Once upon a time, when tortoises still had shells that were not cracked, in a land far, far away, there was a famine in the land of the animals. The rain had not fallen for many, many months. Lots of trees had been cut down by human beings to make fire and build houses. Ajapa the Tortoise and other animals and birds were always hungry. The Tortoise was lying in the shade of a tree one scorching, sunny afternoon when he heard some birds perched above him on one of the trees. They were very excited because a very kind family of Turkeys who lived far away on the other side of the mountain had invited them for a feast.
Ajapa’s ears perked up when he heard the word feast. He stuck out his skinny neck because he had been hiding his head in his shell to protect himself from the sun. He had been trying to sleep but could not because his tummy was rumbling so loud with hunger that the noise kept him awake.
“Feast?” Tortoise whispered to himself. He stretched out his neck as far as he could make it go.
“Good day to you, dearest friends!” he called out to the birds who had not noticed him.
“Who is it?” Squeaked a Kolibri the Hummingbird.
“It is Ajapa, your friendly neighbourhood tortoise.”
“Oh, hello then. I don’t think we’ve ever met,” said Eyele, the Pidgeon.
“Oh, but we have. You just don’t remember.” Tortoise lied.
“Well, what can we do for you?” Adaba, the Dove asked
“I was just wondering if I could be your friend. You see, I’m alone here, no friends or family. I’d love to be your friend.” Ajapa said in his sweetest voice.
“Ok,” said Eyele, the Pidgeon.
“Ok?” Okin, the Peacock, who at that time could still fly, looked down his nose at Ajapa. “But, you’re not a bird like us. You don’t have wings. We can’t be friends with wingless creatures,” he said.
“Come on,” Adaba, the Dove said. “What difference does it make if he does not have wings? You have wings, but you cannot even fly as fast as any of us, and we’re still friends with you.” Adaba added.
“Nice to meet you, Ajapa. We are just planning how to attend a feast tomorrow. You’re invited now that you are our friend,” said Kolibri the Hummingbird.
Ajapa smiled broadly, ‘This is going a lot easier than I had expected.’ He thought to himself.
“But I see a little problem,” the willy Ajapa said in a very sad voice. “You’re birds and can fly. I’m only a land animal. How can I go with you across the mountain?”
“That’s not a problem. Peacock can hardly fly either, but he’s coming. We’re each going to donate feathers from our wings to him so that he can fly as fast and as far as the rest of us,” said Pidgeon,
“His feathers are just beautiful, but he can hardly fly. We’ll do the same for you.” Kolibri the Hummingbird explained.
“I think you guys are making a big mistake. Look at him. Just look at that shell of his. He must way a ton. He’ll need loads and loads of your feathers.” Peacock did not trust Ajapa
“Not necessarily,” said Owiwi, the Owl. The number of feathers doesn’t matter. It is all about knowing how to use them. We’ll teach him.”
“Oh, thank you very much, my dearest friends. When do we set off?” Ajapa was pleased.
So, the birds set about dressing Peacock and Tortoise up in their feathers. By the time they were ready, Tortoise was so excited he simply spread out his borrowed wings and astonished even himself by how easily he could fly. Peacock, too, could fly higher and faster than he had ever flown, but he was not as excited as Ajapa because although he liked being able to fly, he thought the borrowed feathers were not as pretty as his beautiful ones. But he was hungry and would not miss the chance of attending the feast, even if in ugly borrowed feathers.
“Gather round everybody. It’s time to set off. We don’t want to be late for the feast,” announced Eyele, the Pidgeon.
“We should all fly there in a convoy. Peacock and Tortoise should be in the front row so we can keep an eye on them in case they have any trouble with the borrowed feathers,” Owiwi, the Owl suggested.
“Oh, thank you very much,” said Okin, the Peacock. For once, he felt humbled.
“And one essential thing. We must all be on our best behaviour. We don’t want to get there and start acting greedy, gobbling everything and fighting over the goodies they serve us.” Owiwi, the Owl, cautioned the others.
They all agreed. Ajapa, the Tortoise, whose mouth was already salivating at the thought of the delicious roasted yams and palm oil that he knew the Turkeys on the other side of the mountain were famous for, raised his hand.
“Excuse me, dear friends, are we not forgetting something really important?”
“What do you think we’ve forgotten?” Asked the Kookaburra, the Laughing Jackass.
“Well, umm, umm, I’ve heard that the Tolotolo family, I mean the Turkey family are very sophisticated creatures. They like their guests to have exciting and fashionable nicknames. They don’t like to call people by their given names because it’s old-fashioned.”
