Folktale: A long long time ago, in a far-off land, there lived a cunning creature called Tortoise. He lived in a hut with his loving wife and worked diligently in his farm. Now while he had a good life, Tortoise wanted a more comfortable existence and as such was always looking for the next get rich quick scheme.
One day, whilst working in his farm, a large flock of birds flew past him. It was a sight to behold, thousands and thousands of birds, stretching as far as the eye could see. The entire horizon was covered different exotic birds, parrots, doves, eagles, vultures, it was a roll call of all the birds in the land.
Having never seen this phenomenon before, Tortoise was keen to find out what was happening, so he called out to the birds. Most flew by him however, they were in such a hurry to get to their destination and their excited chatters and twitters drowned out Tortoise’s voice from below. Luckily for him however, after most of the flock had passed and the deafening roar had subsided, a few birds heard tortoise and feeling kindly, they flew down to talk to him.
“What’s going on?” Tortoise asked, clearly stunned at the spectacle he’d just witnessed, his beady eyes standing on stalks and shining with palpable excitement
“Oh, it’s just all the birds in the land going to a party” Dove cooed
“A party?” Tortoise said, “But if there’s so much of you, it must clearly be a big party”
“Oh yes, it is, the biggest and greatest party of our time! Everyone who’s anyone will be there! The tables will be groaning with food and drink from all corners of the world, no limits on what we can and cannot eat. And best of all, it’s being held in heaven with Oolodumare ass the host!!” Love bird parroted excitedly
“If that’s the case then why was I not invited to the biggest and greatest party of our time?” Tortoise asked, clearly annoyed at the perceived slight and thinking of the supposed food he would be missing out on
“Well…” Dove began
“Well what?” Tortoise snapped
“…the invitation was for birds only” Dove reluctantly divulged
“So, no mammals will be there? How is that fair?” Tortoise whined “I have just as much right to attend this party as you do and if what you’re saying is true, it sounds like the party of the millennium. I’ve never tasted anything but the food I grow on my meagre farm, it’s cassava daily for me. My back is so big because of malnutrition from just cassava”
“I’m so sorry to hear that” Dove said contritely, “I can extend my invitation to you, bring you as my plus one. I’m sure Oolodumare wouldn’t mind one extra, especially as there will be so much food there anyway.
Tortoise jumped up and down in glee at the prospect of gaining an invite to the most exclusive party of the millennia. Then his smile quickly disappeared as he remembered he couldn’t fly.
“How am I going to get to heaven though? I have no wings”
“Don’t worry about that” Dove said, “We’ll each give you one of our flight feathers and make some wings for you”
So, with that arrangement, Dove flew off and collected a flight feather from the birds travelling t the party. After collecting thousands and thousands of feathers, Dove flew back to Tortoise and with the aid of Sparrow, glued the feathers to tortoise’s limbs until he looked more like a fluffy chunky bird than a tortoise.
After a brief running start, tortoise found himself soaring above his farm and soon Dove joined him and guided him to the main formation of birds.
Not content with the invite alone, Tortoise began scheming on a plan to get his belly’s worth of food. As a naturally suspicious creature, he didn’t believe the assertions of Love Bird that there would be food enough for everyone. After all, there were literally hundreds of thousands of birds in the air around him, how rich would Oolodumare have to be and how much food would have to be prepared to be enough for everyone. In his mind, god or not, creator of the universe or not, Oolodumare simply would not be able to feed everyone attending comfortably.
“Dove! Fly over! I have an idea!” Tortoise called to Dove who was next to him Being the diligent and considerate host, he was, dove flew over to Tortoise to listen to his idea
“You know how there’s so many of us heading to this party, wouldn’t it be nice if we had a system of classification so that we’ll be able to collect our plates of food more comfortably when we get to heaven?” Tortoise postulated silkily, knowing Dove now to be an easily influenced character willing to please his guest.
“Oh yes, definitely” Dove remarked, “I can’t imagine how disruptive the eagles and the vultures will be when we get there! Birds are so uncouth and lack a basic understanding of etiquette”
“Exactly!” Said Tortoise “That’s why I propose we split ourselves off into two groups of creatures, so it can be two orderly lines when we get to heaven.” He declared with a sly smile on his face.
“Sounds good! What should we name the groups?”
Tortoise appeared to think for a second then said, “Well we can name one group ‘All of you’ and another group ‘All of us’ so when heaven asks who we are, we can present our delegations as the different names”
“Who’s going into which group?” Dove asked, clearly enamoured to the idea now Playing on Dove’s hospitality and friendliness tortoise proclaimed “Since I’m the visitor here, I propose to go into the ‘All of you’ camp, and you and the rest of the birds can go into the ‘All of us’ camp”
Dove was not a particularly bright bird, but the suggestion seemed harmless enough, so he went ahead and presented it to the chief birds. They also thought it harmless and decided to split themselves into two delegations. The ‘All of you’ which would contain Tortoise alone who had so bravely stepped up to field that delegation and occupy it alone and the ‘All of Us’ delegation made up of all the birds attending.
