The Leopard's Child
An Ari Story
Before you read the story
- Do you think that wild animals and human beings can love and trust each other?
- Do you think that animals are more faithful than human beings?
Now read the story
A hungry leopard needed meat for her cubs. She tried to catch a bushbuck, but it ran away. She tried to kill a cow, but the men threw their spears at her.
At last, she came to a house. A woman came out of the house with her water pot.
"Stay at home, my child," she said to her baby son. "I will come back soon."
And she went down the hill to the river.
"A fat little child," thought the leopard. "My cubs will like to eat him."
She pushed open the door and went into the house. The little boy was not afraid. He looked at the leopard and smiled. She picked him up in her mouth and carried him back to the forest.
"Children!" she called out. "Come! There is something good to eat!"
Her children heard their mother and ran towards her. The little boy liked the leopard cubs. He laughed at them. He wanted to play with them.
The leopard looked at the little boy.
"His eyes are beautiful," she thought. "They are like my cubs' eyes. He is young, like my cubs. I can't kill this child. I can't eat him."
So the leopard kept the child, and he became one of her cubs. She gave him meat, and she loved him. She became his foster mother, and he became her foster son.
The leopard's cubs grew fast. They learned to hunt. One day, they ran away from their mother, and began to live alone.
But the child grew slowly. He could not hunt. He could not leave his foster mother. And every day, he wanted more and more meat.
The leopard was tired now.
"I can't keep you, my dear child," she said to him at last. "I am growing old. I can't catch enough meat. I give you everything, and then there is nothing for me. I will take you home to your parents. They must look after you now."
So the leopard took the boy to his parents' house. She said goodbye, and left him at the door.
The boy's parents were at the market. They came home, and found their son.
"Who are you?" they said to the boy. "Who are your parents? Where are your father and mother?"
The boy could not speak. He did not know the language of people.
"Look, husband," his mother said. "This child's eyes are like your eyes. His nose and mouth are like yours. He is our son! We lost him many years ago, and now he has come back to us."
She was very happy. She brought some food and gave it to the boy. But he did not like her food. He did not want cereals, and cooked meat.
The leopard was unhappy. All day she thought about her foster son.
"Is he unhappy?" she asked herself. "Is he well? Those people don't give him meat. I'm sure he is hungry."
She killed a bushbuck and took it to the boy's house. She left it by the door, and ran away.
The boy found the bushbuck. He fell on his knees and ate it with his mouth. He did not use his hands.
"Look," said his parents. "He eats like an animal. Did an animal take him away from us?"
The leopard did not forget the boy. Every day, she killed an animal and brought it to his house. She lay in the forest and watched him. She still loved him.
Slowly, the boy learned to speak. He told his parents about the leopard. They asked him many questions.
"Was the leopard kind to you?" they said.
"Yes," said the boy. "She was kind."
"Did she feed you? Did she look after you? Did you play with her cubs?"
"Yes, yes," the boy said. "The leopard was good. She was my foster mother."
One night, the leopard killed a zebra for her boy. She brought it to his house, and put it outside the door. Then she heard voices. The boy and his parents were talking inside the house.
"Tell us more about the leopard," the boy's father said. "That wicked animal! Didn't you hate her?"
"No," the boy said. "She loved me, and I..."
"But now you love us," his father said. "You don't love her now."
"I...I don't know," the boy said.
His mother was angry.
"You only say good things about that leopard," she said. "Don't you remember anything bad?"
The boy thought for a moment.
"Well," he said. "I didn't like her smell. Her mouth was dirty. It was very bad. Sometimes I turned my face away from her. Yes, I remember now. The leopard's smell was horrible."
The leopard was still listening outside the door. She was very sad when she heard this.
"I loved this boy," she thought. "Every day I hunted for him. I gave him all my food. But he doesn't love me at all!"
She ran away into the forest. The boy's words burned in her heart. She became more and more angry.
The next night, she waited by the path. The boy's father was coming home with the cattle. The leopard jumped on him, and killed him. She carried him to his house, and left him there.
"This man tried to turn my child's love away from me," she thought. "This is my revenge."
The next day, she came back again. The boy's mother was coming home from her husband's grave. The leopard jumped on her and killed her. She carried her to the house and left her there.
"This woman hated me," she thought, "but I fed her child. Now I have my revenge."
The boy found his mother. He began to cry.
"My mother and father are dead," he said. "What will happen to me now?"
The leopard came to him.
"I killed your parents," she said. "I heard their cruel words about me. And I heard your answer. 'The leopard's smell was bad,' you said. 'I turned my face away from her.' Oh, my child! You don't know. You don't understand. Your words hurt my heart. But you are my son. I could not hurt you. It was your parents' fault. They tried to take your love away from me, and so I had my revenge.
But I learned my lesson. I will never trust people again. They are ungrateful. Only animals are faithful to their friends."
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