(a West African folktale)
Once upon a time, Anansi the spider was walking along the road on his eight short, stubby legs. That’s right — there was a time when Anansi’s legs were not long and skinny. You’re probably wondering how they got that way, so I’ll tell you the tale.
It was a wintry day, and there was Anansi, walking home for some of his wife’s yummy pot roast, when he suddenly smelled something delicious.
“Soup,” he said, stopping in his tracks. “Carrot soup. I’d recognize that smell anywhere.”
Anansi’s wife was a fine cook, but Anansi was greedy, and he always wanted to eat whatever others were cooking. He sniffed the air and realized the smell was coming from rabbit’s warren.
“Hello, rabbit!” he called. “Is that carrot soup you’re cooking?”
Rabbit popped out of his warren and greeted Anansi. “That’s right,” he said. “Would you like to join me for a meal? It’s not quite ready, but it will be soon.”
Anansi was tempted to stay, but he knew if he stayed and waited, rabbit might ask him to set the table or sweep the floor or do some other chore, and Anansi was lazy.
“I’d love to join you,” Anansi said, “but I have some pressing things to do. Why don’t I spin a length of web and tie one end around my leg and the other end around your soup pot, and you can tug on the web when the soup is all ready to eat. I’ll come running back.”
Rabbit agreed to this plan, and so they tied one end of the web to the pot and the other end to one of Anansi’s eight legs.
“See you later!” Anansi called as he walked on.
A few minutes later, Anansi was passing monkey’s house when he smelled something delicious.
“Do I smell banana bread?” he sniffed the air. “Yes, I do.”
Just then monkey appeared. “Hello, Anansi! Would you like to join me for dinner tonight? I know you love banana bread.”
Naturally Anansi was tempted, but he knew if he stayed, monkey would ask him to wash the dishes or iron the tablecloth or any number of other chores. So, instead, he said, “I have some urgent matters to attend to, but why don’t I spin a length of web and tie one end around my leg and the other end around your stove? When the banana bread is ready, you can tug on my web, and I’ll come running.”
“Good idea,” monkey agreed, and so they tied one end of the web to monkey’s stove and the other end to one of Anansi’s legs, and Anansi waved farewell.
Off he strolled, his mouth watering with anticipation of the wonderful meals ahead. Next, Anansi happened past fox’s den.
“I smell beans and rice!” he cried, and fox invited him to stay for dinner. But once again, Anansi worried about the chores fox might ask him to do, so he tied one end of a web to his leg and another end to fox’s cooking pot.
“Just tug on the web when dinner is done!” Anansi said. “I’ll come running fast!”
Anansi kept walking. When he passed elephant’s house, he smelled sweet plantains. At rhino’s pond, the scent of garlic and mashed potatoes nearly toppled him. Outside giraffe’s house, he smelled enticing greens. At aardvark’s place, he smelled butter and rolls. Squirrel was baking a loaf of nutty bread.
At everyone’s house, Anansi tied one end of a web to one leg and the other end to his friends’ pots and pans, ovens and stoves.
“Just tug when dinner’s ready!” Anansi said to each one.
On he walked, dreaming of the meals he was going to eat. “Oh, I am a genius!” he said. “So many lovely meals, but no chores at all. I am smart! I wonder who will tug first.”
At that moment, Anansi felt a tug on one of his legs. “It’s rabbit!” he sighed. “Oh, carrot soup!”
But just as he began to turn toward rabbit’s house, he felt another tug. “Oh dear, that’s monkey and the banana bread.”
And he thought about turning toward monkey’s house, but as he was pondering which house to visit first, he felt a tug on another leg, and then another, and then another. Soon, every one of Anansi’s legs was being pulled in a different direction.
“Help!” he cried, and he tried to tug back, but the tugging only continued. Anansi didn’t know what to do.
Suddenly he saw the freezing river up ahead. “I’ll just leap in there!” he said. “The water will wash the webs from my legs!”
So he leaped into that frigid water, and one by one, the webs washed away. Exhausted and shivering but free at last, Anansi climbed onto the shore. He shook himself dry, looked around, and that’s when he noticed: His legs had been stretched, and now they were skinny and long.
He hurried home to eat his wife’s pot roast, but when he reached his house, she almost didn’t recognize him.
“What happened to you?” his wife asked.
“Oh, it’s a long story, but I’m too hungry to speak. I need some pot roast!”
His wife shrugged. “But it’s way past dinnertime, Anansi. The pot roast is gone.”
Ever since that day, Anansi has had eight skinny legs, but he still visits everyone’s house, searching for food.