Mungai lived all alone in the jungle.
He had not always lived alone, but he was such a dreadful creature at times that those who once cared for him, decided he should leave and never return. He was considered ‘bestia non grata’ in most of the places he had ever known. No-one wanted him, no-one needed him, and no-one spoke to him. To Mungai, this could only be an advantage. He was able to drift through the jungle undetected and unsuspected. Past lives, past acts of deception, and other terrible deeds he had been involved in, were easily hidden from the few animals he encountered.
He was a very strange creature, all furry and quite pleasant to look at, due to his constant cleaning and preening of himself, but no-one in the jungle really knew what sort of creature he truly was. He had cultivated many different personae, and wore whichever one he saw fit at the time. With each transformation, Mungai adopted a new aroma which seemed to follow him around. This was no accident, but a carefully thought out strategy, which he believed would enable him to pass smoothly through the jungle avoiding any unwanted attention. Mungai knew that all creatures relied upon smell. Firstly, to determine foe, friend or food, and secondly, to understand what species another belonged to. He managed to blend in well, whatever the circumstance, and others perceived him exactly as he wanted them to.
On one of his many travels, Mungai had fallen into, quite literally, the smelly advantages of wolf dung. Personally, he had found the scent to be quite disagreeable. About to clean and preen himself, he discovered those responsible. A pack of wolves milled around close by. Curious of their actions and behaviour, he decided to observe them for a couple of days. Between two shrubs and three piles of wolf droppings, a fourth pile being firmly glued to Mungai, and thickly covering his usually pleasant body, he was able to spy on them. From what Mungai could make out, the wolves were gorging themselves on some unidentifiable food source, without any exertion on their part. Mungai definitely wanted in. If not for his arrogance, a characteristic that partly contributed to others thinking him dreadful, he might have remained undiscovered.
Unaware of the gazing sun’s effect on his recently discovered disguise, Mungai moved closer to the pack. In the ever-increasing heat of the second day, the dung had started to harden and began making a crackling sound as he moved. Each crunching, faltering step he took sounded like a predator crushing the bones of its prey. He thought the dung had made him invisible, but in trying to get closer, he was reminded of how highly tuned the hearing system of a wolf could be.
Sahba, chief wolf and council member of the Jungle Elders of Wolves and other Tooth and Claw, was instantly aroused. He immediately alerted the rest of the pack, and then, with the same alacrity, collapsed laughing as he set eyes on Mungai. He could only take pity on him. Mungai was beyond description, or more to the point, beyond Sahba’s description. The only parts of Mungai still visible were his eyes and the tip of his nose, and up close the smell was surprisingly offensive to any beast. What is more, the dung had baked his mouth shut. Excuses and pleas were out of the question. He was so completely matted in the stuff, he could barely move. The more the dung hardened, the more difficult it became to escape. He looked like an enormous ‘hedgehog en croûte’, prepared and ready for the wolves to throw into a fire. Sahba and the others could not stop tittering. The rest of the pack shook themselves vigorously, stifled their giggles, and tried to look serious as they waited for the order. Sahba was aware that Mungai would be far from appetising in his current state. With his shoulders shaking so uncontrollably with hilarity, he was incapable of regaining even the remotest signs of composure. So he gaily lifted a paw, haughtily waved Mungai aside, and left him to go free.
“How bad must that taste?” he scoffed. The whole pack folded in hysterics.
Mungai, overhearing this hurtful comment, and unable to utter anything more than a muffled grunt, slunk slowly off into the undergrowth. He felt more affronted than grateful. He had tried his best all his life not to be eaten. But if it ever did happen, he had prided himself on being thought of as a most excellent tasting meal.
Out of sight and smell of the wolves, he pulled himself together and went in search of fresh water. It was time to clean and preen again.
Though his dignity had died a horrible death, he would take a lesson from this episode, but speak of it to no-one.
The mockery of other creatures would never deter Mungai, and he continued to experiment with different smells for different situations he might face. His own particular favourite was the combination of lime and date palm. Due to the fast-drying properties of wolf dung, however, he decided to delete it from his favourites list of fragrances.
Mungai had great plans for his future, but having given his plans much thought, he decided he could not succeed all on his own. So he moved through the jungle in search of another who thought and felt as he did. In the jungle he was somewhat spoilt for choice, though some he found a little too strong-willed or brutal for his tastes, but, after careful deliberation, he managed to settle upon the most appropriate of companions, an unusually thin Boa Constrictor called Goa.
Not only was Goa unusually thin, she was also all one colour; a colour which changed from a deep shade of green during daylight hours, to a blackish hue at night. Needless to say, she could barely be seen.
Goa, like Mungai, lived all alone. She was a naturally crushing and suffocating reptile, and her personality matched her physical skills seamlessly. Her insatiable need to overpower all she came across was only surpassed by her ability to squash anything that got in her way. She attracted few friends. She was overbearing, scheming and greedy, and loved to possess things. She lived in a hole in the ground that was so crammed full of nondescript bits and pieces, there was hardly enough room left for her to squeeze in. She felt it was time to go in search of larger and better lodgings. She also felt it was time to go in search of an easier and better way of life.
