Lion and Cheetah both lived in the jungles of Africa. Their paths crossed often and Lion always treated Cheetah as though he were better than she.
One day Lion said to Cheetah, “I am better than you.”
Cheetah said, “You and I are equals.”
“No. I am better,” Lion insisted.
“We are equals,” Cheetah said.
“I challenge you to a race,” Lion said, “to determine which of us is better.”
“I accept your challenge,” Cheetah said.
“The race will be in two weeks,” said Lion. “That will give us time to prepare.”
For the two weeks before the race, Lion and Cheetah both ate healthy foods and got plenty of exercise and sleep. They also walked along the path that the race would follow so they would know which way to go.
The day of the race was gray and rain misted the horizon. But Lion and Cheetah were both ready.
“We will see which of us is better,” Lion said with a toss of his flame-colored mane.
“I tell you, we are equals,” Cheetah said and walked to the starting line. Her cubs were on the sidelines to cheer her on.
Lion stood beside Cheetah and they waited for the signal to begin.
An elephant marched up to the starting line and faced Lion and Cheetah. He took a deep breath and blew his trunk. This was the signal to begin.
Lion and Cheetah took off down the pathway.
First Lion was in front of Cheetah. Then Cheetah was in front of Lion. They traded places many times as they sped through the forest.
As they ran, the mist turned into rain. But Cheetah and Lion still ran through the forest. Lightning flashed and hit some trees nearby. The trees split apart, but Lion and Cheetah ran the race without slowing down.
The first obstacle Lion and Cheetah came to was a waterfall. Cheetah was ahead of Lion and she took a running jump and leapt over the waterfall, all four of her paws touching solid ground. Cheetah did not slow down but kept running because she knew that, any minute, Lion would catch up with her.
Lion then came to the waterfall. He, too, took a running jump and leapt over the waterfall. But in the middle of the leap, a strong wind blew Lion off course. He landed with his front paws on the shore and the rest of him in the water.
Lion gave out a mighty roar as he struggled against the current. It was a roar that Cheetah heard, even though she was quite ahead of Lion. She stopped and listened for a moment. When she heard the roar again, she turned and raced back to the waterfall.
When she reached the waterfall and saw the trouble Lion was in, she extended her paws to help him.
“What are you doing here?” Lion growled.
“You are in trouble,” Cheetah said, “and I am here to help you.”
“I don’t need your help,” Lion said. Even as he said it, his grip on the shore slipped.
“Do not be stubborn, Lion,” Cheetah said. “Let me help you.” She extended her paws once more.
Lion did not need to be told a second time. He quickly reached out his paws and grabbed hers. Cheetah pulled until Lion was safely out of the water.
They stood there a moment, panting from their efforts, until they had each caught their breath.
“You saved my life, Cheetah,” Lion said. “But the race is still on.”
“As it should be,” Cheetah said. They both turned and continued racing down the path.
Again, they traded places, Lion first, then Cheetah first. They came to a part of the forest which was so thick with trees that it was dark from the clouds hanging overhead. They had to slow their efforts in getting through it.
Lightning flashed all around them and thunder rolled through the forest and echoed in the skies. In a bright flash of lightning, a tree in front of them was split in two and came crashing down. Before they realized what was happening, another tree fell on top of that one and then another. They turned, but trees behind them were falling, too. Everywhere they turned, it seemed, trees were falling, blocking their path and the way out of the forest and to the finish line.
Soon, they were both trapped beneath a pile of trees and branches that covered them but left them just enough space to sit up. The trees had formed a cave of sorts and Lion and Cheetah were trapped within it.
Lion and Cheetah were too shocked to say anything at first. Lion opened his mouth to roar, but Cheetah stopped him.
“Listen,” Cheetah said.
Outside the tree-cave they could hear, above the roar of wind and rain and thunder, a pawing and scratching sound. Cheetah and Lion sniffed the air. Lion cringed.
“Hyenas,” Lion said. Lion grit his teeth. “I hate hyenas.”
“Shhh,” Cheetah said. “Be quiet. They may be able to get in even though we cannot get out.”
