One day at dawn in southern Africa, a lazy hunter woke to the sound of his children’s wails. “Go hunt some food for the children,” his wife said. The hunter nodded sleepily and slowly walked outside.

“Ah, already it’s hot,” he said, looking up at the brightening sky. The sun was beginning to rise. “It will be too hot to work today,” he yawned, but his wife called out, “Don’t come home empty-handed.” The hunter waved and ambled into the bush.

Soon he spied Mother Cheetah stalking a fine, fat springbok. He stood and watched admiringly as she moved first with stealth and then with speed. In the distance, the man spotted Mother Cheetah’s cubs lying beneath the shade of a tree. They too watched, wide-eyed, as Mother Cheetah chased the springbok. When she leapt upon the creature, the cubs and the lazy hunter gasped. The cubs, knowing they soon would eat, purred happily.

“Ah, Mother Cheetah,” the man said, “you are a fine hunter. If only I possessed your patience, speed and skill.” But the man shook his head. “Too much work in this heat,” he said. “Far too much work.”

But then he smiled. “There’s no need to work so hard,” he said to himself as he watched her pull her prey toward the three little cubs. “I will simply steal one of the cubs and train him to be my hunter. Then I shall never have to work another day.”

The hunter stayed where he was all that day, watching Mother Cheetah as she tended her cubs. He knew once the sun began to set, Mother Cheetah would leave her cubs to hunt. He would wait for his chance. He curled up and fell asleep beneath a tree.

As the sun began to set, the hunter woke and looked to see Mother Cheetah as she nuzzled her little cubs goodbye. She ran off into the bush, and as soon as she was out of sight, the lazy hunter crept up to the lair where the three cubs lay sleeping. “Now which one shall I take?” he wondered aloud, and the cubs woke and began to shiver. They did not like the sight of this man, but they were shy creatures, and they would never harm a man.

“I suppose I ought to take them all,” he decided, for he was not only lazy, he was greedy too. “Three children I have, three cubs I shall take,” he said, and he picked them up and carried them back to his home.

As the moon rose, the creatures of the bush began their nightly routine. Zebras and hyenas called out in the night, and springbok and other antelope gathered at watering holes. Mother Cheetah watched closely, and when her chance came, she leapt to catch her evening’s prey.

Once she had supper, she quickly returned to her lair.

Alas, her children were gone. She called out to them, and her voice sounded in the night like a wailing, moaning bird. She called and called, but then she realized her children were gone. She lay down in the tall grass and began to cry, for beyond everything else in the world, Mother Cheetah loved her cubs. Tears splashed down her cheeks, staining the fur beneath her watery eyes. She wept long and loudly all through the night.

At sunrise, an old man passing by heard her cries. He ran to see what had happened. When he saw what the trouble was, he decided to search for her cubs. Her broken heart broke his. He ran back to his village, calling out, “Who has seen Mother Cheetah’s cubs?” When he came upon the lazy hunter’s hut, he spied three little cubs trapped in a cage. He knocked upon the lazy man’s door.

“You have dishonored us all,” he said to the lazy hunter. “You know the hunt requires you to use your own skill and strength. You must not use others to help yourself.”

The lazy man laughed. “These are my cheetahs now,” he said. “I’ll use them as I please.”

The old man shook his head and went to see the village elders. He sat with them and told the whole story.

When the elders heard of the lazy man’s crime, they banished him from their village. “From this day on, we will look after your wife and children, and we will care for them with honor,” they said. “You must leave forever.”

The old man picked up the little cheetahs and returned to the bush. He went directly to Mother Cheetah’s lair, and there he found her, weeping still. When she looked up and saw her cubs, she sprang up with joy and cradled the tiny creatures to her breast.

Alas, Mother Cheetah had wept so long and so hard, the dark stains on her face remained, and ever since that day, Mother Cheetah’s descendants are born with the stain of tears beneath their eyes.

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