The Adventures of Sosthenes, a boy brave and true
Chapter One: Meeting Meh
Once, a small boy, probably not much older than you or me, found a tiny little lamb, huddled on the ground and shivering from the cold. The small boy had seen many sheep before, but his tender heart was nearly bursting with a feeling that he couldn’t explain to himself in words at the thought of taking care of just this particular lamb, only this single little one. Where had the lamb come from? How had it lost its way? How could he make it trust him? These were the questions that filled his eager little mind.
Now the boy was from the land of Magar, where a strange language called “Hozhez” is spoken. So when he first spoke with the lamb it sounded something like this: “Pomog nekik tepmeleg?” A big tear rolled from the tiny lamb’s eye as she stared at the small boy in bewilderment. Now the lamb was from the land of Algon, although the boy didn’t know this quite yet. With his fingers he caressed the lamb’s forehead and tried to imagine how he could speak to her. Then it came to him…yes…yes…he would try speaking to her in the words of Maci! (this was the boy’s best friend. His name was pronounced rather unusually, like this: Mot-sy.)
“Chauf tebe helven?” he said in a hopeful voice. (He was really asking if he could help her get warm.) The tiny lamb simply lifted her eyes and, with a smile, replied, “Dagen!” (this means yes in the language of Maci.) The boy wrapped his arms around her body and plunged his fingers deep into her wool. He was so happy!
At this time the boy was visiting his friend Maci to help him with his thinking. Maci could never decide when he was thinking in a real way, and when he was using Maci thinking. Yet as the boy carried the baby lamb in his arms he could already see pictures of what his life would be like with her at home, in the land of Magar, after Maci’s thinking was cleared up.
“Where are you from?” he asked the lamb.
“The land of Algon,” said the lamb.
The boy was amazed, for Algon was far, far away, and not many creatures from this land could speak anything besides Algony.
“How did you come here, to Medvedsag?”
“I have been studying,” replied the lamb.
“Studying? But why?”
“I wanted to understand true friendship. What is your name, small boy?”
“Sosthenes. I also want to understand true friendship. Do I need to study, too? Right now I’m quite busy trying to set Maci’s thinking straight.”
“Who is Maci?”
“He’s my friend. He can never feel the difference between real thinking, the way that everybody understands things, and Maci thinking. Do you want to help us?”
“Yes. That could be interesting. Perhaps I can learn something from you.”
“Hoorah! And may I take care of you? Tiny lamb, please tell me your name.”
“Of course you may take care of me, as long as I stay with you. My name is Meh.”
The boy Sosthenes spoke with a heavy accent in the language of Medvedsag and seemed quite naive to the tiny little lamb. She had, up to this point, never encountered a heart of such goodness in all of her wanderings. Meh laughed in her tiny lamb’s way as Sosthenes exclaimed every few steps, “Look! Look at the clouds! I like the fluffy ones! I like the wispy ones! I like the silver-lined ones!” The lamb was very weary from her travels but she couldn’t help taking special delight in Sosthenes’ innocent pleasure. It was as if he was seeing ordinary sites for the first time. The clouds, the trees, the leaves, the grass, all blended together into the great salad of nature in Meh’s mind. She had already made room for the ancient conjugations of the lions’ language, the epic stories of Galldom, and philobromy (this is the specialized study of nourishment.) Yet gradually, as the boy pointed out the subtle differences to her, Meh could recognize the unique shapes in the sky.
Chapter Two: Maci’s Birthday party
After walking in this way for a good bit they came to Maci’s tiny burrow. It was a cozy little cave- dwelling carved out of the stone of the mountain. (There were many high and majestic mountains in Medvedsag. ) The outside of the cave was decorated with beautiful wrought-iron figures, for Maci was an expert silversmith. There was one which particularly caught Meh’s eye: a delicate cornflower intertwined with the window covering on the front door. What a unique little creation, she thought: something fragile and lovely made out of something so durable and ugly.
As they entered Maci’s home the warm, sweet smell of hot cocoa welcomed them. This was Maci’s favorite drink. Meh was curious to meet him and find out just exactly how his thinking was different from the real way of thinking. Sosthenes closed the heavy wooden door behind them, affectionately rubbed his cheek against Meh’s wool, and gently set her down on the rug. “Maci! I’ve come back!” he called to his friend.
“Oh, dear, Sosthenes! Can you help me? Yesterday I met an old teacher of mine on the marketplace. He taught principles of melting at the silversmiths’ college. I mentioned that today was my birthday, and he wished me much happiness. He asked me how I was planning to celebrate, and then, oh, Sosthenes, I told him about my birthday party. But I told him it would be at four o’clock! This morning Koshki reminded me that it would be at three o’clock! Oh dear! Oh dear! I’ve lied to him! Isn’t there some way we can change the time?”
After hearing Maci’s dilemma, Meh got up from the rug, walked to the big armchair where Maci was sitting, and looked intently at his face. She wanted to laugh, yet she could see that he was the most ingenuous creature on earth. He was truly at a loss to know how to resolve his dilemma. To Meh it seemed that the solution was simple. She asked, “Excuse me, but was this teacher invited to the party?”
“No, no. Only Koshki, Kootyushka, and Egerke are coming,” he answered.
“Then, in that case, I don’t see why you should care whether this teacher believes the party is at four o’clock or three o’clock.” Meh couldn’t hide the impatience in her voice.
“But don’t you see, I’ve lied to him. I’m a bad, bad liar,” Maci concluded, his lower lip starting to tremble. “The people of Medvedsag will become known as liars all because of me.”
