Whisker of the LionessWhisker of the Lioness
An Ethiopian Folktale

Once upon a time in a village in Africa a little girl named Aisha lived with her mother and father. For seven years Aisha was the happiest girl in the world.

Then one day Aisha's mother became ill, and soon after she died. And then Aisha was the saddest girl in the world. All day every day she wandered the hilltops dreaming of her mother, imagining her mother's voice, her mother's smile, the sweet scent of her mother's skin. And Aisha sang tezeta.

Her voice is in the desert air
I see her in the sky
My every breath exhales her very scent
I wander, wondering why

I long to feel her tender touch
She lives inside my soul
Without her touch, the sight of her
My heart cannot be whole

Mother, mother, hear my song
Mother, I love you
Hear my words, the sadness too
Tell me, where are you?

One day Aisha's father embraced his daughter. He whispered a secret. "I am going to marry again. You will love Makeda. Her two daughters will be like sisters to you. My sweet child, you need no longer be sad."

When Makeda and her daughters moved into Aisha's home, Aisha wept. Her world turned upside down. Makeda was kind enough, and the girls called Aisha sister, but whenever Aisha closed her eyes, she saw her mother's eyes.

Mother, mother you loved me
No one else loves me your way
Mother, mother, you loved me
Tell me, why you could not stay

Makeda was nothing like Aisha's mother. When Makeda cooked, she didn't set aside a special dish of injera for Aisha. When she put the girls to bed, she did not read stories until Aisha fell sleep. Makeda didn't sing in the morning the way Aisha's mother once sang. Makeda didn't wrap her arms around Aisha or whisper secrets or laugh the way her mother had laughed.

One day Aisha decided to visit her grandmother. There she looked into her grandmother's eyes—so like her mothers. She said, "My stepmother loves her daughters more than she loves me. Makeda will never love me."

"Anyone would love a girl like you," her grandmother said.

Aisha shook her head. "I am not her child by blood. She will never love me the way my mother loved me."

Her grandmother thought a while, and her heart broke for her grandchild. Then she had an idea. "Perhaps you could give her a love potion."

Aisha's eyes lit up. "Of course. That's what I need. A love potion."

Her grandmother smiled. "It is a difficult potion to make."

"Please, grandmother." Aisha was desperate. "Make this potion. I will do anything."

Her grandmother's eyes sparkled as she explained that there was one problem. "I need one ingredient that is difficult to get. To make this love potion, I need the whisker of a lioness."

Now Aisha was determined to feel the love she had once felt wrapped in her mother's arms, and so she set off at once in search a lioness. She walked into the dense, dark forest all alone, made courageous by determination. She hiked for a long while, and then she saw the lioness, a lone creature, a nomad, asleep beneath a flowering acacia tree.

Aisha knelt upon the ground and whispered, "Poor thing, she is just like me. All alone in the world."

She tiptoed closer, careful to move slowly, quietly. She barely breathed, and then, still a distance away, she sat down beside a bush and waited for the lioness to wake.

Time passed, but after a while the lioness woke and let out a low rumbling roar from deep in her belly. Aisha smiled and whispered, "Such a beautiful sound."

For a long, long time Aisha waited and watched the lioness. She studied her face, the way she moved, the swish of her tail. She watched the way her eyes gazed at everything around her, the way her whiskers twitched as she caught the scent of something near. And after many hours, after Aisha thought she knew a little more about the lioness, she stood quietly and walked back home to think about this matter.

The very next day Aisha returned to the same spot. This time she brought along a piece of raw meat, and while the lioness slept, Aisha tossed the meat towards her. Then she hurried to her hiding place and waited.

When the lioness woke, she sniffed the meat. She stood and strode towards the meat. Then she gobbled it down, lifted her head and sniffed the air.

Aisha understood that the lioness sensed her presence, and the thought set her heart to fluttering. She remained hidden behind the bush, sitting as still as stone. Before long the lioness stopped sniffing the air and ambled down to the river to quench her thirst.

The next day Aisha came to the same spot again. Again she brought along a piece of meat, and this time she did not wait for the lioness to sleep. She tossed it to her and watched as the creature turned her glorious head and gazed out across the stretch of wilderness in the direction of Aisha's hiding spot.

Aisha thought she might be dreaming, but it seemed to her as if the lioness offered her a nod, as if she were saying hello.

Day after day, Aisha visited the lioness. Each day she brought her a gift, and each day she moved a little closer, letting the lioness become accustomed to her scent, to her presence, helping the lioness to understand she meant no harm. Days turned to weeks, weeks to months, and then, after several months, Aisha at last felt confident enough to move still closer.

When she did, the lioness seemed to smile at her.

Now, each day the lioness appeared to relax a little more, and Aisha moved closer and closer. She wondered aloud. "Perhaps she is comforted by my presence."

Then one day Aisha crawled slowly towards the spot beneath the acacia tree, and when she was close enough to reach out and touch her forest friend, Aisha tossed the meat. As the lioness ate, Aisha reached out and gently pulled a whisker from the beast's chin. Then she sat very still and listened to the deep, contented purr rolling up from her belly.

Now Aisha knew she and the lioness were truly friends. Better still, now her grandmother could prepare the love potion.

Aisha waved farewell to the lioness and ran to her grandmother's home. "Grandmother, look what I have! It's the whisker of a lioness!"

Her grandmother smiled. "And tell me, child, how did you manage to pull a whisker from such a ferocious creature's chin?"

"I was patient," Aisha said. "I brought her gifts. I paid attention to everything she did. I understood what she loved and desired. I listened to her. I watched her. I let her know in my way that I wished her only her peace and happiness and pleasure. And so I taught her to trust me. And I grew to trust her."

Aisha's grandmother nodded as she listened to her granddaughter's story, and then she said, "Aisha, that took great courage."

"But the love potion…"

"I don't think you need a potion, Aisha."

Aisha began to argue, but suddenly she stopped. "What do you mean?"

Her grandmother took the child's hands in hers. "A potion would be fine, but there's another way to find love. Show your stepmother the attentiveness and patience and gentleness and courage you showed the lioness."

Aisha listened closely, and she understood, and so, that evening, when her stepmother served her supper, Aisha looked up and smiled. Her stepmother returned the smile, and she touched a hand to Aisha's shoulder, and in that moment the whole house began to feel warmer, to smell sweeter.

That night Aisha began to understand that she could be happy again, that she would be loved.