the dabberstone Nov 01, 2021

One day three strangers and five donkeys came over the path to the potter’s house. One of them asked, “Is the girl who draws here?” They all looked at each other rather blankly. “What do you mean? Deelie asked. The man took out one of the clay tiles Aluli scratched a picture on and said that he had seen that in Split and he had asked who did it. “He said that there is a girl who does things like that and I’d probably find her here. “ When Aluli said, “I did that one. “, and everyone else agreed it seemed as if the man was at a loss for what to say. He looked back and forth at their faces, as if for a sign they spoke in jest. After a little while, he said, “I thought it would be an older girl. “But he and his friends sat down on the ground with the children and looked at their drawings in clay and the little figurines Aluli made.

“We have passed through Split before. It is the only place we have ever been where nobody sings or plays music, nobody grows flowers, nobody draws or paints or makes jewellery or even beautiful clothes. There is no fun in Split. Where do you come from? You can’t come from Split! “, Deelie and Aluli explained, they all came from Split, but they gathered at the potter’s house for a place where there was peace from the way it was there.

“We sit in silence, we sing, we look for beautiful flowers, we draw, and everything they don’t understand in Split. “

The man who had brought Aluli’s drawing asked to see all the figurines she had made. “Most of them little kids in Split have, but I’ll show you what is here. “They found six of them. The man picked out four of those and offered Aluli a coin for them. She said she intended to give them to children in Split. The man thought she was bargaining with him for more money, and he offered her more. She still said the same. He raised his offer again, but she still said the same. Finally, the man said, “How much do you want for them, then? There is a limit to how much people will pay, even for the work of a famous master. “ Deelie asked, “Why do you want them so much? He said, ”People will pay for such works in the markets of the great city. “ Aluli asked, “Do they have beautiful things in their houses? The man began to tell them stories of the wonders to been seen there. That had almost the opposite effect he intended. It made Aluli say “Then I see that they need them worse in Split. “Finally, though, she agreed to give him three in trade for more barley than it had occurred to her that she could get for something she made, because they needed it to feed the children. They would bring the barley before they left Split and then she would give them the figurines. It was Grandmother who insisted on this last provision.

Once this deal was settled, the men took turns telling all of them stories of the wonders they had seen in the places they travelled to. The youngest of the men sat near Deelie and told her of things he wished he could show her. He seemed kind and a little awkward. The three men stayed nearly until suppertime, but then they left, saying they were going to camp in the place where the rest of their mule train was. The young man told Deelie that in a year, when she was old enough, he would come back and take her to see all the wonders he had told her of.

Deelie asked what the people were like in those far countries, whether they were angry all the time and cursed each other as they did in Split. He said there are a few who are like that. There are many who will get angry and curse if something bad happens, but not all day, every day. There are places where people gather every evening after dark to sing and play music and tell stories. There are places where anyone who comes to the door, whether he be stranger or neighbour, is invited in and offered something to eat. He paused, looked at her seriously, and said in an earnest, serious voice, “I have not travelled over the whole world, but I have seen many countries now, and many ways of living, some that seemed very strange to me, but I have never seen a place one-tenth as unhappy as Split. I wish I could take you away from it to some place most of the people are kind most of the time. “

He probably had more to say, but the other two travellers said they were going back to the rest of their train over at the camping place by the main road and called him to come. The young man must have been apprenticed to one of them or something, because it seemed he had to go, whether he wanted to or not. The young man said to Deelie, “Don’t forget, I will come for you in the spring or in the summer next year or the year after. Don’t go with another man. There is no need to live in the misery of Split all your life. “

Now, it is true that Deelie was approaching the age at which girls were often taken for wives in that place and time, but she had not been thinking about it. She didn’t exactly think about it now, either, but she did think about places where people were kind to each other.

She tried to imagine what it would be like to live among such people. That was quite hard to do, because she had never in her life seen any other town but Split. Through the rest of that summer, Deelie wavered back and forth in her mind. Sometimes thinking of plans for the school of peace and kindness that was growing up around her. And sometimes of leaving Split and its misery for the freedom of far countries.

