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Afternoons with Grandma
A Collection of Folktales from around the World
By Laxmi Jagadish
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2014 Laxmi Jagadish
All rights reserved.
Milo and the Magic Lake
(A Folktale from Greece)
"Hurry up, Josh! Grandma's waiting," Tamara called to her twin brother who was standing nearby joking with his friends. They had just come off the school bus, and Tamara knew that Grandma would have a good snack waiting for them at home. She pushed her headband back over her short black hair as she watched her brother. Josh had the same black hair and brown eyes as Tamara, but his skin was more deeply tanned, though they were both on soccer teams and played for equally long hours under the sun.
The twins raced to Grandma's house. It was the prettiest house on the block with rows of tulips and daffodils on either side of the front door. A wreath of spring flowers decorated the door that opened just as Josh and Tamara arrived. Grandma stood smiling in the doorway ready to welcome them with hugs.
"Hi, Grandma!" Josh hugged his grandmother and ran inside. "I'm hungry."
"Of course you are." Grandma smiled. She put chocolate-chip cookies and two glasses of milk on the table. "How was school today? Did anything interesting happen?"
"Yeah! Tamara made all the boys laugh today," Josh chortled, ignoring his sister's furious expression.
"What happened, sweetie?" Grandma turned to Tamara, but before she could reply, her twin continued, still laughing.
"Andrew found a spider in the locker and put it on her desk! You should have seen her, Grandma. Tam screamed so loudly that the principal came in."
"Well, I don't think that was a nice thing to do at all. I hope Miss Thompson talked to Andrew," Grandma said sternly. Her tone made Josh stop laughing, and he glanced at his twin. She was still upset, and he suddenly felt badly that he hadn't done anything to help her.
"Sorry, Tam, I should have stopped Andrew, but I just didn't think."
"Well, that's just like you, Josh," Grandma said reprovingly, "but I'm glad you see your error now. Don't think that all girls are helpless, though. Tam may scream at a spider on her desk, but if you were in trouble, she would put up with a hundred of them just to save you."
"I would?" asked Tam, shuddering at the thought of a hundred spiders.
"Of course you would, just like brave Milo."
"Who is Milo?" Josh asked excitedly. He could feel one of Grandma's stories coming on, and he hurriedly drank his milk.
"My goodness, didn't I tell you about Milo? How could I have missed that story? Well, never mind—come on now, onto the couch. You will hear about Milo right now."
Grandma adjusted her glasses and led the way to the couch. The kids settled comfortably on either side of her and listened intently.
* * *
Milo lived with her parents and brothers, Niko and Marko, on a little farm apart from the village. There was a lot of work to be done around the farm, but several months earlier, Milo's parents had become very sick and could not walk more than a few steps at a time or carry out the harder tasks on the farm.
Therefore, it was the children who did all the work. Milo attended to her parents and took care of the house. Her brothers labored all day out in their little field and helped Milo with the goats and chickens. They had very little time to play and to just enjoy being children, but they knew that it wouldn't do any good to complain, and so continued diligently working and caring for their parents.
One day, an old Gypsy woman stopped by the farm hoping to get food and shelter for the night. She had been separated from her tribe after she fell ill and was having a hard time finding a job to pay for food and lodging. The family welcomed her and shared with her their meager dinner. The woman was astonished to see the children doing all of the work around the house and asked the parents why this was so.
Milo's parents sadly told their guest about their plight. It grieved them that their children had to work so hard while they stood by helplessly and watched. The Gypsy woman sympathized with them and offered to stay and lend a hand with the chores for a few days.
The next morning, as soon as she could, the Gypsy took the children aside and told them that she could help them cure their parents. They were astonished and begged her to tell them how. The children listened carefully to the Gypsy as she told them about a mystical lake that lay on the top of a hill guarded by magical beings. She then explained where to find this hill but cautioned that it would not be an easy task to climb it.
"For the creatures that guard the hill and the lake will try their best to prevent you from climbing to the top," she said. "They will call your name and even attack you. They will try their best to make you turn around because anyone who so much as turns around to look at them will be instantly turned to stone. Many a person has never returned from that hill because of those beings!"
The children listened with awe. It all sounded fantastic. Could there really be a magical lake with waters that could cure their parents? It would be an adventure to get that water, they thought, their excitement growing as they contemplated who would go.
Niko, the eldest, decided that he should be the one for the task. After all, he was the strongest and bravest of the three! He left that very morning with a flask to collect the water.
"I'll be back by nightfall," he said confidently as he bade his brother and sister good-bye and set off on his mission.
That day, Milo and Marko raced through their chores so that they would be free to greet Niko when he returned that night. They hadn't told their parents about any of their plans because they wanted to surprise them.
