Once upon a time there was a badger. We’ll call him Podge, because that’s what his friends called him. Podge was an intrepid and adamant little badger and he liked to roam the neighborhood at length, looking for fellow creatures to pester – or to snack on.
On one of his nocturnal foraging trips, Podge went a little further than usual and pretty soon came across an animal he had never seen before. An animal so different from himself.
‘What a strange animal… !’ Podge thought and drew closer. ‘Too large to eat and very funny-looking.’
In fact, this animal was so bizarre that, in the dark, Podge couldn’t really tell which end was the head.
‘Hi,’ he said. ‘My name is Podge and I’m a badger. What are you?’
At first there was no answer, so he tried again.
‘Hi,’ he repeated. ‘My name is Podge and I’m a badger. What are you?’
The strange animal stirred.
‘Why are you talking to my tail?’
‘Oh, sorry,’ Podge said and came trotting around to the other end.
And indeed, upon closer inspection, he was now able to make out a long, thin snout and a pair of ears.
‘I have never seen an animal like you. What are you, exactly?’ Podge asked.
‘What do you mean? I am me. I am who I am. Do you want to be friends?’
‘I guess, but… what are you?’ he insisted.
‘I don’t understand. Why do I have to be something in particular?’
‘Well, we’re all something. We all have to be something.’
‘Just to know what we are. To know where we belong.’
‘ Well, I may not know what I am, but I still know who I am. I’m me. Isn’t that enough?’
‘But… but all the creatures in the world need to know what they are!’ Podge spluttered.
‘I’m not exactly sure, but I am very pleased to know what I am and what everything around me is. I know what is food, friend, or foe. It’s easier to play with things when you know what they are.’
‘Hm,’ the other creature said incredulously and walked on, snout to the ground.
‘Aren’t you curious what I am?’
‘You’re someone who calls his friends thing names.’
But Podge didn’t hear.
‘I’m a badger,’ he pronounced proudly and confidently.
‘Everyone I know.’
‘Badger,’ muttered the creature. ‘That’s just a sound. It means nothing to me. But if you’re fond of this sound, so be it, you will be the Badger.’
‘And you? What are you?’
‘I already told you. I’m me. Why are you so obsessed with categories?’
Podge went home and found it extremely hard to fall asleep. It bothered him. He did not know where to place this creature he had met. And what should he call it? The following night he went back determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. He packed his sacred book and a flashlight. For hours on end he looked at the creature, looked at himself, then leafed back and forth through his book. It was morning already. The sun was up. He was getting tired. Finally, he exclaimed:
‘I know! I know what you are! You’re an aardvark!’ He was so relieved.
‘You think so?’
‘I know so!’
‘How do you know?’
‘Because my book says so, look!’ he said and pointed to a picture on a page that said “Aardvarks”.
‘And how does the book know I’m an aardvark? Maybe they just had to come up with a name and didn’t know any better.’
‘Oh, no, no, no. Not a chance. This book knows everything there is to know. It’s a magical book. And it’s always right.’
‘Really? How do you know that?’ the aardvark asked again.
‘Well, because this book came to us directly from the sky!’
‘Yes, yes. I found it myself one morning on the forest floor. There was nobody else around, and it’s too heavy for our birds to carry. So, it must have fallen from the sky!’
‘Hm,’ the creature muttered again and tried to sniff out some ants.
‘You eat ants! Perfect, that’s perfect. You’re a good aardvark!’
‘How do you know I’m a good aardvark?’
‘Because that’s just what my book says you’re supposed to eat!’
‘I also eat cucumber,’ the aardvark replied.
‘Oh no, you really shouldn’t!’ Podge retorted with a worried look on his face.
‘Because my book says nothing about cucumbers. That means you’re probably not allowed to eat them. Oh boy, why do you have to eat cucumbers? What is wrong with you? It’s so unnatural.. You should eat termites!’
‘Hm,’ the aardvark said. ‘I had no idea there was something wrong with me until just now. But I do eat termites rather frequently,’ he apologized.
‘I’m curious,’ the aardvark inquired. ‘Do you always do what the book says?’
‘Oh yes, always!’
‘And what does your book say about badgers?’
‘A badger is a short-legged nocturnal omnivore,’ Podge read solemnly.
‘Nocturnal, huh? Then how come you are up and about after daybreak?’ the aardvark wanted to know.
Podge blushed, felt guilty and fell silent. He picked up his things and scurried home to sleep on it.
‘What a strange animal… !’ the aardvark thought. ‘He walks around at night with only one book and a tiny flashlight, yet claims to know what everything is…’