The Magic Hour | Nal'ibali

The Magic Hour

Author

By Thato Kgaje

Illustrator

by Natalie and Tamsin Hinrichsen

Not so long ago, in fact in the time when my great-great-grandmother was a young girl, a chicken and a cow were friends.

One day, as they walked along the fields, Chicken fluffed her feathers and wiggled her tail feathers. She was fidgety. Cow noticed this as she slowly chewed her cud.

“What is wrong, Chicken?” Cow asked while she swished her tail.

“Do you hear that?” Chicken looked around the fields, and then back at Cow.

“No,” said Cow. “Am I supposed to hear something?” Cow turned her head this way and that way so that the huge old bell around her neck jingled and jangled. It created a very loud noise which rolled across the dewy fields.

“That’s exactly what I mean,” said Chicken. “There are no other animal sounds on this farm. And why do you think that is?”

Cow continued chewing her cud while considering the question.

“Because,” Chicken rudely interrupted Cow’s thinking, “the farmer has shipped all our friends and family off to the slaughterhouse.”

 

Cow got such a fright that she swallowed the cud she was chewing in one big gulp. This made her burp loudly and in a very unladylike manner!

“We have to escape because one of us is next! We need to get away before that happens,” Chicken said.

“Escape?” Cow asked while looking at Chicken with big eyes.

“Yes, we must escape tonight! But we must be careful of the farmer. We must make sure he does not hear nor see us leaving,” said Chicken. Cow nodded in agreement.

That evening, as soon as the lights in the farmhouse went out and they could hear the farmer snoring, Chicken and Cow set off.

Chicken used her beak to hold onto the clapper of the bell around Cow’s neck. They had to be as quiet as possible if they wanted their escape to be successful.

Once they were in the Great Green Wood, Chicken let go of Cow’s bell and they stood silently listening for a while. They had no idea where they were going and they were a bit scared.

From a branch above them, came the call of a swallow.

“Hey strangers! Here! Up here! Are you lost …?” Swallow wanted to know.

“No, we are not. We are escaping from the farm because the farmer had all our friends and family sent to the slaughterhouse. One of us, if not both, is next, so we decided to escape,” answered Chicken.

“Not wise, not wise,” called Swallow from above. “The Great Green Wood is full of wild animals and this is the time the big cats roam around looking for a delicious meal – such as a tasty cow or chicken. You are running from a bad situation to an even worse one, I would say.”

“Well, we can’t go back …” Cow said, looking around anxiously.

“Why not?” Swallow chattered. “All you have to do, is show the farmer that there is a better way.”

“A better way?” clucked Chicken. She could not believe what she was hearing.

“Yes,” said Swallow. “Remember that I am the advisor to the King. I know these things. You need to show the farmer your real value.”

For the rest of the evening the three sat together thinking and talking and coming up with a plan.

Now, luckily the Great Green Wood was a place of magic where anything was possible, so Swallow sent all the birds of the forest out to gather as many vegetable seeds as they could find.

With all the seeds gathered carefully, Swallow looked at the two friends.

“You have to take all these seeds back to the farm and plant them in the fields the farmer has prepared. But each seed must be in the ground before the magic hour.” Swallow looked at Chicken and Cow and up at the moon. “You must be quick. There are a lot of seeds here and not much time.”

Chicken and Cow struggled to carry all the seeds between just the two of them, but before long they were busy in the fields planting the seeds as fast as they could.

Just as Chicken was covering the last of the seeds with some soil, the magic hour struck and Unkulunkulu opened the sky. Soft rain fell on the newly planted fields and all the differing kinds of seeds started sprouting and growing. Soon there were vegetables growing as far as you could see. The farmer’s fields looked wonderful.

When the farmer walked out to his fields that morning, he could not believe his eyes. Not only were there baskets of fresh vegetables lined up in neat rows, but there were also plenty of eggs and many buckets of fresh milk. Chicken and Cow stood nearby looking very proud, and the farmer knew this was all the result of their hard work.

The farmer was very grateful and from that day on, the farmer, Chicken and Cow lived happily together on the farm.

 

Get story active!

 

  • Choose a part of the story that does not have an illustration and draw a picture for it. Copy out the words of the story that go with your picture or ask someone to help you do this. Paste the page with the story to the bottom of your picture.
  • Pretend that you are Cow and Chicken. Write a thank you letter to Swallow for helping you.
  • Start your own small garden in a plastic bottle. Lay the bottle on its side and cut off the side facing up. Put good soil in the bottle. Plant a few beans and water them. Place your garden in the sun.