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The Hedgehog’s Tale


         When Sophia first woke up in England, she cried. She was still remembering all the things, all the difficulties that she and her parents had been through to get here. Even though it was a warm sunny morning, and there were no clouds in the sky outside her bedroom window, she still thought about her home. She sat up in bed and thought about all her treasures that she had had to leave behind. Her precious treasures, her toys, her letters, that she had lost, perhaps forever. Perhaps, even more importantly, she thought about her friends at school, and what they were doing at this moment.

         She was in a small, tidy room, with nothing in it but the bed she had slept in, a small cupboard, and a wooden chair. Her window looked out over a long overgrown garden, tangled with bushes, small trees and long, lank grass. It was a wilderness, in fact. And this morning, it was exactly how she herself felt. Lost, lonely and sad. She suddenly became aware of the sounds of her mother and father moving around downstairs, and the clinking of plates. Breakfast was being made. Dressing very quickly, she got up and went downstairs to help.

         Perhaps, at this point, it would be only right to describe who Sophia was. She was eleven years old, with a thin, pale face, and long, straight dark hair. Her brown eyes seemed very large in her small face, and looked frightened, as if she were seeing ghosts. Perhaps the reason for this was that she was Bosnian, and that she and her parents had just fled from a town called Kosovo, when fighting had broken out. Now they were in England, and living in this large, slightly run-down house, with its overgrown garden, not knowing what to do next. For Sophia, and her mother and father, the future was uncertain, but for now, this is where they had to be.

         That day, Sophia helped her mum and dad to sort out the few belongings that they had managed to bring with them – clothes, some personal things, some little items that they had managed to snatch up before they had left Kosovo. But her attention was always drawn towards the overgrown wilderness of a garden outside. She was wondering what it was like, and being eleven years old, she felt a natural curiosity to explore it, and see what was in there. Maybe foxes, she thought, or badgers and things. Her father had taught her English, and about all the animals that she would one day see. So she was eager to explore, even if it helped her to forget the sadness within her.

         That evening, while it was still light, she went into the garden. She wandered about where she could, finding little paths and trails that she could follow. Soon she lost sight of the house, and then found a small clearing between the trees and bushes, where she sat down to think, and just simply listen to the sounds around her. Small rustlings, the sound of birds in the sky, the gentle rubbing together of leaves and branches. It was peaceful and quiet, and for once, she felt happier. Then, it happened.

         A small, snouty face appeared out of the undergrowth. It was followed by a prickly body, and then it trotted towards her, sitting in this tiny clearing, on surprising long legs. ‘Allo’ it said. ‘I’m ‘arry. What’s yer name?’ Sophia stared, speechless. Could all animals in England talk? ‘Wot’s up, then? Cat got your tongue? Come on, lass!’ At last, Sophia found her tongue. ‘My name is Sophia’. She added as an afterthought, ‘I’m very pleased to meet you.’ ‘Not at all,’ said Harry, cheerfully, (for that is what his name was). ‘Nice to meet some new people around ‘ere. Not many around. Want to ‘ave a chat? Sure you do. Old ‘Arry’s the best. Aye up, lass, tell me about yourself.’

         To her surprise, Sophia did. She told Harry about herself and all that had happened to her. As she talked, it no longer seemed strange to be talking to an English hedgehog. It was like talking to a friend, and being able to say things that somehow you cannot even say to your parents. Harry listened quietly and gently. ‘Awright,’ he said  at last. ‘ I reckon you’ve talked enough for this night. Tell you what, if you come down ‘ere most evenings, I’ll be ‘ere, and you can’t say any more. An’ I’ll tell you my story. ‘Ow about that?’‘ ‘Thank you,’ said Sophia gratefully. With that the hedgehog turned and disappeared into the undergrowth. Sophia got up slowly and went  back to the house to bed.

         Over the next few weeks, she went into the garden every day to talk to Harry. Her parents didn’t mind, because Sophia knew that they were busy trying to sort things out: about staying in England, and money. But she felt comforted by Harry and the stories he told her. ‘ I was on television once, I was. Yeah, it was one of them nature programmes they was always making. Seemed they wanted to know about what an  hedgehog’s life was like. So they followed me as I went about.  They followed me around with one of them, what’d do call them, cameras. So I let them do that and they came into my world’. At this Harry grew dreamy. ‘Yer see, an ‘edgehogs world is on the ground. You move through all the plants, looking for grub. Not like them squirrels, always flyin’ high up in the trees. We stay close to the ground. But it’s wunnerful what you see. It’s like walking through a green land, wiv’ the sun shining through the leaves, and making everything funny and strange’.

‘It must be wonderful.’ said Sophie. ‘Oh, it is’. Harry replied happily.

         Sophie began to think about her world. Her sadness, that she carried inside her began to bubble up. And without realising it, tears began to flow down her cheeks. Her head in her hands, she began to sob and talk brokenly through her crying. ‘It was so terrible….so terrible, Harry! All the people! All the soldiers! Killing each other! And the blood!  The blood! And all the burning houses! And the people lying there dead! Even our delivery man! I’d known him ever since I was little! And they shot him! They shot him! I was so frightened! And we had to run! We had to get away! It was terrible, terrible, terrible!’ She cried and cried, mumbling the word ‘terrible’ between her sobs.

         Harry sat there. looking at her with his small black beady eyes. When she had finally stopped crying, he spoke. ‘ Let me tell you a story. Its about us hedgehogs. We don’t fight as a rule but this time we did, and nobody likes to remember it. But I’ll say wot ‘appened. There was a big quarrel, see, and nobody knew ‘oo started it. But it turned into a big war, the ‘edgehogs’ war they call it and we all came out for it. We all met in this little bit of grass, ready to ‘ave a go at each other. At this point Harry giggled, as a hedgehog might. ‘Turf wars, as you ‘umans might call ‘em’ But there was about fifty of us and we set to each other, biting and scratching, until, I dunno ‘oo, said stop it!  Then we all went home. But there were a lot of wounded, and three dead. Two on their side, one on ours. The ‘fing was, there was no point in it! Nobody got anyfink. So we all went ‘ome  and licked our wounds.’ He paused, and became silent.

         After a while, Harry got up and said very abruptly ‘I’ve gotta go. But remember this, lass. When things like me, or ‘umans die, they leave summat behind them. Gives you back some life, and wot it means, after a death. Always remember that, and go on to do ‘fings that makes it right.” And he began to trot off into the undergrowth. ‘Wait! shouted Sophia. ‘I understand what you mean, but I want to ask you something. Something very important! Please!’ Harry stopped and peered around at her. ‘Wot is it, then, that’s so important?’ Sophia sat, and replied in a timid voice, ‘Who was the hedgehog that died on your side?’ Harry did not turn back, and went on into the undergrowth. She heard his voice. ‘My brother.’ Then there was silence.

         Sophia’s parents had found a new home, and were prepared to stay in England for good. They felt Sophia would have a good education, and perhaps even go on to university. She felt, for herself, that she had found peace. But she still needed friendship. Perhaps that would happen. The last night that they stayed, she went out into the overgrown garden again. She called out for Harry over and over. But he never appeared. Perhaps, she thought, he had gone for what he called ‘his long sleep’. She turned and walked slowly back to the house.

         She never saw Harry again.

Frank Jackson (3/01/07)