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In the Jaws of Danger

Long, long ago, in the land of Egypt, a mother bird was worried. She was a little bird, called a plover, and she lived on the sandy bank of the great Nile River. She had a brood of four fine chicks. Three of the chicks were happy to run about on the sand and catch insects with their parents. But the other -- the first born chick -- was different. He seemed restless. He seemed to be looking for something.

Each day he ran farther and farther away by himself. One night, in the moonlight, the mother plover crept quietly down to the edge of the river. In a chirrupy whisper, she called out to the Spirit of the Nile, "What can I do for my first born chick? Will he ever be happy?"

At first there was no answer, only the quiet rippling of the water. Then a breeze began to blow along the river. It ruffled the mother plover's feathers. She stretched her neck up high and peered out over the water. And she heard a faint, sighing murmur, "In the jaws of danger, there he will find happiness."

The mother plover shivered and walked slowly back along the sand. She had an answer, but what did it mean? The restless young plover had followed his mother along the riverbank. He had heard his mother's question and the Nile Spirit's answer. And as he skipped back through the shadows, he too wondered -- what did it mean?

Early the next morning, the young plover set out on a journey. He would seek the jaws of danger -- whatever they might be -- for there he would find happiness.

Along the riverbank he ran, stopping now and then to peck a caterpillar off a leaf or scoop up a snail from the damp sand. Suddenly there was a noise and a churning in the river. A hippopotamus, fresh from her bath, was climbing out onto the bank. She heaved herself up out of the water and gave a mighty yawn. The young plover gazed at her open mouth, gaping wide at him. Could these be the jaws of danger? Fearlessly he leaped inside.

The startled hippo closed her mouth with a snap. It was dark in there, and there was not much air. "Help!" yelled the plover, and he hopped up and down inside the hippo's mouth. The hippo was starting to swallow now. In a second he would be sliding down her throat. He fluttered his wings. His feathers tickled the hippo's throat, and...she sneezed.

What a mighty sneeze it was! The wind from the hippo's throat blew the little plover out of her mouth, up into the air, and straight into a tree that was growing near the riverbank.

Shaking, the young plover clutched a tree branch. Then he heard a rustling noise. A big snake was gliding down the tree trunk and out along the branch. Now her jaws were gaping wide, ready to swallow the little bird. The young plover gazed into the snake's mouth. Could these be the jaws of danger?

Snap! He was inside. It was even darker than it was in the hippo's mouth. The snake gave a gulp, and he slid down her throat. The plover hopped and fluttered, but it did not seem to bother the snake at all. She gulped again, and he slid farther down her long body. This wasn't happiness! What could he do?

The snake glided down the tree trunk and slithered along the sandy riverbank. Down to the edge of the water she glided, gulping every now and then. She did not seem to notice the struggles of the frightened plover inside her.

And she also did not notice the beady eyes of a crocodile watching her from the water. When she got close enough, he gave a sudden snap and caught her tail in his jaws. Before the snake knew what was happening, the crocodile had pulled her down into the water. The snake struggled and spat -- and the plover went somersaulting out of her mouth and up onto the riverbank.

For a while the little bird just lay there on the sand. When he opened his eyes, another crocodile was lying nearby. It was half asleep, and its mighty jaws were gaping wide open. "I will try just once more," thought the plover, and he walked over and hopped into the crocodile's mouth.

Nothing happened. The crocodile did not move. Boldly the little bird looked around. There, wiggling on the crocodile's gums, were some wormlike leeches. The plover leaned down and pecked one of them. It was tasty. He ate another, and then another. The crocodile sighed with pleasure. Those leeches had been bothering him for a long time. But they held on so tightly, he never could get rid of them. The plover was just what he had wanted all his life. And the crocodile was just what the plover had been seeking. At last he had found the happiness that the Spirit of the Nile had promised. And from that day on, that plover and all of his children and their children worked with the mighty crocodiles of the Nile in peace and friendship.



©1973, 2013 The Silversteins