Apala was a difficult child, a boastful boy who liked to brag about anything and everything. Fortunately for him, no one paid him any mind, but bored out of his mind one day, he bragged to the wrong men. The king’s guards were gathered in town, and wanting to impress them with his boasts, he bragged, “I am a special boy!”
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One of the guards looked at him strangely. “What is so special about you?”
“I can do amazing things!” he said, puffing up his chest proudly.
“What can you do?” he asked, wiping sweat from his brow with a black handkerchief.
“Absolutely anything!” he said again, adding, “I can wash the black right out of that cloth! I can make it white!”
Of course the boy could do no such thing, but his mouth ran in front of his mind, and he said things for no other reason than to have things to say.
The king’s guards laughed heartily. “No one can turn a black cloth white,” said the guard. Then, suddenly, they all went quiet and fell to their knees. The King walked up to them.
“What is so funny, men?” he asked.
The guard who spoke to the boy told him, “This young man says he is a special boy. He boasts that he can wash a black cloth and turn it white!”
“That is a special talent, indeed!” said the King. “White cloth is expensive. By the time a weaver weaves his cloth, it is stained and discolored. Pure white is a rare thing to have. Is this true, boy?”
Apala did not know he was speaking to a King, for when the King went out in public, he chose to dress as a commoner. He was a humble man, and was a man of the people. As such, he did not tolerate lies. “Yes, sir, it is!” boasted the boy again.
“Well, this is our lucky day!” said the King, smiling brightly. “For you see, son, I am the King, and if you can wash even the color black out of a cloth, leaving it white, you will save this kingdom a lot of money. Show me your talents! If you can do as you say, I will reward you handsomely.”
Apala stammered and stuttered. He had lied to the King.
“What’s wrong, young man?” asked the King. “Surely, you can wash the color out of cloth as you say. I don’t tolerate lies. Those who lie to me die for their dishonesty.”
Apala was afraid, and being a foolish boy, did not have the sense to back down. “No, sir, I would never lie to a king. I can wash even a black cloth, and turn it white.”
“Gather sixteen royal witnesses from the palace,” the King ordered his guards. “This evening, I will send this young man to the river, and I will send the witnesses with black cloth. If he can do what he says he can do, I will be a very happy king.” He looked sternly at the young man, “and if he cannot do what he says, I will be very angry.”
Apala trembled, and ran home to his mother.
“You said what?” she screamed at him. “Apala, you have gone too far. You are a braggart, a boastful boy who has no business every opening your mouth to anyone. And you lied to the King.”
“I’ll never do it again, I swear!” he cried, huge tears running down his face.
“You’re right; you won’t, because when he sees you can’t wash a black cloth white, he will kill you.” She cried and paced; this was her only son, and he was close to death. Then, she said, “I am going to see Elegguá. He will know what to do.”
“I must hide!” the boy said. “I can make myself invisible, and no one in the world will ever find me. I can stand right before the King and tickle his nose, and he will think it is only the wind. I can fly away, high up into the sky. I can . . .”
“Apala – shut up!” She screamed. “I’ve never met a boy as stupid as you. Shut up, and grow up!” There was silence. The mother had never spoken to him like this; and this was exactly what he needed to hear. So afraid was he at that moment that his tears went dry, and he only trembled in his shoes.
“Well, I can try to hide,” he said, not wanting to tell tall tales anymore.
“No. The King will look for you until he finds you. You spoke like a man, and now, you have to act like a man and accept your fate. Hopefully, Elegguá will help us.” She paused. “Where did the King tell you to go?”
“He told me to go to the river, mother.” He cried again. “I don’t know how to wash a black cloth until it is white. No one can do such a thing. I am going to die!”
“Not if Elegguá can help us,” she said.
The orisha smiled. “So that braggart boy of yours is in trouble? Who would figure?” he asked. Elegguá thought about the boy and his boast for quite some time, and said, “I will get him out of trouble this once. But I need 16 bolts of red cloth, 16 bolts of white cloth, and a jutía for myself. Can you manage that?”
“Yes, I will do anything for my son.”
“Then be quick about it. There is no time to waste.”
At the river, Apala stood with sixteen royal witnesses. The guards were there; they were ready to take his life if he lied about his skills. Apala’s mother stood with him, crying into the river, and Elegguá was there as well, wrapped in his 16 bolts of red cloth. But no one could see him except Apala and his mother. He was invisible to everyone else. At Apala’s feet were 16 bolts of black cloth sent by the King.
Elegguá whispered into Apala’s ear, “Tell them that is a lot of cloth, more than you have ever washed.”
“That’s a lot of cloth. I’ve never washed that much cloth before,” he said, trembling.
“Tell them that there is a limit to your power, and if you wash that much cloth at one time, it might use up all the power that you have,” Elegguá insisted.
“My powers have limits,” the boy said. “If I wash that much cloth at one time, I might lose my powers.” His voice wavered. Because no one knew Elegguá whispered in his ear, all the witnesses and guards thought his words were sincere, and they believed the trembling of his body and the wavering of his voice were sorrow over the possible loss of his powers.
A guard spoke up, “This is what the King sent for you to wash. It would cost him a small fortune to have all this bleached white. If you wash it white with a single bar of soap, he will be happy with that, I am sure.” He looked at the Apala, shaking pitifully. “And you will live.”
“Start washing,” ordered Elegguá.
To teach him a lesson, Elegguá made him scrub the cloth all evening and well into the night. He washed and wrung the fabric until his fingers were raw, and his hands blistered. When Elegguá decided he suffered enough, and learned his lesson, he began substituting the white cloth for the black. When the sun rose the next morning, all that remained were wet, white bolts of cloth; and Apala hung these from the branches of the trees to dry.
The witnesses were amazed. Apala looked at his hands. Washing through the night made them bleed.
“We will tell the King of this miracle,” said one of the royal witnesses.
“Quickly,” said Elegguá in the boy’s ear, “before anyone leaves, ask for the guard’s black handkerchief.”
“Sir?” he asked the guard. “Do you still have that black handkerchief?” Everyone stopped where they stood, and the royal witnesses watched and listened.
He pulled it from inside his shirt. “Yes. Why?”
Elegguá whispered in Apala’s ear again, “Tell him you think you used all your powers up on the 16 bolts of black cloth, and you want to give them one final test.”
“I think washing all the black cloth at one time destroyed my powers. I want to test them again.”
The guard gave him the black handkerchief. “Wash,” he said.
“And keep washing,” Elegguá told the boy, “For this is your way out of your lie. I want you to wash that cloth until the sun sets again. Do not stop, not even to wipe the sweat off your brow. If you do, I will replace all the white cloth with the black again, and the King will kill you. Do as I say, for when the King sees that, truly, you have no more powers, he will be happy with what you have done for him, and he will leave you alone.”
The boy washed. And he washed. And he washed. Elegguá wrapped the black cloth around himself, and he walked away. Until the sun set, the boy washed that one black handkerchief until his hands throbbed with pain. The witnesses, sorry that the boy appeared to have lost his powers, went back to the King to tell him of the miracle, and of Apala’s loss.
They delivered the 16 bolts of white cloth, and with that, the King was happy. He never asked Apala to wash again.
By day’s end, the boastful, bragging boy named Apala learned his lesson; in time his hands healed, but were scarred as a reminder of his youthful folly.
The boastful boy never bragged again.