Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Dogs' Dinner

The Dogs’ Dinner
Grandpa,’ said Nawiti, ‘Tell me a story, then I’ll go to bed!’
‘Once upon a time, a long time ago,’ I began, ‘the Republic of Mfuwe was ruled by His Excellency the Monstrous King Rhinoceros.’
‘Was he a Good King?’ asked Nawiti.
‘They all start well, and then get worse and worse,’ I said. ‘What started off as a rather jovial little ngulube from Chipata, soon turned into a Monstrous Rhinoceros.’
‘His head got bigger and bigger?’ suggested Nawiti.
‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘Everybody became very alarmed at his enormously big head. Except himself, who thought it was a miracle.’
‘But did he look after the kingdom properly?’ asked Nawiti.
‘That was the problem,’ I said. ‘As the Rhinoceros got fatter and fatter, so his subjects got thinner and thinner. The king and all his court of flatterers, con artists, praise singers and parasites were eating up all the food, leaving nothing for the other animals.’
‘So what did the animals decide to do about it?’
‘They had to find out what tricks the Rhinoceros was up to. The problem was that he had set up his palace deep in the dark forest, where most animals were scared to go because of the owls, snakes, ghosts, evil spirits, and worst of all, the king’s hyenas. So they decided to send a group of watchdogs to find out what was going on.’
‘To watch what the king was up to?’
‘Exactly. To follow the king’s every move and report back to the animals.’
‘How did they report back?’
‘They scratched the news onto a flat stone. Then an elephant pressed the stone onto a banana leaf, to make many copies. Even to this day, newspapers are called the press, and the pages are called leaves.’
‘And did it work?’ asked Nawiti.
‘Oh yes. Every day the eagles airlifted the news from the forest to the animals in the valley, where it soon became known as the Daily News.’
‘And was the news good?’
‘Not to begin with. The Watchdogs soon sniffed out what the king was up to. They found that the king was chopping down the trees of the forest, which was being floated down the river and exported to Ching Chang. All the food from the forest was used to feed the Ching Chang workers, and that was why the animals in the valley were getting nothing.’
‘So the animals were very annoyed?’
‘Very annoyed,’ I admitted. ‘In fact they were just about to march en masse into the forest to depose the king, when the news began to get better. One day the watchdogs wrote Now we have been here longer, we have come to understand better what your beloved king is doing for his animals. We are now interviewing the king to clear up earlier misunderstandings.
‘And did the animals believe all this?’ asked Nawiti.
‘Some were doubtful, saying things like Is the king still getting fatter? But over the coming months the news got better and better, and they were more persuaded.
‘And what was this better and better news?’ Nawiti asked suspiciously.
‘The Daily News was now reporting that ‘soon the benefits will be trickling down to all the animals. The king is just beginning the ten-year Forest Development Project. Soon the useless Mukwa Forest will be replaced with a Mango Forest, and in only five years we shall begin to reap the benefits. Then all the animals will stop getting thinner, and start getting fatter. Then the king will build schools for all animals, so that they can also learn how to grow into rhinoceroses, or at least hippopotamuses. Then we shall be independent at last.’
‘Then the animals were very pleased, and would have celebrated their independence with a great feast, except that they had no food to eat. But there was one clever young lioness, Mumbi Munkusa, who didn’t believe a word she was reading in the newspapers. So she traveled day and night until she reached the forest. Then she crept through the forest at the dead of night, until she came to the king’s palace. And what did she see?’
‘She saw the watchdogs feasting with the king!’ declared Nawiti.
‘Exactly!’ I said. ‘Believe only what you see! There she found the most disgusting dogs’ dinner you ever did see. There they were, lying about on the ground, bloated with food and tujilijili. The palace servants were roasting more eland and kudu on a huge spit, while some of the dogs were licking the king’s boots. Others were licking his arse, since he was now far too fat to attend to his own toilet arrangements.
‘Traitors!’ roared Mumbi. ‘You have been corrupted! You’re nothing more than puppy dogs and lap dogs! We employed you as watchdogs!’
‘Then the lap dogs rushed at Mumbi and tried to eat her, shouting Don’t call us dogs! We’re press secretaries, public relations managers and image builders!’
‘And did they eat the brave Mumbi?’ asked Nawiti.
‘Of course not!’ I laughed. ‘They’d been eating too much sweet honey from the forest, so they had no teeth!’
‘My teacher,’ said Nawiti sadly, ‘says that we’re all animals.’
‘That’s true,’ I agreed. ‘But some are more animal than others.’

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