The turtle and the crow

‘Two brothers were returning to their people’s land and they stopped at a beach to catch turtles rather than arrive without gifts. One of the boys was hard-working and patient. He built a clever trap and waited all night. Just before dawn a good-sized turtle fell into his trap. He tied the turtle up so he could carry it back to his people.

The other boy was lazy. His trap was made badly. As soon as he’d finished it he fell asleep. At daybreak he woke to find his trap washed away by the tide. So he waited until his brother was away collecting fresh water. Then he stole the boy’s turtle and walked off with it. A crow had been watching from a gum tree above. It flew down and took the form of an old woman who appeared on the track in front of the lazy boy.

‘That’s a good turtle,” she said. “Did you catch it yourself?’

‘Yes,’ said the boy.

‘That’s good,’ said the old woman. Because in this valley a person who takes something that is not theirs will be banished forever.’

The boy wasn’t scared of the woman’s threats. Yes, he had stolen the turtle, but he was just passing through and he didn’t mind being banished because he never wished to return anyway. So he laughed and turned away, ready to leave.

‘And if they are so arrogant as to steal something else and take it from here the penalty is worse. They’ll be forced to scavenge forever for their living, taking only the scraps that have been left behind by others.’

‘The boy laughed again at the old woman, hoisted the turtle on his back, and began striding away. ‘

‘How did you catch it?’ the old woman called after him.

The lazy, stupid boy stopped and, putting the turtle down again, he turned back to her. He told her proudly how he’d dug a deep trap which he’d watched all night until just before dawn when the big turtle had headed up the beach and as soon as it fell into his trap he raced out and quickly tied it up.

He was just finishing his story when he was surprised to see the old lady’s back bend and her curly black hair flatten. She was changing back into a crow. ‘So that’s your story?’ she said, before her mouth became pointed and too hard to make words.

He realised too late that it wasn’t his story at all; he’d taken that just like he’d taken the turtle. He went to pick up the turtle and run but when he reached down his hands were covered in feathers. A moment later the good brother came around the corner of the track. All he saw was his turtle on the ground and a pair of crows dancing either side.

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