In Search of Cupid and Psyche: Myth and Legend in Children's Literature
THE MAGIC DRUM
THE MAGIC DRUM
AFTER THE DEATH OF the monkey, Torti felt remorse for the first time in his life. He had never had a hand in the death of a fellow terrestrial creature before the incident with the monkey. He had conned the animals out of their possessions before (and he enjoyed that very much), but he had never caused the death of anyone before. And even though he didnít really lay his hands on the monkey, he was still haunted by the thought of what happened. The monkeyís ghost, Torti believed, haunted him.
Torti became so disturbed that he decided to banish himself from the kingdom. So one evening, according to some tales, Torti left home and wandered into the dense rain forest. He had no destination in mind, but he knew that he wanted to get as far away from the kingdom as he could.
The moon was out that night, and it lit the jungle with authority as Torti wandered. He walked for what seemed like eternity. The more he walked, the more he wanted to walk. Suddenly, he heard a most powerful voice, which roared like an earthquake.
"Who comes there?" the voice asked.
"Who is asking?" Torti responded.
Then Torti looked and saw a gray-haired old man with a white sheet wrapped around him. What startled Torti most was that the manís feet were not touching the ground. He was sort of floating about six inches above the ground, and one could not see into or through the dark space behind him.
"Do you know where you are, my boy?"
"And I ask again, who is talking?" Torti demanded.
"I am the gatekeeper. Now who are you, my boy?"
"This is the tortoise. Friends call me Torti."
"Well, I am no friend of yours, but I would advise you to go back where you came from before you take the next step."
"The gatekeeper of what?"
"You just reached the boundary, my boy."
"The boundary of no return, that which separates the spirit from the flesh."
"You mean the boundary that separates the living from the dead?"
"Call it what you like. Just donít take another step or you will never return to your family."
It was then that Torti realized where he was. His father and other elders, including the chief priests of the kingdom, had told him about this great boundary. It was, according to what had been told, the last passage for the living on their way to the spirit world. He became nervous because only the chief priests had come that close to the spirit world and lived to tell about it.
"I will return home," he said, "but is there anything that I can take back to the living?"
"What do you want, my boy?"
"Anything will do."
The gatekeeper, aware of Tortiís gift for music, reached to his right and pulled up a beautiful drum. The drum was made of gold and leather, and Torti had never seen anything like it. The gatekeeper gave the drum to Torti.
"Take this, my son, and take care of it. It will bring you plenty of food."
"No offense, sir, but the living need food for the stomach and body not music for the soul. I mean, how will this drum provide food?"
"Just take it with you. You will find out. Just one caution!"
"Never wash the drum."
Torti accepted the drum and thanked the gatekeeper. Still puzzled by the strange gift, Torti turned around and headed back home.
When he reached home, he had been missing for seven days. His family was quite relieved when they saw him. They were equally puzzled by the beautiful drum he brought home with him. They did not believe him when he told them about his encounter with the gatekeeper. Even Torti himself was not sure he had not been dreaming. But he had the gold and leather drum, and that was not a dream.
The next day Torti, eager to find out what was so special about the drum, decided to play it. He was always good with instruments, and whenever he touched one, good music oozed from it. But this time something strange and beautiful happened. Food poured out from the drum and filled his house. Yes, food! Bananas, apples, oranges, rice, beans, tomatoes, bread, cassava, yams, and many other delicious foods poured out from the drum.
Torti and his family ate very well from this food. His wife and children loved him as they never had before. The days of hunger were finally over for them.
Torti came to a decision that was profoundly out of character. He decided there would be no more con games in his life. Furthermore, he decided to share his fortune with the rest of the animals. He wanted so much to make up for what happened to the monkey. It was as if his encounter with the gatekeeper had purified him.
So Torti called for a general meeting of all the animals, promising everyone a wonderful time. That was the first time that the animals had received an invitation from Torti. Filled with curiosity, they all gathered at the kingdom square. This time, no one was on trial.
To their delightful surprise, food, lots of food, oozed out of Tortiís drum. No one cared where Torti got the drum. They were just happy for the feast that followed. They all ate and ate until they could not fit in any more food. For the first time in the history of the kingdom, Torti provided a feast for others, and the animals loved him for it.
For months Torti provided food for the kingdom. The animals would have elected him king, but he was not interested in becoming royal, and the lion was happy about that. But curiosity was also one of Tortiís characteristics. Moreover, he just could not tolerate the sight of the dirty drum. So he decided, against the advice of his wife, to wash the drum.
Nothing happened when Torti washed the magic drum. Nothing, until it was time to eat. He played the drum again, but the magic had gone. No food came out of the drum. The gatekeeper had warned him.
That evening, Torti wandered back into the forest in search of the gatekeeper. He walked and walked until he arrived at the boundary that separated the living from the dead. And sure enough, the gatekeeper was there. His was a permanent job. He still had the gray hair, a wrinkled face, and the white sheet wrapped around him. And as before, the gatekeeperís feet were not touching the ground.
"Who comes there?"
"Who is asking?"
"Do you know where you are, my boy?"
"This is your friend! Torti!"
"The dead have no friends, my son, only beneficiaries."
"This is Torti!"
"And what brings you back?"
"I lost the drum that you gave me."
"You lost it or you washed it?"
"I lost it, sir."
And for lying, the gatekeeper reached to his left and pulled up another drum. The drum looked just like the first one. He gave it to Torti and warned him again not to wash it. Torti accepted the drum, thanked the gatekeeper, and went home. He rejoiced all the way home.
When it was time to eat the next day, Torti summoned his family to the dining room and started playing his new drum.
And as with the first drum, something strange happened. But instead of food, bees and wasps poured out of the drum as if they had been waiting for years to be set free. They filled Tortiís house and stung him and his family so badly that their face swelled beyond recognition. They were sick for weeks.
In his new spirit of sharing, Torti called all the animals together again, promising them a wonderful time. As had been the case for the past months, all the animals gathered at the kingdom square hoping to eat and drink. But as Torti played his drum, the animals were mercilessly mugged by bees and wasps. The feast had taken a different turn. While the animals were being stung, Torti withdrew into his shell. The party ended almost as soon as it had started.