(a Burmese tale)
There was a time when Owl lived like all the other birds, hunting for food during the day and enjoying the fresh air. He liked to visit with friends and bask in the warmth and sunshine. He slept at night, just like all the other birds. This was long ago, a time before Owl ever imagined becoming the creature we know today.
One day — a pretty day, warm and sunny and filled with the scent of blooming lilacs — Owl was sitting in a tree minding his own business, when suddenly a little boy down below spotted him.
The boy had a slingshot, and when he saw Owl, he took aim and fired right at the poor creature.
Owl screeched in pain when the mud from the slingshot pierced him. He cried as the boy ran away, but he didn’t know what to do to stop the pain. After a while, he decided he must ask his friend Crow, who was flying overhead, for some help.
And so he called out to Crow, “What should I do? I’ve been shot!”
Crow hurried to his side and shook his shiny black head back and forth as he examined the wound.
“I don’t know what to do,” Crow finally said. “Let’s go ask Cuckoo. He’s usually wise about these things.”
And so Crow and Owl flew off to visit Cuckoo. Owl was still howling in pain when they arrived, and Crow said, “What can you do to help Owl?”
“Well,” Cuckoo said, thinking it over, “I’ll help. That I can do. But I must be paid in advance.”
Poor Owl. He had no money and nothing else Cuckoo might want. “I have nothing,” he said. “But I promise I’ll find a way to pay you back when I am well again.”
“How can I trust you?” Cuckoo asked. “When you are well, you’ll probably fly away and forget all about me.”
Crow stepped up. “I’ll vouch for my friend,” he said. “If you cure Owl and he does not pay for your services, I shall!”
Cuckoo thought about this for a moment. “Well, OK, then,” he said, and he leaned over and examined the mud pellet that was stuck in Owl’s rump. “Ah, I see. Here is what you must do: Go to the stream. Sit in the water for six hours. I promise this will be the cure.”
Owl was so relieved to hear he would be cured that he flew away as fast as he could, heading straight for the stream. Crow followed him.
At the edge of the stream, Crow sat and waited while Owl soaked his rump in the water. After several hours, the mud pellet began to dissolve, and the pain subsided. Owl sighed with pleasure.
“Ah, I’m feeling better, much better,” he mumbled. At long last, the pellet dissolved completely. The wound was cleansed by the clear, cool spring water.
Owl and Crow began to fly home. When they reached Owl’s branch, they said goodbye, and soon Owl fell fast asleep.
Owl slept well that night, but early the next morning, Cuckoo knocked on his branch.
“Good morning!” Cuckoo said. “How’s my patient today?”
Owl scowled. “I’m not you’re patient. I simply sat in water, and now I’m fine. You did nothing at all.”
“Nothing?” Cuckoo chattered. “Nothing? Are you kidding? I examined you. I diagnosed your malady and prescribed treatment. And now you are fine! I’m a doctor, and I deserve my fee!”
“Not a chance,” Owl said. “You’re no doctor. You knew I would bathe anyway. I bathe almost every day. And you knew that when I bathed, the mud would melt away and I would be fine. It doesn’t matter what you say; I know you simply tried to trick me. I won’t pay you. I’ll never pay. Now go away!”
Furious, Cuckoo flew off to see Crow. After all, Crow had promised to honor his friend’s debt.
When he arrived at Crow’s house, he knocked on the branch and said, “Crow, my friend, good day! I’ve come to collect your friend’s fee. He’s refused to pay me, and the law is the law. You promised to uphold his debt.”
Crow could not believe his ears. He had always considered Owl to be a trustworthy friend.
“He must be joking with you,” Crow said. “Let’s go find him and discuss this matter. I’m sure there’s simply been a misunderstanding. We’ll clear things up.”
So Crow and Cuckoo flew off to find Owl. They looked high and low, but they couldn’t find him anywhere. Owl, you see, was hiding in a hollow tree.
Cuckoo shook his head. “Listen Crow, you promised. You have to pay.”
Poor Crow hung his head. “I’ve no money,” he said. “How can I pay?”
“We’ll ask the judge,” Cuckoo decided. So they went to see Golden Jackal, who was well versed in the law.
Cuckoo pleaded his case. The judge listened thoughtfully.
“The truth,” Golden Jackal said, “is that the law is the law. Crow, because you promised to pay you friend’s debt, you are liable. And because you have no money, you will have to offer your services to Cuckoo.”
So, ever since that day, Crow has looked after Cuckoo’s eggs. As for Owl, he never saw his friend again. Now he hides during the daytime in tree hollows and only comes out at night.