“Really? What an odd thing to do.” Wondered Aiyekooto, the Parrot.
“Well, it’s not so odd. All the most sophisticated and fashionable animals and birds do so these days. It’s the rave nowadays. I am sure our sophisticated friend, Okin, the Peacock, knows all about it.”
“Well, of course!” Okin the Peacock lied. He was too vain to admit that he did not know a new trend. He prided himself on being the most beautiful and fashionable bird around. “Yes, using nicknames is the way to have fun at any fashionable party nowadays.”
“Well, then, let’s not waste any more time. Let’s come up with fun nicknames for the party!” Eyele, the Pidgeon said excitedly.
“I’ll be known as the beautiful one,” said Okin, the Peacock.
“I’ll be the master of laughter,” said Kookaburra, the Laughing Jackass.
“Owl, you should be the wise one,” said Kolibri, the Hummingbird.
“And you, my dear little friend, should be called the resourceful one.” Replied, Owiwi, the Owl.
Tortoise waited for all the birds to pick their nicknames, then he cleared his throat. “I will be called ‘All of you.’”
“All of You?” chorused all the birds.
“Well, let me explain, dearest friends.” He raised up his wings made from the feathers borrowed from them. “Can’t you see this is my humble way of saying thank you for honouring me by adorning me with your beautiful feathers?”
“Oh, that’s so sweet of you,” chirped Adan, the bat who was feeling sleepy. He was not used to being awake during the day, but he was ravenous and could not wait for the party.
So off they all went, flying over tall trees and a few not so tall hills, across a winding river till they got close to the mountain top, which was the venue of the party.
All the birds had to fly much higher, and Ajapa found himself struggling because the burrowed wings could not hold up his weight. A group of birds saw him struggling and quickly went to his rescue. They flew right underneath him so they could help bear his weight.
They flew like this till they got over the mountain, and it was safe for him to fly the rest of the way by himself.
The party was already in full swing when they got there. A band was playing, and most of the birds could not resist flying around, saying hi to friends from far and near and mingling with new creatures they had never met.
Ajapa, the Tortoise, who was only at the party for the food and had a trick up his sleeves, started calling out to them. “Come on, you guys, we don’t want to appear rude. We must go and introduce ourselves to the hostess.”
So, the birds filled up in a row and went to shake hands with Mrs. Tolotolo, the head of the Turkey family. Tortoise pushed his way to the head of the line and introduced himself.
“Thank you very much for inviting us to your feast. Let me start by introducing myself. I am ‘All of you’.” Once again, he spread out his borrowed wings which made the hostess laugh because Tortoise looked really odd with the mismatched wings. Tortoise then stepped aside, bowed elaborately, and introduced the others by their nicknames.
After the introductions, the hostess ushered them to a table, immediately, a waiter came over with a large jar of drink.
“So who is the drink for?’ Ajapa asked, knowing what the answer would be.
“It’s for all of you.” The waiter placed the jar on the table and left.
Tortoise took a sip of the delicious juice. “I’m sure they’ll soon bring yours.” He said when he saw how the birds were looking at him.
Next came a large tray of piping hot roasted yams. The yams drizzled with palm oil spiced with aromatic peppers and salt.
Again, Ajapa asked the waiter who it was for.
“It’s for all of you, of course.” The waiter replied, puzzled by the question.
“Well, you heard the waiter.” Ajapa tucked into it, and after stuffing himself full. He offered the little leftover to the birds, who had now realized the trick he was playing on them.
They left the party angrily, but Ajapa was enjoying himself too much to care. After finishing the large jar of juice, he asked for some palm wine and partied with other guests till it was very late.
He had more fun at the party than he ever had in his entire life and was feeling very pleased that his plan to trick the birds worked.
After the party, he dusted up his borrowed feathers and stretched them out to start the long flight back home. The feathers took him off the ground, and he began the journey. Everything was fine till he reached the very high mountain where he had needed the help of the birds to scale on the way to the party. He flapped and flapped the borrowed wings as fast as he could so he could fly higher to get past the mountain. At first, it seemed like he would make it, but suddenly he started plummeting down. The wings had started disintegrating because he had flapped too hard and fast!
Tortoise started screaming, but no one was there to hear or help him. He plummeted and plummeted till CRASHHHHH! He hit the hard surface of the mountain, crushing his shell. That is why to this very day, if you look closely at the shells of tortoises, you will notice there are crack marks.