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The Toad in the Hole


‘Owww! Owww!’t the little girl screamed. She looked around just in time to see her sister disappearing into the house. She rubbed her head where her sister had pulled her hair really hard. There were tears in her eyes. Why was Ramila so terrible to her? She had not done anything. What was the matter with her? She stood in the small garden, still rubbing her head. This was yet another of the nasty things that Ramila so seemed to enjoy doing. She seemed to like bullying Lata, for no reason at all, and it had gone on for several months.

Since the family had moved to England from the west coast of India, this happened all the time. Her mother and father had decided to come to England, because her father had managed to find a new university job, and they now lived in this small house on the outskirts of London, with a small but overgrown garden. It had been hard to become used to England, but they had adapted well, and had already made friends among their neighbours. True, mother found it difficult to mix with the local people, but she was now finding her feet, and was already known in the local shops. Her father was busy with his job, and  both Ramila, her sister, and Lata herself, had begun to enjoy going to the local school.

Lata was nine years old. Her sister, Ramila, was eleven. They were in different classes at school, but they both spoke English well, since their father had insisted that they learn a second language from when they were very small girls. The English way of life, and the scenery, were a surprise to them, after the quiet of the Indian countryside, but it was also exciting, though they had few friends as yet. But it was early days, and Lata looked forward to knowing more of this English country. So far. however, their horizons were bounded by where they lived. Perhaps later they would travel and see other parts of what they knew as Britain.

It was Saturday. Lata’s mother and father had gone to do some shopping, telling both sisters to stay in the house until they came back. Ramila had probably gone into her bedroom, and Lata was wandering around the small garden, which needed a lot of care and attention. She paused and looked at the house. Somehow she preferred to be in the garden on a mild afternoon. She missed India, but liked the different kinds of plants and trees that she had seen so far. What she did not realise was that she was ten seconds away from a very important event in her life.

There were several steps of large paving-stones up into the garden. As Lata approached them, she stopped dead. For there, on the top step, was a small brown-green shape. She had never seen it before. She drew a deep breath, and slowly went up the steps towards it. As she got nearer, she saw that it was what she thought to be a small reptile. It was small and squat, with a funny flat head and small dark eyes. It crouched on the top step, waiting for her. Were there poisonous creatures in England?

And then it spoke. ‘Hallo! Who are you?’ It spoke in a harsh croaky voice, and it looked as if it owned everything around it. Lata was dumb with amazement. Strangely, she did not feel frightened. She sat down on the step in front of the creature. ‘What are you?’ she finally said at last, thinking that there were so many odd things about England that she did not know about. ‘I’m a toad,’ it said grandly. ‘You’ve come here to live then?’ ‘Yes’, said Lata. ‘Jolly good’, replied the toad. ‘But you’re a stranger here. Are you feeling at home?’ ‘I’m not sure’, Lata muttered. ‘I’ve seen so many strange things’. ‘Tell me about them’, and the toad waddled closer towards her.

Lata found herself talking about her life, about her parents, her country, and about her sister. The toad listened in silence, nodding it’s head up and down every now and again. ‘It has been a long journey for you’, it said. ‘But you are young, and you will enjoy this country. Trust me. And now I will tell you more about myself and toads’. And he settled himself down even further to give his story.

‘Us toads have been around for many centuries, We are wise beyond your belief. We have seen everything in the world, and we know everything that has gone on. I will tell you why. Our knowledge has passed on from toad to toad since the days of the ancient pharaohs, and even before that. We pass on our knowledge over and over again. You might be surprised that I am known as “the Wise One”, the “Buddha Toad”, and I am known now as, in your country, the “Grand Rajah Toad”.’ You see, we know everything: about you humans, about this planet, about science, about technology, about all the things that you, I, and others have created and made over many, many years. The knowledge I have has been passed down from others. Few realise that under your feet, we exist in a living kingdom of the ground. Because we are of the earth, we understand how empires grow and fall. Many things go on at your level, but deep beneath, we see, and can tell how history will come about. We may, to your eyes, be simple creatures, but we have infinite wisdom. More wisdom than you can tell. Look into my eyes. I carry the knowledge of the ages. And I will pass this on to my children, so that they can observe as before.’

