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Why the Sky Is Far Away

Adapted from "Why the Sky is Far Away" in The Barefoot Book of Earth Tales by Dawn Casey and Anne Wilson (Cambridge: Barefoot Books, 2009). Used by permission.

In the beginning, they sky was close to the earth. So close you could reach up and touch it. And you could eat it! In those days, people always had enough to eat, without ever having to work for it. Men and women did not have to plow the fields and sow the seeds and gather the crops. Children did not have to fetch sticks for the fire. Whenever anybody was hungry, they just reached up and tore off a piece of the sky.

But people grew careless with the sky's gifts. They broke off more than they needed. After all, the sky was so big; there would always be enough for everybody. Who cared about a little wasted sky?

But the sky cared. Soon the sky's sorrow turned to resentment, and its resentment grew to anger. "I offer myself every day to these people," the sky brooded, "and they throw me away, half eaten, like garbage."

"People of Earth!" The sky's eyes flashed light lightning. Clouds bubbled and boiled. "You have not treated me with respect. You have wasted my gifts. I warn you. If you are greedy, I will leave. I will move far away."

The people listened and promised to be more careful.

After that, no one broke off more than they could eat. And they always remembered to thank the sky.

But then the time came for the greatest festival of the year, in honor of the chief of the kingdom. The night rang with music. Bells clanged and drums banged. People stamped and clapped and laughed.

The tables were heaped with dishes of specially prepared sky. Sky in every flavor, from custard apple to coco plum. There was plenty for everyone, for the sky was generous. It trusted the people to take only what they needed.

But there was one woman who was never satisfied. Osato always wanted more. Her arms were heavy with brass bracelets. But brass wasn't good enough for her—she wanted coral beads. And most of all, she loved to eat.

First she helped herself to a handful of noon-yellow sky that tasted like pineapple. Chunk after chunk disappeared into her mouth. Then she ladled out some sky stew, spicy and warm. She lifted the dish to her lips, draining it, dumplings and all. Soon her stomach was stuffed. She loosened her robe. What next? Delicate slices of morning sky, pink and glistening. With a swift movement, she scooped them up and slurped them down all at once.

At last the tables were empty. And Osato was full. She waddled home.

She was full to bursting, but her eyes kept wandering up to the sky. What would it taste like right now? Citrus storms? Her taste buds tingled. Luscious mango? Her mouth watered. Honey sunsets? She licked her lips.

Her fingers began to pull out her spoon — the one she kept tucked in her headscarf — just in case. She stopped herself just in time. Osato knew that the sky offered itself only because no one ever took more than they needed. And she knew she didn't need any more. But oh, how she wanted some! Just one more spoonful.

"The sky is so huge," Osato said to herself. "It can't hurt just to have a little bit more."

She pulled out her spoon and plunged it in. She savored a mouthful of sky. And another. She threw down her spoon and scooped with her hands, sucking the delicious sky from her fingertips.

Finally, without another thought, Osato pulled down a great slab of sky. Enough to feed a family for weeks.

She licked all around the edges, chewing more slowly now. She stared up at the huge hole above her. She stared down at the enormous mound of sky. And she knew she had taken more than even she could eat. Above her head, there were rumblings. "What have I done?" Osato gasped. "I cannot waste this sky. What shall I do?"

She called to her husband to help, but he had been feasting too and was slumped in his chair, too full even to move. Still, he managed a few mouthfuls.

She called to her children to help, but they too were full from the wonderful feast. Still, they forced down a few fingerfuls.

She called to her neighbors to help, but they had been at the festival too and at the sight of more food, they held their stomachs and groaned. But they ate as much as they could, with worried frowns on their faces and anxious glances above their heads.

But even with the help of the entire village, they could not eat that last piece of sky. Osato had taken too much. "What does it matter?" Osato told herself at last. "Just a bit of waste." But the feeling in the pit of her stomach told her otherwise. No one slept well that night.

The next morning, the sky did not offer his food to the people. Parents had nothing for breakfast. Children cried, hungry. Osato knelt on the ground, rocking and sobbing. "I'm so sorry... "

But the sky just sighed. With a great rush of air, it lifted itself up. High as the treetops. High as the mountaintops.

High above the earth rose the sky, far beyond the reach of humans. "I gave you all you needed," its voice floated down to Osato, "but still you took more. I cannot stand such greed. I must leave. I will not return."

"But how will we live?" wept Osato. "What will we eat?"

There was silence.

Osato's tears fell to the Earth. And the Earth spoke. "Dry your tears," it said gently. "I can feed you. But you will have to work for your living. You will have to learn to plow fields and sow seeds and harvest crops. And remember what you have learned today. Take only what you need. And I will give it gladly."

"Oh, I will," promised Osato through her tears. "I'll never take more than I need—ever, ever again."

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Last updated on Friday, May 17, 2013.

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