The Old Man and the Crab

An old man sat in his boat one day, feeling very sorry for himself indeed. He was feeling very old, tired, and haggard. His bones ached, his skin sagged with wrinkles, and his hands were gnarled and knotted from arthritis. He could barely steer the rudder on his boat anymore, much less pull in the nets he used to catch his fish. He feared he might starve to death soon.

He looked forlornly over the side of the boat at his reflection in the water, contemplating what had brought him to this point in his life, wondering if there were anything he could have done differently, and remembering the good old days as old men are prone to do. Gradually, he realized that his reflection had been replaced by a crab that was bobbing on the surface of the water, peering at the old man intently.

“You look very sad,” observed the crab.

The old man was surprised. “Do I?” He asked. “I think I look the way I always do.”

“Are you always sad then?” the crab asked.

The old man considered for a moment. “Well, yes, I suppose that I am. “

“That’s no good.” Scoffed the crab. “What do you have to be sad about all the time?

The old man told the crab all about his age and how tired he felt and how his hands no longer worked very well.  “I’m afraid I shall starve soon.” The old man concluded glumly.

“Well,” the crab said, appearing to be thinking hard. “I may know a way to help you.”

“How can it be?” the old man wondered.

“Just because I am a small creature does not mean I am a dumb creature.” The crab told him tartly.

“No, I guess not.” The old man agreed, uncertainly.

“I know something that not only will keep you from starving but it will make you feel young and energetic again.”

“What?” The old man gasped. “How can it be? That would be so wonderful!”

“But, if I tell you this secret,” the crab waved a warning claw at the old man, “you must make a promise to me.”

“If it is as you say it is, I would be so grateful, I would promise you just about anything!” The old man leaned closer to the crab eagerly.

“If I tell you, you must promise me to never fish again. You must leave all the sea creatures, crabs, fish and the like in peace and never again cast your net into the water.”

The old man considered for a moment starring down at his gnarled hands. “Yes, I think that’s fair.” The old man agreed. “I promise that if you tell me the secret, and it is as you say, that it makes me feel young again, I will hang up my fishing nets for good.”

“Very well,” said the crab, regarding him steadily. “I will tell you. But beware if you should ever break your promise.”

So, the crab told the man of a hidden spot, tucked out of sight of men, where rice grew wild and unhindered. But this was no ordinary rice. This rice would always make you full of energy and life as long as you ate it. You would never be hungry, old, or sick again.

The old man was amazed, right from the very first bite of his very first bowl. He instantly felt younger. The wrinkles on his face tightened, his eyes brightened, the stoop in his back started to straighten and best of all, his fingers straightened and moved easily again as they hadn’t for years. The man was overjoyed. In his joy, he immediately forgot all about the crab. His first thought was to go and tell all the other villagers about the wonderful rice he had found, but on the walk back to the village, he decided he’d better not tell anyone. After all, there were many people in the village and they might eat all the rice up, and then the man wouldn’t have any and might get old again.  So, he decided it would be his rice, and his alone.

During the weeks that followed, all the village notice how changed the man was, but he never said a word about the rice to anyone, not even to his closest friends. As more time passed, the man would even scoff and be disgusted by his former friends. They were so old, and their hands were bent and gnarled. The man had completely forgotten how, not very long ago, he was just like these old men. By now, the man felt so good, and never felt the tiredness or the hunger that plagued him before, that his mind turned to making his fortune.

“The fish are very plentiful” His new young friends told him. “Come and share the sea’s bounty.”

“Yes! That’s a wonderful idea!” thought the man, “I could make a lot of money” So into his boat he jumped, and out to sea he went.

He stopped at a spot he was familiar with and was overjoyed to see hundreds of fish jumping and playing in the warm sea. The man spread his nets and immediately they were filled. As he started pulling the nets, full to splitting, with the fish he noticed the crab holding on to the net.

“What are you doing?” cried the crab.

“What does it look like? I am fishing.” He replied, busily pulling in the net.

“Are you hungry?” asked the crab.

“Of course not.” The man scoffed.

“Then why are you breaking your promise?” asked the crab.

“Because I want to make my fortune.” Answered the man.

“But we had a deal.” The crab said, sadly.

“That was then, this is now.” Retorted the man, and then he cried out in pain, dropping the net. He looked at his hands in confusion as the once strong fingers crumpled and twisted before his eyes. His strong back weakened and curved. A glance at his reflection in the water confirmed what the old man feared—he was once again old.

“What!” he cried. “Why? How?”

“You went back on your promise,” the crab answered matter-of-factly.

The old man felt a rage like he had never felt before rise up within him. He grabbed the crab and crushed its claws so it could not pinch him and threw it in a bucket.

“I’ll show you!” he screamed at the crab. “you shall be my dinner tonight and then tomorrow, I shall go back to the secret spot and eat more rice and be young again!”

Once back on shore, the man grabbed the bucket, swinging it savagely as he marched back to his home. He threw the crab into a boiling pot of water and watched, laughing gleefully as the crab turned a bright red, boiling to its death. When the crab was cooked to the old man’s satisfaction, the man laid it on a plate with fresh melted butter on the side and sat down to his feast, still muttering angrily to himself. He pulled off the first claw viciously, pulling the meat out and popped a large portion into his mouth, already preparing to shove another piece in his mouth before he had even swallowed.

In his hast and anger, the old man hadn’t been very careful. He failed to see the piece of shell that was still attached to the meat, but he felt it when it became lodged in his throat. He gasped out what little air could get around the crab meat that was now firmly lodged in his throat, panicking when he realized he would not be able to remove it himself. He looked around frantically for someone to help him, but there was no one. He was all alone, just him and what was left of the crab. After struggling a bit, his head fell to the table, where he gasped like a dying fish until he could gasp no more. And that’s where he was found, days later, when his landlady came to fetch her rent. His dead eyes reflecting the dead crab starring back.

 

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