Lata sat as if she was made in stone. Finally she said ‘why do you not help people to become better?’ The toad looked at her. ‘How can we? We are toads’. Suddenly, he waddled up to her. ‘Would you like to come and meet my family? I’m sure they would be pleased to see you’. ‘Yes, please,’ said Lata, warmly, ‘But where are they?’ ‘Oh, I’ll show you’, said the toad, and waddled off into the flower-bed. ‘I’ll go in through my private hole, and then you lift up that paving-stone on the top’. She watched as he disappeared into a small hole that she had never noticed before, and then, with some effort, she lifted up the heavy paving-stone above.

She cried out with delight. There, on the sand below, was another toad, slightly smaller than Toad himself, but surrounded with several little baby toads who were small, with tiny but long legs, who looked slightly confused. In came Toad, (she now thought of him as that) and said proudly: ‘This is Ma, and these are my little ones. We haven’t named them yet’. ‘But they’re lovely!’ cried Lata. ‘What a wonderful family you’ve got!’ ‘Not bad, are they?’ said Mrs Toad, in a slightly quieter croak than her mate. ‘Nice to meet you, I’m sure’. Lata sat, entranced by the sight of the little toads crawling around, and the kind of family life that she saw.

‘Right’, said Toad,’ Put the stone back now. You’d better find your sister’. ‘Oh, no’. groaned Lata. ‘Hold on’, Toad said quickly. ‘I’ve got an idea. What your sister needs is a bit of a shock to get her out of her present mood. Come down here, and I’ll tell you’. And she bent down and listened to Toad. ‘It might work, but I don’t want her to be too frightened’. Lata said clearly. ‘No’, said Toad, ‘but it might have a good effect on her’.

Next morning, Lata said casually, ‘Do you want to meet a friend of mine?’ ‘You haven’t got any friends’, said Ramila, in a sneering voice. ‘O, yes I have. Come on out into the garden’. So Ramila followed, thinking her sister was quite mad. Lata bent down and pulled up the paving stone. Then she knelt down and picked something up in her cupped hands. ‘Meet mister Grand Rajah Toad’. Ramila’s eyes popped with horror. ‘What is that, that thing!  Are you crazy!’ ‘No’. said Lata. ‘Say hello’.

‘Hello’. said Toad. ‘Come here, darling. Want to give me a kiss?’Ramila screamed. Her legs were wobbling, and she felt like fainting. Suddenly she turned and ran into the house, crying bitterly. ‘Will she be all right? asked Lata anxiously. ‘Go in and look after her’. Toad said quietly. ‘I think that both you and she will need to talk to each other from now on. Trust me’. So Lata put Toad down and ran after Ramila into the house.

She found Ramila lying on her bed, still sobbing. It was then that Lata realised how unhappy her sister was. Her bullying was no more than her own sadness. Because she was older, she very much missed her own country, and she had taken refuge in trying to be angry to her little sister. Coming to another country, perhaps for the rest of her life, made her feel as if she did not belong anywhere. Lata was young enough to be able to find a new country: Ramila was less able to do that, and that is why she tried to become stronger through attacking other people, including her own sister.

Lata suddenly felt tremendous love and affection towards her sister. She could not help it if she was unhappy, and she was now sure that she would help her older sister to find a new path in life. She lay down next to Ramila, and put her arms around her. ‘Trust Toad’. she whispered. ‘He knows what he is doing, and it is for good. He will not let you down. He understands, because he has wisdom, even if he is not like us’. And they fell asleep together.

Toad came in through his usual hole. He was quiet, but secretly happy. His mate asked him, ‘How was it? Have you brought them together?’ ‘I think so’, said Toad. ‘Sometimes it is so hard to be a helper to others. But I think that this time it is right. We all have to change sometimes. Anyway, Ma, let’s get the kids off to bed!’

FRANK JACKSON (13/02/07)