Sunday, August 19, 2012

Story for Caitlin

Today, my niece sent me a story she wrote. This prompted me to write a story of my own for her. Here it is:

The Bilingual Leopard

for Caitlin Rose Baksa

Once upon a time, there was a leopard who was unusual (for leopards) in that he spoke more than one language. Leopards, as you might know, are not famous for being big talkers, or for taking much interest in the cultures of other animals. They are known for their secretive and elusive ways, and generally live alone.

This solitary nature means that as a species they have little use for foreign languages. Indeed, many of them barely seem to speak their own language, limiting themselves to the occasional rasping cough to announce their presence when they come across other leopards.

But as I said, the leopard who concerns us here was unusual. He not only spoke Leopardian, sometimes at great length, but was also fluent in the general language of the antelopes, Modern Standard Antelopian. He also had some knowledge of Antelopian dialects, such as Gazellian and Gnu.

You might be wondering not only why, but how on earth a leopard would ever manage to learn Antelopian. Given that leopards have a well-deserved reputation for hunting and eating antelopes, it would be reasonable to assume that any intelligent antelope would keep well clear of them, and would be highly suspicious of the motives of one who wanted to learn their language.

But surprisingly enough, it is actually very common for leopards to communicate quite civilly with antelopes. When a leopard wants to pass peacefully through a herd of antelopes, she (let’s suppose it’s a girl leopard) indicates this by curving her tail up so the white underside of it is showing, like a white stripe across her back. The antelopes know this is sign that the leopard is not hunting, and that they have nothing to fear from a leopard in this posture. Although leopards are stealthy and very strong, they are also extremely honourable, and have never been known to abuse an antelope’s confidence in the symbol of the upturned tail. Leopards are proud of their hunting skills and would consider it beneath them to trick an antelope in this way.

In the beginning, it was all because of a crick in his tail that our leopard, whose name was Paddy, started to pick up some Antelopian. When still quite a young cub, Paddy developed a passion for yoga (he was an unusual leopard in more ways than one). He started doing exercises that involved hanging upside-down for long periods of time with his tail wrapped around the branch of a tree. His parents didn’t approve of this odd behavior, but being typically reserved leopards, they didn’t say much about it. They hoped he would grow out of it.

Paddy in a restorative pose

One day, Paddy overdid it. When he came down from the tree, his tail curled back up and wouldn’t straighten out. It was coiled up like a corkscrew, with the white underside showing. When his father saw it, he had a coughing fit. Paddy’s tail stayed like that for just over a week.

When the antelopes saw him running towards them in pursuit, they were confused. It wasn’t the usual signal, but Paddy’s tail was showing white. They hesitated, and although he was hungry, Paddy saw their confusion and didn’t have the heart to attack. He slowed down and pretended he was just passing through.

That evening, he went to bed on an empty stomach, but he told himself that this was a good opportunity to experiment with fasting, another yogic practice.

A few days into this ordeal, Paddy was feeling dizzy and weak and was moving very slowly. Due to his unusual behavior, the antelopes had stopped thinking of him as a real leopard and didn’t even interrupt their conversations when he passed by. Unlike leopards, antelopes are very sociable creatures, and hardly ever shut up, except when there’s a leopard around, or they have their mouths full of grass and leaves (and sometimes not even then). For Paddy, it was a new experience to hear so much chatter. He found it a bit overwhelming, and wished they would be quiet and let him concentrate on his walking meditation. It struck him as undignified for an animal to talk so much, but secretly he did begin to wonder what they were talking about.

On the seventh day, just before his tail finally loosened up again, Paddy was resting under a tree on the savannah when he was overwhelmed by a wonderful feeling of bliss. He felt as if there was nothing separating his supple, spotted leopard’s body from the grasslands, and his heart swelled with a great feeling of compassion for all other living creatures. He felt very warm toward the herd of antelopes he could see grazing a short distance from him, and wondered how he could have once seen them merely as potential dinner.

As if they could sense his good will, a couple of antelopes came closer and started feeding on the very tree he was lying under. In between leafy bites, they carried on a conversation about the weather. One word came up again and again, “baillo.” Paddy softly tried saying this word to himself. The antelopes immediately stopped talking and stared at him (antelopes have excellent hearing). Paddy just smiled beatifically and said it a couple more times, “Baillo. Baillo.” Then the antelopes both started talking at once (not an unusual occurrence for them). They seemed delighted when Paddy responded by nodding and continuing to repeat, “Baillo.”

Later, he would learn that “baillo” means “beautiful” in Antelopian. It was the best answer he could have given to the flood of questions the antelopes were firing at him, “Oh my god, do you know our language?” “Beautiful.” “Do you like antelopes?” “Beautiful.” “What do you think of our stretch of the grasslands?” “Beautiful.” “Nice day, isn’t it?” “Beautiful.”

And that was how a leopard started to learn the language of the antelopes. 

(With thanks to Patrick Gleeson, for inspiration.)


Jason said...


I find it very plausible that antelopes are talking all the time. If they're anything like alpacas (which I'm going to assume they are, despite the fact that they're not closely related) then they're constantly talking to each other, although it's mostly body language.

Lotus Bud Sangha Retreat October 08 said...

Thanks Justine, hope your niece enjoyed it as much as me. Found myself smiling. It is natural to want to connect with others. I have always enjoyed trying to learn a few words in different languages. Perhaps I am a bit leopard.
Hope you are well & happy in Melb,
A lotus for you,

Lotus Bud Sangha Retreat October 08 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Juzzeau said...

Thanks, Jason. I'll think about including an expressive alpaca in my next animal story :).

And thanks to you, too, Ettianne, glad you enjoyed the story. Hope the retreat organisation is going smoothly! Lots of love, Justine