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Sunday, 30 April 2017

A Journey through the Desert

(First posted in Portuguese, in March 2016)

For Julia
The Princess with the Green Slippers

'Julia! Bernardo!' shouted the Grand Master

'Julia! Julia! Bernardo! Where are you,' shouted several people at the same time.

'Juuuuliaaaah!...Julia, honey, tell us where you are!' Cried Mother Galia in her own language. She was so worried! Nobody had seen Julia since the sandstorm two days earlier. Julia was her only child. Her heart felt very heavy in her chest for she knew the caravan could not wait any longer.

A bell rings, breaking the silence of the desert. Dling-dlong-dling! It was the Grand Master calling all the workers to make a statement. Dling-dlong! It doesn't take long for a circle to be formed with all the acrobats, jugglers, dancers, clowns, the lion tamer, the fire eater, the bullet man, the fortune teller and many other circus workers.

'Very well, then, everybody's here. We can start. Despite our efforts, we have not yet been able to find Monkey Bernardo or Camela Julia. Unfortunately, we cannot delay our departure any longer. We have a three-day-journey to get to our next destination and we cannot stay here in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the desert, otherwise we might run out of supplies, water and food for us and our animals. Let's load up the camels and the wagons...We leave in two hours.

Mother Galia's eyes filled with tears. She knew she could not do anything about it. She would have to follow the rest of the caravan. But Mother Galia was a strong and sensible person, so she decided there and then that if they did not find Camel Julia on the way, she would return to fetch her calf and, with a bit of luck, her little friend, Monkey Bernardo.

Two hours later the caravan of the Fantastic Circus was on its way.

A few metres away from where the caravan had stood, two dunes seemed to come to life. Suddenly they got taller and began to jingle from side to side. No, they were not dunes. It was not sand. It was a small camel that, after waking up, noticed that she was completely covered with sand.

She got up, looked around, and recalled what had happened. Two sleeps ago, she had got up in the middle of the night to go and do a wee-wee behind a sand hill and, without any warning, the wind had sprung up, becoming angrier and angrier by the minute. As soon as she had finished doing what she had gone there to do, she saw that she was completely buried under the sand and that she could not get out on her own. She remembered calling out to her mother.

'Mother Galia! Mother Galia!' but the wind was so strong that it carried the words away in the opposite direction of where the caravan and her mother were.

At first Camel Julia was scared and she even cried a little, until she finally fell asleep and slept the longest sleep she had ever slept. She had opened her eyes a bit more than once. One of those times must have been during the day, since she had been able to see the pale sand around her nose; the other time had surely been night time, because she had not been able to see even the tip of her nose. Then she had fallen asleep once again.

She slept until the very moment in this story when the two dunes seemed to come to life. It was Camel Julia who had grown tired of lying under the sand and began to force her legs to get up. Perhaps the people at the circus and Mother Galia had not seen her, for in the desert the two humps could easily be mistaken for two little dunes.

Well, where were we? Ah, yes, Camel Julia got up, shook herself hard, and walked towards where she remembered she had left the circus caravan.

'Oh no! Mother Gaaaaaaaaaalia! Where is everyone?' cried the little camel as loud as she could.

There was nothing she could do. There was no one in sight.

Now boys and girls just come out and say it, come on. You must be thinking that Camela Julia was so desperate that she threw herself on the ground crying and screaming and kicking her legs. You're expecting that, aren't you? Well, then, I must tell you that none of this happened.

Camel Julia was a strong and smart little camel and she remembered well what her mother had taught her, 'Never despair. There is always a way out. Pay good attention to what is going on around you and learn from what the elders say.'

'That's it!' thought Camel Julia. 'The Grand Master said we were going East; that was where the small town was; that is where we'd be setting up the circus tent next…And the sun always rises on our right, in the East, and it sets on our left, in the West, she also remembered hearing someone say one day.

