Whenever Gertruida starts telling them stories, the little group in the bar falls silent, paying close attention to what she says. Gertruida never just tells a story – she has the uncanny ability to recount fables at very strategic times; when the fable really mirrors the bit of history unfolding in the current situation.
That’s why – when she finally falls silent – that they all stare out of the window, wondering how Boggel managed to understand while they didn’t.
A long time ago (Gertruida says) and also in recent times (typical Gertruida), a jackal spied a rabbit in the tall grass. Now, this was exactly what Jackal felt like at the time: a nice, young, succulent rabbit, slowly roasted over a few embers and served with a few termites on the side.
The problem was that Jackal was on the one side of a river, and the rabbit was feeding on the opposite bank. Jackal, like many of his brothers, had never learnt to swim. Despite this handicap, Jackal wasn’t entirely stupid – he was even more cunning than Snake and Scorpion combined. He was also ruthless, a trait the other animals were aware of all too clearly.
So Jackal sat down, eyed the rabbit, and imagined how much he’d enjoy his next meal. But how? How to get to that rabbit? The problem had to be solved!
He had, of course, seen other animals swim. Badger was very good at it and even Buffalo could manage. Other animals, however, had failed dismally; like Tortoise for instance. The way Tortoise drowned, made Jackal very worried. If he were to attempt – and failed – that’d mean the end of him. He wasn’t prepared for that yet.
He then thought of getting help from Owl.. As one that preferred hunting at night, Owl would be sleeping during the day and be an easy one to catch. And once he’d convinced Owl to take him across, he’d be onto Rabbit in a flash. Owl was, after all, big and strong and more than capable of carrying his weight.
Owl was, to say the least, not impressed. Jackal reminded Owl that he knew exactly where Owl’s nest was and that he’d make a point of stealing the next batch of chicks. Owl grumbled and moaned, for he actually liked Rabbit; but because of Jackal’s threats, he gave in with a heavy heart.
“You promise to leave me alone after this, and never touch my nest?” Owl didn’t trust Jackal very much.
“Of course!” Jackal said with a toothy grin. “You won’t have to worry about that. You have my word.”
Well, Owl flew Jackal across and put him down on the other side. Rabbit, however, saw him coming and hid behind a huge rock.
“The Rabbit,” he said in a squeaky, shrill voice like mouse’s, “has gone to Eagle. She’s in a foul mood. If I were you, Jackal, I’d go away.”
But Jackal would have none of that. He wanted that Rabbit and no Eagle was going to stop him. So he crept up the hill where Eagle lived and tried to see what was in her nest. And Eagle, sharp-eyed as ever – saw him coming and threw a few small stones at him. Jackal persisted and approached even closer. Then Eagle flew up high, high in the sky, and dropped a large rock on Jackal’s head. The blow was so accurate and so hard that Jackal became confused. He swore he’d get Eagle if that’s the last thing he’d do. And Eagle laughed, sprouted celebratory feathers, and flew off to her inaccessible nest on a high cliff.
“Do what you like, Jackal,” she shouted, “but by now all the animals have seen your cunning and cruelty. Your days as a glorious hunter is over. From now on you’ll only prey on the dumb and the stupid.”
And so it was. Jackall could not go back to his home any longer – the river was too full and he still couldn’t swim. Owl laughed at him, telling im that as long as he couldn’t cross the river, he’d never be able to threaten his nest again. And Jackal looked around him, realised he couldn’t get to his old home and his hunting grounds at all, and became exceedingly angry.
“It didn’t help, of course. Getting angry never solved a problem.” Gertruida gets up to walk to the window. Outside, the sun was setting in a wonderful array of colours. “So Jackal, my friends, tried to steal sheep from farmers after that. Still does it to this day. But the farmers put up fences and traps and got vicious dogs to protect them. And Jackal became the most hated animal amongst the farmers and he had to flee into the wilderness to escape.”
She falls silent and turns around. The puzzled frowns on her audience’s faces pleased her tremendously.
It is Boggel who breaks the silence.
“That wasn’t a fable, Gertruida. Fables are pure fiction. This is too new, too recent, too true, to be called a fable. “
Gertruida’s smile broadened. “Yes, Eagle got him, didn’t she? Without her, Rabbit wouldn’t have survived.”