No one knew how the fox lost its two front legs. Some say it was born that way, others that it was attacked by a wild animal as a cub. The old man saw it everyday on his way to the wheat field, and again on his way back. It was a small, pathetic thing curled up on itself by the trunk of a cypress tree, but, miraculously, it seemed to be well-fed.
It boggles the mind, the old man thought to himself, how such a helpless creature has lived for so long. It clearly couldn’t drag itself more than a few feet, let alone hunt. And yet, it was healthy and well-groomed. One day, the old man decided he would figure out this phenomenon for himself.
He awoke earlier than he usually did and left his scythe and sack in his small cottage. When he reached the forest clearing near the large cypress, he slipped out of his sandals and crept silently towards the fox’s nest. He didn’t dare move closer for fear of disturbing the creature, so he crouched behind a gnarled tree root that protruded high off the leafy earth and waited.
He wasn’t sure what he was waiting for exactly, but he was determined to stay where he was until he saw how the fox received its sustenance. He could see it behind a low-hanging branch, blinking placidly and twitching its ears from time to time. Go on, the old man thought impatiently, do something. The hours dragged by and the fox was still curled in its nest in the grotesquely disfigured way it could manage. The weather was humid and hot, which was common in Southeast Asia, but that day seemed especially so. A cloud of gnats had moved its way over to the man and proceeded to buzz and sting him with such unbearable tenacity that he would have risen to swat the insects away if he had not heard a growl at that same moment. He froze. There was another growl followed by a low animalistic grunt, then the unmistakable sound of something being dragged across the leaves and twigs of the forest floor.
The hair rose on the man’s scalp. There were wild animals in the forest, and he remembered suddenly that he left his shotgun at home. Furthermore, his legs were numb from crouching on them for half a day, so he couldn’t run if he tried. There was more growling and snapping of low branches. When he saw the unmistakable black and orange hide of a tiger, the old man’s blood ran cold. Its white belly and throat were damp with fresh blood, and when it made its way into the clearing, he found out why. The limp carcass of a deer dangled from the tiger’s maw. The old man swallowed dryly. Surely it was close enough to smell his perspiration, but the tiger paid him no mind as it began to tear apart the deer’s flesh with its ivory teeth.
The man watched with terrified fascination as the tiger feasted. When it ate its fill, it licked itself clean and rose. For a heart-stopping second it seemed to look right at him, but then it turned away and disappeared into the trees.
For several minutes, the old man remained perfectly still, listening to the quickened thump of his heart. After his breath came in regular intervals again, he uncurled his body slowly and stood up, his joints creaking. As he waited for the tingling in his legs to subside, he heard a rustling sound through the leaves and once again, his blood turned icy.
This time it was the fox that was making the noise as it pushed itself across the forest floor using its back legs and torso. Somehow that sight was just as terrifyingly fascinating to the man as watching the tiger tear apart the dead deer. He had never seen it so much as turn its head, and now it was writhing in the leaves like a resurrected corpse.
It reached the remains of the deer and began to eat. When it finished, it gathered the bones neatly between its jaws and writhed itself back to its nest.
It was sunset before the man remembered that he was still standing behind a tree, staring amazedly at the fox. He went back to his home, lost in thought.
Allah. That was the only explanation for it. Such a helpless creature couldn’t have lived a week if there wasn’t a higher power looking after it. He had watched the fox from behind the same tree the next day and again the tiger brought fresh game into the clearing and left the remains for it.
The old man considered himself to be a fairly religious man; undoubtedly he had immense faith. He rarely fell into major sin and lived the simple life of a farmer. He often reflected while he worked in the wheat field, and made sure to remember his Lord often like a dutiful Muslim. He neither sought to enhance his practice nor learn more about his religion. There weren’t many people in his village and he avoided people in any case; the villagers were mostly poor outcasts, who struggled to find a living.
The man himself was poor, but got along well enough selling wheat to those who could afford to buy it. Lord knows I try hard enough to get by, he thought begrudgingly as he cut the wheat stalks deftly with his scythe. What he wouldn’t do for a break!
“Surely the same Provider that can bring that fox’s sustenance directly to him can do the same for me?” he mused aloud to himself. “I just have to have faith and depend on Him!”
He dropped his scythe. He was done working – for good. If an animal could earn special attention from its Creator, how could a man who worshiped Him five times a day and did all his duties to Him not receive the same? He lay on his back and stared up at the tall stalks of wheat that shaded him from the sun. The cool, damp earth and the comfort of resting after a long morning of working under the hot sun was welcomed by him gratefully. His eyelids drooped. He would sleep a little, and hopefully wake up to some kind of provision sent to him by his Lord. He was an honest, believing man after all, and his faith was boundless.
He awoke to find that nothing had come. Undeterred, he rolled over onto his side, prayed for provision, and went back to sleep.
Again and again this happened with no change. He lay there in the wheat field for three days, starving and parched. He prayed earnestly for sustenance over and over until he was struggling to remain conscious. At one point, he thought that his vision was finally blackening into unconsciousness before he realized that something was blocking the sun overhead. He blinked hard. It was a human figure. He blinked again, and soon recognized the form of the village sheikh standing over him. The younger gentleman had heard of the old man’s absence from the villagers and came looking for him himself.
He had no food on him. He didn’t even have a jug of water. He was, however willing to listen to the old man’s choppy account of how he came to be where he was and why. When the old man finished his story, the sheikh watched him in pensive silence. Finally he sighed and said:
“My dear brother, you have mistook the lesson of what you witnessed! You should have followed the example of the tiger instead of imitating the disabled fox.”
Inspired by the Sufi story “The Tiger and the Fox” [ http://strangelyinsane.com/blog/?p=58 ]