“Uncle Bart,” said Limpy. “Why do humans hate us?”
Uncle Bart looked down at Limpy and smiled fondly.
“Stack me, Limpy,” he chuckled, “you are an idiot.”
Limpy felt his warts prickle with indignation as Uncle Bart hopped onto the road after a bull ant.
No wonder I’ve never heard any other cane toad ask that question, thought Limpy, if that’s the reply you get.
Limpy was glad the grass at the edge of the highway was taller than he was. At least the millions of insects flying around the railway crossing light couldn’t see who Uncle Bart was calling an idiot.
“Humans don’t hate us,” Uncle Bart was saying, his mouth full of bull ant and grasshopper. “What are you on about? Stack me, some of the dopey ideas you youngsters come up with…”
Limpy waited patiently for Uncle Bart to finish. Uncle Bart was his fattest uncle, and his bossiest. When Uncle Bart had a point to make, he liked to keep on making it until you gave in and looked convinced.
Tonight, though, Limpy didn’t give in.
He didn’t have to. When Uncle Bart was getting his mucus in a knot about how humans definitely didn’t hate cane toads, a truck came roaring round the corner in a blaze of lights, straightened up, rumbled through the railway crossing, swerved across the road straight at Uncle Bart, and drove over him.
Limpy trembled in the grass while the truck thundered past in a cloud of diesel fumes and flying grit. Then he hopped onto the road and looked down at what was left of Uncle Bart.
The light overhead was very bright because it had a whole railway crossing to illuminate, and Limpy was able to see very clearly that Uncle Bart wasn’t his fattest uncle anymore.
Flattest, more like, he thought sadly.
“See,” he said quietly to Uncle Bart. “That’s what I’m on about.”
“Har har har,” chortled a nearby grasshopper. “Your uncle’s a place mat. Serves him right.”
Limpy ignored the grasshopper and turned to watch the truck speeding away into the darkness. From the movement of its taillights he could tell it was weaving from side to side. Each time it weaved, he heard the distant “pop” of another relative being run over.
“Yay,” shouted the grasshopper. “More place mats.”
He decided not to eat the grasshopper. Mum was always warning him he’d get a bellyache if he ate when he was upset or angry.
To take his mind off Uncle Bart, Limpy crossed the road to have a look at Uncle Roly.
Uncle Roly was extremely flat too, but at least he was smiling.
Which is what you’d expect, thought Limpy sadly, from your kindest uncle, even when he has been dead for two nights.
Limpy reached forward and gently prodded Uncle Roly. He was dry and stiff. The hot Queensland sun had done its job.
Limpy remembered how Uncle Roly had never been dry and stiff when he was alive. He’d always had a warm smile for everyone, even the family of holidaymakers two evenings ago who’d purposely aimed their car straight for him down the wrong side of the road.
“Oh, Uncle Roly,” whispered Limpy. “Couldn’t you see the way they were looking at you?”
Limpy shuddered as he remembered the scary expressions on the holidaymakers’ faces. It was exactly the same look of hatred that had been on the face of the truck driver who’d tried to kill Limpy when he was little.
I was lucky, thought Limpy sadly. When it happened to me, I’d only just finished being a tadpole. I had a pair of brand-new legs and I could hop almost completely out of the way. I only got one leg a bit squashed. Poor old Uncle Roly was completely flat before he knew what hit him.
Limpy felt his crook leg start to ache, as it often did when he was sad and stressed. He gazed down at Uncle Roly’s very wide smile and felt his throat sac start to wobble.
Why would a carload of humans purposely kill an uncle who had such a good heart that he was still smiling two nights after being run over by a station wagon and a caravan?
I don’t get it, thought Limpy. I can understand why grasshoppers and other insects don’t like us. It’s because we eat them. But we don’t eat humans. We cant even fit them into our mouths. So why do they hate us?
Limpy felt his warts tingle with determination.
One day, he thought, I’ll go to a human place and find out why and try to do something about it, even if I end up dry and stiff and flat myself.
The thought made him feel weak and sick.
“Time to go home, Uncle Roly,” he said.
Limpy picked Uncle Roly up, heaved him onto his shoulders, and hopped slowly back across the road to Uncle Bart.
“Bye, Uncle Bart,” said Limpy to the damp layer of pressed skin and flat warts on the tarmac. “I’ll be back for you when you’ve dried out.”
He wondered if he’d find the courage to visit the humans before he saw Uncle Bart again.
I need to get braver, he thought. But how?
“Rack off, place mat,” yelled the grasshopper.
Ignoring all thoughts of bellyache, Limpy ate him.
Practice, thought Limpy as he chewed, that’s how.
“Oh no, Limpy,” said Mum in exasperation. “You haven’t brought home another dead relative.”
Limpy was too puffed to answer. Although the swamp where he lived wasn’t very far from the highway, it was still a long haul for a skinny toad with a crook leg and a dried uncle on his back.
“Well, just don’t leave him lying around in your room, said Mum. “That room’s a pigsty. I’m sick of tidying up dead relatives in there.”
“Mum,” said Limpy. “Uncle Roly’s your brother. Don’t you care that he’s been run over?”
Mum gave a big sign and leaned against the leaf she’d been preparing dinner on. She put down to ants she’d been stuffing slugs with and closed her eyes.
When she opened them, Limpy could see her throad sac was trembling.
“Oh, Limpy,” she said quietly. “Of course I care. But I’ve got hundreds of brothers and sisters. If I let myself get upset every time one of them’s run over, I’ll be a nervous wreck.”
From the Trade Paperback edition.