The gift of the sun
a tale from South Africa
Thulani loved to bask all day in the sun. Every afternoon when the sun began to sink, he stood up, straightened his stiff back and went to milk the cow.
One day, as he was milking, Thulani said, "I am tired of all this milking. I will sell the cow and buy a goat."
Early next morning, Thulani left the house with his cow and returned at midday, led by a grizzly old billy-goat.
"Oh Thulani!" sighed Dora, his wife. "You've sold the cow and now we'll have no milk! What good is this goat to us?"
"Goats can look after themselves, Dora," said Thulani.
Dora turned away and went to pick bananas.
Thulani went back to his life in the sun – until one day the goat strayed into the house and ate their store of dried corn.
"Wake up, Thulani!" shouted Dora. "That nuisance goat has eaten all our seed. It will have to go!"
Thulani felt sad. But that night he had an idea. "I will sell the goat and buy a sheep," he thought.
The next morning, while the dew was still on the ground, Thulani left the house with the old billy-goat. He came back that evening, just as the horns of the crescent moon were rising through the wood-smoke.
"Where have you been?" cried Dora.
"To the store," said Thulani. "I've bought you a sheep. She won't be any trouble."
Dora shrugged her shoulders. "At least we'll be able to sell her fleece in the spring," she said.
All winter long, Thulani sat about, looking after the sheep. He missed being able to sleep in the sun.
When the first leaves appeared on the trees, Dora said: "That sheep looks shaggy. It's time to shear her."
Thulani brought out the shears and started to clip the sheep. But as he was shearing, he thought, "This work is too much for me, I will sell the fleece and the sheep."
The next day, Thulani left the house with the sheep and the shaggy fleece. He sold them at the store, and bought three geese with the money.
"Dora will be pleased," Thulani thought, as he drove the geese home. "Geese eat anything."
But when Dora saw them, she said, "Thulani, we need seed, not geese. It is spring and time to plant our crops. Don't you remember –that nuisance goat ate all our seed?"
So next morning, poor Thulani left the house with the three geese, went back to the store, and exchanged them for some seed.
All the way home, the seeds jumped around in Thulani's pocket. "At last," he thought, "Dora will be pleased with me."
He looked at the ground that Dora had prepared. "I'll do the planting," he said. "I'll start today."
And as he sowed the seed, he looked up and saw the first swallows flitting overhead. Summer was coming. He could bask in the sun once more!
Soon the first green shoots broke through the cloddy soil. Dora weeded the field and imagined the wonderful crop they would have.
But when the leaves unfurled she came running, and cried, "Thulani, come and look! You have planted a field of sunflowers. What good are they to us? All they do is follow the sun from morning to night – just like you."
Thulani felt sad. All he wanted was to please Dora.
As the weeks passed, Thulani noticed that the sunflower heads were flopping and dropping their seeds on to the ground. There were so many seeds, he collected them in a bag and fed them to the hens.
Not long after, Dora went to collect the eggs and found two more than usual. The next day there were three more, and the following day there were eggs everywhere!
"Thulani," said Dora excitedly, "these hens are laying more eggs than ever before. They must like the sunflower seed. Now we shall have extra eggs to sell."
At last Thulani had done something right! He rushed out with the eggs, sold them at the store and bought a sheep. Late in the season, the sheep had twin lambs.
"I'm going to sell the sheep and keep the lambs," said Thulani. Dora smiled.
When Thulani sold the sheep and proudly brought home a cow, Dora was delighted.
"Oh Thulani! It will be good to have milk again."
Soon, Thulani became so busy trading animals, he no longer had time to sit about in the sun. Life was too exciting!
But he always found time to sit down and milk the cow.
"You know Dora, my best thoughts come to me when I'm milking," said Thulani – and they both burst out laughing, as the sun went down over the hill.
The gift of the sun: a tale from South Africa
London, Frances Lincoln, 1996