How Fox Got His Tail Back

Many thanks to my lovely benefactors on Ko-fi for making this story available. It’s a sweet little Palestinian folktale about community and our dependence on each other.


How Fox Got His Tail Back

By Sonia Sulaiman

There was and was not a woman who kept a herd of goats. After spending the day milking the animals, she carefully poured the milk into a pan and set it to cook gently over her fire. As she was tired, she set her feet up and was soon napping. As she slept a little fox who happened to be passing by smelled the delicious, irresistibly sweet milk cooking unattended. Fox padded over silently, and once they were sure she was asleep, they began to sip the milk.

“I’ll only have a taste,” thought Fox. “The woman will never know.” But the milk was so very good, you see, that Fox drank it all before they realised what they were doing. As chance would have it, the woman woke and saw the Fox, their snout still smeared with the slick evidence of their crime. Quicker than thought, the woman grasped her cooking knife and cut off Fox’s tail.

“Hey! I want my tail back!” exclaimed Fox examining the stub now left behind.

“Fine, but I want my milk back!” said the woman, holding up the tail with one hand and pointing to the empty pan with the other. “Return my milk and you can have your tail back.”

Fox had little choice but to accept. Fox trotted off to the herd of goats where they were resting on the hillsides below the village. “Peace be upon you,” said Fox. The goats nodded and greeted Fox in return. “Will you give me some milk for the woman?” asked Fox.

The goats turned to each other and stroked their beards. Goat said “Yes, you can have some milk but we require leaves from the olive trees,” they looked off wistfully at the grove further down the hill. “If you bring us some olive branches to eat, you may have all the milk you need.”

Fox followed the road down to the grove of ancient trees. Sitting in their shade he looked up into the swaying silver-green leaves and said “Peace, Olive Trees. I have a request.” The trees gently turned- some seeming to crane their necks to see Fox from a distance. “What do you need, little Fox?” asked Olive Tree. “I need some of your leaves for the goats so they can give me milk for the Woman.”

“I see,” said Olive Tree promptly. “We would be glad to give you all that you need except we are also in need of help. We need a man to dig around our roots for us.” The Fox looked down at the hard, sun-baked earth and thought, no that does not look very comfortable at all. “I will find a man to dig around your roots, then!” And so the Fox ran back up to the village perched on the terraces above.

“Peace, Fox,” said the Man as Fox approached. Fox greeted him in return.

“I need you to dig around the roots of the olive trees so they can give me leaves for the goats so they can give me milk for the Woman.”

“Ah,” said the man. “I would gladly, but…” he indicated his brown, bare feet. “I am too poor to afford shoes and so I can’t work. If you can, somehow, find me a pair of shoes I will dig around the trees.” Fox thought about this.

“Alright,” said Fox. He would at least try. So he trotted up to the door of the cobbler and greeted him.

“And what brings a fox to a shoe-maker’s shop?” asked the man.

“It is a long story, uncle,” said Fox.

“Well, let me hear it.”

“I need a pair of shoes for the Man so he can dig around the roots of the olive trees so they will give me leaves for the goats so they will give me milk for the woman so she will give me my tail back which she took because I took her milk.”

“That is quite a problem,” exclaimed the cobbler. “My, my. I tell you what; here is a pair of old work boots. They are still in good condition but my customers will not buy old shoes like this. Take them for the poor Man.” And so the cobbler carefully placed the boots in Fox’s mouth and bid them goodbye.

Fox gave the boots to the Man who gratefully went to work digging around the trees who celebrated by dancing and throwing down long strands of leaves which Fox gathered. Fox ran with them trailing behind all the way to the goat herd, who eagerly ate all of the leaves and provided Fox with their milk. At last Fox returned all of the milk they had taken, and Woman reattached Fox’s tail.

Now my story is flown, like a bird, from my hand to yours.