(a Laotian folktale)
Once upon a time a man lived beneath a wild fig tree. He did nothing but lie there day and night, waiting for a wild fig to fall into his mouth, and people began to call him Mr. Lazybones.
At first people were only curious about him. But as time passed, they began to mock him. “He’s never worked a day in his life,” people sneered.
“He’ll never amount to anything,” others said.
“He doesn’t plant,” farmers said. “He doesn’t hunt,” hunters complained. “If those figs didn’t drop from the tree, he would starve.”
Bullies would tease him mercilessly, and some even threw rocks at him.
But Mr. Lazybones was so lazy he didn’t do a thing to respond. He simply lay still beneath that tree with his mouth opened wide, waiting for the moment the fruit would fall from a branch and land upon his tongue. And oh how he savored those figs!
One warm day a great wind began to blow, and these figs began to drop, one after another, but they didn’t drop to the ground or onto Mr. Lazybones’ tongue. The wind tossed them through the air; they swirled and whirled and landed in a nearby stream. Bobbing in the current, they flowed downstream.
It just so happened that the king’s niece was sitting by the riverbank whiling away the time, enjoying the feel of that wind on her cheeks and the sight of the bright blue sky overhead. Suddenly she noticed those figs floating by, and she reached out and picked one and ate it.
She was amazed by its delicious taste, and she vowed then and there that she would find out who these figs belonged to, and she would marry that man.
She hurried home, and she told her uncle about the figs and her plans to marry. Because he wanted only her happiness, he promised to find out who owned those figs. He sent out a proclamation: “All fig growers from every corner of the land must come to the palace and bring along a sample of his fruit.”
Most people pay close attention to a king’s proclamation, and sure enough, from near and far the fig growers came to the palace, bringing their fruits along in baskets and barrels and bushels.
The king’s servants set those figs upon a long table spread with white silk, and the king’s niece tasted each and every one. “These are marvelous,” she said each time, and they were sweet and fragrant, but none tasted as delicious as that fig she had found in the stream.
The king’s niece was disappointed, but no one was more disappointed than the king. “I must find the man who grows the figs she loves!” he declared.
He stood before the crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen, is there any fig grower in this land who has not appeared before me this day? My niece has not found the figs she loves.”
The people whispered among themselves for a moment, and soon someone laughed, and once he laughed, the others began to laugh too.
“Why do you laugh?” the king’s niece asked.
One man walked forward and said meekly, “There’s one fig grower who has not appeared today — Mr. Lazybones. He’s too lazy to travel to court.”
“Then I shall go to him!” the king’s niece said, and so the king arranged for a litter to take her to Mr. Lazybones’ tree.
When she found him lying half-asleep beneath the tree, she reached up, plucked a fig from the tree and tasted it.
She knew at once she had found the man she was going to marry, the man who grew the most delicious figs in the world. “I’m going to marry you,” she said to Mr. Lazybones, and she went back to the palace to tell her uncle.
Naturally the king was sad hearing this news. “He’s such a lazy man,” he said. “Are you sure this is someone you wish to marry?”
“Yes, uncle,” the king’s niece said. “I’m certain.”
The king could never say no to his niece, but he had to stop her from this madness. “Marry him and you will lose your inheritance. Marry him and you will never live in this palace!” he threatened.
His niece did not care, and she and Mr. Lazybones married. For a while they lived together happily and fruitfully beneath Mr. Lazybones’ fig tree. They ate delicious figs to their hearts’ content.
But eventually the tree ceased bearing fruit, and before long the king’s niece grew terribly ill.
Mr. Lazybones was heartbroken. He had grown to love his wife. Never before had anyone been so kind and good to him. Never before had someone loved him the way that she had. He could not lose her.
Mr. Lazybones understood that in order to keep his wife alive, he had to work. So he set about at once planting fig trees. He worked night and day, and before long his new trees began to grow, and their fruit was just as delicious as that first tree. The land became lush, and with such marvelous fruit to eat, his wife became healthy again.
When the king heard the news of all Mr. Lazybones had done, of the great love he showed for his wife, he invited the couple to live in the palace with him.
There Mr. Lazybones and his wife lived happily and comfortably. And because Mr. Lazybones did not have to work, he would often sit upon his chair and think, “When I was poor they called me Lazybones and teased me and threw rocks at me, but now that I am rich they call me prince and praise my name.”
He laughed quietly to himself, thinking of the foolishness of folk.