In the jungle lives a large tribe of tree dwelling monkeys. Their days were filled with lisirly naps surrounded by the rinds of juicy mangos and green banana peels. Swinging from branch to branch and tree to tree they scattered birds while chasing each other about. Other than pythons there was little to threaten the monkey’s easy existence. Days blended together until their memories became pointless.
Among their number was Nobo. He was a young male who enjoyed the highest branches never knowing the anchorage of a home or the burden of work. His life was carefree just like his brethren except for one concern. He had fallen in love with one of the chief’s daughters, a beautiful female named Oma.
Her coat always seemed to glow with the dappled light that made it through the canopy. It reminded Nobo of the waning sun and looked warm to the touch. She had long lashes and slender fingers. Nobo could spot her graceful movements past a hundred other available females.
Instead of approaching Oma, Nobo would sing her praises to his cantankerous uncle an old male named Crank. Crank was one of the tribe’s elders and considered the wisest. “She stands out as a full moon among the simple stars. Yet on the occasions Oma has looked to my tree her beautiful black eyes never fix on me. There is no look of recognition. I don’t think she can see me from the trees, sky, and the other monkeys. I could be on the limb directly in front of her, my world tipping her direction, and she wouldn’t blink.”
Crank looked up from his latest banana. “Ha! The solution to your problem is easier than peeling this banana! Why don’t you leap over to her limb and say hello? You’re agile with good teeth. I’m sure she would at least talk to you.”
“I can’t do that! It won’t be enough for her to remember me! Good teeth?! Bah! Nobo! Listen to my name! Even it sounds like so many of the other males.” Nobo frowned. “No, I must have a something marks me as different. I’m not just another common suitor. I must be unforgettable.
“I know very little about being unique but I most certainly know creatures that are, two really. In fact, they are the most unique creatures in the world and they live here in the jungle.”
“Who?! Tell me.” Nobo couldn’t help but leap a bit.
Crank raised one brow a sly look crossing his face. “Well, the first is a powerful bird named Proud Cloud. Really he’s a parrot but very, very large. He flies between the earth and sun directing the path of both. As he leads the sun over the jungle sky, Proud Cloud must beat his wings with extra force. When he does, he loses feathers. Now these feathers are made of a material softer than a newborn’s pelt but stronger than teak. They ride sunbeams to earth and are nearly impossible to see. As the feathers strike the earth, they are absorbed into the jungle soils where plants use the colors to decorate themselves. The fantastic colors you see lacing the flowers are taken from Proud Cloud’s magic feathers.”
Nobo couldn’t contain himself. “Perfect! I’ll gather Proud Cloud’s feathers! Tell me uncle, how do I gather them?”
“You’re not listening. They fall to the earth faster than overripe fruit and are absorbed faster than the rain. You cannot catch them but you can try and communicate with Proud Cloud. Flying to and around the sun is thirsty, hard work. If you can reach him with a fresh juicy fruit, he may fly down to visit with you. Now how do you toss a fruit that high? I don’t know.”
“I will find a way.” Nobo didn’t wait. He thanked Crank and went off into the dense canopy of the jungle to think. “I need a way to reach the surface of the sun. I can throw a mango the length of a lower tree limb but that won’t do.”
He tested a trick he had done as a younger monkey. He leaped near the end of a thin limb and it bent under his weight. As he jumped away the limb sprang back giving Nobo an extra push. “Yes, the trees are much stronger than I am. I will use their strength and resiliency to throw fruit to Proud Cloud.”
Nobo gathered mango and brought them to a thin tree limb. He lightly wedged the fruit into a fork near the end of the branch. For almost an hour he practiced jumping toward the end of the limb, grabbing the end, bending it over, and releasing his grip just as the branch reached its lowest. Mangos flew among the trees careening into tree trunks and whipping through leaves. One even landed on the head of a wandering elephant earning Nobo a rather loud reprimand.
