One day a cobra fell down a deep crack in the ground and couldn’t get out. A man passed by, and heard a strangled voice calling:
“Help! Save me!”
The man peered down the crack, and immediately jumped back in alarm. The cobra is man’s great enemy. The cobra said: “Please, pull me out!” Still quaking, the man answered: “I won’t. You’d bite me.” “No, – the cobra pleaded -. Could I bite the hand that saves me?”
The man thought a while. Then, slowly, he lowered himself into the crack. Close to the cobra, he drew back again; but the snake wrapped itself gently around his waist. When they were both out, the man said: “Now you can get down; you’re safe.”
With a scowl the cobra replied: “Should I give up a meal that luck has thrown my way? Never!” The man couldn’t do a thing; the cobra was still wrapped round his waist.
He considered a moment. All he could think of was to say to the cobra: “All right. So, you’ll eat me. But first I’d like to ask some animals what I have done wrong to deserve it. If I have done wrong, then you
will eat me.”
The cobra agreed. First, they went to the camel’s house. Standing at the door, the man said: “Listen. While I was walking along the road, I saw this cobra down a crack in the ground, and saved him. Now he wants to bite me; have I done wrong, perhaps?” “Of course, – replied the camel, keeping well out of the way, – of course you’ve done wrong.”
The answer saddened the man, but the cobra grinned. Then the man went slowly along to the baobab to ask the same question: “Listen – he said to the tree -, while going along the road I saw this cobra in a deep crack; I saved him, and now he wants to bite me. Have I done wrong, by any chance?” “Yes, – came the reply -. Something very wrong indeed.”
Sadder than ever, the man went off with the cobra (who wasn’t sad at all) to the squirrel’s house. “Listen, friend. While on a journey. I saved this cobra from a deep crack in the ground. Now he wants to bite me and kill me. Have I done something wrong?”
The squirrel reflected for quite a while, then said: “It doesn’t seem possible that you could have done such a thing.”
Then he turned to the cobra: “Friend cobra, why don’t you get down and tell me the truth of the matter?”
The cobra slipped down at once. But while he was getting into a position to speak, the squirrel yelled: “Quick, hit him on the head with your stick!” The man didn’t wait to be told twice; thus, the squirrel saved his life.
Ever since that day we have had a saying: Keep your enemy at a distance, because he has two words.
Folktale from Borana People. Kenya