Nuwairah used to tell us stories every night. This one comes back to me as we wait for weariness to overcome fear.
Long ago there lived a Markhor who climbed the cliffs and trees. He loved the feeling of being high in the air and would often watch the animals far below him with a sense of superiority. After all, the lowly sheep had to rely on grass and low bushes for its food, while the Markhor could climb for the tender leaves in the high branches. It made him, he thought, the greatest of animals.
One day, as he stood on a strong branch and munched delicious leaves, a Falcon settled on an even higher branch.
“Good morning,” said the Falcon.
“Good morning,” replied the Markhor. But a thought had struck him suddenly. He chewed thoughtfully for a few minutes. “Falcon, how is it that you are higher than I?”
Falcon laughed. “I am smaller and lighter. And I can fly.”
Markhor thought a few minutes more, his jaws working. He looked down at the ground, which suddenly seemed not so far away. “But how do you fly?”
“I leap and spread my wings. I know the wind and the wind knows me.”
“Well, I am certain I could fly if I wanted to.”
“I am certain you cannot.”
“I can! I just don’t need to.”
“As you say, then, friend.” Falcon stripped a tiny, sun-soaked leaf and brought it down to Markhor, hopping lightly and using his wings to steady himself. “Try this.”
Markhor sniffed it. It smelled wonderful. All the same, he turned his nose up at it. “No, the leaves here are better. That’s why I don’t fly.”
Falcon laughed and laughed and flew away.
When he had gone, Markhor nibbled the fresh leaf. It tasted as delicious as it smelled. All the rest of the day, he stared at those leaves in the very top of the tree. He tried a couple of times to climb higher, but the branches creaked beneath his hooves and he retreated in fear.
“I could fly if I wanted to,” he told himself as he bedded down for the night.
In the morning, he looked again at the unreachable leaves.
“I can fly if I want to.” He tried to remember what the falcon had said about how it was done. All he could recall was the beginning: “I leap.”
“Well, I can certainly leap. Better than a falcon, even.” He climbed to the top of a tall cliff, excited. “Today I will fly.” At the top, looking down from his usual perch, he scorned the view he had once loved. “It will be even better from the clouds. I will fly higher than a falcon.”
And what do you think happened to the Markhor, children?