By sunset, however, Nobo had his tree sling mastered. The fruit sat patiently on the end of the limb and when Nobo reached it, he would wrap two fingers around the fruit to keep in place. The second Nobo released his weak grip the fruit went to the same spot in the sky with more speed than a springing cobra.
The morning of the next day Nobo sat near the branch he had practiced with waiting for the sun to come into position. Once it was, Nobo began launching mangos and other fruits into heaven listening as each eventually found its way back into the trees and down to the earth. The little monkey was growing tired and frustrated when he noticed that his latest volley never returned. He quickly threw another fruit up and it also did not return.
Nobo used a large leaf to try and shade his small black eyes. He searched for any sign that the magical parrot had decided to descend. There was more waiting before the black outline of a very large bird could be seen spiraling downward.
“I did it! I did it!” Nobo’s squeal carried over the other busy noises of the jungle. “Here he comes!”
Nobo was unprepared for the heat that would accompany Proud Cloud. The multicolored parrot was longer than the limb he landed on. Steam and smoke rose from his vibrant plumage and tiny embers flecked away from his head and wings as he shook them. Proud Cloud’s beak wasn’t black like other parrots instead it was a brazen gold.
“Hello, little one.” Proud Cloud boomed. When he spoke Nobo heard thunder. “It has been some time since I had reason to return to the earth. Thank you for the fresh mango. How can I serve you?”
The monkey could barely contain himself. Nobo began swinging his arms wildly as he spoke. “Proud Cloud! What a wonder you are! Thank you for coming! Please, please, may I have a small cluster of your feathers? I desire the affection of Oma and she may chose me if have such a prize.”
Proud Cloud shook his head. “No young one. My feather’s are for another purpose but I can offer you something else. If you will feed me again tomorrow, I will bring to you a gem of great worth. These gems are called sun tears and they are only found of the surface of the sun. They glow with the sun’s power and you will not find them on earth. Will that do?”
“Yes!” Now Nobo was fully leaping in the air. “Please! Such a gift will be perfect for Oma! No other male will be able to match it! I will send you the juiciest mango you will ever taste! Thank you!”
“Then I will see you tomorrow when the sun is again in this position.” Proud Cloud opened his wings and beat them once then again and the giant bird was airborne.
Nobo flew into the forest gathering mangos for tomorrow. He didn’t tell the other monkeys about Proud Cloud or even return to his tribe that night. Instead he rested in the arms of the tree that would aid him in winning Oma. Mangos, some of the best the jungle had to offer, sat nearby.
The little monkey was ready hours before he needed to be. He spent some time practicing the mango throw but otherwise he paced back and forth on another limb.
When the morning hour arrived, Nobo leapt into the air, snagged the end of the opposite branch with just two fingers holding the mango in place, and just as his decent began to slow Nobo let go. Whoosh. The fruit was gone in the next instant. Up it went directly toward the sun. Nobo listened…nothing. The monkey scampered up the tree and set a second mango on the branch. He catapulted another fruit skyward. It didn’t return. His effort had not been in vain. Proud Cloud would return with the prize he needed!
The magical creature did return and he was just as striking as the day before. His bronzed talons resting on the same scorch marks left from where he perched the day before. Held in his beak was a tiny stone that glistened and shone with its own light.
Proud Cloud set the stone on a tree limb near his head. Small trails of smoke immediately curled up from the bark. “Here you are my little friend. Your kindness has been rewarded and I thank you again. May the sun tear please you.”
The parrot stretched one wing. Sparks scattered wildly in the wind. “These trips to earth exhaust me and I will not return for many years. Of course, you are always welcome to send me food.” He cawed as if he was laughing and flew into the air again. Soon he was gone having returned to the edge of the sun.
Nobo shrieked with joy and scampered to the branch holding the sun tear. The gem pulsed with a bright pure white illumination. Long tails of smoke still twisted as they rose from the bark around the stone so Nobo blew on the sun tear to cool it. He did this for several minutes before finally deciding to pick it up. The sun tear immediately burned his hand. The monkey dropped it and it bounced off several tree branches before landing in the underbrush below.