'The sun rose a few hours ago, so if I go towards the sun, I must be heading in the right direction.' she said.

'Julia!' shouted Monkey Bernardo out of nowhere.

'Ahhhhhhhh! What a fright!' said Camela Julia jumping backwards.

'I'm sorry my friend. I didn't mean to scare you, but I was so glad to see you that it didn't occur to me that you'd get a fright. Tell me, where's the rest of the gang?'

'Bernardo! I'm so glad to see you. I don't know where everyone is either. Two nights ago there was such a frightful gale that I was trapped under the sand. You can't imagine how hard it was to shake it off. And you? What are you doing here all by yourself?'

'As I'm quite light the wind carried me to that place over there. I was disoriented for a while, you know. Anyway, it's good to see you. But where are the others?

'I don't know.' said Camel Julia, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye. 'They must've set off again. I was just thinking about setting off myself, in that direction. Right now we must walk towards the Sun. In the afternoon, we should change direction to keep on track, I mean, to keep walking towards East.

'Yeah, you're right. There's no point staying here.

Not long after, Monkey Bernardo had already fallen behind his friend. His legs were so short that they got buried in the sand. As you can imagine, he was slowing them down. At that snail pace they would never get anywhere.

'Listen to this riddle! How do you hide a camel in the desert?' asked Monkey Bernardo, with his sense of humor back.

'Stop goofing off. I'm not in the mood for that,' replied Camel Julia.

'Ha, ha, ha! It's easy,' continued the monkey, ignoring his partner's ill-humoured temper. 'You bury him - or her - in the sand so his humps are mistaken for dunes ... Ha, ha, ha.'

'Ha-ha-ha,' chuckled Camel Julia to herself. It was actually a good hiding place. She should say.

Some time later, a gust of wind blew strong carrying the monkey through the air.

'Jump on my back, in between my humps, Bernardo. You'll be more protected.'

It took a while before Monkey Bernardo could respond to his friend's suggestion. Some sand had got into his mouth and he felt a little distressed.

'Spit, spit…Phew! I'm hungry, but sand is not what I had in mind for a meal. But now, what I really need is some water to wash my mouth and quench my thirst.' said Monkey Bernard, feeling somewhat anxious.

Camel Julia did not say anything. She was worried about her friend. She knew she could survive a long time without any food or water. After all, what use were the two humps full of good fat, if not to feed the body when it lacked food and that transparent liquid that was worth gold in desert lands? Yes, she could survive for many days without a problem, but not poor Monkey Bernardo! She did not want anything to happen to her little friend, the only one she had at the moment, for the others were in place unknown. She would have to find a cactus quickly. She could crush it with her mouth and squeeze some liquid out of it to help her friend.

Unfortunately, there were no cactuses in sight. There was only sand around them. Camel Julia was feeling really distressed and worried!

'Bernardo! Monkey Bernardo! Wake up. Look over there. Can you see that? There are two huge cactuses over there. Hang on just a bit longer, they're only a few metres away.' As soon as they reached the cactuses, Camel Julia turned her neck round, grabbed her friend by the collar - yes, Bernardo Monkey wore a shirt with collars for he was a chic monkey who danced in the show to the sound of his owner's accordion - and dropped him gently on the floor in front of her.

As she was opening her mouth to tear off a piece of the cactus, she heard a strange, squeaky voice.

'Oh dear! What are you doing? You're going to get prickly spikes stuck in your mouth, girl!'

But Camela Julia had no time to lose. She had to squeeze some cactus liquid into Monkey Bernardo's mouth before something bad happened to him. And this is what happened. Squish! Fssst! And a gush of water went straight into the monkey's dried mouth.

'Hummm...It tastes so good! Thank you Julia. If it hadn't been for you, I'd probably have died of thirst.' said Monkey Bernardo gratefully. 'But who is this...?'

'Hello. I'm Mayra, a desert lizard. Your friend is a little crazy, you know? She tore that huge piece of cactus with her mouth!'

