Culture and Religion, Stories

The beginning of an unusual friendship

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‘Tola, Tola! Come back, or we’ll get into trouble again’ called Rascal, although he knew his little friend wouldn’t pay attention to what he was saying.

That’s why Rascal was running after her as fast as he could, constantly tripping over snowbound stones.

Tola finally stopped and turned to Rascal after hiding behind a molehill.

‘Rascal, look! There’s something important happening. There are so many birds,’ Tola said in awe.

In fact there were dozens of birds gathered at the bottom of the hill. There were storks, common cranes, owls, woodpeckers and even a few little sparrows. Every bird had a notebook and was busy writing something. Tola even spotted a falcon strolling between the other birds. The falcon looked like the oldest and definitely the most dangerous of them. He had a black leather hat covering almost all of his face, so that Tola and Rascal were able to see only his black, piercing eyes. The falcon was pointing at something from time to time and other birds were answering questions.

‘Tola, we’d better go back,’ said Rascal. ‘This falcon doesn’t look friendly.’

‘Oh, that’s nonesen…’ Tola began, but didn’t manage to finish. When she tried to lean from behind the molehill, she slipped and grabbed Rascal’s hand to stop herself from falling. Unfortunately, instead of stopping, she pulled the dog after her. Within a second, the two animals became a ball rolling down the hill.

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‘Aaaaah….!!!’

BAM!

They landed at the bottom of the hill and hit a little owl standing at the back. The owl lost her balance which caused her to throw a round silver object up in the air. The owl quickly jumped and caught the shiny thing with her wing. When she landed, she hid the object under her left wing, covering the two strangers at the same time.

‘Pola, what happened?!’ asked the sharp voice of the falcon.

His voice was so fierce that Tola and Rascal shivered. The little cat spotted the falcon staring at the wing. The owl raised it again, carefully covering the newcomers. This time Tola didn’t manage to see anything.

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The owl trembled after hearing the falcon, but answered his question.

‘What happened? Nothing… nothing at all…’ she said.

Silence fell in the clearing. Birds turned around to look at her and now they were all staring at the frightened owl.

‘Are you sure?’ the falcon asked loudly. ‘I’ve heard some noise!’ He was looking at the owl’s wing with growing suspicion. Finally, he shouted ‘what are you hiding there, under your wing? Show it to me, Pola!’

The owl moved her wing back swiftly and pushed the two friends behind her back. Then, she moved her wing up and said calmly, despite feeling her legs shaking.

‘There’s nothing here, I swear. It was a rock that fell down the hill that made the noise.’

The falcon was staring at the owl for quite a while but finally ordered everyone to turn around and went on to explain the next topic of his class.

The falcon’s gaze scared Tola and Rascal so much that they froze and didn’t even move their tails. They had been standing still for a few minutes, which seemed to be hours, before the bird’s meeting finally ended and all birds – including the falcon – flew away. The owl stayed behind and pretended to write something in her notebook. When she was sure they were alone, she turned around to little playful animals and asked a question, visibly annoyed.

‘Who are you and what are you doing here?!’ she yelled, but didn’t sound as fierce as the falcon.

‘I’m Rascal and this is my friend Tola, woof, woof’ answered the dog firmly.

‘If I didn’t cover you with my wing, Mr Grozek would surely have punished you for disturbing his class’ she said angrily.

So this was a class, not a secret bird meeting, thought Rascal and immediately felt relieved. He wondered what the class was learning about. He never managed to ask his question because his friend spoke first.

‘Oh, thank you so much for saving us’ said Tola, sounding as sweet as possible. ‘From this time on, you’re my best friend. I think it’s destiny, Tola and Pola… ohh,’ she added, making goo-goo eyes.

‘What?’ The owl was so surprised that she didn’t know what to do. ‘You better give me back the thing I dropped and get out of here,’ she said, this time much more calmly.

‘What is it?’ asked Tola, giving Pola the object. ‘I bet it’s important if you hid it.’

‘Maybe,’ snarled the owl.

‘Oh, why can’t you tell us what this is?’ Tola insisted, not aware of the fact that she shouldn’t ask so many questions to the stranger.

