The Good Example

Vicente Riva Palacio (1832-1896; Mexico)

(translation from the Spanish: Moti Nissani)

In the southern part of the Mexican Republic, at the foothills of the Sierra Madre, near the Pacific Ocean, there was a village just like all others in that region: little white houses with roofs of red tiles or palm leaves. Nestled in the cool shade of coconut and other gigantic trees, these houses were barely touched by the fiery rays of the tropical sun.

In that village there was a school, which must still be standing there. But in those days, the school was run by Don Lucas Forcida, a splendid fellow much loved by all his neighbors. Don Lucas never faltered in the performance of his onerous duties. That is to say, like all other long-suffering teachers, he was a veritable martyr.

In that school, following the traditional customs and practices of those times, learning consisted in repeating, with exasperating monotony, the teacher's words: pupils would, in a single cacophonous chorus, chant the alphabet, syllables, religious catechisms, and the multiplication table. At times the children would get carried away, trying to see who among them could yell loudest or best. For his part, the excellent Don Lucas endured this daily opera with heroic resignation.

By four o'clock the children would leave the school, yelling and throwing stones; only then would Don Lucas consider himself a free man. He would carry a chair to the sidewalk and his servant would bring him a cup of hot chocolate and a big cake. With the cool breeze of the nearby forest blowing on his bald pate, Don Lucas would share his meager repast with his best friend: his parrot.

It must be admitted that Don Lucas had a soft spot in his heart for that parrot, which always perched in the same place above the school door-high enough to escape the attentions of the children, and well enough shaded by palm leaves overhead to escape the scorching rays of the sun. The parrot and Don Lucas understood each other perfectly. Only rarely did the parrot mix up the words which Don Lucas taught him with the singsongs of the children.

And so, with the school ground deserted, with Don Lucas relaxing on his sidewalk chair and drinking his hot chocolate, these two friends felt free to express their affection for each other. The parrot would go up and down his perch, babbling about everything he knew and didn't know, happily rubbing his beak against his perch, hanging upside down to receive crumbs from his master's cake.

This touching scene repeated itself every afternoon, without fail.

And so passed several years. Naturally, Don Lucas had by now sufficient confidence in his dear "Perico" (that's how the children called the parrot) to no longer clip his wings or fetter his leg.

However, one morning-it must have been about 10 o'clock-one of the children, who was just then outside the school house, shouted: "Don Lucas, Perico is flying away!" Upon hearing this, teacher and pupils rushed outside. In fact, far away in the sky the ungrateful Perico could be still seen exerting himself to reach the nearby forest.

A pursuit was impossible-how could you tell Perico apart from the multitude of forest-dwelling parrots? So Don Lucas sighed deeply, returned to his seat, and continued the lesson. Everyone seemed to have forgotten the terrible incident.

Several months have gone by. Don Lucas, who had by then gotten over Perico's ingratitude, had to make a trip to one of the neighboring villages. In that region, as in almost all other regions of Mexico, the words "neighboring" or "near" usually mean a distance of some twenty or thirty miles. So, to reach his destination, Don Lucas had to ride his horse for the greater part of one day.

It was already two in the afternoon. The sun was scalding the earth with torrents of fire. The palm trees were perfectly still, untouched by even the slightest breeze. The birds hid in the thick foliage. Only the cicadas imperturbably chirped in the midst of that ghastly silence.

Don Lucas' horse steadily clopped ahead. Suddenly, Don Lucas' ears caught a familiar sound-children chanting syllables, words, and catechisms.

At first, it seemed to Don Lucas that he was hallucinating in that torrid heat. But, as he drew nearer, the sounds grew unmistakably clear: this desolate forest harbored a school!

He stopped, startled and amazed, upon sighting a flock of parrots flying by nearby trees and chanting in unison ba, da, fa, ga, ja; be, de, fe, ge, je. And behind the flock, flying majestically, there was "Perico," who, while passing his master, turned his head and cheerfully said:

"Don Lucas, I have a school now."

Ever since then, and well ahead of their time, the parrots of that district have seen the shadows of obscurantism and ignorance disperse.

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