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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis
The Nightingale’s Song

Red ribbons were tied at the bottom of Ruru’s long black braids. They bounced up and down against her head as she ran outside. She picked up the bamboo basket and put it over her arm. "I am going to pick some grapes," she called to her mother who was busy hanging clothes outside on the wash line.

"That will be good, Ruru. See if you can pick some kumquats too. You know how much your father enjoys them, especially when they are ripe. Try not to get covered with juice," she smiled at her daughter.

"I’ll be careful. I wont be long." Ruru headed for the woods. The air was humid and warm. It always seemed to be humid. Ruru wished that just one day it wasn’t damp and hot. Her mother had explained, ‘When you live in this part of China, this is the way it is.’

Sturdy oaks, enormous elms and fragrant pines grew not far from her house. It was rare to see grapes growing this far north, but the valley where Ruru lived was protected from the cold winds that sometimes blew ferociously in other parts of China. Ruru pushed her way through the tree branches. Pine needles, pointed, yet soft, tickled her arms as she brushed by them. She loved hearing the twigs crunch as she trampled over them. She spotted some grape vines growing up an old wire fence. She could smell them too. The fruit was fragrant, sweet smelling and dark purple. The leaves were greenish-brown. She picked several bunches off the vine, being careful to not make too big of a mess. She dropped them into the bamboo basket.

As she was picking them she heard a bird chirping. She looked into the oak tree. It spread like an umbrella, protecting the grape vines and other shrubs from the weather and relentless sun. "Hello, little bird. Are you singing for Ruru?" The nightingale warbled as Ruru continued picking the grapes. "I’m picking grapes to have later tonight. Do you like grapes?" she asked the bird. It was perched on an overhanging branch, ignoring Ruru’s questions. "That’s all right, little bird. You go ahead and sing." After she’d picked half a basketful of grapes, she said, "Little nightingale, I’m off to look for some kumquats. Do you know where they are?" Again, the bird ignored her and kept chirping. "Never mind. I’ll find them myself." She walked deeper into the woods.

Lush green ferns spread across her path. They looked like huge fans, curly at the sides and edges. Ruru climbed through them. Tiny, buttery-yellow flowers grew around the tree trunks. Ruru saw the kumquat tree. "There you are," she said, reaching for them. They were ripe, juicy looking, and a beautiful orange color that reminded Ruru of a stormy sunrise reflecting on the morning clouds. She picked several and put them in her basket. Ruru was hoping to find some limes, lemons and oranges but didn’t see any. Satisfied with a full basket, Ruru headed home.

"Mother, I’m home. I’ve got a basket of grapes and juicy kumquats." She opened the door and went inside. Her mother was pulling something out of the oven. "Did you make some almond cookies?"

"Yes, Ruru. I made them for you and your father. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll give you some," her mother said. She took several off the baking sheet and handed them to Ruru on a small plate. "When you’re finished, go and finish your chores. Your father will be home soon. I’ve made a pot of spicy lamb and rice and your favorite, eggplant."

"Does the lamb have onions and bamboo shoots?" Ruru asked.

"Many onions and cabbage. You can put bamboo shoots on the side of your plate. It smells good, doesn’t it?" her mother asked.

"Yes, Mother," she said and then ran upstairs to do her chores.

That night, Ruru and her family had a wonderful supper. Ruru showed her father the grapes and kumquats she’d picked. He was looking forward to having some later that night. When she went to bed, later on, she thought about the grapes that she’d picked and the nightingale’s sweet song.

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