With this in mind, she was out hunting one morning, in search of prey and other opportunities, when she noticed this strange, but not unpleasant looking, creature lurking in the shadows. A good meal was the first thing that sprung to mind.
Mungai had seen Goa long before Goa had seen him. In fact, he had been observing her for some time. His thoughts were somewhat different though. Not being a carnivore, Mungai could only see a potential cohort before him.
“Before you continue to assume you’re able to sneak up on me unawares,” he shouted mockingly at Goa. “Take note. I’ve been watching your movements for several days now. I’ve even followed you and seen you hunt, and not once have you seen me. You’re not very good, and you must be very hungry by now. Only one field mouse and three earth worms in four days! Not much for a snake of your size is it!”
“Well then, I mutht congwatulate you…you’re thmarter than motht of my mealth,” Goa lisped defensively. She could now smell frog and acacia leaves coming from the same area as the strange, but not unpleasant looking, creature.
“I’ll have a much better meal thoon. I’m far clevewer than you theem to think, and you’re jutht about the wight thize. Do you think I will let you live now that you’ve thown yourthelf? You’d better be careful after dark. You won’t be able to thee me thith time, and you certainly won’t be able to hear me. I can move very quietly when I need to.”
“Thmarter?” Mungai questioned. Then soon aware of what she meant, and not wanting to antagonise her further, he hastily replied, “Oh smarter. Thank you, I’m sure I am.”
“Yeth thmarter, that’th what I thaid. The wormth were a thtarter, and the mouthe wath jutht for fun.” Goa was anxious to stay ahead.
“I’ve offended you, haven’t I? Well, I’m thorry…I mean sorry. I didn’t mean to, but you do need a bit of help when it comes to fending for yourself (and in other ways, he thought to himself). Come over and hear what I have to say. I may be able to offer you more than just a good meal.”
Mungai hoped she would without further dialogue.
The pair met half way between their original positions. The morning sun allowed each of them to make a clear assessment of the other, though Mungai had already seen Goa for what she was. Goa, intrigued by the offer, had snaked her way slowly across the jungle floor, and Mungai came out from the shadows. Names were exchanged. For some reason, both were looking around very furtively. Goa, because she was Goa! And Mungai, because, aware that if his judgement of Goa over the last few days had been wrong, he may have to make a pretty hasty exit. She was already threatening him. Unbeknown to Mungai, she was also living up to his worst fears, trying to decide how he would taste, and if he tasted better than mice and earth worms.
“Tho,” said Goa. “What could you pothibly have to offer me that would make me change my mind?”
“So very much,” he replied. “How about: Lots of good food to eat, and lots of things to make you comfortable, and a warm and spacious place to sleep, with plenty of time to laze around in the sunshine, replenishing your energy for your next meal. There is a certain usefulness to the lesser species. Perhaps some of the ones you hunt could hunt for you! There are those who are far better exploited than eaten. All things are possible, if you know how to achieve them.”
Mungai sounded very persuasive.
“Thoundth good,” hissed Goa, though still questioning how Mungai might taste. “But how do I know I can twutht you?”
“Because we are both alike,” Mungai said. “We want what is best for ourselves and, with a little cooperation from others, we can have it.”
Mungai’s philosophies appealed a lot to Goa, who thought herself far more important than any other creature in the jungle. However much Goa had thought of eating the strange, but not unpleasant looking, creature in front of her, Mungai’s views on the ‘usefulness of the lesser species’ made her almost forget about satisfying her hunger. It was more important for Goa to appear to be living a better life than others on the outside, than filling her stomach on the inside. So eating Mungai was now no longer a priority, though it had not left her mind completely, and the froggy aroma, which she could now tell was him, rather tempted her.
Mungai began to expand on his plans for a better future. The more they talked, the closer they became. Soon they were firm allies.
Mungai’s master plan was to find ways of passing through life without too much cost to himself, and as little effort as possible, and at the expense of others, not as strong-minded or as clever as he was. His ultimate aim was to live like the two-legged creatures outside the jungle, which seemed to enjoy such a pleasing existence, so full of all the good things one could wish for. And ‘wish for’ was something Mungai most certainly did. He had come to know the two-legs well. His time spent in their world had left him lazy and consumed by greed. His constant observation of them made him envious. He wanted what they had, and in great quantities. Although his instinct for survival still remained finely honed, his preference now inclined distinctly towards the more convenient things they possessed in their lives, which allowed comfort without effort.
Mungai and Goa both appreciated they shared many valuable skills, cunning and the ability to manipulate others being amongst their greatest. But these skills alone were not enough. They needed to find these others, and be able to get close enough to inveigle them into their way of thinking. Firstly, they decided, they would have to befriend some of the lesser creatures of the jungle. In Mungai’s case this was a hard task, since, for a number of reasons, he had not been exposed to other such wild, though blameless, creatures for as long as he could remember. He would have to choose a whole new array of identities and aromas very carefully. However, with Goa as his new-found friend, Mungai was more than willing, if not extremely eager, to go forth and devour. With her big brown eyes and his strange, but not unpleasant looking, appearance, they made a very plausible pair; so off they set in search of their prey.
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