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Tashi and the Golem
By Anna Fienberg, Barbara Fienberg, Kim Gamble
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 2009 Anna Fienberg and Barbara Fienberg,
All rights reserved.
'Anybody sitting here?' Frank Fury squashed down between Jack and Tashi. He peered into Tashi's lunchbox. 'Erk, what d'you call that?' And he stuck a big dirty finger right into the middle of a sandwich.
'Dragon egg,' said Jack, helping himself to one. 'And get your paws off it.'
'Who's gunna make me?' said Frank, and shoved Jack just under his ribs so that he dropped his sandwich on the ground.
'Hey, look out, you dill blot!' cried Jack.
'You look out, dog breath,' Frank held up his fists, 'or you could hurt yourself on these.'
Tashi finished his sandwich and gazed at Frank's fists. 'Strong hands. Good for working in the fields, or digging a well. Big Uncle could have done with hands like yours when we were digging for treasure.'
'What? Who's Big Uncle?' Frank's voice was gruff but a small smile pricked at the corner of his mouth. He laid his left hand, fingers splayed wide, on his knee for everyone to see.
'Now that's a story you'll never hear,' said Jack, 'because you can't even appreciate dragon eggs.'
Frank went red. He leapt up and loomed over Jack, his fists up.
'Not many people in the world have heard of dragon eggs,' Tashi went on.
'Let alone tasted one. It's a shame because they're delicious. My friend Ah Chu likes them even better than giants' dumplings.'
Frank stared at Tashi, confused. He looked at his fists hovering in the air, as if he didn't know what they were doing there. Then he shook his head in a scornful way, and stumped off.
'What a loser,' muttered Jack. 'He's only been here a day and already everyone hates him. I bet he'll thump someone and kill them and then he'll have to go to jail.'
'Hmm,' said Tashi. 'People do change, though. You can't be sure what they're going to do next. It's like the weather. Something could happen in between today's rain and tomorrow. The sun might come out!' Tashi gazed off into the distance.
'Are you talking about someone in particular?'
'Well, I'm thinking of Bang Bang, right now. But a minute ago I was thinking of Soh Sorry, Soh Meen's son.'
'So start with Bang Bang, who was he?'
'Someone you might say would end up in jail.' Tashi took a bite of his apple.
'Bang Bang rubbed everyone up the wrong way. Including me. But Ah Chu was the first to come up against him.'
'Well, it was like this. One day Lotus Blossom and I were walking to school and we met Ah Chu. He was kicking along his bag, instead of carrying it, and muttering some really bad words. I was amazed because the bag was very special to him, and inside there might be dumplings or fish cakes getting all bashed up.
'As soon as he saw us he growled, "Did you know the Baron's nephew, Bang Bang, has come to stay with him?"
'"What's he like?" I asked.
'"What would you expect a nephew of the Baron to be like?" said Ah Chu.
'"Oh, greedy," Lotus Blossom shrugged, "a bit of a bully, just like his uncle?"
'"Not necessarily," I said. "Look at Soh Meen's son, who isn't mean at all, but tries extra hard to make up for his father. My grandma says it is a terrible burden for a young man to carry and that's why Soh Sorry went away. You have to see someone for who they are, not where they've come from."
'"That's all very well," Ah Chu cut in, "but Lotus Blossom is right about Bang Bang. I met him while I was unwrapping a sticky rice cake that your mother had given me, Tashi, when he grabbed it and ate it and tipped me upside down to see if I had any more in my pockets. Then he said he'd beat me with his bamboo cane if I told anyone."
'"What a pig!" This is just the sort of thing that makes Lotus Blossom boil. "I hope he doesn't stay long."
'That afternoon I saw Bang Bang for myself. He was swaggering through the village as if he owned it. When my Auntie Tam didn't move out of his way quickly enough, he pushed her so roughly she fell into a basket of beans waiting ready for market.
'I helped her to her feet and said to Bang Bang, "Look what you're doing. You could have hurt her!"
'Bang Bang grabbed my arm and twisted it up behind my back until the pain took my breath away. Then he spun me around and, poking me in the chest with each word, hissed, "I've heard about you, young Tashi. You stay out of my way or we'll be having these arm exercises every day." He lifted me up so that his face was right in mine. "Did you hear me?"
'I nodded and he dropped me, flop, on the ground. Then he strolled away, well pleased with himself.
'I stood still till my heart stopped hammering. No one had behaved like that to me before. As if I was a bag of old fish heads. Even the Baron treated me like a respected enemy. I could see why people were frightened of Bang Bang. It was as if he didn't understand other people had feelings at all.
'I was still sore and troubled the next day when we bumped into Much-to-Learn coming out of Not Yet's shop. He was bursting with news and rage. But it wasn't because his shoes weren't ready.'
'No, it was that bully Bang Bang, wasn't it?' Jack burst out. 'What's he done now?'
'Well,' said Tashi, 'Much-to-Learn said Bang Bang had called around, saying that he and the Baron had decided the spring bubbling up at the back of Wise-as-an-Owl's house really belonged to the Baron. "We own the field next door and we say that fence was put in the wrong place. The spring is on the Baron's land, and we are going to take it over."
