Tonderai, both hands still cupped together, turns slowly to face each corner of the room. When he speaks each word is gusted loud then soft by the wind.
“Uncle tells the Children about this animal that he has carved, this creature whose shape Knowledge does not recognise. ‘This is Pangolin. On the outside Pangolin’s skin is tough as rock. Not like Crocodile’s, but smoother, like many bottle tops, placed each beside the other.’
The Children listen with big eyes.
‘This skin, Pangolin’s skin,’ says Uncle, ‘is so tough that even Lion cannot crack it with its teeth. And Pangolin has one other trick. What is that? What do you do if you are small, and being chased by something that is big and strong?’
‘Run,’ says Knowledge, jumping on his toes.”
“‘No,’ says Uncle. ‘No. There you are mistaken Knowledge, for Pangolin is not a fast runner. Not like you perhaps. So what must Pangolin do?’
‘I know,’ says Hope shyly. ‘Pangolin must hide in its special skin.’
‘Yes,’ says Uncle. ‘You are right Hope. That is it. Pangolin must stay very, very still until the danger passes, and then, only then, may Pangolin proceed.’
‘Oho,’ say the Children wisely.
‘And,’ says Uncle, ‘there is one other thing. It is not what Pangolin can do, but what others can do for Pangolin. What is that?’
‘Help it,’ says Hope.
‘Of course!’ says Uncle. ‘That is what friends are for, and we can all be friends of Pangolin.’
‘Have you seen Pangolin Uncle?’ asks Knowledge.
‘Yes,’ says Uncle. ‘Once, when I was with my father we saw one, and he told me that to see one in the wild is the greatest gift. And that Pangolin should not be touched, for Pangolin is like a miracle. You see, Pangolin was in Africa before you, before me, before our fathers’ fathers. Too far back to even count. And Pangolin is tougher than Crocodile, and so quiet that you may not hear it coming.’
‘I would hear Pangolin,’ says Knowledge. ‘I would.’
‘Hmm,’ says Uncle.
‘Once I think I heard Pangolin but I did not look because I did not want to frighten it.’
‘Ah so,’ says Uncle, and he winks at Knowledge, the orphan child.
Now all the Children nod their heads. They too remember that they might have heard Pangolin. And the more they think about it, the more they are sure that they did, and that even today they might see Pangolin again. So off they tiptoe, eyes wide, ears sharp – listening, listening – to see if today they too might be fortunate. If they too might be friends to Pangolin.”
Tonderai, with a hand now cupped to each ear, begins to tiptoe his gumboots around the firepit, looking this way, and then that. Simi laughs, and hears Marybelle laugh too. Then Tonderai stops his creeping, and stands tall and still, waiting for the laughter to end, before he carries on with his tale.
“Girl laughs. She sees that she is not the only storyteller in the family. And she is happy, for now she knows that Uncle will not be lonely while he does his dangerous work – work so dangerous that if Snake finds out, it will be very bad for Uncle. Girl shivers, and leaves him to his carving.”
Tonderai looks around the room. “This is how the change begins – slowly, slowly, and noticed only by two. One is Uncle, who some do not even see is there, and the other is Girl, who many think is worth nothing for she is only a girl. But this is their mistake … not ours.”
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023