The tall elegant Giraffe bent at the knee and lowered her long neck to drink at the mirror-still pool in the cool of the African twilight. Her reflection broke up in the ripples that spread across the water. It was not the sinister shape of a crocodile lurking under the surface that made these ripples, but a blunt friendly face with eyes on short stalks that belonged to her sister the Hippo. In the background, Lions and Hyena coughed and giggled into the dusk. The sisters talked together, remembering how their world had been when they were young.

Long ago in the before-time when all creatures were young, the Giraffe and the Hippo looked very alike, with only the small differences that you might expect in twin sisters.

The African sun was hot, hotter than it is now and the plants struggled in the heat pushing their roots deep into the soil to find water. Together the sisters wondered the desiccated land in search of shade and good eating, till at last they came to a cave at the base of some rocks where the last trickle of a once spectacular waterfall now dripped.

Inside the cave, hidden from the direct sunlight, there grew a large succulent mushroom. On the mushroom sat a caterpillar smoking a pipe. After some time the caterpillar took the pipe from his mouth and addressing the sisters he said,
“who are you?”
“We are sisters” they said in unison, for in those times it was their habit to both speak at once, and say exactly the same thing.
“Don’t both speak at the same time” said the caterpillar, in an annoyed voice,
“You must learn to say different things” he said. The sisters were puzzled
“How can we do that?” the sisters said together, wondering if there was anything good to eat in the deep dark cave, and if the bossy caterpillar would let them go inside.
For a long time the caterpillar was silent and the sisters were beginning to get impatient when he spoke again.
“The problem,” said the caterpillar removing the pipe from his mouth, “is that you are both the same size and see the same things and so speak at the same time. You must stop being the same. Too much of the same thing isn’t good you know?”

This sounded very difficult to the sisters and they thought about being not the same, but really could not imagine what it would be like.
“How do we do that?” they said together at last.
But the caterpillar had grown tired of waiting and had crawled out of the cave and into the dried grass.
“One side will make you grow taller, the other will make you grow shorter” he called as he disappeared from view.

The two sisters did not know what to make of that remark but they were hungry and the mushroom looked very good to eat.

Sitting on opposite sides so as to share the food fairly between them, they began to eat the best meal they had tasted for a long time. After the first pangs of hunger were gone the sisters began to notice that something strange was happening.

“This mushroom is getting bigger” said the Hippo sister.
“No, I am sure it is growing smaller” said the Giraffe sister.
Then they stopped eating and looked at each other in amazement, for this was the first time they had an individual idea and spoken it on their own.

The sisters started eating again, for they were very hungry and they continued to grow in their different ways, for of course it was they who were changing not the mushroom!

The next day the sisters were altered out of all recognition and only they would know that they were still sisters. The change was for the best however as now the Giraffe sister with her long legs and neck, could reach the leaves on the tallest trees with ease. The Hippo sister could graze on underwater grasses and wallow in the cool mud without fear of crocodiles, for she had grown big and round and strong.

That was how it came to pass in the before-time when creatures were young, that the Giraffe and the Hippo changed their shape to look like we know them today.
But they always remember that they are sisters and talk of the old times in the cool of the evening when the African sun goes down and everyone comes to the water-hole to gossip about the day.


With a sideways look at the ‘Just So’ stories and a pinch of’Alice’

More of my stuff at



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About mikeinkwazi

I am in my seventies and live in the west coast of Scotland, with the sea at the bottom of my garden. I have been variously, a sculptor an art teacher, designer, inventor, organic grower and last but never least, a blue water sailor. By the way, I have been telling stories and writing nonsense all my life!


  1. justmoo33 says :

    Like it, but my favourite is still the sci-fi version of little miss muffet 🙂

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