One day Anansi, that spider everyone knows is a trickster, was just sitting down to eat a meal when Turtle passed by his house. Turtle had been traveling all day and was very hungry. When he smelled Anansi's yams cooking, his mouth began to water.
Now it was customary in that part of the world, and especially near holiday times, for hosts to offer meals to anyone who happened to drop in at suppertime. So Turtle knew Anansi would offer him food if he stopped for a visit.
Turtle knocked on Anansi's door.
When Anansi heard the knock, he frowned. He did not want to share his meal with anyone, but he knew he had to answer the door. He opened the door and pretended he did not see Turtle. He looked way up, but of course Turtle was way down on the ground.
"Hmmm," Anansi said, "no one here." But just as he was closing the door, Turtle called, "I'm down here, Anansi. It's me, Turtle."
Anansi had to look down, and when Turtle caught Anansi's eye, he said, "How nice to see you, Anansi. And what a wonderful smell." He sniffed the air, inhaling the scent of those delicious yams.
Anansi knew he had no choice, and so he looked with some irritation at Turtle and said, "Come in then, and share my meal." But Anansi's heart was not in this offer. Anansi was greedy and did not like to share with anyone. He stood a moment trying to figure out just what he would do.
When they sat, Anansi came up with an idea.
Just as Turtle was about to take a big bite of yam, Anansi said, "Turtle, it is impolite to come to the table without washing. Just look at your hands. They're filthy."
Turtle was ashamed. His hands were dirty, for he had been crawling down the road all day long. He crawled quickly outside and trundled as fast as he could toward the creek, and there he washed his hands, all four. Then he hurried back to Anansi's house.
Just as Turtle reached for a yam, Anansi said, "Turtle, look at your hands!"
Well, sure enough, Turtle's hands were dirty again because he had crawled up the trail that led to Anansi's house. So once again he waddled to the creek. This time, when he finished washing, he crawled upon the grass back to Anansi's house.
By the time Turtle reached the table, the yams were all gone. Anansi had eaten every single one. Turtle's stomach rumbled with hunger, but he simply said, "Thank you for your hospitality, Anansi. Someday you must stop in at my home and share a meal with me."
A few days later, Anansi awoke feeling hungry, so he decided to go to Turtle's house at mealtime.
Turtle lived at the bottom of the creek, but when Anansi arrived, Turtle was sitting on the bank. "Welcome Anansi," Turtle said. "Did you come for a meal?"
"Yes, I did," Anansi said. "How kind of you to offer."
"Follow me," said Turtle. "The table is all set." And he dived under the water.
Anansi jumped into the water right behind Turtle, but instead of sinking, he popped to the surface and floated there. No matter how he tried to dive, he always popped up to the top. He jumped from rocks. He tried to swim with all his legs. Still, he could not reach Turtle's table.
Then Anansi had an idea. He gathered pebbles on the shore and put them in the pockets of his handsome dinner jacket, the one he had worn especially for this meal. Soon his pockets bulged with pebbles. This time when Anansi dived, he sank right down to the bottom of the creek and swam to Turtle's table.
Anansi's eyes popped wide open at the table full of shrimp and clams and crabs. He eagerly reached to fill his plate when Turtle said, "But Anansi, in my home, we always remove our dinner jackets before sitting down at the table." Sure enough, Anansi saw that Turtle wore no jacket.
Anansi looked longingly at the food, but he slowly slipped off his jacket, and as he did, the jacket sank to the bottom of the creek and Anansi popped right to the top. There he floated, frustrated and hungry as he watched Turtle, down below, chomping happily on a juicy crab.
"I've been tricked," Anansi cried. He lay upon the shore and thought of all the tricks he would play in return -- and everyone knows Anansi did just that.
The second book collection of wonderful tales from "Tell Me a Story" is available for $14.95, plus $2 for postage and handling. Send your orders to "The Spectacular Gift," in care of Andrews McMeel Publishing, P.O. Box 419242, Kansas City, Mo. 64141; or call (800) 642-6480. Be sure to indicate your newspaper's name on your order. Allow three to four weeks for delivery.
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600