the dabberstone Nov 22, 2021

One day when the old potter had been lying in bed all day, she called Deelie to her and said, “When I die, this house and all my land will belong to you. The people of Split know that if a master dies with no children, he often leaves his things to his apprentices. But not all masters do that. I have been lying here thinking about how to make sure you don’t have any trouble, and I think I have it. “ She asked her to get Tma to go, the next day to fetch a certain man, one of the prominent men of Split. “After he comes I will have one more thing for you to do. “

The important man came, and Grandmother told him her wishes in Deelie’s presence. “If anyone disputes her right to this place, I want you to testify on her behalf. “ The next day she sent for another prominent man of Split and told him the same thing. When he had gone Grandmother told them, “Those two men have been enemies since they were children. They will never combine together for any reason. I had thought of getting two witnesses, but I worried they might conspire to lie about it to give the place to a relative of one of them or to someone who bribed them. “

Tma said, “Where I was working with the brothers, people have a custom of writing down their wishes for what is to be done with their belongings and having others witness it. “ “ There is no one in Split who can read and write, “ said Grandmother. “I can. “said Tma. “Yes, but who will be able to read it? If no one can read it, what good will it do to have it written?

Whether it was the load off her mind or something else, Grandmother Potter was at her worktable the next day, and the day after that was livelier than they had seen her for months, telling stories and singing with the children. After she and Tma had each told them stories, one of the little girls began to tell a story about the little fire-people who lived in the kiln, but only came alive when it was burning. They all listened with all their power of attention; she had such a quiet voice. When she was done no one spoke for a minute.

“Where did you hear that story? Tma finally asked. “I have travelled in more than one country and listened to storytellers from many more, but I have never heard anything like it. “

“I saw it in the night. Those stories come to me when I sleep, but if I don’t listen I forget them. Sometimes even if I do. “ “We won’t forget it. “ said Aluli. “Neither will I, “said Tma. “In fact, I will write it down. “ „Teach me how! “ said Aluli, and the quiet girl who had told the story said, very quietly, that she’d like to learn too. Tma knew how to write with a pen and ink on parchment, but they didn’t have any parchment, so he began showing them with marks made with a sharpened stick in a flat slab of soft clay.

So, they added reading and writing to their activities, but always in a spirit of fun and never for a very long time, except for a couple of kids who undertook on their own initiative to spend hours practicing. One of them invented a whole new set of letters, different from the ones Tma had shown them.

Somehow, with Grandmother joining in, it added energy and enthusiasm to their gatherings, although you might have expected the presence of an old person to have the opposite effect.

But one day when it was beginning to get cold, when the rain and mud were not many days away, but had not come yet, Grandmother did not come to her worktable. After a time Deelie went to see if she was sick. The old potter was not breathing. She called Tma and he could find no trace of life either.

He came out and told the children, “Our Grandmother has left us. Her time in this world has run out. I must go and read from the book my teacher gave me, in case it will help her on her way. It is a way we have all gone before, but it is said it is easy to get confused. He said these readings would help keep a person who is on that path from losing his way. “ He got his book and went into the old potter’s room to read by her bedside.

Deelie got all the children who were there and asked if they would sit down with her to wish Grandmother Potter well and give thanks for her. While they were sitting in silence a few more arrived, but they just joined the circle.

For three days Tma spent time by her bed every day with his book. At the end of that time, he loaded the old woman’s body on his donkey and went to the foot of the hill, and buried it. Deelie told him the potter had said that when she died, they should plant a tree on her grave. Tma had the seed of a fruit tree he had brought from a far place. He asked if he could plant that one, since she herself came from a far place. “If it doesn’t grow, we can plant something else. “

After Grandmother was gone the feeling of being there was different. Deelie was the one to ask. There was nobody she had to ask. It was her house now. Deelie and Tma were a team. Some things he did; some things she did; some things they both did sometimes together, sometimes separately.

The children were not much bigger, but they were growing. And learning. Whenever something had to be done, some of them, often all of them, wanted to help. They almost always got to try, and at some jobs, they did a lot of work. With the garden and the chickens, all of them, including Deelie herself, had a better diet than before.

When the weather got colder, Tma cleaned out Grandmother’s room and moved into it. In the middle of winter, Deelie moved into it, too, into Grandmother’s bed which was big enough for two.

One day Aluli’s brother asked, “What’s it called when you’re going the other way? Tma looked rather blank for a couple of seconds. Then he asked, “What do you mean? “I mean, Split is called Split because the one road that goes over the mountain splits into two when it goes down into the valleys. But if you’re going the other way the two roads turn into one road. What’s it called when roads do that? “ I guess you’d call it a junction. “ “Why is it called Split, then; why isn’t it called Junction?