When they arrived at the gates of heaven, the angels asked who was in attendance, the birds chorused: “All of us” and Tortoise said “All of you”
They were then led into the banquet hall, a huge dome shaped building with tables stretching as far as the eyes could see and they were all laden with food, vivid oranges, brightly coloured pomegranate, sweet star fruit, juicy mangoes, succulent watermelon, eba and egusi stew, pounded yam and fufu with a multitude of stews and garnishes. Freshly tapped Palm wine was flowing from a central waterfall.
As the birds began taking their places at the banquet hall, Tortoise announced loudly to no one in particular “Who is all this food for?”
Dove, confused answered “All of us, obviously”
To which Tortoise replied, “so the food is for ‘All of us’?”
Tortoise then went to the angels at the door and asked them “Excuse me please, who is all this food for?”
“Why it’s for all of you” The angels replied
So tortoise turned back to Dove and said “The angels said the food is for ‘All of you’ NOT ‘all of us’. And I’m the only one here with the name ‘All of you’ so it’s my food alone”
Outraged, Dove and the other birds demanded to speak to Oolodumare to discuss Tortoise’s betrayal.
Oolodumare counselled them that there was nothing he could do about the situation, rules were rules, they had introduced themselves as ‘All of us’ and the food was indeed for ‘All of you’
Furiously, the birds sat back down and watched in anger as Tortoise devoured as much food and drink as his shell could cope with. He feasted for hours and hours, with course after course of food brought for him alone whilst the birds watched on hungrily and forbidden to touch anything.
Finally, one of the birds had enough, he stood up, scraping his chair against the floor viciously, stalked up to where tortoise was sitting on an elevated platform in the middle of the banquet hall and yanked out the feather he had contributed to Tortoise’s flight wing. Then another bird followed and plucked her feather out. Soon most of the birds had plucked their feathers back and as there was nothing for them in the banquet hall anymore, they flew off.
Some birds did not bother to take their feathers whilst leaving though, so this left tortoise with a meagre number of feathers, where he’d looked like a fluffy eagle when he arrived in heaven, he now looked like a skeletal vulture. It was clear to him, even in his palm wine and eba addled mind that the feathers he was left with would not be able to sustain him flying back home. Especially after the amount of food he had eaten.
In a last desperate panicked bid, he implored Dove to deliver a message to his wife for him. HE asked Dove to tell his wife to bring out all the soft furnishings in he house, all the leaves she could gather, pillows etc that she could get her hands on and place them outside his farm so when he took off from heaven, he’d have something to cushion the almighty fall he was going to experience.
Dove has so far been a patient, understanding and diligent host, but in this final request from Tortoise, he saw an opportunity to get revenge on the terrapin. He assured Tortoise he would personally deliver the message to his wife and help her gather the necessary items to cushion his dear friend’s fall. He told Tortoise that in 3 days’ time, the bed of soft furnishings should be ready.
Tortoise went back to feasting and partying with the angels.
Meanwhile Dove arrived at Tortoises farm and explained to Mrs Tortoise that her husband had caught a terrible terrible creature in heaven and was trying to kick him out but needed her help. He told Mrs Tortoise that she needed to gather all the sharp pointy items she had in her possession, borrow items from her neighbours and acquaintances and build a huge pile of these items in her farm so tortoise could throw down this terrible creature onto the pile and kill it in 3 days’ time.
Mrs Tortoise then set about collecting all the sharp items in her possession, she collected hoes, cutlasses, tree branches, sharp stones, she filed her knives and polished her nails and screws. Rough river rocks and thorns from the garden. She chopped up the furniture in the house into wooden stakes and splinters all of them facing the sky, she primed and coked the hunting guns and pointed them skywards too. By the third day, she had collected all the sharp items that existed within the village and the pile was so great it was visible from heaven and all the sharp items pointed skywards as if worshipping Oolodumare himself. The sheer amount of metal present in the pile was enough to make it glint like a diamond.
Dove flew back to heaven late in the afternoon of the third day and told Tortoise the soft bed of mattresses was prepared. Tortoise looked down and lo and behold was a shiny beautiful looking collection, it was too far away for him to see what it was made of, but it looked very inviting from this height.
Tortoise thanked Dove for his hospitality and remarked on how docile a creature he was after all that had happened between them. He praised Dove for selflessly delivering a final message to his wife despite it all. Dove smiled back and gave Tortoise a last insincere smile before flying off. He was not going to stick around for the aftermath, knowing the fate waiting for tortoise was enough recompense for him.
After eating a last heavy meal and drinking some more palm wine to fortify him for the jump, tortoise staggered to the edge of heaven, took a deep breath and jumped.
Tortoise’ landing on the pile of objects was so impactful it shattered his rock-hard shell, his pride and joy and splintered it into a million pieces. The sound was so great, it was heard all over the land, even in the kingdom of the birds.
No amount of glue or eba could return his shell back to it’s original pristine condition.
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