One weakness leads to another. So it was with Juan Tamad’s laziness. As his body was lazy, so was his mind. Truth being often hard to tell, he took recourse to lies, which came easy to him. Telling lies became his second nature.
One day his mother sent him to town to buy a cooking pot. It so happened that the townspeople were afflicted by fleas. Nobody knew where they came from. They crawled up one’s legs and body and lodged themselves in the hair until one itched like mad. It was horrible.
Juan bought a nice pot and set off for home. On his way back, a flea got inside his clothes and bit him. He yelled and threw out his arms and scratched himself as he pranced around. In all this confusion the pot fell on the ground and broke into a dozen pieces.
Jaun squatted before the broken pot, imagining his mother’s wrath. He had to do some quick thinking.
He collected all the pieces of the broken pot and, with the help of two stones, ground them very fine. Then he wrapped up the powder in several pieces of a banana leaf, and went back to town. Up and down the road he went shouting, “Buy flea-killer! Buy flea-killer!"/
This seemed heaven-sent for the townsfolk who crowded around him and bought all the packages.
Juan took back home no cooking pot, but instead a bag of coins. His mother was pleased. But she still wanted her rice pot, so she sent him back to town the next day.
Great was the dismay of Juan Tamad when he arrived in town and was soon set upon by angry men and women shaking their fists in his face and cursing him.
“We shall tear you limb by limb,” they shouted, “for you sold us no flea-killer but common sand. You cheat! Now tell us a likely story so you should not die like a dog. But the story has to be convincing or you will not be spared.”
“Oh, my good neighbours,” pleaded Juan, “first tell me how you used the flea-killer.”
“Why, we dusted it on the fleas, of course. How else?” said the neighbours.
“Ah,” said Juan. “That is what I feared. Have you any of the powder left?”
No one had any powder left. “What a pity,” sighed Juan, “for I could have shown you how to kill the fleas. First, you catch a flea. Then open its eyes. It is really very simple,” said Juan.
“Ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-!” roared a neighbour, and “Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha,” laughed another.
“It is hard enough to see a flea and catch it, let alone open its eyes,” said one man.
Juan tried desperately to go on with his story, but such was the din and noise of angry protest from the people that he found himself cornered.
“Juan, why not tell the truth for a change!” shouted an old woman.
And for the first time in his young life, Juan saw no escape. He told them the truth.
As some men lunged forward to pounce on him, the old woman stopped them and said, “Let the fool go this time. But listen boy, try your tricks again on us and God save you!”
“Come, we must tell his mother,” came a voice, and the crowd melted away, leaving Juan standing alone, still worried about his mother’s wrath.
[From Laughing Together: Stories, Riddles and Proverbs from Asia and the Pacific; Published by The National Book Trust under a UNESCO project.]
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