Thursday, 16 January 2014

Common Toad

Once upon a time there was a common toad who was obsessed with finding himself a thumb-sized wife. He was convinced he would become a prince if he married a girl who was petite and slender. But discovering one was proving difficult for they were as rare as precious metals and didn't like ponds, marshes or rice paddies. As a tadpole, his mother had told him stories of how small daughters were found in cabbages, red peppers, garlic bulbs and bamboo stalks; she told him of their wit and beauty and how they made obedient wives and blessed their husbands with long life and good fortune. Now grown, Bufo was desperate for such riches and longevity, and so he left his mother at home and made for the bamboo forest.
With other sons of commoners, he set out on this pilgrimage, but it was many weary months before they reached the edge of the bamboo forest. They mostly slept during the day and travelled slowly and ungainly at night, and in bad weather supped delicacies together: beetles, slugs and flies washed down with warm sake, or competed against one another in short jump. The night the Bamboo Cutter's barn-like building finally came into view, they kowtowed to the ground: they had made it! By morning they would no longer be brothers.
Every single son wanted to be the first one to meet the old man who harvested the bamboo. Bufo, the commonest of common toads, didn't push himself forward, he hung back and watched the others as they clamoured and shoved. The Bamboo Cutter before them was of coarse, peasant stock, and so they were rather taken aback by his noble voice: Welcome common sons! The folk tales are true - my small daughters are born from stalks of bamboo, and two having reached their full height are ripe to be sold off. My wife will show you to your living quarters where you must gather your strength for there will be impossible tasks! And with that, he beckoned to his wife and dismissed them.
Moriko and Yoshie watched their adopted mother proceed to lead this troop of common sons to their death. Only a few would survive to claim their prize, that of a thumb-sized bride, and neither Moriko or Yoshie wanted to be a little wife or mother. Why couldn't they remain just a small daughter instead? Their older sisters had been married off to rats and roaches and with many unripe sisters to clothe and feed, they were the next in line. In a short time, they would no longer be called daughters of this residence.
Unbeknownst to these two as they contemplated their wart-covered suitors, Bufo had stayed behind to study them. Moriko in the maple leaf furisode was slim and striking, while Yoshie, stood next to her, sparkled in thin grey silk. Both were equal in thumb-size height and natural beauty. Bufo was captivated by their neatly coiled black shiny hair and delicate features, so much so that he stay hidden and followed their movements.
He traced their steps as they walked through the bamboo forest and paused beside a rich gold stream. Moriko and Yoshie both cupped their hands and drank from it, but Bufo when he copied them found he could not stop. With each cupful, his thirst became more unquenchable, and as he continued to drink his body swelled. He puffed up... and up... and burst, shedding his skin in tattered pieces, and emerged as a fire-breathing dragon.
Moriko and Yoshie instantly seized this unexpected opportunity and begged Bufo to fly them to The Capital of the Moon, where he was rewarded for his greed with further riches and immortality.

*Inspired by a Japanese folktale: The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.