The Skinny Little Lion

Author’s Note: I wrote this initially as a one-off story, but later realized it could be a jumping off point for a whole series of children’s stories about the many lessons that various animals took from different versions of the Malu myth. If I ever find an illustrator, this might turn into something special.

Aleexi was a lion cub. He was born on the dusty plains of Africa along with his brothers Jakan and Butu.

As a cub, Aleexi grew quickly. Thanks to his mother, he always had plenty of milk to drink.

As Aleexi and his brothers grew bigger and stronger they played together often. They loved to wrestle and chase each other and the other lion cubs that lived nearby.

One day, when Aleexi, Jakan, and Butu had grown too large to drink only milk, their mother brought a whole new kind of food home.

It was grown-up food that their mother had gotten while hunting.

The new food was delicious! The cubs ate up every last bite.

Soon, Aleexi, Jakan, and Butu started to learn how to hunt. At first, they practiced by chasing bugs and small animals.

Later, they practiced by sneaking up and pouncing on each other and the other cubs.

Every day, while the cubs played and practiced their hunting skills, their mother hunted for real out on the savanna.

And every day their mother brought home some of the grownup food that she had gotten that day.

Then, one day, their mother said, “Aleexi, Jakan, Butu — it is time for you to learn to hunt as I do so that one day you will be able to get your own food. Tomorrow you will come with me out on the savanna, and we will see what you can do.”

The cubs were all very excited about going on their first real hunt. That night, they barely slept a wink. All night long they practiced pouncing each other and imagining what the hunt would be like.

The next day their mother awakened them before the sun came up and hurried them out onto the savanna.

For the whole day, and for many days after, the cubs learned how to hunt. They watched their mother very closely and did everything that she did.

It wasn’t very long before Jakan got his first grownup food. He said it tasted even better than ever before because he’d gotten it himself.

Soon after that, Butu got his first food. He agreed that it was the best tasting ever.

But Aleexi had trouble getting his own food. Every time he got close, he got so excited that he ran or jumped or pounced too soon, and away went his dinner.

At first this wasn’t such a bad thing because his mother still shared her food with Aleexi. But after a while his mother gave him less and less, saying that he had to learn to get the rest of what he wanted by himself, just as Jakan and Butu did.

Still, Aleexi found that he couldn’t get his own food because he always moved too soon, scaring his dinner away.

Aleexi asked his brothers and the other cubs if he could share their dinners, but they all said no — he had to learn to get his own.

So, while all the other cubs got bigger and stronger, Aleexi began to get very skinny. His tummy rumbled almost all the time.

Soon, his tummy rumbled so loudly, and he started to pounce so quickly, that he began to get in the way of the other cubs when they were hunting.

One night, Aleexi overheard his brothers talking to his mother.

“Aleexi ruins every hunt we go on,” said Butu.

“Yeah, he always pounces too soon and scares away our dinners,” said Jakan.

“No matter what we say or how we try to help him,” continued Butu, “he just never listens!”

That night, Aleexi fell asleep feeling very sad. He didn’t want his brothers to be angry with him, but he just didn’t know how to be a good hunter.

The next morning Aleexi’s mother woke him after Jakan and Butu had already gone hunting.

“Aleexi,” she said in a very serious voice, “we need to talk.”

“Your brothers do not want to hunt with you,” said Aleexi’s mother.

“I know,” said Aleexi.

“They say you are too impatient and scare away what they might otherwise be able to get.”

“I know,” said Aleexi, “I heard.”

“I have shown you how to hunt,” his mother continued, “and you have seen your brothers, the other cubs, and even other creatures hunt. They are all alike in one way — they are all very patient, as all hunters must be. Why can’t you be?”

“I don’t know,” said Aleexi. “I just get so excited, until I can’t wait anymore.”

“But look at yourself, Aleexi,” his mother said sadly. “You are already the skinniest lion on the savanna. If you do not learn patience soon, you will starve.”

“There is only one thing more that I can think to do for you,” his mother said. “Sit down and listen. I will tell you a story I heard when I was young. Perhaps you can learn from it what no one has been able to teach you.”

Without waiting for Aleexi to reply his mother began her story.

“Once, long, long ago, there lived a caterpillar named Malu. Malu was like any other caterpillar in most ways, but in one very important way she was different.

“You see, while all the other caterpillars ate and ate every leaf of every tree they could find, Malu ate only enough to keep from being hungry. For this, the other caterpillars laughed at her saying that if she did not eat herself full, she would never be able to spin a cocoon and become a butterfly.

“But Malu didn’t listen to them. She had been told of the days after the great jungle rains, when the most delicious new leaves and flowers grew — food far better than any that the other caterpillars ate so greedily.

“The other caterpillars, though, made fun of Malu’s stories and continued to eat and eat so they could become fat and change into butterflies as soon as possible.

“By the time the great jungle rains came, Malu was the only caterpillar that had not grown fat, spun a cocoon, and begun to change into a butterfly.

“But when the rains had come and gone, Malu discovered that the stories she had heard were true. All around, the trees burst into bloom with flowers and tender young leaves.

“For days and days Malu ate the most beautiful and delicious leaves and flowers she had ever seen.

“And when at last Malu had grown fat enough she spun the biggest cocoon of all and began her own slow change into a butterfly.

“In the meantime, the other caterpillars emerged from their own cocoons as butterflies of many different colors, shapes, and sizes. Suddenly, there were butterflies everywhere, and soon they discovered that Malu was nowhere to be found.

“The butterflies laughed and joked with each other about how foolish Malu had been to want to wait for the new leaves to come.

“But soon after, Malu herself emerged from her cocoon. Very carefully and very slowly she broke free of the cocoon and pulled herself out.

“And as she opened her wings and fluttered them wide for the first time, the other butterflies, who had come to laugh at her for being late, looked at her in silent amazement.

“For Malu was the most spectacular butterfly that there ever was. Her wings were bigger and brighter and carried her higher and farther than any other butterfly in all of Africa.

“And the other butterflies looked on her with love for the first time in their lives and made her queen of all the butterflies.

“And though this all happened very long ago, some say that Malu still lives today, as beautiful and wise a queen as ever she was.”

With this his mother fell silent. Aleexi looked up into her tender face, took a deep breath and began to speak.

“So, by being patient, Malu got the best food . . . and the biggest cocoon . . . and the biggest and most beautiful wings . . . and even the love of all the other butterflies.”

“Yes,” replied his mother, “she did.”

“And if I can just think of what will come at the end of my patience, like Malu did,” continued Aleexi, “maybe I can be as great as she was.”

 “And maybe by thinking of the good things that will come,” Aleexi continued excitedly, “it will be easier to be patient, too.”

“Yes,” said his mother proudly, “and wisely thought.”

“But there is much more to be learned from the story of Malu. You have taken from it the knowledge that you need for now, but remember the tale and think on it from time to time. I think you will find that it serves you in more ways than just this one.”

“I will,” said Aleexi, looking up at his mother with love in his heart. “Thank you, Mother.”

Aleexi worked hard after that, and in time found it far easier to be patient than he had ever thought it could be.

And, like his mother had said, he thought often of Malu and learned many other lessons from her story.

And, many years later, Aleexi came to be the wisest and most beloved king the lions had ever had.

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