Greedy Spider and Clever Turtle


(An African folktale)

Spider pulled a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and wiped the perspiration from his brow. The hot afternoon sun was yellow white. He had spent the day traveling from house to house in the village, hoping to wheedle a dinner invitation. Alas! His neighbors, who were generally kind and generous, had grown weary of Spider’s shiftless, greedy ways.

“Well,” sighed Spider, “I suppose I shall have to prepare my own supper.”

He shuffled slowly to his cottage. Grumbling at every turn, he managed to put together a rather sumptuous dinner. Just as he sat down and drew his chair close to the table, he heard a rap at the door.

“What now?” mumbled Spider to himself. He opened the door a tiny crack to see a bedraggled turtle staring at him.

“Could you … would you … ,” began Turtle, standing on his hind legs and sniffing hungrily at the delicious aroma that floated through the doorway, “spare a bite for a weary traveler?”

Now Spider hated the thought of sharing anything with anybody, but he feared the ridicule of his neighbors if they should hear of his selfishness. So, reluctantly, he opened the door and nodded to an empty chair at the table. Turtle sat down gratefully and reached for the bowl of steaming yams and the platter of fish.

“Tsk, tsk, my friend,” said Spider loudly. “Where are your manners? Just look at your filthy hands! You must wash them before coming to my table.”

Turtle stared at his dusty paws. Mumbling apologies to his host, he waddled as fast as he could to the river. There he washed his hands thoroughly and scrubbed his face for good measure. As quickly as he could, he returned to Spider’s table. The dish of yams was half-gone, and several fish had been devoured. Eagerly Turtle reached again.

“Dear friend,” scolded Spider even more loudly. “You surely don’t call those hands clean!”

“But the dust from your path … ,” began Turtle. He stopped. He didn’t want to sound ungrateful. Slowly he rose from the table and waddled again to the river. On his return, however, he was careful to walk on the thick grasses so his hands would remain spotless.

Turtle climbed onto his chair only to see the last bite of fish passing Spider’s lips. The bowl of yams was licked clean.

“A delectable dinner, wouldn’t you agree?” said Spider, dabbing his mouth with his napkin.

“To be sure!” answered Turtle disgustedly. “If you are ever near my home, you must let me repay your hospitality.”

Some months later Spider wandered far from his village. Tired and hungry, he stopped beside a quiet river to rest. He spied Turtle sunning himself on a large rock. Spider called to his friend.

“Well, well,” said Turtle, smiling. “At last you have come. You will stay to supper, of course.”

“Of course,” answered Spider eagerly.

“Wait here,” said Turtle. “It will take a short while to prepare.” He disappeared beneath the water. Before long he popped to the surface, munching a juicy clam. “It’s ready,” he called to Spider.

Spider dived eagerly off the rock into the water. He sank a few inches but bobbed immediately to the surface. Try as he might, he simply couldn’t propel his spindly body to the bottom of the river. He flipped. He flopped. But nothing worked.

However, Spider was as cunning as he was greedy. He hurried to the riverbank and stuffed his jacket pockets with pebbles. This time when he jumped off the rock, he sank quickly and plopped right into a chair by Turtle’s table.

What a feast awaited him! On a bed of fresh watercress lay dozens of tiny fish. There were bowls of clams and mussels and a platter of warm eels. Hungrily Spider reached for them.

“Tsk, tsk,” said Turtle loudly. “Where are your manners? It is very rude to come to my table wearing your jacket. You must remove it at once.”

Greedy Spider didn’t stop to think. As quickly as he could, he took off his jacket. Without the weight of the pebbles, he shot to the surface of the river, barely missing a large rock in his ascent. The laughter of Turtle followed him. Realizing the lesson was deserved, Spider headed for his village, still tired and hungry, but much wiser.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Shauna Mooney