ShenKu – The Precious Ring

Lom Ping was unfortunately a sickly child. He had always been that way despite the efforts of his Mother ‘Fat Aunt Ho’ who had fed him as much fresh goat’s milk and mung beans as his poor appetite would allow. Still his frame was bony and his eyes lacked the sparkle of the other children in the village , who sometimes ran around him at school chanting ‘Mot Cha! Mot’ [Slow Ant]. Lom Ping did not like school and became even more moody. Claiming an ache in his sunken belly he just lay on the straw mat in the corner of the hut for most of the day, refusing even chicken wings in spicy sauce, made especially for him by ‘Fat Aunt Ho – – About the time, as fate would have it, there came to that village an wandering mystic pushing a wooden cart decorated with foreign designs. He was very old and his clothes were ragged, yet his step was lively and his eyes beneath the wide straw hat, twinkled – – When Lom Ping’s Mother saw the old man rattling along the track to her house, on an impulse she rushed out and told him about Lom Ping. She begged him to give the boy some medicine – The old man listened without saying a word to her said story, then, taking a small wooden hammer from his belt, struck one of the four bells hanging from a plaited cord above his cart – ‘DING’ went the little bell and the old man spoke for the first time in a quiet voice: ‘Bring me a cool drink, Dog Mai [Lom Ping’s mother twitched nervously because that was he name and she had not told him]. . . ‘And when I am finished, I will place the cup under that Bladoo tree with the little yellow flowers and continue on my way. Send your son to see me before that time and I will do what I can for him, on one condition.’ Dog Mai answered in a whisper because the old man made her nervous, he continued: ‘The boy must come alone. . .’ He paused and gazed at the top of the Bladoo tree, ‘. . . because to be free, the spirit must first wish to be so.’ Thanking the old man with a Wai [palms together] Dog Mai hurried back to the house and shaking Lom Ping, told him to take this jar of cool water to the old man under the Bladoo tree. – – Lom Ping reluctantly approached the old man sitting cross-legged in the shade and bowing politely offered the water. He was about to turn away and hurry back. As the silent white bearded figure and peculiar cart with its carved sides made him even more ill at ease than usual – when the old man spoke – ‘Sit down, Lom Ping, and wait. . . so you may return this jar to your Mother when I am finished’ – Lom Ping cautiously squatted down a safe distance from the old man and gazed curiously at the mysterious cart. His eyes lingered on the four bells strung one above the other, but unlike the rest of the old man’s possessions, shone as though polished daily. The old man drank very slowly and Lom Ping felt a strange need to know how to use those bells. At last, in a faint voice, he inquired so, addressing the old man as ‘Sir’ in order not to upset him – – The old man did not look up and Lom Ping thought he had fallen asleep. But then after a long pause he asked – ‘What do you wish for your life Lom Ping?’ – Lon Ping was confused by this question but managed to reply in a small voice – ‘Sir, I wish I was strong and clever, with friends and perhaps rich, to help my Mother, but I am small and sickly’ – The old man continued to sip his water and then said – ‘That which you seek lies beyond the path marked by one of these four bells. . . so borrow this and strike one bell, once only’ – and he held out a small brass-bound wooden hammer in his sinewy brown hand – – Lom Ping hesitated, then took the hammer – ‘Which bell should I strike, Sir’ – He stuttered. . . ‘That one which your heart tell you to replied the old man – And ‘Ding’ went the little bell – ‘Now come and see what you have chosen’ – he took from within his clothing a small mottle green object which Lon Ping saw was an ugly metal ring with a frog on it – ‘This ring’ said the old man, placing it the boy’s thin hand. . . ‘has a kind of magic in it, which can transform your life and bring you those things which you seek, BUT. . .’ and the old man stopped talking and peered intently at Lom Ping to be sure he was paying attention ‘. . . it will only work for you when you . . . breathe for it’ – – Lom Ping wanted to interrupt, but the old man held up his hand – ‘So, instead of taking your usual shallow breath and fill half you lungs, if you want your dreams to com true you must fill all of your lungs, starting at your belly and ending with your chest. Not quickly, but slowly and completely. . .enough for you and the frog’ – – The old man reached out a strong brown arm and with one finger lifted the chin of the boy, who was staring at the ring, turning it and trying the hole over each of his child fingers in turn – ‘Do you wish to do this thing or would you like to return to your life as it is now?’ – he asked in a gentle voice. A small tear trickled down Lom Ping’s cheeks and he mumbled in a whisper – ‘I do want to breath for the frog, but the ring is too big for me’ – And a sob escaped his throat – – The old man took from his cart a leather thong, which after prying open Lom Ping’s clenched fist, he threaded through the ring and deftly knotted, then hung it around the boy’s neck – ‘Now, let me see you breath as I have told you’ – and Lom Ping’s scrawny chest began to rise and fall in a steady rhythm. One could almost hear the bones creaking and the tissues and sinews stretching with this unaccustomed exertion – ‘You can wear it around your neck until your fingers grow big’ – said the old man after a few minutes – ‘And I would suggest you do not tell others of the true purpose of your frog. Unless perhaps, one day when you are grown up, you may give it to someone who needs it more than you’ – l – For the first time Lom Ping looked directly in the old man’s eyes and surprising himself with his bravery exclaimed – ‘Thank you, Thank you, Sir!’ – and impulsively hugged the neck of the seated old man. Then, catching up the water jar ran [yes ran] back down the track to his house – – The old Bladoo tree was not visible from Dog Mai’s house, so although curious she had not seen what had transpired thereunder and was thus amazed to be nearly knocked over by Lom Ping rushing through the door with cheeks flushed and eyes wide – because Lom Ping almost never ran – l – Even more astonishing was the transformation in the little boy over the coming days and weeks. As he breathed for the dirty green frog, the life giving oxygen coursed through his body, revitalizing his blood supply and tissue nutrition – he became alert and cheerful – his appetite improved dramatically [he would even eat Pak Dtom [boiled vegetables] if hungry enough] – His skinny body started to fill out with flesh and muscle and he was almost never sick – At school the other kids stopped teasing him and changed his nickname to ‘Pung’ [Bee] because he was so busy – Within two months he had been chosen for the school football team and was top of his class in spelling – – His Mother Dog Mai [also ‘Fat Aunt Ho’] were very proud of him and everyone wondered how the sad little boy of so many years had suddenly blossomed into such vibrant health. He took no medicine and ate no special foods – Sometimes he was asked about green metal ring he wore on a leather thong round his neck and never took off, even in the bath – but he just said it was a gift from a friend and as such could no be discarded, even if ugly – – And no one except Lom Ping ever really thought of a strange wooden cart – with four shiny bells pushed by a ragged old man. . . – –

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