Look! There’s a honey bird. If we follow, it will lead us to honey,” exclaimed Kirmani to his young brother, Suku.
The two African boys, dressed in khaki shorts, were playing lion hunting on the edge of their village.
“Tye (Hurry)! Tye!” urged Suku.
Dropping their assegais (spears) they ran to their mother for gourds to gather the honey in. Then one of the boys lighted a torch from the cooking fire to smoke out the bees.
“Be sure to leave some honey for the bird,” called their mother as they ran off.
“Nidyo (Yes),” Suku answered while Kirmani laughed.
“Don’t you believe the old tale that you must leave a share of honey for the bird, or it will lead you into danger?” asked Suku.
“That is women’s and old men’s talk,” replied Kirmani scornfully.
“But what of Abu’s father who took all the honey from a hive. He was led on by the bird, so they say, and ended up in a leopard’s belly,” persisted Suku.
Kirmani didn’t argue. He picked up the assegais.
Suku carried the gourds and Kirmani the smoldering torch of grease-soaked moss tied to a long stick.
As they trotted across the veldt dotted with wait-a-bit thornbush, a little gray bird flew back and forth just as though it were making sure they would follow. After the bird led them into the forest, it disappeared into the dense foliage. Kirmani ran ahead, but Suku was thinking. Should I leave honey for the bird even though Kirmani won’t?
“Look! There’s the bird. It’s following the old animal trail,” Kirmani called excitedly.
When Suku caught up, the bird had settled on a branch of a moss-covered tree. Bees were streaming in and out through a small hole in the trunk. “The bird has guided us to honey!” cried Suku, clapping his hands.
Kirmani poked at the hole with his assegai. Rotting wood fell away, leaving a big opening. He thrust the torch inside and smoked out the angry bees.
Suku stood on Kirmani’s shoulders to reach a branch near the hole. He pulled himself up onto the branch and then peered inside. “There is much honey,” he called gleefully.
Kirmani scrambled up the tree and with sticks the boys scraped honey into their gourds. The bird hovered above them, crying plaintively.
When Suku had all the honey he could reach, he slid down the tree. Kirmani scraped out the last bit, licked his stick, then dropped to the ground.
“Nothing for the silly bird,” he said boldly.
The bird lit on the bee tree but soon flew off, calling anxiously.
“It’s coaxing us on,” said Kirmani. “It may guide us to another hive. Suku, you’re not afraid the bird will lead us into danger are you?” He ran ahead. “I dare you to follow it.”
Suku hesitated. We’re getting deeper into the jungle, he thought uneasily. We should have left the bird a share of honey. But he couldn’t ignore a dare. Reluctantly he started to follow.
Suddenly Suku heard a crack, a swoosh, and a frightened cry from Kirmani. He raced ahead and found his brother with his legs pinned beneath a heavy branch from a tree. He tried to lever the branch off Kirmani’s legs with his assegai, but the spear shaft broke.
“Ayah! Ayah! I am going to die,” moaned Kirmani. “The old tale is true. The bird is having its revenge.”
“I will go and tell father,” said Suku and thrusting an assegai into Kirmani’s hand, he ran off for help.
Kirmani groaned with pain. He could hardly move, and he was alone in the jungle with danger all around him. Maybe the honey birdwill bring a leopard to kill me, he thought despairingly. Nervously, he peered around. To his astonishment, the bird was perched on a branch overhead.
“It has not flown off to find a leopard,” he murmured half aloud. “It’s only eyeing my honey gourd.” Some of his fear left him.
Kirmani’s gourd was sitting on the ground nearby. With his assegai, he nudged it and spilled some honey. He kept still. Presently the bird flew down and began eating the amber treat.
As Kirmani watched, he remembered what Brother Andrew, his teacher, had said about the honey bird not wanting to seek revenge. The thought made him feel better.
Soon Suku returned with their father and a rescue party. They lifted the heavy branch off Kirmani’s leg, made a vine litter, and carried him home.
While Brother Andrew dressed his wounds, Kirmani told his story. “You must know now that the bird was guiding you to another bee tree because it was hungry,” Brother Andrew explained. “It cannot get the honey for itself and you left it nothing. Don’t you think the honey guide deserved a share?”
Kirmani felt ashamed. “Suku wanted to leave some for the honey bird, but I didn’t understand. From now on when the little bird guides me to honey, I won’t be greedy. I will always leave it a share.”