Of Millipedes and Centipedes

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Once upon a time, there was a millipede named  Mut. Early each morning, while the children slept soundly, he ventured forth into the world above the ground to look for his children’s breakfast. On this morning, Mut was feeling particularly antsy. The source of his worry was the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year. That meant he not only had to find breakfast for the children this morning; he  had to look for pollen for to buy them new honeycomb shoes from the shoemaker bees.

As you can imagine, it takes a lot of honeycombs to shoe a millipede; even if it’s a child. In the past, try as he may, he could never find enough pollen. As the school years came and went, he’d watch his children go into the school excited but barely shod. Seeing that his kids were just as excited about their first day of school in their bare feet as the kids with shoes were,  made him watery-eyed every time. With many years of practice, he had cultivated the ability to hold back the tears until the last of his children disappeared down the hallway of the school; then he’d allow the tears to run their course as he made for the pollen field.

But on that first day, he was met by one of the centipede parents. The centipede wanted to make him a “business proposition.” The centipede would help him gather pollen in exchange for “a small commission.”

“That way, your children won’t have to  go to school in their bare feet” said the centipede,” and…you will be done much sooner.”

“I will help you gather enough pollen for shoes the week before school starts,” the centipede continued. “In return you will give me half of what you gather every day throughout the school year.” The millipede thought about this, but only for a moment. He did not want to think anything but that his kids would never be shoeless again; especially for their first day of school. He was so happy. On that very day, the centipede helped him gather so much pollen that for the very first time, his children had shoes on every one of their feet, and life was good again.

After dropping the kids  at school the next morning, Mut got busy gathering pollen. He worked with an enthusiasm as never before. When it came nearly time to bring the kids home from school, the centipede showed up to divide the day’s bounty into two piles of nearly equal size; one for the centipede, the other for the millipede.

“Thank you,” said the centipede. “Here’s your share.” The centipede pointed to the lesser of the two piles. Seeing the two piles were different in size did not bother the millipede because now his children would all have shoes – and maybe a toy or two to boot! He was feeling happy, like never before.

But as the school year progressed, the centipede took a larger share of the pollen for himself.

“It is what all the millipedes are getting,” he explained.

The millipede, meanwhile, was obliged to spend even more time gathering pollen to make up for his shrinking portion. By the halfway point in the school year, the millipede was working right on up until dark so that his pile was large enough to provide for the children’s supper. He had to hire a sitter to pick up his children after school and look after them, until he got home.

But after he started paying a babysitter, there was not enough pollen leftover  for exercise books and, God-help-him, toys. He was obliged to work later and later. He heard that most of the other millipedes were involved in similar arrangements with centipedes. At the end of the school year, the pollen stores of the millipede families had grown considerably smaller, even as those of the centipedes grew larger.

At summer’s end, the millipede was both work and worry-weary. He hardly saw his children. There was no longer time to play monopoly with them, to tell them bedtime stories, or for drawing crayon pictures with them on Sunday afternoons because  he was always working. He hoped the sitter was doing all of these things. When he did see them, he was obliged to reach deep down just to keep from being cranky with them.

When he brought the kids to school for the start of the new year, he noticed there weren’t  any centipede children. He was told they’d all enrolled in that brand new school a way over yonder, atop the anthill.

Very few of the millipede children were wearing a full set of shoes on that first day of school. Some had no shoes at all. A part of him was relieved that his children were not the only ones. He felt that he didn’t need to worry about the centipedes, or their children, since they had pollen aplenty to shoe and supply their children; and for their children he was happy.

And each night he would fall asleep wondering what his children did that day.