Once upon a time there was a colony of little fishes who lived together in their own small pool, isolated from the rest of the fish in the river. It was a still, grey pool, dotted with stones and clumps of weed, and surrounded by thorn bushes and a few palm trees.
Most of these fishes were as happy and as friendly as they could be. But there was one fish, much bigger and stronger than all the others, who kept himself aloof, and who would draw himself up in a haughty manner whenever the others came near him.
“My good fellow,” he would say, opening his eyes as wide as he could, and balancing himself erect on his handsome tail, “do stop making such a commotion in the water beside me. Can’t you see I am having my afternoon siesta? Go away! And take that rabble away with you,” he would add, sweeping one glistening fin towards a shoal of cheerful small fish darting in and out among the shadows.
This sort of thing happened so often that one day one of the older fish said sarcastically: “I wonder you don’t leave this tiny pool and go off to the big river. A fish as large and important as you should surely mix with others of his own size and excellent breeding.”
The big fish thought things over for several days, and puffed himself even bigger with pride when at last he decided to leave his home and search for a better one.
“My friend is quite right,” he said to himself. “I should be happier if I lived among fish of my own size. How tired I am of these stupid little creatures! With all the rain we’ve been having lately the time must be near when the big river overflows its banks, and the flood-water will soon be coming up into our pool. When it arrives, I’ll go with it and let myself be swept down into the big river, and get away from all this.”
He told his companions what he had in mind. The older fish congratulated him on his enterprise with solemn faces, but the younger ones could not conceal their delight at the thought of being free from the big fish’s criticisms, and they swam backwards and forwards, talking about it among themselves.
After a few more days of heavy rain the floods arrived. They covered the little pool, and the big fish rose to the top of the water and allowed himself to be swept downstream to the river. Once between the banks in the depths of the river itself, he noticed how different the water tasted, and how much larger the rocks and the weeds were. Then he sighed with relief and anticipation, thinking of the good life that lay ahead.
He was resting for a few moments beside a large stone when he felt the water swirling behind him. Suddenly four or five fish, much bigger than he, passed over his head. One of them looked down and exclaimed harshly: “Out of our way, little fish! Don’t you know this is our hunting ground?” Then the others turned on him too and drove him away.
The poor fish hid beneath a large clump of weeds, and peered out anxiously from time to time. Presently two large black and white fish came rushing towards him, with fearsome jaws wide open. They would surely have eaten him up had he not managed to wedge himself in a crevice in the bank, just out of their reach.
“Oh dear!” he gasped, when the two monsters had at last tired of waiting about for him. “I do hope there aren’t any more fish like that in this river. How am I to live if I have to spend the whole day in hiding, with no chance to search for food?”
All day long he stayed in his hiding-place, but when night came he slipped out and began swimming freely in the black water, looking for some supper.
Suddenly he felt a sharp nip in his tail, and turning swiftly he saw the be whiskered face of a large tiger-fish. He was just about to give himself up for lost when a huge dark object passed overhead. It was a canoe, although the fish did not know this, and it disturbed the water so much that he was able to streak away from the tiger-fish and hide in the mud.
“Alas!” he said to himself. “Why did I come to this terrible place? If only I could get back to my own little pool, I would never grumble again.”
At last he determined to find the point where he had first entered the river, and then make his way back to the pool before the last of the flood-waters receded.
He wriggled slowly along the muddy bottom of the river, until he recognised the spot where he had first arrived. Then with a leap he was out of the river and into the large expanse of flood-water which was surging past him.
How he struggled as he tried to force his way against the swirling water, until at last, when his strength was almost gone, he found himself back in the pool again. There he lay panting on the bottom, too tired to move, and as he turned his eyes this way and that and saw the old familiar landmarks, he said to himself: “If I had only known what the river was really like, I would never have left the safety of our pool.”
After that the tiny fish played undisturbed wherever they pleased, and never again did the big fish say he was too grand to live among them, even though sometimes he may have thought so. And so we see that every man should be contented with what he has. (An African Tale)