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Stilts, Part 3

Across the hot plains of Sudan, the Black Rhinoceros and her child continued their journey in search of water. The calf had asked his mother why Giraffes, and Western Tessebes walked on stilts, and she answered readily after a moment of thought. But he had also queried about the stilts belonging to Mantids and Secretary Bird, and received as answer: “ You may ask the owners of the stilts.” The young one took her advice and asked a Praying Mantis why his legs were stilts. To the calf’s surprise, he was not told the answer but was shown it! The first pair were for hunting! But now the little rhinoceros was on the look out for a Secretary Bird who could explain his scaly, tall legs. There was, unfortunately, no sign of such a raptor for the remainder of their journey until the rhinos reached the Chari river. Feeling a mite discouraged and a mighty bit thirsty and hot, the calf lowered his head to drink.

Suddenly, a swift blur intercepted his nose and the cooling drink. The calf felt a tickle of feathers against his nostrils as the swift something passed. He knew that he had found his Secretary Bird. But where was it now? He scanned the horizon and there, a few rhino steps away, was an medium-sized, ostrich-legged, orange-faced, grey-bodied Secretary Bird. There was a snake at its feet, the very same snake it had chased from beneath the young rhino’s nose.

Without thinking, the calf ran clumsily from his mother’s side towards it. The bird’s orange visage turned pale peach at the sight of what looked to be a fierce charge, and the quills behind its head lowered. With a swift movement, it grasped its prey with its bill, and prepared itself to flee for its life. But to its relief, the calf child halted a few feet before it, and inquired hastily: “May I ask you a question, sir?”A feeling of importance now swelled in the bird’s breast, and up went the quills.

“Mmmhmm hmm hm.” It replied, the serpent yet in its mouth. The rhino child took this mysterious answer to be a yes (and it was; a very elegant yes) and shot the question at the  speed of a diving peregrine falcon. The head of the Secretary Bird rang like a bell after the speedy query. Again it began to mumble something past the snake in its bill, but seeing its listener terribly confused, finally took the risk of dropping the meal. Now freed, it stood straight and tall, displaying the greatest dignity.   “We have long legs because we must run, child. We must run because we must hunt, child, and we hunt because we must eat snakes, child, which we stamp dead with our claws, child.”  The calf had never heard a creature say child so many times in a speech, but when the last “child” was uttered he felt relieved. Now he knew why the Secretary Birds have stilts. Now he knew why Mantids have stilts.Now he knew why Giraffes and Western Tessebes have stilts, and that was quite enough for one day.

He thanked the Secretary Bird cordially, who, in turn gave a deep bow during which it stealthily  snatched its meal before trotting off. The calf then lumbered back to his mother who was relaxing by the steadily flowing river. She watched as her young rhino trotted heavily over to the water’s edge and began to drink. Then she shut her eyes, preparing for a moment’s peace and relaxation.

But all serenity was abruptly shattered when her son’s voice came to her ears voicing-can you guess? -a question!

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