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A Present for Grandfather

2006-07-13 21:18

  There was a young boy named Bakri who lived in a lonely village far in the mountains. It was lonely village, yes, but also very quite and peaceful. A swift-flowing stream tumbled down from the mountains and ran through the village. The villagers could hear the rush of its crystal-clear waters as they lay in their beds at night. And then at down every morning they could hear another sound that also formed part of their way of life. This was the beating of a big drum in the mosque that stood across the river, and then the echoing voice from the mosque tower summoning them to morning prayers.

  It was Bakri's grandfather who sang out this call to the village every morning. He had a strong, powerful voice that seemed to fill the heavens, and he was very diligent about his duties, never missing a single morning. But on this particular morning there was no sound of his voice calling from the mosque.

  Bakri thought this was very strange and began worrying about what might have happened. Was Grandfather sick or something? At first Bakri thought he should go to his grandfather's house to see what was the matter instead of going to the mosque to pray. But somehow he didn't want to start the day without going to prayers at dawn. And maybe someone at the mosque might know what had happened to his grandfather.

  At the mosque looked everywhere for the old man, but there was no trace of him, and nobody knew where he was. Is he sick at home? Wondered the boy. When the prayers began, Bakri tried to calm his thoughts and put everything out of his mind so he could pray wholeheartedly, but still he kept worrying.

  After prayers, he started for his grandfather's place, but then he stopped to think. Shouldn't he take a present to Grandfather? And wasn't this just the time of year for gathering the muncang, a kind of nut that his grandfather found most delicious? Yes, first he'd go gather nuts for Grandfather.

  So away he went hurrying through the mists of early morning, making his way toward Nut Hill, where the finest muncangs grew. It was cold, but he had worn a warm sarong to the mosque, and now he pulled this closely about him as he made his way into the mountains.

  As he went along, he thought what a pleasant surprise it would be for Grandfather if he could gather many nuts at Nut Hill. The shells were very, very hard, and after he had eaten the nuts from inside, then Grandfather could use the shells for carving the lovely fingerings that he could make so well. Why, his grandfather's rings were famous in many villages, and it would be easy to sell them for even fifty rupiahs each. And if he could gather enough nuts for a hundred rings, just think how much money Grandfather could make. Surely he'd be so happy that he wouldn't be sick any more. Let's see, Bakri said to himself, if I multiply fifty rupiahs times one hundred rings, how much money is that? He tried counting it all out on his fingers, but somehow he couldn't get the answer. He was just in the third grade at school, you see. But, anyway, grandfather was sure to be pleased.

  Bakri began whistling a happy tune, but then, suddenly, he stopped. Suppose some of the other boys from the village had beat him to Nut Hill and already gathered all the nuts that had fallen to the ground overnight? And he hurried faster and faster.

  He arrived at the foot of Nut Hill just as the sun rose over the horizon, painting the sky a beautiful red. He ran and ran, up and up, frightening the flying foxes that were on their way back to their nests to sleep through the day. Reaching the top of the hill, he stopped for breath. He was delighted to see that he was the first boy there; there wasn't a sign of the others yet.

  In the grove of muncang trees, the ground was covered with nuts. There'd been a strong wind the night before, which had knocked down more nuts than usual. Singing merrily to himself, Bakri began gathering the nuts. He used his strong to make a bag for holding the nuts. It was his best sarong, but he told himself that he'd wash it carefully when he got home.

  Suddenly he heard some voices. Someone was coming up the hill. It must be the other boys from the village, he told himself. And if they find that I came here so early, without even asking them to come with me, and that I've already gathered all the fallen nuts-well, they'll be angry and probably take all the nuts away from me. Why, I'll be lucky if they don't beat me up as well for being so greedy.

  His only chance was to hide before the other boys saw him. Running over to one side of the grove, he crawled inside a clump of bushes and hid himself as best he could.

  He sat there in the bushes, praying they wouldn't see him. He kept so still that he almost stopped breathing. Soon he saw five boys come over the crest of the hill. All of them were bigger than he.

  The boys stopped at the edge of the grove and looked around at the ground, puzzled. “We've come too late,” one of them, cried in disappointment.

  “There's not a single nut left on the ground,” another said.

  “What bad luck!” said a third. “And after coming all this way.”

  “Someone got here much earlier,” said the tallest boy.

  Almost in unison all the boys cried out: “Bakri! That's who must have been here.” And one added: “He's always up before down anyway to go to the mosque.”

  Hearing all this from his hiding place in the bushes, Bakri became more and more frightened and prayed all the harder.

  “Look!” one of the boys said, pointing to a moist patch of dew under a tree. “Here's his footprints still showing. He must have just left here carrying the nuts with him.”

  “Quick,” said another, “if we hurry, we can catch him and take the nuts away from him.”

  The oldest boy was staring thoughtfully at the ground. Finally he said: “No, that wouldn't be fair. After all, didn't he get up early enough to go to the mosque and still get here before us, while we were snugly sleeping in our beds? Well, then, I say he deserves the nuts, and we deserve nothing. If we wants nuts, we'd better get up early instead of talking his nuts away from him. And we'd better start going to the mosque at dawn too.”

  The other boys looked at him sheepishly. They knew, of course, that he was right. If they hadn't been so lazy, they'd have had nuts of their own. Not saying anything to each other, they started back, walking slowly down the hill.

  Watches from the bushes, Bakri was deeply moved. He was thankful that his prayers had been answered and the boys hadn't seen him, and he was also filled with pity by the sad looks on the boys' faces. Suddenly he stood up, gave a loud yell, and went running after the boys.

  The boys stopped and turned toward Bakri. They were astonished to see him running toward them.

  When he reached them, Bakri said: “I'm sorry I took all the nuts. Here, you take part of them. After all, we're all good friends and should share and share alike.”

  The five stood there, looking first at Bakri and then at each other. Finally the tallest said: “No, no thank you, Bakri. They're all your nuts because you got up early and came and gathered them.”

  “Don't be silly,” answered Bakri, grabbing the boy's hand. “I really want you to have them. I was going to take them to my grandfather because he did not give the call to prayers this morning and I thought he might be ill. But he'll be just as happy with only my share.”

  “Yes,” said one of the boys, “I saw him talking to a neighbor this morning and heard him say he's caught a bad cold but that he'll be able to go to the mosque again in a few days.”

  “That's what we'll do, then,” said the tallest boy. “Bakri will share his nuts with us, and then we'll all go and give all of them to Bakri's grandfather. Then he'll get well and strong again in a hurry, and once more we can hear his powerful voice rolling out over the village as it calls us to prayers.”

  So that's how it was decided. The weather was fine and clear. The boys put their arms around each other's shoulders and walked on down the hill in the sunlight, singing happily, bound for the home of Bakri's grandfather.

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