The Climb

By Patricia C. McKissack

Print Share

    (A modern-day fable)

    W’Dojo was the oldest and wisest of the Kikuyu elders. His ears had heard many sounds, and his eyes had seen many sights. He was at peace with everything and everyone around him. It was said that W’Dojo could smell the rains long before they fell and that he could touch the soil and tell if it was time to plant. He was rarely wrong. Now W’Dojo had a feeling that he would soon die, and he was preparing for the event.

    Among the young boys of the Kikuyu villages, it was a time for learning. This year they had a special honor: W’Dojo was to be their teacher.

    Thirty boys sat quietly at their teacher’s feet, eager to learn. They had been sent to learn as much of the teacher’s wisdom as they could. When old W’Dojo spoke, he extended an invitation to each boy: “Those who want to learn, come follow me to the mountain. Begin at sunrise. Don’t be afraid or worried, for the way will be clearly marked.”

    All the boys were anxious to learn and chorused, “We will follow you to the mountain.”

    Early the next morning twenty-five boys met on the road. Five boys had decided to sleep late and muttered, “Go on. We will catch up with you later.” They never did.

    By noon the sun was hot and the ground was dry and dusty. However, the path led to a water hole. The boys splashed and played in the fresh and cooling water. Five of the boys decided they would stay longer to play and have fun. “Go on. We will join you later,” they said. Of course they never did. Now only twenty boys traveled toward the mountain.

    The day was long, and the way became narrow and difficult. Rocks blocked the path, and thornbushes scratched the boys’ legs. “We are tired, and our feet are sore,” five of the boys complained. “We must stop. You go on, and we will join you later.” But that evening there were only fifteen boys left.

    The path led to a deep, wide river. Crocodiles, looking like sleeping logs, lined its banks. Several of the boys were terribly frightened and turned back. Only seven boys followed the path past the crocodiles to shallow water, where they crossed in safety.

    It was almost sunset. The boys were tired and hungry. They hadn’t eaten all day. Suddenly, the African plains came alive with the sounds of wild animals. Several of the boys cried out: “We have no fire!” “We have no food!” “We have no spears!” “We have nothing!” Four of them hurried to a nearby village to wait until morning. When they returned the next day, they couldn’t find the path that led to the mountain. So they returned to their homes.

    The three boys who had stayed on the path slept in the trees and ate wild berries. They reached the foot of the mountain the next day at midmorning. The mountain was huge, dark, and cold. The rocks were sharp and ragged. “I am afraid to climb,” said one of the boys, and he turned back.

    Just before they reached the top, the last two boys came to a deep cleft in the rocks. One jumped across without any trouble. The other stood looking into the deep, dark split. “I can’t jump,” he said. “I can’t.”

    “It looks hard,” cried the first boy, “but try. If old W’Dojo could jump across, you can too. He told us not to be afraid. Try.”

    The second boy stood looking at the split in the rock. “No,” he said. “Learning is not worth this much.” He turned and walked away.

    The last boy climbed until he came to a cave in the side of the mountain. W’Dojo sat at the entrance, waiting.

    “Welcome, my brother,” the old one said. “You truly want to learn. And so it shall be. You are worthy of what I have to give. What is your name?”

    The boy answered, “I am Jomo.”

    “Come, Jomo,” said W’Dojo. “You have much to learn.”

    Illustrated by Dick Brown