I recently told this lovely story to my children and thought I’d share it as it never fails to make me smile.
Come gather round and I will tell you a tale from far, far away.
Once upon a time, in a land of warmth and sunshine, with years of heat and rain, there lived an old woman. She was very poor and her clothes were ragged and and her tablecloths and curtains were torn. She lived simply, in a small hut, with broken windows and door, with little to provide comfort. Her life may have been hard in many ways, but she loved the land. She grew beans and sweet potatoes; mango and watermelon; and many, many other things. She kept goats and chickens. But her favourite of all the plants and animals that she looked after, were the bees and the honey that they produced. Because she was good to the land and to all the creatures, the land was good to her and her harvest was bountiful.
She had honey. So much honey. She filled jars and bowls and jugs and cups FULL of honey. She kept some for herself, gave some to her friends and neighbours and what was left she determined to sell at the market so that she might have money to buy cloth to make the clothes that she so needed. So one bright morning, she packed her honey to sell in a large bowl and set off, carrying the honey to market.
Well, the road was long and the day was warm and the bowl was heavy. It was hard work for the old woman to carry the weight of the honey and as she was walked she tripped on a stone in the road and toppled forward, the bowl of honey falling for her hands, CRASH to the floor. The bowl smashed to pieces and the honey oozed out all over the road.
And then oh! How she did wail! “Oh Papa God! Papa God! Misery! Oh Misery! Why have you done this to me, Papa God? Why do you give me so much misery? So much misery, Papa God?”
And with that, she began her sorry way home, wailing as she went.
All this time, a little monkey had sat in the tree above, watching, and being a curious little monkey he climbed down from the tree to see what all the fuss was about. He stuck his finger into the oozing honey and stuck it in his mouth to taste.
“Oh my!” Thought the little monkey. “This tastes so good! Is this misery? Misery is the sweetest, most wonderful thing I have ever tasted.”
Again and again the little monkey stuck his finger into the sticky mess and licked and licked until the honey had all gone.
“This misery tastes so sweet, so good. I want more misery. If Papa God gave her all this misery, perhaps he will give me some too.”
So off the little monkey sprang back up the tree and from here he looked out for the very tallest tree that he could see. He then climbed and climbed and climbed and climbed until he came to the house of Papa God.
“Little monkey, what are you doing here? Why have you come to my house?” asked Papa God.
“Oh, Papa God! Papa God!” Cried the monkey, “I want misery. Please give me misery!”
“Little monkey,” replied Papa God, “There is much misery in the world. I thought that I had given everyone enough misery to bear?”
“Oh no!” Exclaimed the monkey, “I have tasted misery and it is SO sweet. I want more misery!”
“Little monkey,” replied Papa God, “Are you sure?”
“Oh yes, Papa God! Oh yes, yes, yes. I want MORE misery!”
“Very well, little monkey,” replied Papa God, “If it’s misery that you want, then you shall have it, but you must do exactly as I tell you.”
“Yes! Yes! Papa God!” Cried the monkey and he was so excited as Papa God handed him a leather pouch and said:
“Little monkey, take this pouch out into the desert, far away from any living thing. There must be no animals, no flowers, no trees. Nothing but sand and dust for miles around. Once you get there, then and only then may you open the pouch. Then you will have all the misery that you will ever want.”
And with that, the little monkey took the leather pouch and left for the desert.
He walked and walked until he found a place where there were no animals, no flowers and no trees. Where there was nothing but sand and dust for miles around. Then, weary and with tired feet, he sat down and opened the pouch.
From out of the pouch poured dogs. Huge black dogs with shining sharp teeth and slavering jaws, growling and snapping! Dogs such as a little monkey would never want to see. Dogs such as terrorfied the little monkey and he began to run.
But there were no flowers and no plants in which to hide and no trees up which to climb – for a monkey will always retreat to the highest boughs when there is trouble. There was no help for the little monkey! He ran and ran and ran and always it seemed that the dogs were just behind him, snapping at his heels!
Poor little monkey was exhausted. He could not run for much longer! Suddenly a tree appeared: a large, tall tree in the middle of the desert. Monkey scrabbled up it, high, high, high he went, up away from the dogs with their shining sharp teeth and slavering jaws. High, high, high to safety.
The dogs snapped and snarled at the base of the tree, but try as they might they could not reach the little monkey and one-by-one they slunk away and after a little while, little monkey climbed down and went home. Never again would the little monkey ask Papa God for misery.
And now I ask you?
Why was there a tree in the middle of the desert where no flower and no other trees grew? Who could put such a tall, strong tree in the middle of the desert?
Why? Papa God, of course! That’s who! For Papa God knows that there is only so much misery that even a little, simple monkey can take.
I love this story, it never fails to cheer me. My children love it too, BUT, there is one loose end, one thing that troubles my daughter from the original story. I know it is best to let the wisdom of such traditional tales sink in, to let the child internalise the story in their own way, but the following thing worries my daughter:
And what of the poor old woman, whose precious honey was spilt on the wayside on her way to market?
Well, she went home, empty-handed, lamenting her loss of her honey to sell, worried for what the future months would bring. But when she arrived home she found a parcel on her doorstep, a parcel filled with cloth, thread, needles and ribbons to make clothes, a note with a promise to fix her windows and mend her door. Her friends and neighbors, thankful for her kind gift of honey to them had come together to make her a present of thanks, full of everything that she might want to fix her ragged clothes and mend her torn sheets and curtains, to provide comfort and shelter to her.
And the old woman lived in comfort, tending her land and her animals and caring for her friends and neighbours with her gifts of vegetables, fruit and honey for many years to come.
I think, for Nin, injustice really matters, for her, “IT’S NOT FAIR!” is a common complaint, but she extends this beyond herself and things have to ‘be fair’ for everyone, everyone has to do The Right Thing (in her eyes – and sometimes The Right Thing is a little *interesting* in the world of Nin, because it has to be HER IDEA of what is right….)
So, for those children who notice and are really bothered by the old woman’s loss, I added the addendum. It may not be kosher story-telling, because tbh, story-telling really ain’t my forte, but well, it satisfies something for Nin and that’s what matters to me (and her 😉 )