Once upon a time in a beehive there was a bee that did not want to work. In other words she went from tree to tree and took the flowers’ juice, but instead of conserving it so as to convert it into honey, she drank it all.
She was, in effect, a good-for-nothing bee. Every morning, as soon as the sun warmed the air, the little bee showed herself at the beehive entrance, saw that the weather was good, combed her hair with her legs, like the flies, and then flew off, very pleased with the lovely day. She buzzed satiated from flower to flower, entered the hive, went off again, and thus she passed the whole day while the other bees killed themselves working to fill the hive with honey, because honey is the recently born bees’ food.
Because the bees are very serious, they began to get annoyed with their sister bee’s conduct. At the entrances of the beehives there are always some bees on guard to make sure no wild animals enter. These bees are very old, with much life experience, and have shorn backs because they have lost all their hair rubbing up against the hive entrances.
One day they stopped the good-for-nothing bee when she went to enter, saying: “Comrade, you’ve got to work, because all bees should work.”
The little bee answered: “I spend the day flying and it makes me very tired.”
“It’s not a question of your being tired,” they replied, “but that you do some work. “It’s our first warning to you.”
Saying this they let her through.
But the good-for-nothing bee did not mend her ways. So, the next afternoon the bees guarding the entrance said: “You’ve got to work, sister.” And she replied at once: “One of these days I’m going to!”
“It’s not a question of your going to do it one of these days,” they told her, “but tomorrow. Remember that.”
And they let her pass.
The next day the same thing occurred. But before they could say anything to her, the little bee exclaimed: “Yes, yes, sisters! I remember what I promised you!”
“It’s not a question of your remembering what you promised,” they told her, “but that you work. Today is April 19. Okay, tomorrow, the twentieth, be sure you make at least a drop of honey. Now, go in.”
And saying this they moved aside and allowed her entrance.
But the twentieth of April passed in vain like the rest. With the difference that at sunset the weather changed and a cold wind began blowing.
The good-for-nothing bee flew hurriedly toward the hive, thinking how warm it would be inside. But when she tried to enter, the bees maintaining watch at the entrance prevented her.
“You’re not allowed in!” they told her coldly.
“I want to go in!” cried the little bee. “This is my hive.”
“This is the hive of poor, hardworking bees,” the others replied. “The good-for-nothings aren’t allowed in.”
“For sure tomorrow I’m going to work!” insisted the little bee.
“There’s no tomorrow for those that don’t work,’ replied the bees, who knew a lot of philosophy.
And saying this they pushed her out.
The little bee, not knowing what to do, flew about for a moment longer, but already night had fallen and she could scarcely see. Wanting to take hold of a leaf, she fell to the ground. Her body turned numb in the cold air and she could fly no more.
Dragging herself along the ground, climbing and going down little posts and little rocks, which seemed like mountains to her, she arrived at the hive entrance just as cold drops of rain began falling.
“Oh, my God!” cried the defenceless one. “It’s going to rain and I’m going to die of cold.”
And she tried to enter the hive. But again they barred the way.
“Excuse me!” wailed the bee. “Let me through!”
“It’s already late,” they responded.
“Please, sisters! I’m sleepy!”
“Now, it’s even later.”
“Comrades, for pity’s sake! I’m cold!”
“For the last time! I’m going to die!”
Then, they said to her: “No, you won’t die. In only one night you’ll learn what it’s like to sleep after work. Go.”
And they threw her out.
Then, shivering with the cold, with her wings wet and bumping, the bee dragged herself along. She dragged herself along until suddenly she rolled down a hole. It would be better to say she went rolling down to the bottom of a cave.
She believed she would never stop falling. Finally, she arrived at the bottom and found herself suddenly before a viper, a green snake with a brick-coloured back that looked at her coiled and ready to strike.
In reality, that cave was the hollow of a tree that had been transplanted sometime ago and that the snake had chosen as its den.
The snakes eat bees, which they like very much. So, the little bee, finding herself before her enemy, murmured with eyes closed:
“Goodbye, life! This is the last time that I see the light.”
But to her great surprise, the green snake did not eat her but said to her: “How are you, little bee? You can’t be very hard-working if you’re here at such an hour.”
“True,” murmured the bee. “I don’t work and I feel guilty.”
“That being the case,” added the snake, mockingly, “I’m going to rid the world of a bad animal like you. I’m going to eat you, bee.”
The bee, trembling, then exclaimed: “That’s not right, that’s not right! It’s not right that you eat me because you’re stronger than me. Men know what justice is.”
“Ah, ah!” exclaimed the snake lightly coiling. “You know men well? You believe that men who take your honey are more just, great fool?”
“No, no it’s not because of that they take the honey,” replied the bee.
“Because they’re more intelligent.”
So said the little bee. But the snake laughed, exclaiming: “Good! Just or not, I’m going to eat you. Get ready.”
