The Girl Who Turned Into A Dragon
There was once a girl who turned into a dragon.
Her name was Ping and she lived in China, a very long time ago.
I don’t know what your name is, or which country you’re in, but I’m pretty certain a lot of you live in the here and now.
For most of my life I’ve lived in the here and now, but, like many other people, I’ve also spent a lot of my days elsewhere and in other times.
And just like me, Ping sometimes wondered what it would be like to not be human. What might she be if she was something else?
A fish one moment, an otter the next?
A tiger in the morning, maybe a T Rex in the afternoon?
Ha! Impress your friends and scare your enemies.
Ping imagined being a dragon for a day, the weekend, or even until Monday, to frighten the living daylights out of the moneylender.
That would be cool.
A week, tops.
It hadn’t turned out quite the way she’d imagined.
Unfortunately, she was now going to be a dragon for ever, and ever, and ever.
And it was all her mother’s fault.
Ping’s mother never told bedtime stories. It’s not that she didn’t like them, it’s just that she had trouble remembering how they ended. She’d say there was enough to get on with during the day without worrying about something else last thing at night.
And recently, she’d certainly been right about that. For the past year had been a year like no other. Not a single drop of rain had fallen. Hot sun shone on bare earth. The rice crop failed. People were hungry. Babies wailed.
But one night, as they lay in bed listening to their growling bellies, they became aware of a deep rumbling outside.
Suddenly, the ground trembled. The house shook. Flashes of lightning lit the room. Cracks of thunder filled the sky. A great storm seemed about to explode above their little house.
But instead of heavy rain beating down upon their rusty tin roof, something fell to earth with a whistling sound, followed by the flapping of huge wings and a roar fading away into the dark sky.
And then, silence.
Not daring to leave the room. They held each other tight and waited until morning to see what had happened outside.
As the new day dawned, the sun wore a scowl. Nervously, Ping peered out of the window, expecting to see devastation all around. But there were no fallen trees, damaged buildings, or craters gouged into the ground. To her surprise, tall grasses were growing on what had been bare, dry earth the day before.
Such good fortune!
The couple joyfully rushed outside and quickly cut the crop to sell at market. Farmers gladly bought the hay to feed their livestock. The lucky couple spent their unexpected windfall on rice and tea.
That night they slept with tummies full, not waking once.
But when they looked out of the window the next morning. Surprise, surprise! Tall grasses were growing again. Even thicker and greener than before.
Once more, they hastily harvested the hay. As the pair cut the grasses with their scythes, they sang old songs, sweating beneath the sun. While the mother tied the grass into bundles to carry to market, Ping sat upon a stone staring at the dry earth. She wondered how such lush grass could grow in this harsh heat.
Just then, something caught her eye. Something small and glowing, half buried in the earth. She picked it up. It felt warm, like a newly laid egg. She wiped the dust from the round object. It was the colour of jade and the size of a large marble. But it wasn’t made of glass. It felt solid and as tough as iron. Curiously, it was vibrating gently every few moments, like the feel of a purring cat.
Ping called out excitedly,
“Mother, quickly. Come and see. I’ve found a magic ball.”
“What have you got there?”, asked her mother.
“I think it’s what fell from the sky the other night, when the house shook, and the wind roared.”
Her mother took the jade object from her daughter. She turned it round and round. She felt it throbbing and then … she remembered.
A story. A story she’d heard as a child. Something about a dragon who left a gift to a poor family. A dragon’s pearl! The little jade ball was a dragon’s pearl!
As she stared at the jade pearl, she tried to piece the story together. It was all a jumble, like bits of a jigsaw puzzle in a box. People were suffering. One night a dragon flew from the mountains. In the morning, a small jade ball was found. Things got better. The dragon’s pearl could bring good luck but it could also bring misfortune. Hazily she recalled there was one thing you should never do with the pearl, and if you did it, the consequences could never be undone. What on earth could it be?
That was the trouble with stories. Some were simple but others were too complicated. And it’s true. Some stories are easy to understand and remember, but some take a little bit more effort. And sometimes, the forgotten parts linger deep inside your mind, like a submerged crocodile, ready to bite you when you least expect. Pah! She couldn’t be doing with them.
Irritably she said, “You found it, you look after it.”
She thrust the pearl back into her daughter’s hand, saying,
“Put it in your pocket. Let’s hurry to market and sell the hay without delay.”
That evening, after another satisfying meal, Ping felt the dragon’s pearl vibrate and then jump from her pocket and fall to the floor. She quickly grabbed it and said,
“I don’t want to lose this. Where can I keep it safe?”
Her mother was still trying to remember all of the story and absentmindedly replied,
“Keep it in the rice jar. That’s the best place for it.”
And how true that was. For next morning, the jar that had been half empty the night before, was now full to the brim.
“The dragon’s pearl is magic!” exclaimed Ping.
The dragon’s pearl was magical indeed. Not only was the jar full of rice, but grass had regrown outside.
Now they knew they wouldn’t go hungry. With the money they made from selling the hay, and the rice jar always magically topped up, they had more than enough to eat and plenty to spare.
And so, they began to help their neighbours.
Each evening, they’d stand on their doorstep and call out,
“Bring your empty bellies and bowls. We’ll fill them with our good fortune.”
Many hungry people came to take advantage of the couples’ kindness.
Gratefully they received the rice and thanked them graciously.
When asked why they were able to be so generous, Ping replied,
“It’s because we have been given some luck. We’re sure that if you had such luck you’d share it with your neighbours.”
Well, you might share your luck with me, and I might share my luck with you, but unfortunately, there were two greedy guts in the village who wouldn’t even share a smile, unless we paid them.