Lion saw the logic in Cheetah’s thinking. The hyenas were much smaller than either Lion or Cheetah and might be able to find a space large enough for them to crawl into the tree-cave. Neither Lion nor Cheetah could fight the hyenas very well in such a small space.
“And what are we going to do?” Lion asked in a whisper.
“We will have to work together,” Cheetah said. “It will take both of us to move these trees to make an opening large enough for both of us to get out. And we will both have to fight off the hyenas when we do get out.”
“Yes,” said Lion and nodded his head. “It is important that we work together on this if we both are to survive.”
“Look around,” said Cheetah. “Find a place where you and I can crash through and surprise them.”
Lion and Cheetah looked around at the tangled trees and branches.
“Here!” Lion said. “Here is a good place.”
Cheetah looked at the place Lion had found and decided it was the best they could do.
“Count to three,” Cheetah told Lion. “On three, we will crash through the trees together and take the hyenas by surprise.”
And so Lion counted to three and he and Cheetah crashed through the trees. Just outside, waiting on them, was a pack of hyenas and the hyenas were on Lion and Cheetah almost before they even realized the hyenas were there.
But Lion and Cheetah were both experienced fighters, especially when it came to their natural enemy, the hyena. Before long, Lion and Cheetah had most of the hyenas on the run, except for a few hyenas who were almost as good at fighting as Lion and Cheetah.
Loud thunder crashed overhead and a bright bolt of lightning struck the pile of trees where Lion and Cheetah had been trapped only moments before. The pile of trees and branches caught fire, sending the hyenas running in one direction and Lion and Cheetah in another direction.
Lion was ahead of Cheetah, but Cheetah was not far behind. But the fire spread quickly and ran in between Lion and Cheetah so that Cheetah had to stop in her tracks and look for another way out of the forest.
Lion soon realized that Cheetah was no longer behind him. At first, Lion wanted to continue running so he could win the race. But then he remembered his struggles at the waterfall and that Cheetah had come back to help him.
Lion stopped in his tracks and ran back the way he had come. He came to the wall of fire that was raging ever more rapidly. But he could see, through the flames, Cheetah pacing back and forth, searching for a way through. Lion could also see, in the midst of the fire, a large boulder. Lion walked over to stand in front of the boulder.
“This way!” Lion cried. “To the boulder, Cheetah!”
Cheetah followed the sound of Lion’s voice. She spotted the boulder and leapt on top of it. As the flames continued to grow and rage, she jumped from the boulder across the tops of the flames to safety on the other side of the fire.
“Thank you, Lion,” she said. “You saved my life.”
“That makes us even,” he said with a smile.
“Yes, but the race is still on,” said Cheetah.
“As it should be,” Lion said.
They raced through the forest away from the fire.
They cleared the forest and were only a few yards away from the finish line when Lion stopped and called, “Cheetah!”
Cheetah stopped and looked back at Lion.
“Please come here,” Lion said.
Cheetah walked carefully back to Lion. Was this a trick so that he could win the race?
“I feel I have been wrong,” Lion said.
“What do you mean?” Cheetah asked.
“You are right, Cheetah. You are equal to me. Let us both finish the race together.”
“Do you mean that, Lion?” she asked.
“Yes,” Lion answered. “I mean it.”
So, together, Cheetah and Lion walked across the finish line at the same time, much to the amazement of all the animals watching.
Lion turned to the silent crowd, their mouths still open in surprise.
“Everyone!” Lion said so that all could hear. “Cheetah has shown me that we are equals. But she also taught me that she is superior to me as well.”
“Lion,” Cheetah said.
“Let me finish,” Lion told her. “Cheetah helped me, even when I refused her help. She taught me that by working together, we could both overcome the obstacles we faced. That was all the proof I needed that Cheetah is not only my equal, but my better, as well.”
Cheetah shook her head. “No. Not superior. Not better, Lion. Equal.”
Lion smiled and nodded his head. “Equal, then.”
From that day forward, each time Lion encountered Cheetah in the forest, he nodded his head to her in respectful acknowledgement.