When the second head-on-a-stick showed up a few days later it didn’t have the same jounce as the first one.
The holy man tried to whip up the same disquietude he’d enjoyed with the first head-on-a-stick.
Everyone went about their business and ignored his pleas.
But this time things really did go bad and the holy man didn’t bother to hide his delight.
An illness swept the village taking with it a despairing number of young people.
The aZZanddis, a wild potato that tasted like a manioc but grew in the shape of a kohlrabi, rotted in the ground.
Infestations of stinging insects, heretofore an unknown species, swarmed through the village leaving itchy and painful welts on the once-doubting villagers.
The herds of wildebeest, once their main source of meat, had skedaddled; and no one could find them any longer.
A promising new tuber proved to be nothing more than a sweet-flavored emetic.
And for some reason an ugly, wild-eyed goat charged into the village claiming the fire pit as his own.
He guarded his new possession by biting and butting anyone who came near it.
Now deprived of their Saturday night dances, the despair seemed complete and all village pleasantries ceased.
The doldrums set in followed by frequent squabbles between people who had for many years been the best of friends.
Food was short and patience shorter.
The chief begged the villager’s forbearance and assured them things were going to get better very soon.
But the grumbling and discontent deepened.
Things were made even worse by the holy man taking a neener neener approach to the disasters that were being visited on the village one right after another.
When the head-on-the-stick fell over all on its own the holy man opined in a superior tone that the thing should be removed from the village as soon as possible.
No one would to go near it so the chief ordered his wife to once again drag the head-on-the stick away and bury it in the same hole as the first one.
It wasn’t easy being the chief’s wife.
She glared at her husband as she walked by.
He again looked the other way and pretended not to notice.
Not long after another head-on-a-stick appeared, and everyone feared their miseries were going to deepen.
But, there were two things about this head-on-a-stick that were different from the others.
First, it wasn’t found in the center of the village.
It had been set out in front of a single hut.
The second was its countenance.
The first two had the sort of expression you would expect a severed head to display.
Dour and somewhat downhearted.
But this one was grinning, looking as if it was truly happy to see everyone.
Though the case was made that the smile did look a bit forced.
Within a week the deathly ill child living in that particular hut miraculously recovered.
A day after that the largest wildebeest ever seen sauntered into the fortunate domicile and surrendered itself to the man of the hut.
And then the mean goat guarding the fire pit went to live with the blessed people of the lucky hut and allowed only them to dance around the pit whenever they felt like it.
Even if it wasn’t Saturday night.
It was discussed at length and then agreed upon that the man in the hut and his family had been singled out for such goodness and reward because during the recent famine and troubles he had split his last piece of semi-edible bark with an old woman who was near death.
He had even chewed it for her, softening it up enough so she could easily swallow it.
When things went from so bad to so good so fast for that one family, the villagers desperately needed to encourage more of this unexpected largesse for themselves.
They started with heaping more blessings upon the family by proclaiming the woman of the lucky hut would never have to cook again and all their meals were to be prepared and delivered to her family in an outdoor version of room service.
She was also relieved of having to wash her family’s clothes and everyone took turns tending to her children.
The next step to full bounty was surely to become doers of good deeds.
It proved a sound strategy.
Soon another head-on-a-stick appeared in front of the dwelling occupied by the man who had learned a new sound that proved effective in frightening off the chimpanzees when they rampaged through the village now and again stealing food, showing off and scaring everyone.
And he never complained when everyone else started to make the same noise without his permission.
His wife was accorded the same honors, along with an additional one that freed her from ever having to wear the poorly scraped out giraffe’s head while dancing around the fire.
All of this good cheer even improved the goat’s mood and now everyone was allowed to come out dancing anytime they felt like it.
The next head-on-a-stick went to the family of the fellow who found a new berry and ate it without dying.
The one after that to the perceptive villager who took the holy man out on a long walk one day and returned without him.
With neither stink nor rancor the village quietly became a meritocracy with efforts rewarded and dullardry snubbed.
Happiness was back and they celebrated by cooking and eating the goat. They never had it so good.
But not everyone felt the elation.
Every village has a malcontent, and this one spent all of her dance time leaning back against a tree with her arms folded tightly across her chest.
She was disgusted with the whole thing.
She fumed about having to wear the smelly giraffe’s head for the fourth time in a month of fires while watching those more fortunate than she enjoying themselves.
She was married to a slackard who’d failed time after time to merit the head-on-a-stick.
Every time a new one showed up she would sneer at the recently blessed while everyone else gushed over them.
She had had enough and finally succeeded in nagging her husband into being the next head-on-a-stick.
She proudly planted him right outside her own hut.
Amidst the cries of foul, the chief felt obligated to take action but acquiesced in the face of her argument that the newest head-on-a-stick had sacrificed himself for the good of his family.
She pushed it even further, by demanding a double prize.
She maintained not only did her husband willingly dispense with himself for the benefit of others but she was also the first known widow of a head-on-a-stick.
Tough to argue with that, and the second half of the double prize was to unburden the woman from having to go anywhere under her own locomotion.
When she went out to visit past winners, now women of her own ilk, she was piggybacked by those unfortunates whose own husbands lacked the gumption required for such self-sacrifice.
Soon men were turning up as heads-on-a-stick in front of their own huts with great frequency.
The original single prize winners, those who had been blessed by unknown heads-on-a-stick, soon became dissatisfied with what the double prize winners were getting and insisted their husbands follow suit so they too could move around the village without having to use their feet.
The village now contained nearly nothing but double winners.
There were fewer and fewer under-achievers left to cater to the growing list of over-achievers.
The fortunates soon outnumbered the less fortunates, and it was a problem.
The double winners began to complain amongst themselves.
Meals were being delivered later and later and sometimes not at all.
One woman said she had to walk across the village under her own power twice in the past week.
Another said her kids were not being tended to any longer and now ran wild.
And another that her clothes had not been washed properly for some time now and she was tired of smelling herself.
They demanded to be carried to the chief’s hut to voice their complaints.
When everyone was equally less fortunate things were easier.
When there were just a few fortunate and the rest unfortunate it was even better.
But when the pampered outnumbered the pamperers, there was little hope of them staying pampered because they had no one around to make them feel fortunate.
The worst loss was the special kind of joy that comes from comparing oneself to the less fortunate and immediately feeling better.
The meritocracy had matured and grown tired.
Rampant self-sacrifice had gone unchecked by the selfish needs of the village women.
No one had stopped to consider the consequences.
The unfortunates were too busy encouraging their husbands to do the right thing so they too could experience the pleasures of the fortunate.
But when the last unfortunate was elevated, they all became unfortunates once again.