There once was a young man. He was intelligent, and yet very unhappy. Did he have a red nose? Green hair? Large ears? Awry eyes? No one can say. Not a single girl wanted to marry him. Not a single boy wanted to be his friend. Once, he showed up for a job interview and was denied access. This is so unfair, thought the young man as he left, head down. I did not choose to have this face! He then remembered a lullaby his mother used to sing him when he was a child.
Far in the West,
Beyond the thunder land,
Touches the clouds.
There, the Earth meets
The starry sky.
Two wise men,
For two answers …
Tell me the way!
“I must find this mountain,” he said. “I will climb it and ask the wise men why I was born with such an ugly face!“ So, heheaded West. He walked a long while.
One evening there was a terrible storm. Thunder rolled and lightning tore across the sky. The young man was drenched to the bone. He spotted a lonely farm; he took heart and knocked on the door. An old man opened it. He looked sad but seemed not to notice his guest’s ugly face. He let him in, offered him food, and invited him to sit by the fire—as he would do for any treasured guest. However, the next morning, the old man asked:
“Forgive me if I intrude, but I was wondering: What is a young man like you doing in such a forlorn land, far from school?” “I am looking for the mountain that touches the sky. They say that one can find the answer to all questions, and I would like to know why I am so ugly.” The old man sighed. “We all have our share of misfortune. I have an only daughter, whom I love more than my life. But the poor child is dumb. That is why I decided to live away from the village. I do not want her to know that she is different. I beg you now, when you find the mountain, will you please ask why my daughter cannot speak?”
“I will come back to you with the answer,“ promised the young man as he departed from the farm.
Now, the road was becoming narrower, the mountain drew closer, and clouds lay low. Soon, the mountain was standing in front of his eyes, and the young man started climbing through the dark craggy rocks. Not a single bird was in sight, except for an eagle soaring high from time to time.
Then the young man stopped at a deep, rapid, turbulent stream, which he could neither ford nor swim across. There were no bridges or tree trunks around. Suddenly, he saw a sheep standing near an old bark, but no one was in sight. The sheep looked sick.
“My! My! You must be the first living creature I have seen since I have been up here!” he heard someone say. The youngman flinched when he heard the strange voice. He looked around and behold, there was an old woman sitting by a bush.
“I wonder, what you are looking for on this desert mountain?”
“I must get to the top to ask a question,” the young man replied.
“Could you ask a question for me too?” the woman implored.
“Get into my boat, then! I am an old, childless woman. I have only this sheep, which I have cherished like a child since the day of his birth. But he has not eaten a thing for a whole week, and this is making me sad. He is my only companion. I cannot afford to lose him. Will you ask what is happening to my sheep, please?”
“I will surely do that,” promised the young man as he jumped out of the boat on the other side of the stream.
Finally, he reached the top of the mountain. Two old men stood guard and welcomed him with a smile.
“Since you came a long way, your question must be very important,” said one. “We will allow you two questions.”
The young man bowed respectfully before them both.
He thought: If the old woman had not helped me, I would have never gotten here! So, he asked the question:
“Why is the old woman’s sheep and only friend so sick?” “Because the sheep swallowed an emerald last week. The stone is making him sick,” answered one of the wise men.
“Take this weed to him; he will eat it and spit out the gemstone.”
The young man bowed forward and thanked the wise man. He was about to ask his own question when he remembered the sad old man who had provided him shelter in the storm. He was the first person to treat him fairly, without sneering at him. The man had a dumb daughter, who could not laugh, could not sing. Wasn’t that worse than having an ugly face? he thought.
“The old man’s daughter,” he asked. “Why can’t she speak?”
“Because the man of her dreams is an honest and fine man, but she has not met him yet,” answered the other wise man.
And both men disappeared in a heavy mist.
Slowly, wistfully, the young man trudged his way down. By the stream waited the old woman.
“Your sheep swallowed a gemstone, and it is hurting him. Give him this weed to eat.”
The sheep ate the weed and spat out the emerald. Now, he was better.
The woman offered the young man the emerald: “Here. Keep it as a souvenir of me. It will bring you good luck!”
The young man walked across the forest, down the mountain, and at nightfall found himself at the gate of the old man’s farm. There, in the yard, a young girl in a lovely silk dress was scattering grain for the chickens.
He looked upon her. She looks so sad! he thought.
But he imagined how her father would be happy to learn that his daughter would speak again and marry a cultured man. Suddenly, he forgot his own sorrow, for he had not been able to ask his own question. In haste, he knocked at the gate.
“Welcome to you, my Lord. We were expecting you.”
What a surprise! The girl had just pronounced her very first words. Her voice sounded like the tinkling of silver bells.
The young man was amazed.
The father leaped and danced as he heard his daughter’s voice. He decided that she would marry the young man.
Looking into his young wife’s loving eyes, the young man realized that he was not so ugly after all. His face brightened with joy, and his smile made him glow. Soon, everybody regarded him as a charming man. Yet nothing had changed: he had the same nose, the same hair…
“When you care for others and help them, you also learn to love yourself for who you are,” concluded the young man.
Shared by Esther Ah Kiune, Women Ministries director, La Reunion Conference, La Reunion. This story is a revised version of Beatrice Tanaka’s tale, “La Montagne aux trois questions”.