“I don’t know. It was named a long time ago and I don’t suppose anybody knows the real story of how it got its name. Maybe it was named by somebody who had just come over the mountains. There’s probably a perfectly good reason. But, to tell the truth, since the first time I passed through, I have always wondered whether it is because of the way people of Split look on the bad or unhappy side of things more than the happy side. “

During the winter a couple of fathers in Split came to ask Tma if he’d teach their sons to read and write. They had heard that he was teaching some of the little kids. They offered him the use of a room and to pay him for each student. He agreed to do it provided, he could put any boys out of class if they wouldn’t follow his rules. He told them he was doubtful about taking anybody older than 10 years, but he’d try it for a few days.

Every boy had to have something to write with and something to write on. That took some experimenting, because nobody in Split was used to the problem; they never wrote anything. They arrived with a motley assortment of supplies, but one had a piece of soft yellowish rock that would mark on various different surfaces and one boy had a piece of slate someone had brought from somewhere. They asked the boy with the soft stone that would mark to get some more and Tma said he’d talk with Deelie about making some flat tiles to write on.

But Tma spoke to them all about behaviour. He said that wise people had discovered that if people were trying to learn something in a place and there was something about that place they didn’t like to think of, they wouldn’t remember very well what they were trying to learn there. So, they should refrain from saying angry words or curses.

So, he taught them to write and to read. But there wasn’t anything to read because nobody had been writing in Split. Tma had a few books, but they were in his teacher’s language, not the language of Split. He translated some passages from them out onto wooden boards, in big letters, always something that would introduce a different way of thinking than the usual one of Split. He wrote passages of his own, with ideas he wanted them to think about.

One quiet boy gradually began to follow him around, to volunteer to clean the classroom, to help with whatever he could. Eventually, Tma brought him home to help with some work the little children weren’t big enough to do. He came more and more and never made a disturbance, though he didn’t contribute much joy or beauty, or any of the things the younger ones were learning. He was just a dependable, hardworking, serious boy.

Going to teach the class took Tma into Split much more often. That had been something he had avoided. He had spent long hours in meditation, under the direction of his teacher, and could feel the misery, the rancour, spite, vengefulness, and contention of Split all around him, even if, as sometimes happened, there was no one in the street.

But now sometimes he heard joyful laughter of children and not the malicious laughter that had once been the only kind to be heard in Split, he wondered if it was his imagination that it was happening oftener. It was always the voices of young children.

One day he heard laughter once on the way in and twice on the way back, and heard happy singing as well. There were some cursing voices, too, but far enough away for their words to be indistinguishable. Then he passed two boys talking and overheard what they said. He slowed a little, to listen. “If I were you, I’d get even with him, if I had to wait years for the chance. “ “Naw, it’s not worth it. It would do me more harm than it would him. “ “But my father says . . . “ „Yeah, I know. My father says the same thing. But, you know, I heard some little kids say that going around thinking of how to get revenge is like having worms eating your spirit and not picking them off. And I thought about it, and they’re right. Funny how little kids could know, could say something wise like that, but it’s true. “

Tma kept on home. When he got there, he told Deelie about his day, about the laughter and the songs, and especially about the two boys. “The change has begun. The healing of Split. It will take years to be completed, maybe longer than our lifetimes, but it has truly begun. “ They gathered to go into the silence before they ate and Tma said “You know how, when someone is sick, we try to make ourselves like hollow reeds for healing to come through. Well, let us do the same now for Split. It has been sick for a long time, but I think it can start to get well now. “

Aluli said, “That’s what we always do when I take some kids down by the river. “Nobody else said anything. They were all silent for longer than usual before a meal, and when they began to eat it was almost still in silence, they did it.

After they ate, some went outside. Some lay down to take naps. Tma and Deelie stood with one arm around each other’s back, looking at the sleeping children on the floor and the playing ones outside. Deelie said “I think this is almost the day I dreamed about. It seems so long ago now. “ She told Tma the dream she’d had of the house being their house, hers and his, long before Grandmother Potter died, when she didn’t even really know him yet. “It is not quite like my dream yet. Aluli was older. I can’t remember the other children well enough to know who they were, but some of them were older than any of them are now. But maybe that day will come. “ While they were still standing, Aluli’s brother came in. “I have been talking to the other kids. When we grow up, when we are the grown-up people of Split, we are going to change the name of Split to Junction! “

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