The River Horse

In the middle of deepest Africa there is a long river. In some places it is deep and clear and calm and the water sparkles as it flows. In some places it is cold and rocky and fast and the water rushes and gushes. In some places it is shallow and muddy and warm and the water gurgles gently.

Nigel was a young hippopotamus who lived in the shallow, muddy, warm part of the river with his parents and lots of other hippos.

Every day boats would sail down the river and the people would take photographs of the hippos sitting on the riverbank and playing in the water. The young hippos stayed out of the way of the boats as their parents had told them to, but Nigel was curious and wanted to see the people. One day when a boat came chugging down the river and Nigel knew that nobody was watching, he swam quietly away from his friends towards the boat.

The people in the boat were so pleased that Nigel had come to see them and they leaned over the side to take photographs. The man in charge of the boat pointed at Nigel and said, "Look everybody, it's a River Horse!"

The word Hippopotamus means river horse but Nigel didn't know this. He had only ever heard his family and friends called hippos so he thought he must be something different from them.

Because the river was so muddy Nigel had never seen his reflection so he didn't know that he looked the same as the other hippos. He had heard stories about graceful horses and he was very pleased to find out that he was one of them.

That night Nigel lay awake, unable to sleep. He couldn't stop wondering how a horse like him came to be living with hippos. "Maybe I was adopted", he thought, "I wonder where my real family live?"

He looked around at the sleeping hippos then decided he would go find his real family. He waited until the moon was high then slipped quietly into the water and swam away.

The next morning Nigel was sitting on the riverbank quietly singing to himself when three zebras came down to the water to drink. Nigel looked at the zebras and thought how graceful they were. "Are you horses?" he asked them.

"Sort of," replied one, "We're zebras".

"I'm a River Horse", Nigel proudly told them, "When I grow up I'm going to be graceful like you are!"

The three zebras looked at each other, then they looked at Nigel, then they laughed.

"You're not like us", said one.

"Yes," teased another, "We've got stripes and you haven't".

"Try further down the river", giggled the third.

Then they carried on drinking and ignored Nigel.

Nigel sat and thought for a moment then jumped into the river with a huge splash and swam away.

Later that day Nigel came to a town by the river and saw a huge fair. He climbed out of the water and went to look around. He walked among the brightly coloured tents and caravans then stopped in amazement. He couldn't believe his luck! There were lots of horses jumping around over fences and hedges, and the people watching were clapping and cheering.

"I could do that," thought Nigel, "I'm a horse."

Nigel watched the other horses jumping around and waited until they had finished. When he thought nobody was watching he crept into the ring, took a deep breath and ran towards a hedge as fast as he could.

He jumped…

… and landed right through the hedge, with his head at one side, his tail at the other, and the rest of him wedged firmly in the middle.

By now the people had turned to watch Nigel and when they saw what had happened everyone started to laugh. Two men rushed forward to help Nigel and as they pulled him out they cried, "Poor little hippo, what are you doing here, so far away from home?"

"Oh," thought Nigel, "Maybe I am a hippo after all. I certainly don't feel very graceful now!"

When he had been pulled out of the hedge Nigel thanked the people who had helped him.

"Am I really a hippo," he asked, "I thought I was a River Horse".

"That's what hippopotamus means" someone told him, and they brought him a mirror so that he could see what he looked like.

Nigel started to feel very silly and then he began to think of his friends and family, and the warm, muddy river. He decided to go home so he said goodbye to the people and swam back up the river to where he lived.

When he arrived home the other hippos crowded around Nigel asking him where he had been and what he had seen. He told them his story but then added, "But I think it's nicer living here, and it's not so bad being a hippo".

Then he jumped into the muddy pool and settled down to play with his friends.