The Heart of a Monkey – Pre-Intermediate Level
A long time ago there was a little town made up of small huts which stood in a tiny green valley by the sea. The people had taken care to build their huts far enough back so that, even in the biggest storm, the waves never came up to them. Between the town and the water stood a big fig tree. It was so large that half its branches hung over the huts and the other half hung over the deep clear water. The branches of the tree were always heavy with fruit.
Every day as the sun came up a big grey monkey would come from his house in the forest on the other side of the town to have breakfast in the tree. He could be seen sitting in its highest branches, happily talking to himself. After he had eaten all the ripe figs on the town side of the tree, the monkey would move along the branches to the part which hung over the water. Sharks loved to swim in the cool water under the tree. One day, while he was looking out for a nice place to sit and eat, he noticed a large shark watching him from the water below with hungry eyes.
“Can I do anything for you, my friend?” asked the monkey politely.
“Oh! If you only would throw me down some of that beautiful fruit, I should be so grateful,” answered the shark. “After you have lived on fish for fifty years you begin to feel you would like a change. And I am so very, very tired of the taste of salt.”
“Well, I don’t like salt myself,” said the monkey. “So, if you will open your mouth, I will throw some of these juicy figs into it.” As he spoke, he pulled one off the branch just above his head. But it was not so easy to hit the shark’s mouth as he thought. Even when the shark had turned on his back, the first fig hit his teeth and rolled into the water. However, the second time the monkey had better luck and the fruit fell right in.
“Ah, how good! Send me another, please,” cried the shark. The monkey grew tired of picking the figs long before the shark was tired of eating them.
“It is getting late, and I must be going home to my family,” the monkey finally said. “But if you are here at the same time tomorrow I will give you another treat.”
“Thank you, thank you. You can’t guess how happy you have made me,” said the shark, showing his long, sharp teeth as he smiled. He swam away into the deep water, hoping to sleep away the time till the monkey came again.
For weeks the monkey and the shark had breakfast together, and it was a wonder that the tree had any fruit left for them. They became good friends, and told each other all about their homes and their families.
Soon the monkey started to become bored with his green house in the forest. He wanted to see some of the strange things under the sea that the shark had told him about. The shark could see this and began to form a plan. He described many more wonders. As the monkey listened, his wish to leave the forest grew even greater.
“I wish I could thank you for all your kindness,” the shark said to the monkey one day. “I have nothing here to give you. But, if you would like to come to visit my home, there are many things there that I am sure you would like.”
“I should like nothing better,” cried the monkey. But how could I get there? Not by swimming. Ugh! It makes me ill to even think of it!”
“Oh! Don’t let that trouble you,” replied the shark. “You have only to sit on my back and I will make sure that not a drop of water touches you.”
So it was agreed, and directly after breakfast next morning the shark swam close up under the tree and the monkey dropped onto his back. At first the monkey felt a little frightened. However, after a few minutes, he began to enjoy himself greatly. He asked the shark a thousand questions about the fish and the strange things they saw under the water. As the shark always gave him some sort of answer, the monkey never guessed that many of these things were as new to his guide as to himself.
After they had been swimming for six days, the shark suddenly stopped. “My friend,” he said in a sad voice. “We have now completed half our journey. It is time that I told you something.”
“What is it?” asked the monkey. “It’s nothing unpleasant, I hope, for you sound very serious.”
“Oh, no! Nothing at all. It is only that shortly before we left I heard that my king is very ill. The only thing that will save his life is a monkey’s heart.”
“Poor man, I am very sorry for him,” replied the monkey. “But I wish you had told me this before we had started.”
“What do you mean?” asked the shark. But the monkey, who now understood the shark’s plan, did not answer at once. He was trying hard to think what he should say.
“Why are you so quiet?” asked the shark again.
“I was thinking how sorry I am that you did not tell me while I was still on land. Then I would have brought my heart with me.”
“What! Isn’t your heart here?” asked the shark, with a puzzled look.
“No! Of course not. Is it possible you don’t know that when monkeys leave home we always hang our heart on a tree so that it won’t get us in trouble? If you don’t believe, let us go on to your country as fast as we can. When we get there you can look for my heart. If you find it, you can kill me. But if you can’t find it, we will have to go all the way back to get it.”