Suppertime came and went. The children waited outside for their brother. They turned anxiously to the Gypsy woman when she joined them under the night sky.
"He should have been back by now," the Gypsy said worriedly. "I'm afraid he might have reacted to one of the beings and been turned to stone."
"Oh no!" cried Milo. She could not imagine what would happen if her brother never returned. This adventure wasn't turning out to be very pleasant.
Marko hugged his sister and in a subdued voice told her that he would leave the next morning to get the water and to find Niko.
Milo was happy that the Gypsy woman was there to help with the chores the next day since she was now alone with all the farmwork to be done. She hoped Marko was safe and would soon return with Niko and the water. She worried that if he didn't return, she would be left completely alone with her parents. Then what would happen to them? Milo didn't like the way this adventure was turning out.
"Oh, please, Marko, come home," she pleaded silently as dusk turned to night. But he did not return that night, and Milo was forced to admit that Marko too had failed.
"Child, you are the only one left who can save this family," the Gypsy woman told her. "Remember, no matter what happens, just keep climbing up the hill. Do not turn around for any reason at all! That is the only way you will get the water and save your brothers."
Milo nodded mutely and prepared herself to leave first thing in the morning. At dawn the next day, armed with only a flask that she tied around her waist, Milo set off determinedly. She found the hill easily enough. It wasn't very steep, but Milo knew that it was going to take all of her strength to make the climb.
She started heading up the hill, glad that her hands were free. Steadily, Milo climbed taking one small step at a time, until she was almost halfway there. Then, suddenly, she heard voices—people calling her name—calling for help! She heard Niko call out and then Marko. Milo almost turned around to look for them, but suddenly remembered what the Gypsy had said about the magical beings who changed people into stone.
"No! I will not turn around!" she said to herself and continued climbing. "Don't turn around! Don't look back!" Milo repeated the words over and over.
The cries were getting louder and louder. Milo clapped her hands over her ears and stopped climbing for a few seconds. Suddenly, she gasped. An ice-cold hand had tapped her on the shoulder! It felt as if someone was right behind her. Milo shivered, repulsed by the feeling of the cold hand touching her skin, and then—oof!—she was punched right in the middle of her back.
Milo instinctively began to turn around again but stopped just in time. She remembered the Gypsy woman's words and thought of her brothers and parents. I must not turn around, no matter what!
"Ouch!" cried Milo. Something hit her on the arm this time and then yanked her hair. Tears sprang to her eyes. Never had she felt pain like this. For a fleeting moment, Milo wanted to just stop climbing and go home. This was not a good idea. What if the Gypsy woman had been wrong about the whole thing? Then Milo's determination returned. She knew she must keep going, if only to find Niko and Marko. Don't give up, Milo; you're almost at the top. Don't give up now! Milo cheered herself on. I must make it all the way.
"You can't trick me! I will get to the top," she shouted for the magical beings to hear.
"Don't turn around! Don't look back!" Milo chanted softly to herself, ignoring the cries, the punches, and the hair pulling. She didn't realize that she had reached the top of the hill until the punches and cries suddenly stopped.
Milo felt ready to collapse, but a cool breeze revived her so that she could stand and gaze in wonder at the sight before her. The lake was so beautiful that it seemed to be lifted out of a painting, with brilliant blue water clear enough for Milo to see all the way to the bottom. She heard the melodic tinkling sound of a stream flowing over rocks. Birds and butterflies flitted from flowers to small bushes surrounding the lake, adding a final colorful touch to the picture.
It was the most exquisite setting that Milo had ever seen. She opened the flask tied at her waist and knelt down at the edge of the lake to fill it with the magical water. Her parents would finally be cured!
"Wait, Milo!" cried a voice that seemed to come from the water itself. Milo was so startled that she almost fell into the lake. She looked around but saw no one. Who was talking to her?
The voice spoke again. "You must answer my questions before you take water from this lake."
"I will answer your questions," Milo said boldly, still looking around to see the being who was speaking to her.
"Why do you want to take the water from this lake?" asked the being.
"My parents are ill. This water will cure them," replied Milo.
"If you drink this water and live here, you will be young forever," coaxed the being. "You will never get sick or grow old! Will you stay with us and forget about going back to the world outside?"
"Oh no!" cried Milo, shocked by the suggestion. "My parents need me, and they need this water to get well. I must bring this water to them. Besides, what good is it to stay young without my family around? I love them all so much. I wish my brothers were back!" Milo started to cry thinking of her beloved brothers who had disappeared and had probably been turned to stone somewhere on the hill.
