paid to kill the python. They ran for miles. Finally, the python outran the young men, because there was a hill to climb over. After climbing over the hill and leaving the young men far behind, the python saw smoke coming out of a hut. The python ran into this hut where he met an old woman.

“Please hide me,” the python told the old woman. The old woman looked for a secure corner of the hut to hide the python. But the python pleaded with her to find some other place because the desperate young men would search every corner of the hut when they arrived.

“What then should I do?” the old woman asked. The python told the old woman to open her mouth and swallow it. Through that way it would be secure. The old woman refused. But when the python pleaded insistently, the old woman complied and swallowed the python.

By then the forty desperate young men had arrived. They searched everywhere in the hut, when the old woman told them she had seen no python. But they did not believe her. So they started searching. Finally they gave up and went away.

Then the old woman asked the python to come out. But the python refused. I am more secure here than outside, the python told the old woman. The old woman became uncomfortable for days. Even when she ate, no matter how big the amount of food, she never felt satisfied. The python ate everything she ate, leaving the old woman always hungry.

The hawks in the surrounding bushes that the old woman used to feed on her leftover food were no longer getting what they used to get from the old woman. This continued for over a week. Then one day one of the hawks decided to ask the old woman why she was no longer generous.

When she explained her plight, the hawk said it had a solution. The old woman should put cooked food on her head and allow the hawk to sit close by. In addition she should fast that day. If the python grew hungry, and suspected there was cooked food on the old woman’s head, it would come out to eat the food. And the hawk would then fight the python and kill it.

The python felt so hungry that morning because the old woman did not eat anything that it became uncomfortable and decided to come out. It had smelt cooked food on the old woman’s head, and decided to eat it.

Then the hawk pounced on the python and killed it, thus relieving the old woman of her inconvenience and the ingratitude shown to her by the python.

Now who was more ungrateful in the story: the young man or the python?

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