A Blind Man Catches a Bird

(A Ndebele Tale from Zimbabwe)

A young man married a woman whose brother was blind. The young man was eager to get to know his new brother-in-law and so he asked him if he would like to go hunting with him. “I cannot see,” the blind man said. “But you can help me see when we are out hunting together. We can go.” The young man led the blind man off into the bush. At first they followed a path that he knew and it was easy for the blind man to tag on behind the other.

After a while, though, they went off into thicker bush, where the trees grew closely together and there were many places for animals to hide. The blind man now held on to the arm of his sighted brother-in-law and told him many things about the sounds that they had heard around them. Because he had no sight, he had a great ability to interpret the noises made by animals in the bush. “There are warthogs around,” he would say. “I can hear their noises over there.” Or, “That bird is preparing to fly. Listen to the sound of its wings unfolding.” To the brother-in-law, these sounds were meaningless, and he was most impressed at the blind man’s ability to understand the bush although it must have been for him one great darkness.

They walked on for several hours, until they reached a place where they could set their traps. The blind man followed the other’s advice, and put his trap in a place where birds might come for water. The other man put his trap a short distance away, taking care to disguise it so that no bird would know that it was there. He did not bother to disguise the blind man’s trap, as it was hot and he was eager to get home to his new wife. The blind man thought that he dad disguised his trap, but he did not see that he had failed to do so and any bird could tell that there was a trap there. 

They returned to their hunting place the next day. The blind man was excited at the prospect of having caught something, and the young man had to tell him to keep quiet, or he would scare all the animals away. Even before they had reached the traps, the blind man was able to tell that they had caught something. “I can hear birds,” he said. “There are birds in the traps.” When he reached his trap, the young man saw that he had caught a small bird. He took it out of the trap and put it in a pouch that he had brought with him.

Then the two of them walked towards the blind man’s trap. “There’s a bird in it,” he said to the blind man. “You have caught a bird too.” As he spoke, he felt himself filling with jealousy. The blind man’s bird was marvelously colored, as if it had flown through a rainbow and been stained by the colors. The feathers from a bird such as that would make a fine present for his new wife, but the blind man had a wife too, and she would also want the feathers. The young man bent down and took the blind man’s bird from the trap. Then, quickly substituting his own bird, he passed it to the blind man and put the colored bird in his own pouch. “Here is your bird,” he said to the blind man. “You may put it in your pouch.” The young man reached out for the bird and took it. He felt it for a moment, his fingers passing over the wings and the breast. Then, without saying anything, he put the bird into his pouch and they began the trip home.

On their way home, the two men stopped to rest under a broad tree. As they sat there, they talked about many things. The young man was impressed with the wisdom of the blind man, who know a great deal, although he could see nothing at all. “Why do people fight with one another?” he asked the blind man.

It was a question which had always troubled him and he wondered if the blind man could give him an answer. The blind man said nothing for a few moments, but it was clear to the young man that he was thinking. Then the blind man raised his head, and it seemed to the young man as if the unseeing eyes were staring right into his soul. Quietly he gave his answer. “Men fight because they do to each other what you have just done to me.”

The words shocked the young man and made him ashamed. He tried to think of a response, but none came. Rising to his feet, he fetched his pouch, took out the brightly-colored bird and gave it back to the blind man. The blind man took the bird, felt it over with his fingers, and smiled. “Do you have any other questions for me?” he asked. “Yes,” said the young man. “How do men become friends after they have fought?” The blind man smiled again. “They do what you have just done,” he said. “That’s how they become friends again.”

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