(a South American tale)
Once upon a time, a man named Oumar lived with his wife in a camp near a thick forest. Oumar was content with his life. Most days he was happy to do little more than wander the forest picking avocadoes. He called the fruit ahuacatl, as was the custom in his village. He loved the fruit, and he ate avocadoes day and night and crooned about the taste.
His wife, Mariam, complained that he loved the ahuacatl more than he loved her, but when she said this Oumar only laughed and said, gently, “But Mariam, who doesn’t love the ahuacatl?”
One morning, he departed the camp to go in search of avocadoes and firewood.
“I’ll be home in the evening,” he said as he waved farewell.
Meanwhile, Mariam filled a tub with water to wash their clothes.
As she was washing, a long, sneaky tapir slinked into the camp and when he saw beautiful Mariam, he fell instantly in love.
He crept closer and closer to her and whispered, “Good day, beautiful lady. I’ve never seen anyone as lovely as you.”
The tapir’s voice was as smooth as honey, as rich as chocolate and as warm as buttery toast. He raised his long snout, showed his teeth and sniffed the air.
When Mariam first saw him, she was afraid, but he moved closer still and said, “Don’t be afraid. I wish only to tell you I’ve fallen in love you.”
Mariam blushed and turned away, but the tapir went on speaking lovely words. After a while, she, too, had fallen in love.
“Beautiful lady, won’t you run away with me?” the tapir asked.
“What will I tell my husband?” she asked.
“He will not care,” the tapir said. “He loves only his avocadoes.”
When she heard this, Mariam thought she must run away. And so she and the tapir made a plan.
Early the next morning, as Oumar prepared to go into the forest, Mariam said, “I’ll come along.”
“Very well,” Oumar said. “With your help, I’ll collect even more avocadoes.”
They set off into the forest, but Oumar had no idea the tapir was hiding behind a tree not far away from them.
“Look there,” Mariam said, pointing at the top of that tree. “You should climb up there and pick those avocadoes. They look delicious.”
So Oumar climbed the tree to gather fruit, and Mariam waited down below. When he climbed down, she was holding a huge rock.
“What’s that rock for?” Oumar asked as he filled their basket.
But Mariam said nothing. Instead, she raised the rock and knocked Oumar on the head. When he collapsed, she grabbed his basket, and she and the tapir raced away into the forest.
Poor Oumar lay there for hours, and at last when he awakened, his head throbbed and he saw that his wife was gone.
“Mariam!” he cried. “Where are you? Please, someone help!” he wept. “Please help!”
Oumar’s neighbor heard his cries and ran into the forest. When he saw his friend on the ground, he carried him home.
Poor Oumar wept with grief. “I have lost my wife,” he said, “and my avocadoes. She stole my whole basket.”
But as time passed, he healed, and he had plenty of time to think of how he would find Mariam.
“Surely she has left behind a trail,” he said to his neighbor. “As she ate the avocadoes, she would drop the seeds. I’ll follow the trail.”
When he was strong enough, he wrapped his wound and set off into the forest. Just as he had imagined, he found a trail, one avocado seed after another, as the trail moved deeper into the forest.
At long last, after many weeks of hunting, he discovered a path strewn with seeds. There in the soil he saw a tunnel-like path, the kind only a tapir makes.
“Perhaps my wife has been stolen by a tapir,” he said, and he raced ahead, certain he would find her captive.
And then, to his amazement, he saw them just ahead, Mariam and the tapir, arms around each other, standing at the very edge of the world.
“You have stolen my wife!” Oumar cried, and he pulled an arrow from his quiver, placed it in his bow and aimed it at the tapir.
Oumar was a fine marksman, and that arrow whizzed through the air and struck the tapir right in the side.
The tapir shrieked with pain and leaped off the edge of the Earth. As he did, Mariam reached out and cried, “I’ll stay by your side!” and she leaped as well.
“Please, I do love you!” Oumar called to her, and chasing after her, he too left this Earth.
When he was in the sky, he looked up and saw them just ahead, racing higher and higher into the sky. But Oumar was determined to reach his wife. He discovered, perhaps too late, that he really did love her more than he loved avocadoes, and so he ran on, forever and ever.
You can see him still, up in the sky. You see, Oumar turned into Orion, and Mariam became the cluster of stars known as Pleiades. The cruel tapir is the cluster nearby, the one called Hyades, with its bright, ruddy star known as Aldebaran, the fiery red eye.