The monkey spoke so calmly, as if he was not scared at all, that the shark believed him. “There is no use going on if your heart is not with you,” said the shark. “We had better turn back to the town, and then you can go and get it.”
Of course, this was just what the monkey wanted. But he was careful not to seem too pleased.
“Well, I don’t know,” he said as if it did not matter one way or the other. “It is such a long way, but you may be right.”
“I am sure I am right,” answered the shark. “I will swim as quickly as I can.”
The shark swim quickly. As the sun was coming up the fourth day, they could see the big fig tree hanging over the water.
When they came to the tree the monkey caught hold of the nearest branch and climbed up. “Wait for me here,” he called out to the shark. “I am so hungry I must have a little breakfast. After that I will go and look for my heart.” He went further and further into the branches so that the shark could not see him. Then he found a nice place where he curled up and went to sleep.
The shark was soon tired of swimming about under the tree, and was in a hurry to be on his way home again. “Are you there?” he called.
The monkey woke up, but did not answer.
“Are you there?” called the shark again. His voice was louder than before, and he sounded very angry.
“Oh, yes. I am here,” replied the monkey. “But I wish you had let me sleep. I was having such a nice dream.”
“Have you got it?” asked the shark. “It is time we were going.”
“Going where?” asked the monkey.
“Why, to my country, of course, with your heart. You can’t have forgotten!”
“My dear friend,” answered the monkey, with a laugh. “I think you must be going a little mad. Do you think that I am a washerman’s donkey?”
The shark did not like being laughed at. “Stop this foolishness at once,” he cried. “What has this got to do with a washerman’s donkey? Please hurry, or we may be too late to save the king.”
“Did you really never hear of the washerman’s donkey?” asked the monkey, who was enjoying himself greatly. “Why, he is the animal who has no heart. I won’t be going home with you, but if you wish I’ll come a little nearer and tell you his story.”
“Very well,” said the shark sadly. “If you will not come with me, I might as well listen to your story as do nothing.”
So the monkey began.
A washerman once lived in the forest on the other side of the town. He had a donkey which kept him company and carried him wherever he wanted to go. He was always kind to the donkey, and for a long time they got on very well. However, as the donkey grew older she became lazy and ungrateful. She ran away several miles into the heart of the forest where she did nothing but eat and eat and eat. She soon grew so fat that it was hard for her to run.
One day she found a quite a new kind of grass. As she was tasting it to see if it was as good as what she had eaten the day before, a hare happened to pass by.
“Well, there is a fat donkey,” thought the hare. And she turned off her path to give this news to a lion friend of hers. The lion had been very ill, and was not strong enough to go hunting for himself. When the hare came and told him that a fat donkey was to be found nearby, tears of sadness filled his eyes.
“What is the good of telling me that?” he cried. “You know that I am too weak to leave my cave.”
“Don’t worry,” answered the hare. “If you can’t go to get your dinner, your dinner shall come to you. Wait here and I will be back soon.” And so the hare went back to the donkey.
“Good morning,” she said politely to the donkey, who lifted her head in surprise. “I am sorry to disturb you, but I have come on very important business.”
“Really!” answered the donkey. “It is most kind of you to take the trouble. May I ask what the business is?”
“Certainly,” replied the hare. “My friend the lion has heard so many good things about you that he has sent me to ask if you would marry him. He is very sorry that he is unable to ask you in person, but he has been ill and is too weak to move.”
“Poor thing! How sad!” said the donkey. “Please tell him that I feel honoured, and will happily agree to be Queen of the Forest.”
“Could you please come and tell him so yourself?” asked the hare. “I am sure it will make him very happy.”
Side by side they went down the path which led to the lion’s cave. It took a long while, for the donkey was so fat from eating too much that she could only walk very slowly. The hare, who could have run the distance in about five minutes, had to go along so slowly that it made her tired. When they at last reached the cave the lion was sitting at the entrance looking very thin and weak. The donkey suddenly grew shy and hung her head, but the lion spoke very kindly and asked both of his visitors to come inside and sit down.