Despite other efforts, the gem never cooled and Nobo had to use sticks to carry his prize. “This will not work! I can’t give Oma something too hot for her to handle! Unless I can find a way to cool it, all of my work has been wasted.”
Rain began falling. As the raindrops struck the surface of the sun tear small bursts of steam mixed with smoke. This gave the monkey an idea. He scurried to a crescent shaped lake nearby and dug a small hole. With several folded leaves, Nobo began scooping water into his depression. The water filled hole and Nobo dropped the sun tear in.
“There, tomorrow I will return and pick up the sun tear. By then the lake’s cool waters should have tempered the gem’s heat.”
Unobo traveled back to his tribe and found his uncle Crank. “Uncle! You were right! The Proud Cloud is amazing! It’s beak and talons looked like they were made of blazing metals and his plumage was beautiful!”
Crank tossed away a banana peel and turned his graying head. “What? You met Proud Cloud? Is that what you’ve been doing? You’re pulling my tail!”
“No and he was magnificent! Truly a unique being! He gave me a gemstone from the sun but it was much too hot. I filled a hole with cool lake water and will let its heat ease over night. Tomorrow I will go and fetch it. Perhaps I should wear it around my neck so Oma can see it and me. Or do you think the end of my tail would be better?”
The older monkey laughed out loud. “Well then, if you thought the story of Proud Cloud was impressive listen to this. There is another creature with traits that distinguish it from the other common animals of the forest. It is a tortoise by the name of Lapis Luzy. You see, this tortoise has a shell made from hundreds of beautiful gems. All kinds…sapphires, rubies, emeralds, diamonds, and all sorts of other gems of all different colors. Lapis Luzy can crawl, dig, and swim like all tortoises but he prefers to live underground. There he finds the roots of young tree saplings and wraps their roots around special gems. The hard jewels allow the tree to take the soft soil it grows in and make it into strong wood. With young ebony trees, Lapis Luzy places an onyx which makes the wood heavy and black.”
Nobo’s eyes were wide. “Uncle, have you ever seen Lapis Luzy?”
Crank clenched his teeth and shook his head. “No, of course not, he stays underground and comes out for swims only an during the darkest hours of the new moon. He lives in darkness and prefers it greatly to the bright heat of the day. Lapis Luzy is afraid of what the other animals would do if they ever spotted him.”
The younger monkey rubbed his knuckles together. “He has a shell made of sparkling gems and he stays out of sight? Uncle Crank, that’s terrible! What a waste! He may be more beautiful than Proud Cloud and yet he stays out of sight by choice! That makes very little sense.”
“I agree.” Crank plucked another banana. “So listen to your own words. When will you introduce yourself to Oma? I believe you have traits that are special as well.”
“Stop playing games with me uncle. You know I have nothing to offer. That will change after tomorrow.”
Nobo slept with the other monkeys that night. But unlike their carefree slumber he couldn’t contain his eagerness. He imagined the many ways he would spring past Oma the next day and how hard he would have to work to get her attention. He envisioned her bright black eyes and those long lashes focusing on him and the sun tear.
Just as dawn began to cast its life giving radiance over the tops of the jungle canopy, Nobo made his way back to the crescent lake. The hole was just where the monkey remembered but to Nobo’s surprise the hole was dry, completely dry! The sun tear sat on the bottom with heated earth around it still flashing and still glowing with a steady light.
“Now what will I do?!” Nobo reached down and touched the sun tear. It was still far too hot to handle. “If water will not cool it what will I do?’
A voice high in pitch and a bit unnerving came from the behind a nearby lacewood tree. “You could trade it away. I have never seen anything of its like amidst the gems of earth and I’m sure to know a few things about precious stones.”
Nobo let out a shriek and jumped away. He wouldn’t leave the sun tear but he needed to know what was facing him. “Who is it?”
