I like the beginning of this story particularly because it’s a foreshadowing of other things I plan to do with the whole On the Ceiling project. It’s (hopefully) more than just an 8-part short story series, although it’s that too. For this reason, I’m going to post a longer “sneak-peak” excerpt than I usually do.
(Update: individual OTC stories are no longer available, but you can download them all in a single PDF collection on my OTC site.)
Kuukua and the Cavorting Cups
I kept my eyes fixed on one spot on the ceiling to help me concentrate as I strained my abdominal muscles. My father’s weight was concentrated on my feet, his hands on my knees, steadying me as I did fifty sit-ups according to his count. Chale, this workout regime dier, he was trying to kill me. I’d never signed up for this.
I wanted to complain, but couldn’t, partially because I was panting so heavily, and also because I knew that if I opened my mouth to speak or took my eyes off the ceiling for even a second, I would lose concentration and collapse.
“…forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty.”
My father released my knees, and I flopped to the ground like I would never rise again. The physical aspect of training hadn’t yet stopped being shocking. When I’d found out I had to go through training at all, I hadn’t known that intense physical workouts would be part of the package. For months, I’d been going through several strands of training – the kinds that didn’t leave me drenched in sweat and breathless. They’d involved community service, lessons in spider biology, and learning the secrets of the trades of my father and grandfather. But this P.E. strand had been as surprising as the method by which it was introduced to me.
It had happened a few weeks ago. During our lesson times, my father and I usually made our way to his workshop – our repurposed second garage – or sometimes, my grandfather’s “office” – the repurposed Boys’ Quarters that had been my grandfather’s makeshift chemistry lab for several years. This time, however, when he led me outside, we passed the garage right by and continued to our backyard, where, instead of explaining right away, he swung himself, surprisingly nimbly, onto a branch of our mango tree.
“What the hell!” I exclaimed, beyond shocked.
He ignored my surprise entirely, asking me instead, “Do you remember the story of Kwaku Ananse and the Pot of Wisdom?”
How was I supposed to be thinking about some stupid Kwaku Ananse story when I couldn’t even barb how my father was perched in a mango tree? I didn’t give a flying pesewa about Kwaku Ananse stories; they bored me to death, and I usually put more energy into trying to erase them from my memory than recalling them and their stupid morals.
“Daddy, how did you get onto the tree? Why are you on a tree?”
“Kuukua, focus! Do you remember the story of the Pot of Wisdom or not? Your mother and I read it to you before bed several times when you were younger.”
I was almost certain the baby Kuukua had tried her best to fall asleep quickly so she wouldn’t have to be put through the agony.
“I don’t remember.”
“Then I shall refresh your memory. One day, the spider-man, Kwaku Ananse…”
“You seriously cannot be trying to tell me a Kwaku Ananse story right now,” I said in disbelief.
“Kuukua, can’t you see I’m trying to teach you something? Just close your mouth for two minutes and listen, la!”
I sighed and pursed my lips shut. Maybe if I kept quiet, it would be over sooner.
My father launched into the story:
“One day, the spider-man, Kwaku Ananse, collected all the wisdom in the world and put it into a pot. He was greedy and wanted to keep all the world’s wisdom for himself so that he could use it when he wished and be the World’s Wisest Man.”
Well, in my opinion, it wasn’t very wise to believe that all the world’s wisdom could fit in a single pot. The story here had ended badly before it had begun.
“Kwaku Ananse wanted to hide the pot of wisdom where no one would find it. And so he decided to hide it at the top of a very tall tree. He strapped the pot to his front, against his belly, and proceeded to climb, but never got much higher than the ground before he slipped back down.”
Hoh. Common sense would tell you that climbing a tree with something strapped to your belly was a mark of true idiocy.
“But Kwaku Ananse’s son, Ntikuma, happened to be passing by, and saw his father struggling with the pot. So Ntikuma suggested to his father that perhaps it would be easier to climb with the pot strapped to his back instead. Ashamed, Kwaku Ananse realized that of course, Ntikuma was right. Once he put the pot on his back, climbing became very easy. But when he reached the top, he realized that it was all useless; for one thing, now that Ntikuma knew where the world’s wisdom was being kept, it was no longer Kwaku’s secret. For another thing, Kwaku realized he had scammed himself – for if he really had gathered all the wisdom in his pot, how come Ntikuma, on the ground, had wisely solved a problem he himself had been unable to get around? When he realized this, he was so shocked that he dropped the pot, and wisdom was once again distributed throughout the earth. And that is the end of the story as it’s commonly told.”
“And so the moral is what, that Kwaku Ananse is an imbecile who rarely realizes it until it’s too late?”
“Well, the traditionally accepted moral of the story is that no one man – or spider, or spider-man, or woman – can have all the wisdom in the world. But the conclusion that you just came to is what Ntikuma wants you to think.”
“Have you ever heard the saying that until the lion learns to speak, the tale will always glorify the hunter?”
“Yes. What does that have to do with anything?”
“Much more than you yet realize. You see, until Kwaku Ananse himself is the one to tell his own stories – which may indeed never happen, due to the nature of things – the tales will always glorify Ntikuma. Now, let me tell you what really happened: one of our ancient ancestors, an Ananse from several generations back, started out as a talented trickster, just like the rest of us. He was clever, the best in the village at cracking puzzles, solving riddles and interpreting and inventing proverbs. Every trick he ever played, he played with his mind. But as he grew, he realized that it wasn’t only nyansa that could get you far in life, although it had done well for him and his ancestors so far. As the tale goes, he sought out all the animals of the kingdom and learnt the wisdom of their ways – in both mind and body – with patience and diligence, until he had wholesomely educated himself with everything wise he could pick up from every creature around him. One of these creatures, of course, was the Monkey, and the Monkey’s lesson was agility. Although this Ananse was patient as he tried to learn how to climb a tree just like the Monkey did, he failed often. And I imagine more than one person witnessed his numerous failed attempts to climb the tree – any one of whom could have recreated the story the way they wanted his falls and failures to be perceived. I assure you, our ancestor learnt agility successfully in the end, though unfortunately – and this is the case with most of our ancestors – he failed to prevent the spread of the… what do we call it these days? Err… ‘fake news,’ is it? Anyhow, since his generation, physical training has always been part of the wholesome Ananse training program.”
Go back to the top of this post to download the full story! Lots of love,