Mischievous Mouse Deer – a rejigged tale from Malaysia
One morning, in the raucous racket of the rainforest, Mouse Deer was nervously nibbling grass tips, snaffling tree buds and chomping fallen fruits. Suddenly, a shadow fell upon the ground. He started, and then looked up into the fiery eyes of his old enemy, Tiger.
“Yikes!” exclaimed Mouse Deer.
“Gotcha!” growled Tiger. “Breakfast is served.”
Mouse Deer thought quickly. He looked left, he looked right, he looked up, he looked down, and then he said,
“No, you can’t eat me this morning. You’ll have to eat me this afternoon because I’m guarding the King’s drum.”
“The King’s drum?” scoffed Tiger. “How do you know the King?”
“Oh, the King and my father go back a long way.”
“Typical! Friends in high places,” said Tiger.
“It’s my first day at work,” said Mouse Deer, “and I’ll get into trouble if I let you play the drum.”
“You’re lying. I can’t see a drum,” scoffed Tiger.
As quick as a flash Mouse Deer declared,
“It’s up there, in that tualang tree. It’s top secret. You mustn’t tell anyone.”
Sure enough, there was the shape of something that looked very much like a drum hanging from a branch.
“Oh please,” pleaded Tiger, “I want to play the drum. I want to beat it and bonk it and whack it and bash it. I love music. I used to be in a band until I ate it. Look, I can keep a secret if you can. If you hide behind that bush over there and close your eyes and your ears, you can say you didn’t know I played the drum, and when I’ve finished, I’ll eat you and I promise I won’t tell anyone else you let me play the drum and everyone will be happy.”
“All right, I’ll go behind that bush and close my eyes and block up my ears, and I won’t know you’ve played the King’s drum so I won’t get into trouble, and afterwards you can eat me,” said Mouse Deer, as he trotted away.
“I knew we’d come to a compromise”, sighed Tiger. “It’s wonderful to deal with someone so reasonable. Shame we can’t be friends for longer.”
And so, Tiger climbed up the tree trunk and crawled along a branch towards the object dangling beneath.
Do you know what I know, and what Mouse Deer knew but Tiger didn’t? Have you guessed? It wasn’t a drum at all. It was a bees’ nest.
And when Tiger beat it with his front paws, it shattered into a thousand pieces, and hundreds of angry bees swarmed around Tiger and stung his eyes and ears and nose and face and other places I won’t mention.
He fell to the ground with a bump and snarled.
“Come here Mouse Deer. I’m sore at you, and now I’m going to eat you.”
But Mouse Deer had already skedaddled. He’d vamoosed. He’d scarpered to elsewhere in the rainforest, where he’d spied a bell fruit tree. His brain fizzed, his stomach churned, and his mouth slathered at the thought of those juicy red fruits. Only one problem. It was on the other side of a lake full to bursting with crocodiles, snapping, tearing and terrorizing the other unfortunate water wildlife.
Now, he could have walked around the lake but that would have taken too long. So how did this plucky little fellow solve this dilemma?
Well, if you’d like to find out. Read on.
He called for the crocodiles’ attention, grandly informing them that the King was soon to pay them a visit, but before he arrived wanted to know just how many crocodiles there would be to greet him. Mouse Deer’s job was to count the crocodiles and so, would they all please, without any fuss, form a straight line, snout to tail, across the lake.
The crocodiles were agreeable to this, as the quicker they got this over with, the quicker they could start planning for the King’s visit.
With his heart in his mouth, this daring little devil, trotted, one after the other over the bodies of the obedient crocodiles, counting loudly as he went and when he safely reached the far side proudly proclaimed, “One hundred and one.”
As Mouse Deer tucked into the ripe red fruits that had fallen from the tree, the crocodiles held a meeting to prepare for the King’s imminent arrival.
After he’d eaten his fill, he thought it probably best not to chance his luck a second time with those rapacious reptiles. He decided to walk around the lake to get home. Unfortunately, not looking where he was going, he soon fell into a deep pit.
When a passing elephant happened to notice our wily friend at the bottom of the hole, Mouse Deer told her that the sky was about to fall and that the safest thing to do was to hide down here with him or else be crushed to dust. Ten minutes after clambering down, Mouse Deer asked the elephant to lift him onto her back so he could watch the sky as it fell. No sooner had the elephant picked him up by her trunk and placed him on her head, this clever critter hopped to safety leaving the poor pachyderm helpless in the pit.
So, by now no doubt, you’ve got the measure of our tricksy Mouse Deer.
Do you happen to know anyone like him? Someone who lives on their wits and can get the better of anyone bigger, stronger and faster?
Well, all day long he was getting in and out of scrapes – many of his own making it’s true, but others he couldn’t help. Sometimes he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It wasn’t his fault, that because of a misunderstanding, Sun Bear’s tongue got stuck in a bamboo flute and was stung by a scorpion.
It was very funny though, how when he’d gone to the edge of town, he’d fooled Macaque. The monkey was in a ruined building gloating over his stash of stolen mobile phones, pens, sunglasses, wallets and keys. From outside, Mouse Deer warned, “You’re surrounded. You’ve been caught on security cameras stealing from tourists at the temple. Come out with your paws in the air.” When Macaque went outside to hand himself over to the police, Mouse Deer darted in and ran off with an iPad.
But sometimes, even he realised, his mischievous ways went too far. He didn’t know when to stop. Mouse Deer wasn’t to know that when he woke up Pangolin and told her that hunters were after her scales for the Queen’s new necklace, she’d be so scared and scamper off sobbing. He’d only wanted to have a nap in her burrow.
But all in all, at the end of the day, Mouse Deer thought he’d done really well for himself. After all, despite upsetting Pangolin, he’d had some fun and had not been eaten.
Uh oh, I’ve spoken too soon. Who’s that lurking in the evening’s shadows? Tiger’s back, and he wants revenge.
“Right, you made a fool of me this morning but now it’s evening and this will be your last.”
“No!” shrieked Mouse Deer, “you can’t eat me for supper because I’m guarding something for the King.”
“Not that trick again. You must think I’m stupid. What are you going to say this time? You’re guarding his crown, his throne, his gold-plated helicopter?” mocked Tiger.
“No, I’m guarding his belt. Look, it’s over there, by the log.”
In the fading light, Tiger could just make out the shape of something coiled up on the ground.
“Hm, that could come in handy. I’ve been thinking of getting some trousers but worried about them falling. A belt will stop that happening. Now, if I wear trousers, I’ll get a jacket too. A white linen suit would be sensible, as it’s so hot and humid in the jungle. I’ll look really cool. I’m fed up with these stripes. All tiger’s look the same these days. I’ll stand out from the crowd. I’ll wear a hat and get a man bag. I’ll get a bit of bling too. I’m going to try that belt on for size whether it belongs to the King or not. If he doesn’t like it, he can try and take it from me!”
As quick as a blink, Tiger reached down to pick up the thing on the floor.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that the coiled shape spotted by Mouse Deer was not a belt at all. Yep. It was Cobra. And Cobra didn’t like the idea of being wrapped around Tiger’s waist, so it sank its fangs into Tiger’s nose.
As the sun sets, I’ll leave you to imagine the silhouette of a strange looking elephant doing a funny dance. Then picture too, Mouse Deer making his escape, running all the way home and laughing himself to sleep.