A tortoise only as tall as Nobo stepped out from behind the tree. He walked on two legs instead of four and his shell glittered even in the understory’s dim light. Lapis Luzy’s shell was more magnificent than Nobo had imagined. The gems were all cut presumably by the sharp nails Lapis Luzy had on his fore paws.
“I am Lapis Luzy. I help care for this jungle and especially the trees you see around you. As I have said, I have collected all sorts of jewels for my shell but never have I seen one like that. What do you call it?”
“It’s called a sun tear. I received it from a great bird known as Proud Cloud.”
The tortoise looked confused. “Proud Cloud? Well, never mind, I will pull a gold plate from my very shell for a chance to own that sun tear. If you will trade that bright gemstone to me, I will bulge it out as a mask to fit your face. It will be crowded with many sparkling jewels. I have little doubt that not one of your kind has ever had one.
That sun tear will give a sparkling light to each stone in my shell…even when I’m underground. Please, kind monkey.”
Nobo tried to pick up the sun tear again but it was still too hot. There was no way he would be able to use the stone. Lapis Luzy had already pulled one of its gold plates off the bottom of his shell and was beating into a mask shape. The magic creature was done within minutes and offering the valuable mask to Nobo.
“Here,” Lapis Luzy offered. “Go ahead and try it on.”
Nobo took the mask and slid it over his face. Holes for his eyes were there and it fit perfectly! He trotted over to the lake’s surface for a look at his appearance. The water reflected emeralds, rubies, and other colored stones perfectly arranged and forming an outline of the monkey’s face. When Nobo turned around, Lapis Luzy was gone as well as the sun tear.
“Well, I was going to take his offer regardless.” Nobo pulled the mask away from his face. Even the gold along the inner lining was perfect and smooth. “With this mask on, I will be impossible to ignore. Everyone, even Oma, will become entranced.”
Nobo raced back to his tribe with the mask tucked under one arm. Crank was still sitting in the same familiar spot near a plentiful banana tree. His back turned to Nobo’s approach.
“Uncle! Uncle! Look at what I have!”
Crank slowly looked up from his banana. When the old monkey finally focused on what Nobo had his eyes went wide. “What is that?!”
Nobo handed the jeweled mask to his uncle. “I traded the sun tear I received from Proud Cloud to Lapis Luzy for that gold mask. There’s never been anything like it! Once I put it on, Oma’s eyes will be drawn to me as a heavy stone is to the earth!”
Crank didn’t say anything for a moment. He simply rotated the valuable mask in his paws before trying to place it over his face. When he removed it, he was frowning.
“Nephew, where did you get this?”
“I’ve already told you. A sun tear from Proud Cloud was traded to Lapis Luzy for this mask. Do you think Oma will like it?”
“I didn’t think those creatures existed! They were stories I heard as a youngling! Yesterday I thought you were joking. But how do you expect to attract Oma if she can’t even see your face? Nobo, I had greater faith in you. You ignore my real advice and chase after ridiculous frills like this. Besides, what do monkeys care about gold or jewels!”
Nobo cast his gaze to the forest floor. “Then uncle what would you have me do?”
Crank scooted closer to his nephew. “Stop listening to my stories and do as I instruct. Go to the south end of the lake and pick an orchid that is white laced with pick. Take her the flower along with fresh fruits and you will have much better luck.”
“How do you know this? How can you be sure?”
“I spend time with her and her father! That is how I know she loves white orchids laced with pink. You will find yourself much better suited for gaining her attention if you will focus on her and what she loves instead of trying to make yourself more interesting.”
Nobo found the orchid Crank told him about and returned. He offered it to Oma who leaped with delight. She placed it behind her ear and Nobo thought she looked more beautiful than ever. The young monkey spent as much time as he could with Oma asking her about her interests and even learning which end of the banana she preferred to peel first.
While monkeys do not trade in gold or precious gems, Uncle Crank did find a good use for the mask. Not only did he still spend his time eating bananas and telling the younger monkeys stories but he also found opportunity to scare the tails off the younger monkeys using the mask.