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Tshilembi and the Rat


At the edge of the forest there lived a hunter named Tshilembi. He lived alone except for his dog. Tshilembi made a good living by hunting. With his dogbowand arrowshe hunted for game every day to sell in the village marketplace.

The villagers had been hungry for guinea birdsso Tshilembi went hunting for them. The day was hot. He knew that the guineas would stay in the shade of the forestand so he took a path deep into the forest to find them. His dog ran around in the forest itself to look for the birds. Tshilembi stayed on the path.

When the morning was nearly overhe rounded a turn in the path and found his way blocked by an army of driver ants. They were dragging and carrying a small rat which they had caught. The rat was still alivelooking miserable as the ants bit its head and legs while keeping a tight hold on its long tail.

The rat saw Tshilembi and cried out"Save meO Great Hunter! These ants will tear me into pieces and eat me." Tshilembi did not care much for rats. He had no wish to be bitten by so many ants just to save a rateither. He stepped off the path to go around the ants. He saw the ants' hill nearby. Behind him he heard the rat crying more loudly than ever"Save meMighty Hunter! Or I shall be dragged into the hill and eaten alive!"

Tshilembi was a kind man. Seeing the rat had no other way to escape the grip of the antshe scooped up the rat and brushed off the ants while ignoring their stings. Then he gently set the rat down in the forest so that it could scurry away safely.

It turned out that the rat had better luck than Tshilembi that day. He only found and killed one guinea. Looking for morehe went further into the forest than ever beforegrumbling about the heat. Without warningthe sky grew dark and thunder crashed around him. Tshilembi called his dog to him and they tried to take a short cut through the jungle back to his hut. But the jungle growth was thicker than he rememberedand they were still far from home when the rains and the night came.

Unable to see in the darkness and the heavy rainTshilembi knew he was lost. Everything around him was moving in the howling wind. He did not know whether he was feeling a thorn or the claw of a hungry leopard. Even the tree roots seemed to moveas if they were large snakes. Frightenedthe hunter and his dog stayed still next to the trunk of a large treehoping that it would not fall onto them.

Then Tshilembi saw a tiny light. The light did not move. He hoped that it was from a home in his own village. Taking couragehe and his dog made their way toward the light. It was from a homebut the home was not of any village. the door was open. They went in and warmed themselves beside the fire. There was no one else there. From the size of the hutTshilembi thought that many people lived in it. Soon he and the dog had fallen asleep with the guinea beside them.

At dawn he was awakened by voices and a shaking of the ground. Through the doorway came a giant who grinned when he saw Tshilembi and the dog. After the giant came another giant with two heads. Then came another with three headsand so on till the last giant entered the housewho had seven heads. They sat in a circle around Tshilembilaughing and telling each other that they had already found their meal for the day.

Tshilembi was ordered to feed the guinea to the dogand then he and his dog would be eaten. Tshilembi looked around carefully; there was no way to escape. Slowly he cut up the guinea.

"Hurry up!" the seven-headed giant moved next to Tshilembi and leaned over him. Tshilembi fed a piece of the guinea to his dog. The giant prodded him with his finger to go faster. One of his heads whispered loudly into Tshilembi's ear"Are you trying to wait until you are ripe enough?" The others laughed loudly.

Then another head whispered quietly"Are you the man who saved the rat?"

FearfullyTshilembi nodded.

The giant whispered againso that the others could not hear. "I was that rat. A spell has been put on meso that at times I must be a small and helpless rat. In a moment I shall start a fight. Get away as soon as you can."

The giant leaned back. With one head he butted one of his brothers. With another head he bit a second brother. Whirling his huge armhe slapped a third and punched a fourth Then he kicked a fifth and spit on the sixth. Tshilembi had never seen such a brawlbut knew that if he stayed to watch he would never see another fight again. With the pieces of the guinea in his hands and the dog at his sidehe leaped through the open door and raced down the path from the giants' house. He did not stop till he had found the path to his village and gotten safely home.

Tshilembi hunted in another part of the forest from then on. Each day in the marketplacehe reminded the village children not to tease or torment an animalsince no one knew which one might really be a giant with more than one head.