"Don't cry, Milo." The being's voice was gentle. "You will take the water to your parents. Many people come here in search of youth and everlasting life for themselves. They are selfish and irresponsible. You, my dear, came to help your loved ones. You withstood the difficult climb for the sake of your parents and your brothers; and in so doing, you have proved yourself worthy of the water from this lake. Fill your flask and ask me for a favor."
Milo dried her tears and filled her flask quickly. As she tightly closed the lid, she said, "My two brothers, Niko and Marco, came for the water too, but they never returned home. Please tell me where they are and let them come home with me."
There was no answer, and Milo feared that her request had angered the being. Oh dear! Maybe I should have said thank you first, before asking about my brothers, she thought.
Just as Milo began to feel defeated, she heard a shout coming from the edge of the cliff that she had climbed. Marco! And Niko too! They had been turned to stone but now were free, and they were trying to finish their climb to get the water for their parents.
There was much celebrating and cheering as the three children hugged and kissed each other. After awhile, Milo turned to the lake and shouted, "Thank you, all of you magical beings!"
The three children made their way down the cliff much more quickly than they had climbed up and ran home as fast as they could.
Their parents had finally found out from the Gypsy woman what the children had been up to and were lying in bed, beside themselves with fear. Imagine their joy and relief when the children rushed into the house and fell into their arms, talking all at once about their adventure.
When all was calm, or as calm as it could be, Milo took her flask and opened it carefully. The Gypsy had two glasses ready, and Milo slowly poured the water into them, careful not to spill a single drop. The children watched expectantly as their parents each drank the water.
"I have never tasted water like this!" exclaimed their mother. "It is flavored with some kind of herb, fresh and cool."
"Try to stand up now and see how you feel. Come on!" encouraged the Gypsy. For having professed so much about this water, she too was eager to see its magic with her own eyes.
The room was hushed as the husband and wife rose slowly from their bed. They took a few steps and the children's father shouted, "This is too slow for me!" He grabbed his wife by the waist. "Come on, my dear; I haven't danced for ages, but I feel like doing so right now!" He twirled his wife in his arms, and the two of them danced around the room, stamping their feet to the claps and cheers of their children.
After that, the family settled down to a normal life. The Gypsy woman stayed on with them to help around the house. Few people remembered what became of the children when they grew up, but the village folk forever told the tale about brave Milo and the adventure that saved her family. Milo became a legend.
* * *
"That is the story of Milo," said Grandma, turning to Josh and Tamara, "a girl who would never have chosen to chase adventures but who accomplished the impossible in order to save her brothers and her parents."
"Wow!" said Josh. "Cool story, Grandma."
"Yes, it is, isn't it? What do you think, Tamara?"
"I think it's fantastic that Milo could do all that when her older brothers failed," Tamara replied thoughtfully. "I don't mind being a girl at all now."
"Never regret being who you are," Grandma told them. "You are each special in your own way." Grandma turned to Tamara. "And it doesn't matter that you are scared of spiders," she said as her gaze shifted to Josh, "or that you make mistakes like being insensitive to others. Just try not to repeat that mistake!"
"Yes, Grandma," Josh said sheepishly. "I guess girls are cool in their own way."
Tamara laughed. She had long since forgiven her twin, but she was happy that he thought she was cool.CHAPTER 2
(A Folktale from India)
"Hi, Grandma," Josh greeted his grandmother in a low voice and headed straight for the couch.
"Josh, dear, whatever is the matter?" Grandma asked, taking in her grandson's slumped shoulders and dejected face. "You aren't sick, are you?"
"He's not sick, Grandma," Tamara pitched in for her twin. "Stephen told everyone at school that he got into the Gifted and Talented Program and kept pointing out that Josh did not. That was mean of him to put Josh down in front of everyone. Besides, everyone knows that Josh is smarter than Stephen in everything that really matters. Stephen was just lucky to get higher scores on tests!"
Grandma made a tut-tut sound and shook her head.
"Would you like to have your milk and cookies here on the couch, Josh?" she asked gently.
"Yes, please, Grandma," said Josh, feeling much better with all the attention he was getting.
Grandma set two glasses of milk and a plate of homemade oatmeal-raisin cookies on the coffee table. During times of crisis like this, she used special snack trays that fit over each child's lap as they sat on either side of her on the couch. Eating on the couch usually made everything feel all right. Not today though, thought Josh. He just couldn't understand it! He was usually the first one to answer questions in class, and he got pretty decent marks in math. He knew who won basketball and baseball games. He could give all kinds of fun facts about the major league players. He could even tell the brake and the accelerator pedals apart in a car! He was sure Stephen could not do that. If Josh knew all the important stuff, then why couldn't he score all As on the tests and get into the G&T Program?
Excerpted from Afternoons with Grandma by Laxmi Jagadish. Copyright © 2014 Laxmi Jagadish. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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