And she threw herself back so as to hurl herself on the bee. But the bee exclaimed: “You do that because you’re less intelligent than me.”
“I, less intelligent than you, brat?” laughed the snake.
“That’s right,” affirmed the bee.
“In that case,” said the snake, “let’s see. Let’s do two tests. Whoever does best, wins. If I win, I eat you.”
“And if I win?” asked the little bee.
“If you win,” replied her enemy, “you’ve the right to spend the night here, until day comes. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” answered the bee.
The snake laughed again because she had just thought of something that a bee would never be able to do. And this is what she did. She left for an instant, so swiftly that the bee had no time for anything. And she returned with a capsule of eucalyptus seeds, from a tree that cast shade on the tree hollow from the side.
Boys and girls make the capsules dance like spinning tops and call them eucalyptus spinning tops.
“This is what I’m going to do,” said the snake. “Pay close attention!”
And rolling her tail in a lively manner around the spinning top like a twine,she set it going at full speed, with such swiftness that the spinning top danced and buzzed wildly. The snake laughed, and for good reason, because no bee had ever, or would ever, be able to make a spinning top. But when the spinning top, that had fallen asleep as it buzzed, as happens to orange spinning tops, fell at last to the floor, the bee said: “That’s very fine and I’d never be able to do it.”
“Then I’ll eat you,” exclaimed the snake.
“One moment! I can’t do that but there’s one thing I can do that nobody else can.”
“How?” exclaimed the snake, jumping with surprise. “Disappear without leaving here?”
“Without leaving here.”
“Without hiding in the ground?”
“Without hiding in the ground.”
“Okay, do it! And if you don’t do it, I’m going to eat you at once,” said the snake.
While the spinning top danced, the bee had had time to examine the cave and had seen a little plant that grew there. It was a shrub, practically a little weed, with enormous leaves of the kind on a two-centavo coin.
The bee drew close to the little plant, taking care not to touch it, and said: “Now listen to me, Mrs Snake. You’re going to do me the favour of turning your back and counting to three. When you reach three look for me everywhere, and you won’t be able to find me!”
And so it happened, sure enough. The snake rapidly counted: one…two…three, turned around and opened her mouth with surprise: nobody was there. She looked up, down, to all sides, searched the corners, took the measure of the plant with her tongue. To no avail. The bee had disappeared.
The snake understood then that if her test with the spinning top was very good, that of the bee was simply extraordinary. What had she done? Where was she? She could not find her.
“Well!” she exclaimed, finally. “I’m beaten. Where are you?”
A voice that scarcely sounded like the voice of the little bee emanated from the middle of the hollow.
“You’re not going to do anything to me?” said the voice. “I can count on your word?”
“Yes,” replied the snake. “I give you my word. Where are you?”
“Here,” replied the bee, appearing suddenly from the closed leaf of the little plant.
What had happened? Something very simple. The plant in question was very sensitive, a plant common here in Buenos Aires too, and one of its special features is that its leaves close at the least contact. But this happens only in Misiones, where the vegetation is rich and as a result the leaves of the sensitive plants are large. So, when the bee came in contact with them, the leaves closed, completely hiding the insect.
The snake’s intelligence was not so great that she had ever taken this phenomenon into account. But the bee observed it and took advantage of it to save her life.
The snake said nothing but her defeat left her very irritated, so much so that the bee passed the entire night reminding her enemy of the promise she had made to respect her.
It was a long night, interminable, which the two of them passed close to the highest wall of the hollow, because the storm run rampant and within the water flowed like a river.
It was very cold, besides, and within the deepest black reigned. From time to time the snake felt an impulse to throw herself upon the bee, who believed then that the end of her life had arrived.
Never, never, had the little bee believed that a night could be so cold, so long, so horrible. Remembering her earlier life, sleeping night after night in the hive, nice and warm, she cried in silence.
When day dawned, and the sun rose, because the weather had become composed, the bee flew and cried once again before the entrance of the hive made by her family. The bees on watch let her pass without saying anything to her, because they understood that the bee that returned was not the good-for-nothing but a bee that in the space of one night had learned a hard life lesson.
Such was in fact the case. From that day on, none harvested as much pollen or made as much honey as her. And when autumn arrived, and with it the end of her days, she still found time to impart a final lesson before dying to the young bees surrounding her: “It’s not our intelligence but our work that makes us so strong. I used my intelligence only once, to save my life. That effort wouldn’t have been necessary had I worked like everyone else. I’d become tired with so much flying from here to there, as if working. What I didn’t have was a notion of duty, which I acquired that night.
“Work, comrades, knowing that the result of our efforts, the happiness of all, is far superior to one’s fatigue. This is what men call an ideal and they’re right. No other philosophy is necessary in the life of a man and a bee.”