Pola didn’t say a thing… she wasn’t sure whether she should answer this question. She thought about it more and decided that a cat and a dog surely wouldn’t tell Mr Grozek that she has a…

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‘Compass, it’s an old compass’ she said after a while. ‘It shows directions.’

Pola looked at Tola and Rascal and saw they had no idea what she was talking about. ‘For example, it will show where my house is and where my granny’s house is… of course if you know whether they’re located to the north or to the south,’ she smiled, thinking that animals still didn’t know what the compass was.

‘Oh, and how does it work?’ asked Tola, looking at the owl with admiration as if she was the wisest person in the whole world.

‘Don’t ask so many questions,’ Rascal finally interrupted her. ‘Hey, owl, thanks for the rescue but we have to go now. Come on, Tola, woof, woof.’

But Tola didn’t even think of going home, she was still looking at the owl.

After a moment of hesitation, Pola reached a small pocket and took out the compass. She placed it on her hand and then…

‘Ooooh no, no, no! Why is my compass all covered with black hair?’ cried the owl. Pola realised the hair looked exactly like Tola’s fur and she looked angrily at the perpetrator.

‘Oh, meow,’ Tola meowed silently, hiding her tail behind her and lowering her head. ‘I… I didn’t mean to do it… I stuck the hair into the compass to decorate it. I thought it would look better then.’

‘Better?!’ asked surprised Pola. ‘My goodness, why did I rescue you?’ she said to herself and started to clean the compass.

‘Oh…’ Tola moaned. ‘Do you need this compass? Did I break it?’ she asked, concerned.

‘Yes,’ said the owl, still annoyed. ‘I’m going to visit my granny Amalia in Ukraine. It’s Christmas there in two days… you know, it’s Orthodox Christmas and I promised to be there but I can only find my way with the help of this compass. But now…’

Suddenly, Rascal tore the compass out of Pola’s hand, wagged it a few times and took a small stick out of his pocket. He used it to move the compass needle which helped to remove all the hair. ‘Done! Here you are.’

Rascal was about to leave the clearing but his friend, as stubborn as a mule, asked Pola another question.

‘Can we come with you for Christmas? I’ve never been to…’

Rascal covered Tola’s mouth with his hand.

‘No, now we really need to go! Tola was just joking… argh!’ he cried suddenly, because Tola bit his paw.

‘Rascal! What are you doing?’ called Tola, visibly outraged by Rascal’s behaviour.

Instead of answering the question, the little owl started to jump from one foot to the other and shake her head – it looked like a peculiar dance. Then, she started to alternatively cover and uncover her mouth with her wing. Finally, she spoke.

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‘My granny has always told me that I can’t refuse when somebody wants to come for Christmas dinner and spend this special day with us. So if you want to come to Ukraine for Christmas, then… well…’

She shook her head one more time, as if she didn’t want to say that. ‘I invite you.’

She took a deep breath and pulled a face thinking about what she had just said. ‘But if you don’t want to come, I’ll entirely understand your decision and won’t insist on your trip to Ukraine,’ she said, looking at Rascal with hope and this time it was her face that was telling: Please, tell Tola you don’t want to go.

‘Yes, we’d love to!’ cried Tola before Rascal managed to utter a word.

‘But it will be cold there… the deeper into the continent, the colder it gets,’ added the owl.

‘We’ll take our caps with us, right?’ said Tola cheerfully.

‘Tola, we’re not birds, I’m sure we can’t sit at one table with owls,’ said Rascal.

‘Oh, that’s not truth! No matter who you are and where you come from, everybody’s equal at the table during Christmas… everyone is the family friend!’ exclaimed Pola.

‘That’s wonderful!’ Tola jumped with joy and accidentally pushed the compass off Pola’s hand. ‘Where and at what time shall we meet?’ She asked, wagging her tail. Tola gave the compass back to Pola and looked cheerfully at her two gloomy friends.

 

Where did they travel and how did they celebrate Orthodox Christmas? You’ll find out next week.

Questions to careful listeners

  1. Count all the bird species you remember were present in the clearing.
  2. What is the name of the object that Tola pushed off the owl’s hand?
  3. How did the owl hide the dog and the cat form the falcon?
  4. Did Mr Grozek look scary?
  5. What feast did Pola invite animals to?
  6. Did Pola want to invite the strangers for Orthodox Christmas?

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