'Hello, I'm Monkey Bernardo and this is my friend and savior, Camel Julia.'

'Sorry if I didn't speak to you sooner, but my friend was in trouble and I had to help him as soon as possible. And don't worry, can you see inside my mouth?' said Camela Júlia, opening her mouth wide, as if she were at the dentist.

'Okay,' answered Lizard Mayra, tentatively, not sure what she should be examining.

'Do you see how thick the skin in my mouth is? It's so thick, that the spines of cactuses cannot prick me. In fact, cactuses are part of my staple diet. My mother says they are good for us...'

'...and where is your mother?' interrupted Lizard Mayra. But she soon regretted asking the question when she saw Camel Julia's three strange eyelids shutting down slowly with sadness: the first one, then the other and finally the last one. How strange, she thought and then added, 'Oh, sorry, I didn't want to make you sad.
'Do you remember the sandstorm two days ago?' asked Macaco Bernardo. 'Because of it Camel Julia and I were separated from our group. We're heading East to try and find them.em.

"Well, my friends. You'll find them for sure. The important thing is not to lose hope...Okay, now I'm going to continue hunting for my dinner,' said Lizard Mayra. She turned away and went in search of some scorpion or snake to take home for dinner.

It was nightfall when the two desert travellers decided to call it a day. They would never find their way forward with the mere light of the stars.

Monkey Bernardo found some dry blades of grass and some sort of ants for dinner. It was not a tasty dinner at all, but enough to fool his stomach. Camel Julia had eaten the cactus a little while back, so she was fine.
'We should tuck in early so we can set off again at dawn.' said the wise camel, taking the lead of their adventure.

'Julia?' called the monkey in an embarrassed tone.


'Do you think I can cuddle against your neck? Nights in the desert can get really cold. It's so strange, during the day you can hardly walk in the sun because of the heat but…'

'Sure. I'd actually like that. I usually, well, I used to snuggle against my mother, amongst the rest of the flock, so I never used to feel cold but now…'

'A flock? Why on earth are you talking about a flock of birds now?'

'Oh, Bernardo, you're always so distracted. Don't you remember learning the collective nouns for groups of animals? A caravan or a flock is a group of camels; a troop is a group of monkeys...then there’s a pack of dogs; a herd of oxen, buffalo or elephants; a....'

'Okay, I get it, I get it.' said the monkey, on the one hand feeling slightly annoyed by the grammar lesson his friend was giving him, on the other hand, proud to have such a smart friend. 'You know, Julia, it's not that I'm not interested in learning, it's just sometimes there are so many beautiful and interesting things around us that I end up getting a tad sidetracked.'

'Brrrrr! It's really cold. I wish my mother were here with us,' said Camel Julia quietly.

'Don't be sad, Julia. You'll see, tomorrow we'll be luckier. Good night.'

'Good night, Bernardo. I'm glad you're here with me.'

'So am I. Can you imagine what would have happened to me alone in this desert? With the heat it makes during the day and the lack of water, I would have turned into a slab of salt cod by now.'

'Oh, Bernardo, you’re so silly sometimes.'

The laughter of the two friends broke the silence of the night. Monkey Bernardo was really funny. Salt cod! What a strange and hilarious image!

The next morning Camela Julia and Bernardo Macaco woke up with the first rays of sunlight. They got up slowly and stretched out their bodies in very amusing ways. Since there was nothing to eat for breakfast, they set off imediately in the direction of the sun.

Though it was really early the brightness of the sun was almost unbearable. It was way too bright. So bright that poor Monkey Bernardo had to put his neck scarf over his eyes.
'This morning light is too intense for me.' he said. 'But the sunhine doesn’t seem to affect you so much, does it, Julia?'

'Oh, Bernardo, that’s beacause I'm a desert animal. I'm just better prepared for the weather here: my skin is so hard that the spines of cacti cannot pierce it. And have you noticed the thick eyelashes I have?'

