(An African Tale)
Once upon a time, a beautiful tamarind tree bloomed at the edge of a cliff. Half the boughs of the tree hung over the village huts, and half the boughs hung over the sea. The branches were filled with fruit. Each day at sunrise those branches were also home to a big gray monkey who loved tamarind and ate it to his heart’s content.
Most mornings the monkey ate all the fruit on one side of the tree, and then swung himself over the branches hanging out over the sea so he could eat the other half. But one day as he was swinging, he noticed a shark down below staring up at him.
The shark’s eyes were bright with greed. The monkey recognized that look. And so he called, “Hello there. Did you want something up here?”
The shark nodded very slowly and said, “I wonder if you could toss me a piece of that fruit you’re eating. I’ve lived my whole life eating fish, and I’m longing to try something new.”
For a moment the monkey had to think about this, but at last he decided he might as well be kind. “Sure,” he said, and he tossed a tamarind down to the shark.
The shark instantly gobbled up the fruit. He loved it so much that he looked up and pleaded for more.
The monkey pitched another tamarind down to the shark.
Once again the shark gobbled it up and asked for more.
Again and again this happened, until the monkey’s arm grew tired. Finally, the shark said, “I’m full now, thank you so much!”
“Very well,” the monkey said, “but if you come here tomorrow at this same time, I’m glad to feed you again.”
The shark was moved by this generous offer. He smiled and thanked the monkey, and he swam off into the shadows of the fading day.
Sure enough, there he was again the next day.
The monkey fed the shark, and the shark expressed his deepest gratitude. After a while they began to tell stories of their lives and their families. The shark described the beautiful world beneath the sea, and the monkey described the forests.
One day the shark said, “How I wish I could pay you back for all your generosity, dear monkey. Why don’t you let me take you for a ride?”
The monkey shuddered. “I don’t much care for water,” he said.
“Oh, I won’t let you get wet,” the shark said, and as he described how much fun they would have, the monkey changed his mind. He loved fun!
So he swung on a branch until he was not far from the shark, and then he let go, landing on the shark’s back.
The shark said, “Come, I’ll take you to my home to feed you fish.” And off he swam.
The monkey loved the feel of the wind on his face and the beautiful view that was so different from his view up on the cliff.
After many hours the shark said, wistfully, “We’re halfway there, but I must tell you something.”
“Go ahead, friend, what is it?” the monkey asked.
“I’m taking you to see our king,” the shark explained. “He’s very ill.”
“What a shame,” said the monkey. “Is there anything I can do to help? Perhaps we should have brought along some tamarinds.”
“Well, actually, tamarinds will not help, but something else will,” the shark said. “The cure for our king’s illness is a monkey’s heart!”
The monkey’s heart skipped a beat when he heard this. But he was smart, and he was quick. So he said, “Ah, what a shame you didn’t tell me that earlier. If I had known, I would have brought my heart along.”
“What do you mean?” the shark said, stunned. “Where is your heart?”
“It’s hanging on a tree back home,” the monkey replied. “I always leave it there to rest when I’m playing in the trees, so it won’t grow tired.”
The shark was mortified. “We’d better take you home so you can get it,” he said.
“Ah,” the monkey sighed, “but it’s such a long way, and you’ve swum so far. “
“I’m not tired,” the shark said, and he turned around and headed back toward the cliff.
Hours passed, the sky grew dark, but at long last the monkey saw the branches of his tree hanging over the water.
“There it is. I can see my heart from here!” he cried.
As they neared the hanging branches, the monkey reached out and caught one and swung up into the trees. When he was far away, he called out to the shark to wait.
“I won’t be long!” he said, reassuringly.
But the monkey had no intention of ever returning. He had duped the shark, who had been too greedy to see that he was being fooled.
Happily, the monkey went back to swinging through trees and gobbling down tamarinds. The shark would never get another chance at the monkey’s heart, no matter how patiently he waited.
They say the shark can be seen circling in the sea beneath the tamarind tree, still daftly waiting for that monkey’s heart.