THE OSTRICH AND THE EMU
Once an ostrich and an emu chanced to lay eyes on one another. The ostrich had always considered itself to be the most attractive of birds. The emu, for its part, was just as confident of its own claim to that title. Since the disappearance of the giant moa, each of them had become convinced that it no longer had any rivals in the field of feathered beauty. When the two first became aware of each other, they were some distance apart. Perhaps it was the distance or perhaps it was the effect of the shimmering summer air, but on first sight the ostrich and the emu each took the other for a mirror image of itself. Both paused at the same moment and stretched their long necks up at the same angle for an admiring look. As they resumed walking towards one another, however, each began to notice that the other was a bit different. The ostrich realized that the emu was slightly shorter and slightly more slender in shape. The emu saw that the approaching ostrich was slightly taller and had a slightly more impressive build. The emu’s neck appeared to be covered with soft feathers, while the ostrich’s appeared bare and smooth. The long legs of both birds looked to have the same shape, but one pair ended in three toes while the other ended in two. The shorter the distance between the pair became, the less self-assured each bird grew. The emu compared the ostrich’s longer neck and longer legs with its own and wished its were a little longer. The ostrich, in a similar way, wished its own body and head could be a little more elegant or refined in look, like the emu’s. When the birds finally drew abreast, each could hide its agitation only by staring straight ahead and pretending not to notice the other. Nor did either one pause, but instead pressed on with a determined stride. Not even so much as a glance was exchanged. As the two moved away in opposite directions and their first impressions began to fade, so also did the unpleasant comparisons that had ruffled their confidence. One bird looked down at its pair of toes as they spread and came together in the course of a step and found this arrangement to be the most naturally appealing in the end. The other looked down at its three toes and came to much the same conclusion. The slightly smaller bird admitted that although its body and neck were perhaps not quite as imposing, they were definitely more shapely in their way. The slightly larger bird remembered the other’s physique as perhaps not altogether without charm, but certainly not as stately or classic in air as its own. Neither the ostrich nor the emu ever looked back. Instead, both continued on with their heads held a little higher on their long necks and with a little more strut in their step the farther apart they moved. By the time each one reached the point from which the other had started, there wasn’t much point in turning around. “Imagine being such an odd-looking bird!” they both thought with a shudder.
Copyright © 2003-2004 by Geoffrey Grosshans