Very soon the hare got up. “I have some other business to take care of,” she said. “I will leave you two to get to know each other better.”
The donkey expected that as soon as they were left alone the lion would begin to speak of their marriage. As the lion said nothing, she looked up. To her surprise and terror she saw him crouching in the corner with a cruel look in his eyes. With a loud roar he sprang towards her. But in that moment the donkey had had time to prepare herself. She jumped to one side and gave the lion such a hard kick that he cried out in pain. The lion hit out at her again and again with his claws. But the lion was very weak after his illness. Another kick from the donkey knocked him right over and he rolled on the floor. The donkey did not wait for him to get up. She ran away as fast as she could and was soon lost in the forest.
Now the hare had thought this might happen. She did not go away on her other business, but hid herself in some bushes near the cave. She could hear quite clearly the sounds of the fighting, and when all was quiet again came out and called to her friend.
“Well, lion, have you killed her?”
“Killed her!” cried the lion sadly, “it was she who has nearly killed me. I never knew that a donkey could kick like that. But I did make sure that she carried away some scratches from my claws.”
“Dear me!” said the hare. “Who would have thought that such a fat thing would be able to fight. But don’t be angry with yourself. Just lie still and wait till you are feeling stronger. Then we will see who is the better fighter.” She then said goodbye to her friend, and returned to her home.
Two or three weeks passed. The scratches on the donkey’s back from the lion’s claws were almost covered over with new skin. On his side, the lion was no longer ill and was now as strong as ever. He was beginning to think that it was almost time for him to begin hunting again, when one morning he heard a noise outside his cave.
The hare’s head appeared. “Ah! There is no need to ask how you are feeling,” she said when she saw how well he looked. “Still, you must take things slowly for a while. Shall I go and bring you your dinner?”
“If you will bring me that donkey, I will tear it in two,” roared the lion. The hare laughed and went looking for the donkey.
This time the donkey was much further away than before. At last the hare found her lying on a soft cool bed of grass near a stream.
“Good morning,” said the hare politely. The donkey got up slowly and looked to see who her visitor could be.
“Oh, it is you, is it?” she said. “Come in and sit down with me. What news have you got?”
“I can’t stay,” answered the hare. “But I promised the lion to ask you to pay him another visit. He is still not well enough to call on you.”
“I don’t know,” replied the donkey. “The last time we went he scratched me very badly. I really was quite scared.”
“He was only trying to kiss you,” said the hare, “and you kicked him. As you might expect, this made him angry.”
“How can I be sure that he won’t try to scratch me again,” asked the donkey.
“Oh, you may be quite sure,” laughed the hare. “I have many lion friends. But let us be quick.” Although still a little worried, the donkey set off with the hare once more.
The lion saw them coming and hid himself behind a large tree. As the donkey went past following the hare, he sprang out, and with one blow killed the poor foolish animal.
“Take this meat and cook it,” the lion said to the hare. “I am still not as hungry as I used to be, so the only part I want for myself is the heart. The rest you can either keep for yourself or give away to other friends.”
“Thank you,” replied the hare, pulling the donkey’s body along the ground to an open space where she could make a fire. As soon as the donkey was cooked the hare took out the heart and ate it.
As she finished eating, the lion came up. “I am hungry and tired of waiting,” he said. “Bring me the donkey’s heart. It is just what I feel like for dinner.”
“But this is a washerman’s donkey,” said the hare. “There is no heart.”
“Don’t be silly,” said the lion. “Every animal has a heart. What’s a washerman’s donkey?”
“You mean you don’t know?” said the hare. “You are a grown lion. Surely have heard of washerman’s donkeys. If this donkey had had a heart, would she be here now? The first time she came, she saw that you were trying to kill her and ran away. Yet she came back a second time. Tell me, if she had had a heart, would she have come back a second time? Now would she?”
And the lion answered slowly, “No, she would not.”
“So do you think I am a washerman’s donkey?” said the monkey to the shark when the story was ended. “You are wrong. I am not. And as the sun is getting low in the sky, it is time for you to begin your journey home. Goodbye, and I hope you will find the king better.” And with that the monkey disappeared among the green branches of the tree and was gone.