'"He can't do that!" I shouted. "Your father uses that special spring water for his medicines. Besides, it has belonged to his family for hundreds of years."
'"Yes, but my father just won't take him seriously," Much-to-Learn fretted. "Really, I think Bang Bang is a very dangerous young man. I'm afraid that he and the Baron will just march in and take over the spring."
'That's just the kind of thing Frank Fury would do,' said Jack. 'If he wants something he'll get it, and look out anybody who's in his way.'
'Well, so you can imagine how we felt. Something had to be done quickly. We were standing in the square, thinking, when Much-to-Learn said nervously, "I learned a new spell the other day, Tashi, that might just be useful."
'Lotus Blossom caught my eye and shook her head. I knew she was thinking about how Much-to-Learn's last spell, the mixed-up monster, had turned out. But he was so much more careful these days. I didn't think he'd make a mistake like that again.
'So I listened closely while he explained that he had been reading in the Book of Spells about a little creature called a golem. "You make it from clay and then, when you chant a spell, you can bring it to life."
'"Wah! Have you actually done it, Much-to-Learn?" we wanted to know.
'"No. Not actually done it, not yet, but-" Much-to-Learn took my arm and led me a few steps away to the gloomy lane behind Not Yet's shop. In a whisper, he repeated the spell three or four times until I knew it by heart.
'"That's it!" I cried when we came back to the others. "Only we won't make a little golem, we'll shape a great big one!"
'Much-to-Learn looked still more anxious when he heard this and seemed sorry he'd ever mentioned the spell. Even Lotus Blossom said, "And then what? What happens when it comes to life?"
'But Ah Chu was excited. "If you bring it to life, it would have to be your servant, wouldn't it?"
'I wasn't so sure, but if Wise-as-an-Owl wouldn't see the danger we were facing, it seemed the best thing to do. So we told Much-to-Learn not to worry, we would be careful, that he should go back and keep Wise-as-an-Owl occupied.
'Then we ran home, collected our buckets and met at the river bank. All afternoon we trundled loads of mud up to a grassy clearing and when we had a really huge pile, we began to shape the Golem.
'Pale pink was seeping into the sky when we sat back and looked at what we had done. A cool breeze suddenly sprang up, and as I gazed at the Golem lying in the grass, I wasn't sure if it was the sudden chill in the air or my own uneasiness that lifted the hair on my neck.
'The Golem was about three metres long, with arms and legs like trunks and a huge block of a head.
'Lotus Blossom shivered. "I don't like the look on his face." She smoothed over the grim mouth and turned up the lips in a smile.
'"That's better," I said. "He looks friendlier now. And just to make sure, we'll give him a heart. There's a pine cone behind you, Ah Chu."
'I took from my pocket a piece of paper with the sacred word LIFE written on it and put it under the Golem's tongue, and then, with a fine stick wrote the word once more on his forehead.
'"We have to light three fires now: one at the head and two at the feet, using cedar branches," I told them. I was getting nervous again. It was all very well for Lotus Blossom and Ah Chu – they hadn't heard the incantation, so haunting and mysterious in the shadows of that lane. They didn't know how Much-to-Learn had tried to keep his voice hushed and low on the ground, but even so the spell had tugged at the air and risen up with a life of its own, flickering between us.
'Yet as we went about lighting the sticks, I felt a little shudder of excitement, too, thinking of how Bang Bang might change from a swaggering bully to a – a what? What would he do when he saw the Golem?
'We each stood by a fire and I lifted my voice, repeating the chant I had learned. And with every word the sun slipped further into the river, and the long shadows of the willows rippled out from the bank. And as I spoke, the scented smoke thickened and danced around the Golem.
'The breeze dropped as we waited, and the river was still. We watched the drifting smoke and the hulking clay figure hidden inside it and it seemed the whole world was holding its breath with us. Slowly, through the haze, we saw two lights shining. We stood transfixed: the Golem had opened his eyes.
'A tremor passed over the huge body and the giant sat up. Lotus Blossom gasped. Ah Chu sank to his knees.
'The Golem turned his great head. "Who are you?" His voice was rough, like grinding gravel.
'I quickly explained what we had done, and why.
'The giant frowned. "The Golem does no man's bidding."
'Ah Chu found his voice. "Oh, but you must. We brought you to life, so that makes you our servant ... doesn't it?" His question dribbled away to a squeak.
'The Golem surged to his feet and towered above us. He was tall as a ship. "I am hungry," he said. He plucked Ah Chu up and sniffed his arm, hastily dropping him back.
'"What do I like to eat?" He looked at us reproachfully. "You have given me a heart but no memory."
'We offered him some nettles and a dead lizard but he didn't like them. Then Ah Chu remembered the fish balls and the honey cakes in his bag. Sadly, he watched the Golem devour them. "What golems like are fish balls and honey cakes," Ah Chu sighed.
'There was a sudden loud gurgle from the Golem's stomach and a gulp from his mouth. "What was that?" he asked, surprised.
