A beautiful story on the explorations and travails of the fireflies to get their own twinkle so that they can see where they are going in the dark.
It happened a long-long time ago when there were small beetle-like insects called little-beetles. They lived in the trees, under the leaves and inside the cracks in the barks. They came out only in the night, when the birds went to sleep in their nests, because the birds would catch them and relish on them during the day.
The children of the little-beetles also had to come out at night to play, because their mothers didn’t permit them to play during the day. “Don’t go out after sunrise,” said Mother little-beetle. “The birds will eat you up.”
“But Mum, it’s too dark at night. How do we play catch-me-if-you-can? Nobody can see anybody,” complained Baflee, the child-little-beetle. But Mum wouldn’t listen. They were talking in their little-beetle language.
That night, all the little-beetle children were very sad, because it was too dark for them to play their favourite game, catch-me-if-you-can. They sat close to each other and gazed at the stars.
While they sat feeling miserable, Baflee got an idea. “Why can’t we become like the stars? We will go twinkle-twinkle and we can then see each other even in darkness.”
“It’s a good idea. But how do we go twinkle-twinkle like the stars. We need light,” said a disappointed little-beetle named Starflee. They thought over it.
“Fire!” chirped out Truflee, another child-little-beetle, and a friend of Baflee. Truflee was a brilliant little-beetle and came out with nice play-ideas. “We’ll carry little fires and fly here and there.”
So they picked up small dry grass in their mouths, set them alight from a nearby smoking pit and flew around. They were very happy playing catch-me-if-you-can.
Soon they found it dangerous. Many were hurt by the fire. Their mothers forbade them once again to play such games. They were sad again. They sat together again and started thinking. There had to be another way of carrying some light without getting burnt.
They went to seek advice from the wise old owl. They knew the wise old owl came out from the hollow of his tree-trunk only at night, yet he could see everything as clearly as in the day. And they also knew the owl didn’t hunt little-beetles for food, they were too tiny for the large bird.
“Shh!…” said the wise old owl, not even turning to look at Baflee, Starflee and Truflee. He was gazing without a blink at the base of another tree where the little-beetles could see nothing. Then in an instant, he swooped down and caught something in its beak and flew back on to its branch. Only then did the little-beetles see it was a mouse he had caught. He deposited his food in the hollow of his tree-trunk and returned. “Now tell me. Why do you come to me in the middle of my dinner?” he asked.
The little-beetle children told everything to the wise old owl. It was not possible to play catch-me-if-you-can in the dark and carrying fire didn’t help either, they cried. There was sorrow in their voice.
“Go west,” the wise old owl advised. “In the mountains of Hindu Kush, inside a cave, lives an old man named Amatheus. He will help you.”
“Do you think just an old man can help us?” asked Truflee doubtfully.
“Of-course he can. He is not just an ordinary old man. He is very special. His forefathers have lived in that same cave for eons providing light to the world. How do you think we owls got our night-vision? His forefathers gave it to our forefathers; that was ages ago.” The wise old owl looked all the more old when he spoke thoughtfully of the past.
“And how do we get there; how far is it?” asked Baflee.
“Very far! You have to start your journey soon after sunset in the direction where the sun had set. You will need to rest during the day. This way you will have to fly all night for fifty nights, and you’ll reach the Hindu Kush Mountains.”
That night all the little-beetle children sat and planned to go together to Amatheus, who lived in a cave in the Hindu Kush mountains, and ask him to give them night-vision for playing at night. “We mustn’t tell our parents, or else they will never let us go and we will never be able to play catch-me-if-you-can.”
“Let us start tomorrow soon after sunset. We meet below the tree of the wise old owl,” said the adventurous Baflee.
The next day, just as they had planned, without informing their parents, hundreds of little-beetle children waited for the sun to set. No sooner had the sun set than they made a beetle-line in that same direction. They flew all night, and just before sunrise they stopped and hid themselves in the trees. This they did for fifty nights.
At last they came to the Hindu Kush Mountains. It was midnight when they saw a brightly lit cave in the mountain. They were afraid to go in because a strange light lit up the inside of the cave. It was not fire but something brilliant and cool. They waited outside.
After a while someone stirred inside the cave. “Here he comes,” said Baflee. “The old man, must be Amatheus.”
An old man came out. He had a kind of shine all around him as if there were some light inside him. “Ah, who do we have here! I see hundreds of little-beetles. And why have you come to me?” said Amatheus in a very soft and friendly voice, in their little-beetle language.
“The wise old owl, who lives in the hollow of the tree-trunk fifty little-beetle-night-flights in the direction of the sunrise, sent us to you,” started Truflee. Others joined in and explained the purpose of their visit. “You will help us, won’t you Amatheus, so that we can play catch-me-if-you-can?” concluded Truflee.
“The wise old owl? Yes, I know. Many hundred generations ago, his forefathers took night-vision from my forefathers.”
“Give us the vision of the owl. He can see so far in the night. With such night-vision we can play catch-me-if-you-can,” entreated Baflee.
“Hmm…” said Amatheus thoughtfully. “You want to play?”
“Yes. We want to play catch-me-if-you-can at night.”
“Then you don’t need the owl’s night-vision. You need…you need…” he started to think.
“We need twinkle-twinkle of the stars.” It was Starflee, the smart little-beetle. “We go here and twinkle, and go there and twinkle and you cannot catch-us-if-you-can. We shall play all night.”
“Yes we want to go twinkle-twinkle like the stars.” They all agreed with Starflee.
Amatheus smiled and raised his hands. He asked them all to come and sit on his open palms. All the little-beetles did that. Then the radiant man Amatheus closed his eyes and said, “There you go, there you go. In the name of Prometheus, our forefather, you little-beetles, there you go twinkle-twinkle like the staaarrsss.” So saying, he swung his hands up and down and then sideways in a wave-like motion, and finally, he tossed all the little-beetles up in the air. All the little-beetles flew off his hands. They were now flying in all directions like the wildest little-beetles, going twinkle-twinkle everywhere like the stars.
“Look at me, look at me,” called out Baflee.
“I can’t see you, where are you?” shouted Truflee.
“Here I am,” said Baflee and went a twinkle. Catch me if you can,” he announced and flew off to another spot and once again went a twinkle. They could see each other for a flash, and again, they could see nothing.
All of them went crazy, went twinkle-twinkle and played catch-me-if-you-can. Amatheus sat and watched them all night and was very pleased.
The next morning he asked all little-beetles to rest because they had fifty nights of beetle-flights to cover in the direction of the sunrise, to get back home. He told them that he was very happy to be doing what his forefathers had been doing for several hundred generations – spreading light on earth.
“My great-great-many-hundred-times-great-grandfather, Prometheus had brought fire to earth,” said Amatheus. “From now on you will not be called little-beetles. You will be called fireflies, because you have the light of fire and can fly everywhere.”
In the evening when the sun set, all little-beetles, now called fireflies, thanked Amatheus by twinkling and swirling around him before they set out on their return journey.
“We don’t need the direction of the sun, now. We have our own twinkle and we can see where we go,” said Starflee. And they all flew back home.
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