Two brothers sat silently eating the best meal they’d had in months. They chewed each mouthful, ruminating over, and over, and over,
‘Why don’t we have good fortune? Why do they have the luck? Where does the luck come from? Why don’t we have it? Why should they have it?’
And when the last grain of rice was swallowed, they looked at each other, and one brother said,
“We’ll find their luck and take it.”
And the second agreed,
“We’ll steal it tonight, when they’re fast asleep.”
That night, they stole into the house while the mother and daughter slept. By the light of the moon through the window they looked for luck in the bucket. They searched for luck in the cooking pot. They looked under the rug, up in the rafters, under the bowls and behind the broom. But they were very unlucky looking for luck.
Luck finally eluded them for good when one of the brothers knocked over a stool. When it crashed to the ground, the sleepers awoke.
The bedroom door burst open and Ping confronted the intruders,
“Get out of our house!”
“We’ll leave when we’ve got what we’ve come for,” shouted one of the robbers.
“What do you want from us?” asked the mother.
“We want your luck,” the other brother responded.
“Our luck?” said the mother.
“Yes. Give it to us and we’ll leave.”
“Don’t you realise that our luck is your luck too. Our luck can feed you and everyone in the village too,” reasoned Ping.
“Stop arguing. Tell us where it is.”
“No, we won’t tell you where it is,” warned the mother.
The intruders started to upturn the furniture.
“No, we won’t tell you our luck is on the bamboo shelf by the window,” said Ping.
As the robbers rushed to the shelf, Ping dashed to the rice jar by the door. She lifted the lid and thrust her hand deep into the rice and pulled out the dragon’s pearl.
Triumphantly, she held out the jade pearl towards the dumbfounded brothers and teased,
“If you want it, come and get it.”
But before they could lift a foot, Ping laughed, poked out her tongue, popped the pearl into her mouth, and swallowed it down.
“Noooooooo!” yelled the robbers.
“Aagggghhh!” gasped Ping.
It was at that moment, Ping’s mother remembered the parts of the old story she’d forgotten and now knew why you should never swallow a dragon’s pearl.
“Noooooooo!” she screamed.
But it was too late.
Before her eyes she watched her daughter transform from a girl into a beast.
Ping gasped and choked. Water began to stream from her eyes, shoot from her ears, gush from her nose and spurt from her mouth. Her clothes ripped; her nose grew. Instead of skin, she had scales. She turned around and saw a tail. Her arms were now wings. She flapped, then flew to the ceiling. She crashed and fell.
The robbers fled through the door. The mother rushed to her daughter floundering on the floor,
“Oh, my dear. I’m so sorry. I should have warned you never to swallow a dragon’s pearl. For if you do, you’ll become a dragon forever. Oh, why didn’t I remember!”
Ping tried to speak to her mother but the sounds she made were grunts and groans. She tried to cough up the pearl. She retched to make herself sick. But now the pearl was deep inside her and there it would remain.
“Oh, my little Ping. What kind of mother am I? To not tell stories to my own daughter. I’ll never forgive myself.”
All of the commotion had woken the neighbours. As they came out of their houses they pointed to the sky.
And sure enough, flying from the mountains of the east were hundreds of dragons. With each beat of their wings, clouds formed. With each roar from above, winds whipped up. With each swish of their tails, rain fell.
The villagers felt the first raindrops in a year fall upon their upturned faces. They stood open mouthed and drank the raindrops. They splashed in puddles and whooped with joy.
“The water dragons have saved us all. The drought is over. The rains have come at last.”
As the dragons circled overhead beating their wings to conjure more rain, Ping flew out of the house, followed by her distressed mother.
The little dragon perched in a windblown tree, gripping with clawed feet.
FLASH! She looked look down at her mother. CRACK! She looked at the villagers frolicking in the waters. BOOM! She looked up at the dragons in the electric sky.
The flying serpents descended like giant arrows towards the tree then zoomed aster and faster around it. Ping lost her footing and was whipped up into the air by a whirlwind.
“Help,” she was crying in her mind. But what came out of her snout was, “Yearrghhh!”
A voice boomed in the vortex,
“You must leave now. Come with us to the mountains of the east.”
“No,” she tried to say, even though it came out as a roar.
“No, I want to stay here with my mother.”
“You can’t. You are no longer a girl. You are one of us. You are not a human being. You will be a dragon forever.”
“But I don’t want to be a dragon for the rest of my life. Can’t I just be one for the day, the weekend, or even until Monday, to frighten the moneylender?
“Certainly not. Anyone who swallows a dragon’s pearl has sealed their fate.”
“But I didn’t know that.”
“Blame those who do not pass on the old stories. Hurry, we have brought the rain to your village. Our work is done. Bid your mother farewell.”
Released from the whirlwind, Ping flew down to the village, and hovered above her mother. With every flap of a wing to say goodbye, she rose jerkily up towards the clouds.
The villagers below, watched her wave one last time and then turn to join the mighty dragons as they flew slowly towards the mountains of the east.
Wow! What an ending. What do you think of that turn of events? Did you see it coming or was it a total surprise? Sorry if you’re upset by it but that’s the way it goes. It certainly wasn’t what Ping expected to happen. If only her mother had remembered all of the details of the old story it would have ended with a full rice jar every day and both living happily ever after.
It goes to show. You can never take stories for granted. Those that fear being forgotten have a way of biting back.
I hope this encourages you to listen to and read as many stories as possible and then pass them on. This keeps them happy and healthy. A fish needs to swim, a dragon needs to fly, and a story needs to be shared.
Speaking of which, did I tell you about the time I turned into a …?
© Clive PiG