Adapted from "The Grumpy Gecko" in The Barefoot Book of Earth Tales by Dawn Casey and Anne Wilson (Cambridge: Barefoot Books, 2009). Used by permission.
In a shady glade, the chief of the jungle slept. Until, GECK-O! GECK-O! GECK-O!
Tiger woke up with a snort. He opened one yellow eye. "Gecko," he growled. "What do you want? It's the middle of the night."
"I've come to complain..."
What could Gecko the lizard have to complain about? He spent most of his time lazing around, just sleeping and eating. Even when he was hungry, all he had to do was flick out his sticky tongue and lick up a mosquito.
"What's troubling you?" Tiger asked.
"It's the fireflies!" said Gecko. "All night long they fly around, flashing their lights in my eyes, keeping me awake... flashing and flickering... I haven't slept for days. It's making me very grumpy. You're the chief of the jungle. Make them stop."
Tiger stifled a gigantic yawn. "I'll talk to the fireflies," he promised Gecko.
Tiger sighed and set off to find the fireflies.
Wading through wet paddy fields, the night vibrated with the chirps and croaks of frogs and the trills of a million insects.
Above the paddies, the fireflies flickered and flashed.
"Fireflies," Tiger called, "Gecko says you have been disturbing his sleep, flashing and flickering all night long. Is this true?"
"Well, we do flash our lights all night," replied the fireflies, "but we don't want to disturb anyone! We're just passing on Woodpecker's message. We heard him drumming out a warning."
"I see," said Tiger. "Then I'll talk to Woodpecker."
At the edge of the paddies, Tiger found Woodpecker drumming against a coconut palm. Rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat.
"Woodpecker!" Tiger winced. "The fireflies say you have been rapping and tapping, tapping and rapping, drumming out a warning. Is this true?"
"Of course," said Woodpecker, puffing up his feathers. "I provide a great service. Clearly, my efforts are not appreciated." He looked down his long beak at Tiger. "Beetle rolls manure right across the path. I warn the jungle animals so that no one steps in it. Without my drumming, who knows what a mess you'd all be in?"
"Oh," said Tiger. "Well, that's very helpful. Thank you."
Tiger licked his nose thoughtfully. "I'll go speak to Beetle."
It was easy to spot Beetle on the jungle path. In the moonlight, his back gleamed like polished metal.
"What's all this?" Tiger asked. "Woodpecker says you're rolling filthy mess all over the place?"
"Yes, yes, can't stop," Beetle replied, rolling a ball of dung right up to Tiger's paw. "Water Buffalo drops piles of it all over the path. If I don't move some away, there'll be muck everywhere! 'Scuse me... "
Tiger lifted his paw and Beetle bustled past.
"OK," said Tiger, suppressing a sigh. "Thank you, Beetle. I'll go and see Buffalo."
Tiger found Buffalo asleep in a pool of mud.
"Buffalo," Tiger roared.
"Beetle says you have been leaving your manure all over the path. Is this true?"
"Oh yes, Sir," said Buffalo, lowering his head. "I leave manure all over the path, Sir. But you see, Sir, it's helpful, Sir. Rain washes holes in the path every afternoon. I leave manure only to fill up the holes, so that no one trips or falls. If I didn't, Sir, someone could get hurt."
"I see," said Tiger. "Well, that's very thoughtful of you, Buffalo."
Tiger's tail twitched. He was beginning to lose patience. He sighed. "I'll go ahead and hear what Rain has to say."
Tiger set off for Mount Agung, the highest peak on the island, and the home of Rain.
Tiger climbed and he climbed and he climbed.
He climbed through jungle, woodland and scrub and then he climbed some more.
At last, his claws clattered onto the smooth grass of the mountain peak. He stopped to catch his breath. He looked down the mountain.
The sun was rising. Tiger stared.
Jungle spread out for miles around, flamboyant with flowers. Wild orchids and climbing lilies, trumpets of violet-blue and starbursts of brilliant flame-red.
Tiger sniffed. He smelt jasmine, ylang-ylang, frangipani.
He swiveled his ears. He heard newborn streams trickling and tinkling.
And below the jungle, on the green-gold steps of the paddy fields, he could just make out the faint flicker and flash of the fireflies.
"No need to ask why Rain rains," Tiger smiled.
He cooled his paws in a stream and watched for a while. He watched the water journey from mountain to sea, sustaining every living thing on its way, even the tiniest mosquito.
Tiger plunged his muzzle into the clear fresh water and drank.
Then he began the long journey down the mountain and through the forests and jungles and paddies to find Gecko.
It was dusk by the time Tiger found the lizard again.
"Well?' Gecko demanded. "Did you talk to the fireflies? They're still flashing and flickering, on and on. Did you tell them to stop?"
"Gecko," said Tiger. He sat down on his haunches and spoke very slowly. "Listen carefully. The fireflies flash to pass on Woodpecker's warning. Woodpecker warns everyone not to step in beetle's dung. Beetle clears up the excess dung left by Buffalo. Buffalo leaves manure on the path to fill up the holes made by rain. Rain makes holes in the path as he creates streams and lakes and puddles—puddles where mosquitoes live."
"Oh," said Gecko.
"Gecko, what do you eat?"
"Mosquitoes," said Gecko.
"So... " said Tiger.
"So... " repeated Gecko slowly.
"If Rain stopped raining... "
"Buffalo could stop filling holes... "
"And beetle could stop rolling dung... "
"And Woodpecker could stop drumming... "
"And the fireflies could stop flashing... "
"Yes, Gecko... "
"But... I would have nothing to eat."
"Exactly," said Tiger. "Gecko, everything in this world is connected. Go and live in peace with the fireflies."
So Gecko stuck himself upside down, underneath the branch of a tree. He closed his eyes. He went to sleep.
The fireflies flickered and flashed.
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Last updated on Friday, May 17, 2013.
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