In the morning one of the men came back with a mule with a packsaddle. He unloaded three sacks of barley and took Aluli’s figurines. He was not the young man, who had been talking to Deelie. He asked Aluli to make some more to trade them before they came back. He spoke to her almost as if she were grown up. Before he was gone Grandmother opened one of the bags and ran her hands through the grain. “He didn’t cheat you, anyhow. This is as good barley as can be had! “ None of them had had any idea Aluli’s little clay people could bring so much food.

As the summer went on, they grew, not like barley that grows and ripens and dies in one summer, but like a tree, that grows almost imperceptibly, but ends up larger every year, with quiet force that can, in time, even crack the very rock of the mountains. The old potter bit by bit, handed over more and more of her work to Deelie. The children grew in size, in skill, in responsibility, and in understanding.

It wasn’t so surprising to Deelie, or to the old potter, to see how much work a child could do, because in Split children were expected to do useful work at a very young age. But it was remarkable how much they would do without being told, just because they could see it needed to be done, even though they might not have the skill and strength to do a good job of it quickly.

When something spilled, if one didn’t notice and wipe it up another one did. If one had difficulty, another one would help.

They never fought over things, but shared them, truly a remarkable group of children. Such children have lived in different places at different times but seldom so many gathered together in one house, especially among any group of people in the least like the people of Split. Deelie and Aluli both encouraged them to seek the silence and carry it with them and around them in the cacophony of Split. It was Aluli’s little brother who reported matter-of-factly one day that when other kids are fighting or cursing each other he sent them peace and they usually quieted down.

Deelie herself had surrounded herself with silence and peace, but usually, she just got away from clashes as quickly as she could, without it even occurring to her that she might have a calming effect on them. She spent little time in Split at all anymore, but when she went, she practised Aluli’s little brother’s principle whenever the occasion arose, sometimes with success.

Not all the children that had a tendency to follow in the path of those who gathered at the potter’s house were even allowed to go there, of course. But the children gathered together, and the principles practiced by the ones who spent some of their time with Aluli and Deelie began to spread more and more among the young children, and rubbed off here and there a little on an older one, or on those little ones who would have followed their peers into the misery of life in Split.

No grown-ups appeared to notice the change that was taking place in the youngest generation. Little kids are just “little kids“ to older children. If they are different, well, that’s just the way little kids are, and does not draw much notice or thought, except an occasional laugh or story about “what my little brother did “. Still, if an outside observer had been paying attention, especially over the previous years, the change in attitude that was slowly spreading among the young children of Split would have at least started to become noticeable by contrast with the past.

By the time this generation became the parents, even if they remained the minority they were now, that would constitute a huge change in the society of Split. But bit by bit, here and there, irregularly, and unevenly, kindness, peace, and beauty were being practised in the street. Children were being shown a choice of ways to be, which had not happened there for so many generations there was not even any legend about it. Sometimes they chose the way of their fathers one hour and the way of kindness the next, but it was there to choose without having to invent it or discover it for themselves. There were songs in Split now, where there had never been in living memory. Children were even pointing out the beauty of tiny flowers on the weeds in the cracks to each other.

When the muddy cold days came, not all the children came so often. Some of them did not have warm clothes. The ones who had been most starved looking came anyway, because they would get something to eat. And once they were there, they could keep warm by the kiln which was never allowed to cool completely. If it was hot, they could play around it. If it was only a little warm, they would huddle up to next to it. They often had their quiet time in the shed, beside the kiln.

Some days Deelie was imagining the places the travelling men had told her about, picturing in her mind how she imagined them to be. Sometimes she thought maybe when he came again, she would go with him and never see the misery of Split anymore. But what about the children?

She dreamt again of being in the potter’s house when she was grown up, and there were children around of different ages. Aluli was there, too, or a young woman who was supposed to be Aluli, and a man. Maybe the one who had been with the teacher from beyond the mountains. But she didn’t remember either the dream or the man well enough to be sure.

One night after she had been imagining far places all day, she dreamt she was in the streets of a city walking home to her own house. She opened a gate and entered a courtyard, with some trees and flowering bushes and a pond of water, and continued into a room with a bigger, more luxurious bed than she had ever seen, but it was hers. She lay down on that bed and fell asleep. But there she dreamed of the children of Split, wailing and crying for, calling her.

She woke feeling confused and uncertain where she was. When she became aware of her surroundings, it was her familiar bed in the potter’s house, but she was still feeling the cries of the children of Split pulling at her heart.

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