by Horacio Quiroga, circa 1918

Once upon a time, in a beehive, there was a bee that didn´t want to work. The bee would fly from tree  to tree to take the nectar from the flowers, and drank it all, instead of collecting it to produce honey.


He was a lazy bee.


Every morning, as soon as the sun would rise, the little bee would peek out from the beehive´s door, check if the weather was nice, comb himself with his front legs, as flies do, and then take off flying. The bee would buzz with happiness as he was flying from flower to flower, while the other bees were working earnestly to fill the beehive with honey.


Since the other bees were so hard working, they started to get annoye4d with the lazy one. There are always some bees guarding the entrance of each beehive, so that no other bugs enter their home.


One day, they stopped the lazy bee when he was about to come in and said, “ You have to work, my friend.” 

And then he replied:

“One of these days I will”

“This is not about  what you will do in the future”, they said, “we are talking about tomorrow. Don’t forget!”  And  then they let the little bee in.


The next nigth, the same thing happened again. Before the bees said anything,  the little bee exclaimed,

“I do remember my promise, my sisters and brothers!”


They answered, “We don’t care about you remembering your promise. We care about you working. Today is April 19th. Make sure that by tomorrow, April 20th, you bring  at least one drop of honey to the beehive. For now, you can come in”.


After saying this, they moved aside to let the little bee in.


But the 20th of April came and the bee did not bring any honey to the beehive. The only difference was that the weather was harh, rainy, and the cold wind was blowing after the sun set. The lazy bee flew quickly to the hive rejoicing in the thought of the warm rooms inside. But the bees that were guarding the entrance would not allow the little bee to come in.

“I want to get in!” The little bee cried. The little bee insisted, “This is my hive! I promise that I will work tomorrow!


“There is no tomorrow for the ones that don´t  work, “ answered the wise bees.


And so they pushed the little bee away.


The little bee flew a little more, but he could barely see because it was dark out. The bee was shivering because of the cold, and he could not fly anymore.


The bee dragged his little body to the hive´s entrance: “Oh, my Lord!” cried the helpless bee. “It will rain and I will die of the cold,” the bee continued.


But the bees still wouldn’t let him in.

“I’m sorry!” the little bee whined, “please let me in”

“They said,

“No, you won’t die. In one nigth you will learn what it is to rest after a long day of work.”


The little bee flew, shivering in the cold, until he fell through a hole into a cavern. The fall was never-ending. When the bee fell to the bottom, he landed in front of a resting green snake with a red back. The snake looked at the bee, ready to eat him.


“Good bye, my life! This is the last time I will see the light”.


But to the little bee’s surprise, the snake did not swallow him! He said,


“How are you doing little bee? You must not be a hard-working bee, since you are here at this time of night.”


“It´s tru, I don´t work”, muttered the little bee.

“If  it’s true,” added the teasing snake, “I will happily rid the world of a lazy insect like you!”


The bee wept: “It’s not fair, it’s not fair!

People know what justice is.”


“Aaaaaahhhh! Exclaimed the snake, curling. “Do you really think that people, who take your honey, are the wise ones, you fool?


“No, that’s not why they take our honey.”


“So, why do they take the honey?”

“Because they are smarter than we are.”


“You say this because you are less intelligent that I am.”


“I am less intelligent than you, you brat?”


“That is right,” confirmed the bee.


“Well,” said the snake, “We shall see. Whoever comes up with the best trick wins. If I win, I will eat you.”


“And if I win?” asked the little bee.


“If you win,” his enemy declared, “you can stay here tonight.”


The snake began laughing again. He had figured out a trick that a bee would not be able to solve. This is what the snake did:


The snake left for an instant, so quickly that the bee didn´t have time to react. The snake returned, bringing an eucalyptus cone. Kids can make these cones dance as if they were spinning tops, o they are called “eucalyptus spinning tops”.


“This is what I will do”, the snake said, “Pay attention!”


The snake quicly rolled his tail around the spinning top. He threw it so swiftly, that the little eucalyptus top remained there dancing and humming.

The snake was laughing, rightly so, because no bee has ever made a top spin and hum and no bee ever will!


When the top finally stopped twisting, the litlle bee said:

“That is a very good change; I could never do something like that.”


“Then I will eat you,” the snake replied.

 “Just a minute! I cannot make a top spin or hum, but I can do something that nobody else can do.”

“What is that?”



“How is that ?” The  snake wonrdered.

“Without leaving this place.”

“And without hiding under the ground?”

“And without hiding under the ground?”


“Very well, show me, If you don’t do it, I will swallow you rigth away,” said the snake.


The truth that while the spinning top was dancing and humming, the little bee was able to inspect the cavern. He had seen a little plant  that  was growing there—a small not to touch it, and said,


“Now it´s my turn, honorable snake. Kindly turn around and count to three. When I say ‘three’, look for me anywhere. I won’t be here.”


And that is exactly what happened. The snake quickly counted, one…two…three…,” and turned around. The snake opened his mouth as wide as it could. What a surprise! Nobody was there. The bee had disappeared.


The snake could see that his “spinning top test” was very good, but the bee’s test was extraordinary. What had happened? Where was he? There was no way to find the bee.


“Okay!” the snake said. “I give up! Where are you?”

A tiny tlittle voice emerged from the center of the cave.

The bee asked, “Are you going to harm me?”

“No, I won’t, “ said the little bee, emerging from one of the plant´s closed leaves.


What had happened? Something quite simple: the plant was the kind that closes its leaves when something or someone touches it. The snake didn’t notice this. But the bee had been smart and took advantage of ths feature to save his own life.


The snake was silent and very disappointed with the defeat.


It was an endless night. The bee and the snake kept their bodies against the wall, because there was a great storm and the water flowed like a river.


Every once in a while, the snake felt the urge to attack the bee. The bee felt that his life was coming to an end.


The little bee had never thouht that a night could be so long, so cold, and so horrible. The bee cried silently, remembering his fortunate life in the beehive: sleeping in the warmth of the cells.


However, the sun finally rose. The little bee flew to the beehive´s gates. He cried once again at the place built by his family. The guarding bees let the little bee enter. They could see that the returning bee was not a lazy  one. Instead, he was a bee that had learned a hard lesson about life in just one night.


And that´s exactly how it was. In the future, no other been collected as much pollen or produced as much honey as the little bee did. Finally, fall arrived, and the last days of the little bee´s life. Before dying, the bee even even had time to give a final lesson to the young bees around him. He said to them,


“It is not our intelligence, but our hard work, that makes us very strong. I used muy intelligence only once, and that was to save my life. If I had worked hard like everyone else, I would not have needed to suffer. What I didn´t understand was the meaning of responsibility, but I learned it that night.  My friends, you should work thinking of our goal, everyone’s happiness. This is much more important than each of our individual struggles. People believe this to be ideal, and they are right. This is the only philosophy in bees and man´s lives.”




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Calgary, Alberta, Canada