The Turtle – An Ancient Arab Parable

There was once a happy turtle who lived in a small lake with two geese. They were the greatest of friends, frolicking together and fishing together the deepness. But time was not a friend to the small pond, and the sun became stronger and the rains began to dry, and the pond slowly receded. The fish became few and strong – and the geese and the turtle became hungry. As hunger set in, they began to fight against each other for the young, tender fish and resentment began to grow. The turtle accused the geese of gluttony, of leaving nothing for him while the geese accused the turtle of sloth, not doing what was required to stay alive. Finally the pond grew too small, and the geese called the turtle, ‘We have been friends for a long time, and our life here has been glorious. But now we must continue on, for what we have now will not sustain all three of us.’


‘Go, as you must,’ the turtle said without bitterness, ‘but know also that I cannot go with you. You can fly away to find fertile ponds and lush grasses – but me, if I leave this lagoon I will die of thirst and hunger in the desert. Leave me, make a life for yourself. My time is over.’ The geese left to deliberate, afraid for their friend and angered by the situation. They returned the next day ‘what if we were to carry you with us?’ ‘How, I am heavy and none of us have any hands?’ ‘Perhaps’ one of the geese said, ‘we could fly you out on our backs.’ ‘Then how would you flap your wings?’ ‘Perhaps’ the other one said, ‘you could hold onto our feet?’ ‘I am too heavy,’ said the turtle again, ‘you would not get off the ground.’ For a time they thought about this predicament, until at once the geese came up with a plan, ‘we will hold a stick between us with our feet, and you will grab onto the middle of it with your powerful beak. We will carry you that way until we find again a deep pond. But there is one thing you must consider,’ said one of the geese, ‘you must not speak, lest you lose your grip and fall.’

The turtle agreed, holding to the middle of the stick while the two geese lifted him out of the water. They flew over sand and hill, over rock and river always in search of the elusive perfect pond that would be the land of plenty for the trio. The flight was long, and as they traversed over more populous areas the turtle began to become the object of unwanted attention. ‘Look a flying turtle,’ and ‘look how bizarre.’ The jeers and leers rang in his ears long after the perpetrators were over the horizon – for the turtle was a proud old animal. Finally, beside one particularly deep canyon, on the edge a family of squirrels sat starting – and when they realized it was a turtle flying above their tree they laughed and began the most vicious mocking of the turtle’s long life – more it seemed than he could endure. ‘You filthy tree rats,’ he opened his mouth to scream, but when he did he realized immediately his folly for he plunged into the deep canyon to his death.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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