'Yes, and you have 3 sets of them, too. Why is that?'

'Both my eyelashes and my eyelids are used to prevent sand from coming into my eyes. But I also think they protect me from the sunlight.'

A few minutes later Camel Julia’s heart began to beat faster. She blinked five times in a row to be sure of what she was seeing. In the distance, she could see the silhouette of another camel. But that walk. That walk, was strangely familiar.

'Bernardo, Bernardo, quick uncover your eyes! What do you see over there.'

'Hold on. What? I can't see anything! What did you expect me to see?' asked Monkey Bernardo, slightly annoyed at having to face the sunlight again. 'Oh, wait, I think I see something too. It's big and it looks like it's running in our direction. I think it's going to attack us, run Julia, run!'
'Don't be silly, Bernardo. Calm down. I think, it's my mother,' said Camela Julia, with a shaky voice.

'Julia! Julia!'

'Mummy! Mummy! Is that really you?'

'Julia! My beautiful baby! I was so afraid I had lost you.'

'Oh Mummy, I missed you so much! I thought I'd never see you again. What happened?'
Half an hour later, Mother Galia had told them her story and so had the youngsters theirs. They were all so very happy.

'Now, let's hurry up and see if we can catch up with the rest of the caravan. It’s behind that third dune.' said Mother Galia.

'And are you sure that's really a sand dune and not a camel's hump?' asked Monkey Bernardo cheekily.
'Bernardo!' shouted Mother Galia and Camela Julia at the same time.

But everyone had a good laugh. Laughing was good to relax after the tough times they had been through.

'Moving on... said Mother Galia wisely, 'let's go and meet the rest of the caravan. I'm sure we'll all be having a party before we resume our journey to the next town. Come on, my beautiful children, all's well that ends well!'

© Paula do Amaral, March 2016

For the Portuguese version, please go to :   


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

A Piscina Mágica

Para minha afilhada Lara,
Meu lindo raio de sol.

Era muito cedo pela manhã e Otto, o Polvo, ainda estava a dormir na sua piscina de bolas coloridas. De repente, ouviu-se um splash enorme e uma bola verde veio lançada pelo ar, acertando-lhe na cabeça.

«Au!» Otto gritou, assarapantado. «O que foi isso?» disse o polvo, olhando à volta. Estava muito confuso e zangado. Ninguém gosta de ser acordado assim.

Otto vê algo a saltar por entre as cores do arco-íris, ofegante e a gritar por ajuda. (Socorro! Socorro!) Um momento depois, não se vê nada.

Não, lá está outra vez!

«O que será isso?» o Polvo Otto está muito curioso. Ele arrasta-se por entre as bolas da piscina até ao local onde toda a excitação se passa, chegando mesmo na hora certa para agarrar a criatura esbracejante com dois de seus longos braços.

«Epá! Acalma-te. Descansa que não te podes afogar nesta piscina porque não há água. Olha, é uma piscina mágica!»

Antes de conseguir dizer alguma coisa, a criatura pára de pontapear e agitar os braços e só depois é que olha à sua volta.

«Oh! Julguei que desta vez estava mesmo numa alhada.» disse ele, olhando diretamente nos olhos do polvo. «Obrigado. Salvaste a minha vida.»

«De nada. Sou o Polvo Otto e esta é minha piscina ... Bem, é a piscina da Bebé Lara, mas eu moro aqui. Quem és tu? E por que é que estás aqui ainda de pijama?»

«Sou o Koby.» disse o Urso Coala, corando. «Às vezes ando a pé quando estou a dormir e vou parar a lugares muito estranhos.»

«Bom, tiveste muita sorte desta vez. A Bebé Lara é uma amiga maravilhosa e este é um lugar fantástico para se estar.» disse Otto.

Otto mergulhou sob as bolas coloridas e pulou de novo para cima.