'"That was a burp," Ah Chu told him. "It's because you ate too quickly. The wind comes up and out your mouth."
'The Golem did it again. "I can taste the food I just ate," he said wonderingly.
'"That's right!" Ah Chu cried excitedly. "It happens to me all the time." He stood beaming at the Golem until he noticed we were grinning at him.
'"We could bring you some more food tomorrow if you will just give a certain person a good scare," I told him.
'"The certain person is called Bang Bang," added Ah Chu, just in case.
'"I'll think about it," the Golem replied. "But now I have a strong feeling that it is time for me to have a little rest. This living business is very tiring for a golem." And he lay back down, whumpff, on the flattened bushes to sleep.
'"We gave him a lovely smile," said Lotus Blossom with satisfaction.
'"And he has a noble forehead," said Ah Chu gruffly.
'The Golem opened one eye, "And good burps." We waited. "So, this Bang Bang you were talking about," he went on, "what do you want me to do to him?
Tear him apart?"
'"No!" I shouted.
'"Throw him across the river?"
'"No, no!" Lotus Blossom went white.
'"Stand on him?" We shook our heads. "Lean on him?" His eyes twinkled. I could swear that he was enjoying himself.
'We walked home very quietly, I can tell you. There was just a sliver of moon and the dark hung between the trees like a curtain. We jumped at the sudden hoot of an owl. "Yesterday I didn't think we would be worried about looking after Bang Bang, did you?" whispered Lotus Blossom as we reached the empty square. Before parting we agreed on the food we would bring to the Golem, and then we each made the sign of the dragon, for luck.
'The next afternoon after school we arrived at the river bank, but there was no Golem. We ran along the bend of the river, searching, and then into the forest, and we were wishing we had never heard of golems and wondering what harm such a creature would do in the village when we heard heavy steps and snapped branches coming towards us.
'But it wasn't the Golem. It was Bang Bang.
'"Hah!" he cried. "Tashi and his little friends! I'm on my way to tell our men where to put the new fence. I'm going to–" but he noticed that we weren't looking at him any longer. We were staring over his shoulder at something else.
'The Golem had been lying among the bushes right behind Bang Bang and now he sat up. Bang Bang turned and gasped. He looked back at us in terror as the Golem slowly rose to his feet.
'"Is this the Bang Bang you were talking about?" the Golem asked.
'I nodded and went over to him, reaching up to take his hand. "This is our friend, the Golem," I told Bang Bang. "And you are – what? Our enemy? Friend?"
'"Oh friend, your friend," stammered Bang Bang and he searched frantically in his pockets, finally pulling out a piece of bamboo shoot. "Here," he said, offering it to the Golem as if he were a savage dog. The Golem took the bamboo, cautiously nibbling an end of it. A pleased smile spread across his face.
'"This is what Golems like!" he said.
'"It came from across those mountains," Bang Bang told him eagerly. "Not far from where I grew up. I could draw a map to show you where." He pulled out some paper and a pencil from another pocket but after a few minutes the Golem said impatiently, "I can't read those squiggles. You'll have to come with me and show me the way."
'Bang Bang looked stunned. "On second thoughts, it's a rather lonely forest where those shoots grow, a long way from any village or people."
'"Good," said the Golem, "that's just what I like – not all this talking, talking, talking, just the wind in the trees and the birds singing." He looked around, surprised and pleased. "That's what I like!"
'"But first we'd have to get some food for the journey," Bang Bang pointed out anxiously.
'"Here you are," we all cried together, holding out the food that we'd brought for the Golem.
'"Fish balls," beamed Ah Chu.
'"Honey cakes," I cried.
'"And plenty of carrots," Lotus Blossom added.
'Bang Bang glared at us but he couldn't think of any more objections. The Golem bent and scooped him up under his arm. He gave us a little smile and a wave as he strode off along the path. "Tell my uncle–" Bang Bang began but the rest was lost as they passed into the forest.
'Much-to-Learn was overjoyed to hear the news of what had happened. He hadn't had a moment's peace since he'd taught me the spell, he said, and he would rather we didn't mention it to anyone else.
'A few days later I heard the Baron talking to Luk Ahed in the village. "Young people today have no manners. That nephew of mine was supposed to be making a long visit with me but he just took himself off without a word of thanks or goodbye. I had a letter from his father this morning saying that he doesn't know what I did with him, but he's a different boy, obedient and polite and helpful to his mother. He can't get over it, but you can be sure I won't be asking Bang Bang to come and stay with me again!"
'I wish we had a Golem,' said Jack, watching Frank snatch Angus Figment's tennis ball and put it in his pocket.
'What you looking at?' said Frank, as he swaggered past.
'A Bang Bang in need of a golem,' said Jack.
'What? You guys talk rubbish.'
'You'd understand if you'd heard Tashi's story. Could be the story of your life,' said Jack.
Excerpted from Tashi and the Golem by Anna Fienberg, Barbara Fienberg, Kim Gamble. Copyright © 2009 Anna Fienberg and Barbara Fienberg,. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
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