One evening when the tortoise was crawling slowly home, he met the baboon on his path. “Hello, old fellow – said the baboon heartily -. Have you found much to eat today?”
“No – replied Tortoise sadly -. Very little indeed.”
The baboon danced up and down, chortling with laughter at an idea which had just come to him. “Follow me, poor old Tortoise – he exclaimed – and when you reach my home I will have supper all ready for you.”
“Thank you. Thank you – said the grateful Tortoise, as the baboon turned round and bounced gaily along the path that led to his home.
Tortoise followed as fast as he could, which was very slow indeed, especially when he went uphill. Once or twice he stopped to rest, when the ground became so bumpy that he got disheartened, but holding in his mind the picture of a wonderful feast, he plodded on.
At last he reached the place in the bush that the baboon called his home. There he was, leaping about and grinning to himself, and as soon as he caught sight of Tortoise he exclaimed: “Bless my tail. What a long time you have taken to get here. I declare it must be tomorrow already”.
“ I’m so sorry – said Tortoise, puffing a little after his long journey -. But I’m sure you have had plenty of time to get the supper ready, so do not grumble at me”.
“Oh yes, indeed – replied the baboon, rubbing his hands together -. Supper’s all ready. All you have to do is to climb up and get it. “Look – he said -, pointing to the top of a tree -. Three pots of millet-beer, brewed especially for you”.
The poor tortoise looked up at the pots which the baboon had wedged in the branches high above his head. He knew he could never reach them, and the baboon knew that too.
“Bring one down for me, there’s a good friend,” begged Tortoise, but the baboon climbed the tree in the twinkling of an eye and shouted down to him: “Oh no! Anybody who wants supper with me must climb up to get it.”
So poor Tortoise could only begin his long homeward journey with a very empty stomach, cursing at his inability to climb trees. But as he went he worked out a splendid plan for getting his own back on the unkind baboon.
A few days later the baboon had an invitation to eat with Tortoise. He was very surprised, but knowing how slow and good-natured the tortoise was, the baboon said to himself: “Oh well! The fellow evidently saw the joke and bears me no malice. I’ll go along and see what I can get out of him.”
At the appointed time the baboon set out along the track that led to Tortoise’s home. Now it was the dry season, when many bush fires occur which leave the ground scorched and black. Just beyond the river the baboon found a wide stretch of burnt and blackened grass, over which he bounded towards Tortoise, who stood waiting beside a cooking pot from which issued the most savoury of smells.
“Ah, it’s my friend the baboon – said Tortoise -. I’m very pleased to see you. But did your mother never teach you that you must wash your hands before meals? Just look at them. They’re as black as soot”.
The baboon looked at his hands, which were indeed very black from crossing the burnt patch of ground. “Now run back to the river and wash – said Tortoise – and when you are clean I will give you some supper”.
The baboon scampered across the black earth and washed himself in the river, but when he came to return to Tortoise he found he had to cross the burnt ground again and so arrived as dirty as before.
“That will never do. I told you that you could only eat with me if you were clean. Go back and wash again. And you had better be quick about it because I have started my supper already,” said Tortoise, with his mouth full of food.
The poor baboon went back to the river time and again, but try as he would he got his hands and feet black each time he returned, and Tortoise refused to give him any of the delicious food that was fast disappearing. As Tortoise swallowed the last morsel, the baboon realized he had been tricked and with a cry of rage he crossed the burnt ground for the last time and ran all the way home.
“ That will teach you a lesson, my friend – said the Tortoise, smiling, as, well-fed and contented, he withdrew into his shell for a long night’s sleep.
(Folktale from Malawi)