«Vem. Vou ajudar-te até à borda da piscina, e depois vou buscar uma bóia salva-vidas para podermos falar mais um pouco.»

Não demorou muito para que Otto voltasse com uma linda bóia cor-de-rosa. Os dois novos amigos passaram o resto do dia a conversar e a brincar na mágica e caleidoscópica piscina de bolas.

For the English version, please go to:

© Paula do Amaral

If you enjoyed reading this story please click g+1 and/or leave a comment.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Dreadful Dragon Heavy-Foot

(First posted in Portuguese, in March 2011, when J. was 5 
years old)

For my niece, Jessica

Long ago when animals used to speak, there was a palace in the Kingdom of Flowers with a king, a queen, and a princess.

Despite it's beautiful name – the Kingdom of Flowers – the people who lived there were not very happy. Their misfortune had begun seven years earlier, when Dragon Heavy-Foot moved to the nearby hills. He was a huge dragon that made the ground tremble when he walked. But that was not all! No, to keep him out of their houses, the elderly had to comply with the dragon's demands: every three months a girl would have to be delivered to him. No one knew what the dragon did to the girls. They only knew that the girls were never seen again. It's like they disappeared into thin air.

It was once again time to give another girl to the dragon, and everyone was even sadder than usual. There were only two girls left in the kingdom: Princess Jessica and her best friend, Constance. The girls' names were written on two pieces of paper and put inside a hat for a name to be picked at random. The king's hands trembled as he unfolded the slip of paper.

'Constance!' said the king with a sad, shaky voice. He was also somewhat relieved that his daughter had once again escaped the sacrifice. However, she would only be safe for another three months.

'No!' cried Princess Jessica. 'I'm going with Constance. No one will ever split us up!'

And that is what happened. Hand in hand, Princess Jessica and her best friend, Constance, climbed up Dragon Heavy-Foot's mountain. To soothe their fear, they decided to sing the song of the ducklings that swam over the hills and far away and each time they returned home there was always one missing, until there were none left ... But when mother duck quacked out really loudly, all the the little ducklings came swimming back.

When they reached the dragon's cave, the two girls were not crying as the other girls had been. This surprised Dragon Heavy-Foot who, for the first time, spoke with his victims.

'Hmmmm! I smell a rat!' said Dragon Heavy-Foot in an angry voice. 'This time they've send me two of you, and you don't look in the least bit scared. What are you up to?'

'Well, you're wrong, Mr. Dragon!" replied Princess Jessica. 'We're the last two girls from the Kingdom of Flowers, and I did not want Constance to come alone. She is my best friend ...'

'That's right. We're really close. We're also scared, but we're together... and we have each other's backs.' added Constance.

'Well, you both have long hair ... yum-yum ... Good! It looks like I'm going to have a feast today!'

Clever as she was, Princess Jessica noticed there was something strange about the dragon's words, so she decided to ask him there and then to clarify what he meant.

'Hmm-hmm,' she said, clearing her throat. 'Excuse me, Mr. Dragon. What difference does it make whether we've got short hair or long hair? If you're going to eat us anyway, the length of our hair shouldn't matter at all.'

'Ha! Ha! Ha! What's your name, little girl?'

'Hey! You mustn't talk to my friend like that.' said Constance, somewhat astonished by the dragon's lack of courtesy to the princess. 'She's...'

'What she means is that I'm Henry's cousin, have you met him?' interrupted Princess Jessica, lying to the dragon. She thought it was better not to tell him who she really was. 'My name is Jessica. And you still haven't answered my question!'

'Who on earth told you that I was going to eat you? I'm just interested in your hair ...'

'But, then, where are all the other girls who have been sent here?' asked Princess Jessica feeling very intrigued.

'There's a garden on the other side of my cave … You can find them there. I do not know why, but they always cry when I gobble up their hair, and then they do not want to go back home ...

'They must be ashamed to go back looking like boys.' the princess said softly and almost crying. She did not want to go back home with no hair either.

