Sheila Wee  Singapore    

 
THE RICE DREAMER

There once was a boy.
A boy from Japan.
A hungry boy.
A boy who loved rice.

He had only tasted rice a few time in his life; 
but all day he thought about rice, 
all night he dreamed about rice.

Now this would have been okay, if he had lived today.
But he didn’t.
He lived long ago. 
He was not rich, 
he was poor; and the poor could not afford to eat rice.

But…..
He was an apprentice at a temple, 
and they had RICE at the temple.

But….
It was a poor temple, 
and the old priest only served rice when there were visitors.
And visitors did not come often to that old temple high in the mountains. 

So the boy sometimes got a smell of rice.
Sometimes a taste of rice.
A mouthful, or two, or three.
But never enough.

Every day the boy hoped for visitors.
Every day the boy longed for visitors. 

And when visitors did come, he watched the old priest like a hawk.
Watching and waiting, watching and waiting…to see how much rice he should cook. 
Sometimes old priest would lift up his hand and show one finger.
That meant the boy should cook one bowl of rice.  
Sometimes old priest would lift up his hand and show two fingers.
That meant the boy should cook two bowls of rice.  

Two bowls of rice divided between so many people, meant that there was hardly any left over for the boy. 
So the boy watched, the boy waited, the boy hoped.
He hoped that one day the priest would show more than two fingers;
that one day he could have a whole bowl of rice to himself. 

One day some visitors arrived,
They sat down with the old priest.
He talked to them and gave them his blessings.

The boy stood at the back of the room.
Watching and waiting for the signal. 
Hoping the signal would be for more than two bowls.
Maybe today the priest would show three fingers.
Maye even four. 

The boy waited and waited, but no signal came.
 It was long past lunch time; but no signal came.  

Suddenly the old priest pushed himself up, 
He walked quickly out of the room, holding his stomach.

He must be hungry, thought the boy, as the old priest made his way outside.
The boy followed behind, watching for the priest to lift up his fingers.
Waiting for the signal.

The old priest clutched his stomach and gave a groan.
Oh he’s really hungry, thought the boy. Today he will surely tell me to cook more than two bowls.
But the old priest did not lift up any fingers.
He just clutched his stomach and walked faster. 

The boy trotted along behind him, not looking at where he was going;
just watching for the signal and dreaming of bowls and bowls of steaming rice. 

The old priest entered the outhouse 
The door swung shut behind him.
Before the boy had time to think, there was a scream. 
Gyaaa! Gyaaa! Gyaaa!

The boy opened the door.
There was the priest. He had fallen down the toilet hole.
Gyaaa! Gyaaa! Gyaaa! Screamed the priest, raising his hands in the air.  

The boy stood frozen for a moment
And then turned and ran toward the kitchen, with a huge grin on his face.
TEN FINGERS! TEN FINGERS!  
TEN BOWLS OF RICE! TEN BOWLS OF RICE! 
Today I will cook TEN BOWLS OF RICE! 

Copyright Sheila Wee, December 2015.


This story is retold  and recrafted with permission from the story How Much Rice in Folktales from the Japanese Countryside as told by Hiroko Fujita. Edited by Fran Stallings, with Harold Wright and Miki Sakurai (World Folklore Series) Published by Libraries Unlimited Inc, 2008.