A Bet with a Tortoise

A woman once went to the drying beds to dry some mash for her brew. She spread the mash and the delicious aroma of roast grain filled the air. Nearby, unknown to the woman, was a secret lair of tortoises who all looked the same. One of the tortoises caught the delicious scent of the drying mash and came over to the woman. He said to her, “Lady, this mash that you’ve laid out to dry, I’m going to eat all of it.”

“What? You tiny thing, how do you think you can eat all this mash?”

“Are you disputing my prowess?” the tortoise demanded.

“I’m disputing you, yes.”

“Are you sure you are in doubt?”

“Ah Tortoise, I’m in doubt indeed,” said the lady as she continued spreading out her mash.

“Alright lady,” said the tortoise, “if you doubt me, at least kindly let me have a little morsel for now, then I’ll have a little more later, take a rest and eat the rest of it later. ”

“Oh Tortoise, I’ll sit under that shady tree over there and watch as you accomplish this feat of tenacity.”

While the lady sat under the cool shade of the grand leafy tree, the tortoise began to eat. He nibbled a little bit but found the tasty treat irresistible. After stuffing his little mouth with great portions of mash, he began to sing:

“The bet that we had,
Oh the bet that I had with the lady
Will not hold. The lady is in doubt
The bet will not hold.”

The Tortoise hastened back to his lair where the rest of the tortoise family were staying. He told one tortoise of his good fortune while he rested, so that tortoise went to the lady singing his song:

“The bet that we had,
Oh the bet that I had with the lady
Will not hold. The lady is in doubt
The bet will not hold.”

So the tortoise ate the mash till his belly was full, and then went back to their lair. After a short time another tortoise turned up singing the same song and ate a little more of the mash. The lady thought that it was the same old tortoise coming back for more helpings. Meanwhile a number of tortoises had already had their fill and she watched as her mash decreased until there was only a little bit left. She started to grumble very noisily.

“Oh dear, I thought that this little tortoise would never eat all my mash but he may manage to eat everything after all.”

The tortoise who was feasting then said to her, “Madam I’ve had enough for now. I’m off to rest but I’ll be back shortly.”

With that the tortoise hurried back to their lair and told another of his siblings to go and have his share of the mash. So the hungry sibling came back to the drying bed singing the song that the first tortoise had sung.

“The bet that we had,
Oh the bet that I had with the lady
Will not hold. The lady is in doubt
The bet will not hold.”

When the tortoise had had his fill, there was only a little mound of mash left and this started to alarm the lady. She got up from under the tree and nervously beat her thighs in surprise as the tortoise came back for more helpings. “Hmm, this tortoise is surely going to finish all my mash. I thought that he’d never manage even a small amount.”

In the meantime another tortoise came back singing the same song and had some of her mash.

“The bet that we had,
Oh the bet that I had with the lady
Will not hold. The lady is in doubt
The bet will not hold.”

She became very anxious and mumbled to herself. “It is really happening. The tortoise said that he’d finish my mash and he has done exactly that.” She was now more defeated than worried so she just stood there numb from the grief of having lost a bet. The mash was now too little to even fill a calabash.

At the tortoise’s lair, they sought out any tortoise who’d not yet eaten. All had eaten except a blind tortoise who’d not known what had been going on. They gave him directions and the blind tortoise crawled out.

After stumbling along the way, the blind tortoise started wailing very loudly:

“That mash that you’ve all been eating, where the heck is it?”

“That mash that you’ve all been eating, where the heck is it?”

And as he grew desperate his wailing grew even louder till the lady was now within earshot. The lady started beating her thighs and lamenting;

“Woo oo, so you’ve all been eating my mash all this time? I’d thought that there was only one of you but clearly you were countless.” With that, the lady gathered the little that was left of her mash and put in back in her pot and left.

The poor blind tortoise kept bumping into rocks and asking, “Where is the mash? Where is the mash?” but nobody was bothered. Back in the tortoises’ lair, all were fed and happily sprawled on the floor. Some tortoises were even napping. The blind tortoise continued to search in vain, even after the lady had already left.

This story teaches us that it is unwise to speculate about things that we know nothing about. Otherwise if you take that risk, you’ll fall into trouble.


Retold by Ocaya Encio. Translated from the Luo by Deyu African.

 

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