'I don't know anything about that.' All I know is that their hair is long again when they decide to leave the cave, and I eat it up again before they can escape …' On saying this, Dragon Heavy-Foot licks his lips in anticipation of the beautiful double treat in front of him and moves closer to the two girls.

'Halt! said Princess Jessica in a stately tone. Then, in a more gentle and humble tone she added, 'Just a few more questions ... if I may, Mr. Dragon.'

Dragon Heavy-Foot stopped and, for the first time in many centuries, smiled from ear to ear. He found this little girl with a questioning tongue quite amusing. No one had ever bothered to talk to him. For the first time, he felt like he was actually socializing with other beings.

'So what is it this time?'

'Why do you only eat the girls' hair and not the boys' or even the adults' hair?'

'The thing is... Hmmm … let me see if I can explain this. When I first went down to your kingdom everyone used to run away from me and hid in places I couldn't find them. Well, except for the girls. I found them because I could smell their scent. You know, girls usually smell better than boys, maybe because of the shampoo they use, I do not know. They were just easier to find. Then, when the elderly people of the land came to negotiate with me, they started sending me only girls.'
'A-ha! Since you only caught the girls, they must have thought you only wanted them... Constance, I have a plan. Come on, stop crying! It's okay, we'll let him eat our hair, then we'll go and get the other girls and we''ll all go back home together!

'What on earth are you saying? I don't want to be bald!'

'We won't end up bald.' said the princess. 'We'll just have short hair. Don't you go to the hairdresser's every once in a while? ... Look at it this way, we'll be creating a new short-hair fashion. Anyway, it'll soon grow back!' Then looking back at the dragon she began to negotiate:

'You heard that, didn't you, Mr. Dragon? You can eat our hair, but not all of it. Then when we get back to my kingdom, I'll find a way to send you a basket full of hair every week. Picture that, every single week, a basket full of yummy hair! Had you explained your situation properly to the elders of the kingdom, you would have had hair to eat more regularly.'

'Come again? You mean, a basket of hair per week?' asked the dragon.

'In our kingdom there are hairdressers and barbers whose job it is to cut people's hair." We all cut our hair regularly and willingly.

'And what do you do hairdressers and barbers do with the hair that they've cut?'

'That's exactly what I'm trying to explain to you: we do not have much use for it. Hair that's still in good condition can be used to make wigs ... otherwise, most of it goes straight into the garbage bin.'

'What?!? I can't believe my ears!' said the dragon, putting his hands on his head and shaking it in disbelief. 'How can you do such an awful thing?'

'Well, nobody knew you liked hair!' said Constance, with a sigh of relief.

And that's how it all happened. As soon as the dragon ate their hair, the two friends went to get the other girls, who now lived in the garden on the other side of the dragon's cave. As soon as they saw Princess Jessica, also with short hair, and they heard her plan, they were all thrilled and full of hope.

It was singing the song of the little ducklings, that the group of girls descended the mountain, back to the warmth and protection of their parents, uncles, grandparents, brothers and cousins. 

A General Assembly was called and the little princess explained her plan to her parents, the King and Queen, and the rest of the population at he same time.

What a simple solution to your problem!  Everyone was very proud of the little princess who would one day become their fair and just queen.

'Just one more thing,' said the little teary-eyed princess. 'I wasn't the only brave one. If Constance hadn't been by my side, it might not have been so easy to talk to Dragon Heavy-Foot. We backed each other up, and I'm extremely grateful that she never let go of my hand. You know, I think I've learnt a very important lesson: we may be able to solve our problems on our own, but it's together that we find the courage to face them.

'Long live our Princess!' cried out the subjects of the Kingdom of Flowers. 'Long live our Princess and her faithful friend Constance!'

And it must have been at this point in time that a new popular saying emerged: "Out of the mouths of children comes the wisdom of the world."

© Paula do Amaral