The tiny lamb couldn’t help but smile in her small way at the bear’s (I forgot to say that Maci was a bear) sincere sorrow. “There, there, I’m sure that’s not true. Sosthenes told me that he wants to help you, and I’ve agreed to do my part, too. And is this any way to act on your birthday, I wonder?” She pushed her wet little nose against Maci’s paw. Hope began to flicker in his eyes as he looked at her.
“Sosthenes, who is this tiny lamb you’ve brought to me?”
“I found her by the roadside, lost and alone and cold. I was afraid for her and decided to take care of her forevermore. Do you think it’s a good idea?” the small boy inquired enthusiastically.
“Does this mean you’ll take her to the land of Magar with you, after you’ve helped me with my thinking? Where is her home?”
“Yes, yes! Of course she’ll come with me, won’t you, little ewe lamb? She came from the faraway land of Algon, but I’ve a feeling she’s still looking for a home. She told me she had been studying. She wants to understand the true meaning of friendship.”
“The true meaning of friendship? That is a great question for a tiny lamb,” said Maci, looking kindly at Meh. “For now just come around the table and have some hot cocoa and toast with butter and honey. Mmmm, there’s nothing I like better in the world! And Sosthenes will help us see a solution to my big mistake.”
Chapter Three: Time-chen
Meh watched the steam from the warm cocoa swirling into a thousand fantastical shapes against the light of the fireplace. She felt certain that she would come closer to understanding true friendship in the company of Sosthenes and Maci than she ever had before. And she didn’t mind the warmth and delicious food, either! She took her first sip of the sweet-smelling drink and glanced at Sosthenes, who was deep in thought. Gently he swayed his cup in a circular motion, continuously stirring up the dregs of chocolate at the bottom.
In the meantime, Maci had become quite occupied with the thought of showing Meh his chestnut collection. Every year in the fall Maci took long walks along the avenues lined with chestnut trees and gathered as many as he could carry. “Look, oh, just look, Meh! Aren’t they beautiful!” he exclaimed as he presented her with one after another. The tiny lamb tried to concentrate on each individual nut, appreciating its unique characteristics. But Maci’s great joy fascinated her most of all.
“Isn’t this shade of brown just magnificent? Wow!” the bear said, with genuine wonder in his voice.
“Oh, yes. It’s very shiny,” replied Meh, looking itently at the specimen before her. “To speak truthfully, I don’t understand what you find so interesting about them, though.”
“Why each one is a miracle! Each one is a unique gift that those trees have been preparing for me all year. Food for the body and for the soul. Today each one is saying, ‘Happy Birthday!’ with its own little voice,” explained Maci with an innocent twinkle in his eye. Perhaps this was also part of his peculiar way of thinking? wondered the ewe lamb.
“Maci,” Sosthenes gently interrupted, “what would happen if I didn’t drink my hot cocoa but instead continued stirring, and stirring, and stirring it? Would all the chocolate sink to the bottom?” The bear lifted his round, furry head, the tip of his tongue just visible between his lips. He was deep in thought, or so it seemed to Meh. What was Sosthenes getting at?
Maci touched the end of his paw to his nose and said, “No, no, of course not. The chocolate would continue to spread its flavor evenly throughout every bit of the milk. It would remain constant, as long as you continued stirring it and never drank it!” He looked triumphantly at Sosthenes.
“Exactly!” the boy exclaimed, jumping from his seat. “Now, wouldn’t you agree that if I’ve kept the chocolate from sinking to the bottom that I have, in a way, stopped time?”
Maci and the tiny lamb looked blankly at Sosthenes, blinking their eyes in expectation of further explanation. How had he come to this surprising conclusion?
“Look, what allows the chocolate to condense together and become heavy enough to sink down? Just a little time! By continually stirring it, I prevent that time from ever occuring! Have you followed me?”
“Yes, yes…I see now what you’re saying,” said Meh slowly, “but how can we apply this to resolving Maci’s dilemma?”
“Maci told his teacher that the party would be at four o’clock, right? But really it begins at three o’clock. Well, all we need to do is stop the time at the beginning of the party! There will be no more time upon entering the realm of time-chen.”
“Sosthenes, I’ve never heard of time-chen. Are you sure it’s something real?” Maci asked with a furrowed brow.
“Of course it’s real! Time-chen is the special quality that time acquires when you spend it with friends—it’s like eternity! Nothing can ever become more or less. There is always enough of everything, especially time!” said the boy with a playful laugh.
Meh looked rather doubtfully at Sosthenes. How was he planning to pull this off? Was he some kind of magician’s apprentice or elf? “How will we enter the realm of time-chen? Surely it can’t be easy. It must be something quite mysterious,” she said cautiously.
“Why, no! Can’t you see? We simply need to keep stirring our cocoa, insuring that the chocolate never, ever sinks to the bottom until we are ready to enter time again! If everyone’s cocoa remains the same consistency which it had at the very beginning of the party, we will never leave that moment! With every stir the party will begin anew! At three o’clock, at four o’clock, at five o’clock, yes, even at six o’clock! What do you think?” Sosthenes looked at them, enraptured. Seeing their puzzled faces he added, “I have no doubt that Koshki, Kootyushka and Egerke will be willing to enter time-chen with us. Shall we call them?”
Chapter Four: The story of the Music Box
All the guests arrived precisely on schedule for Maci’s party. Meh and Sosthenes had been busy that afternoon preparing a scrumptious strawberry torte with fresh strawberries from Maci’s garden. It now crowned the center of the table, complete with a generous dollop of whipped cream on top! Maci had laid out his finest dinnerware, and colorful mugs with thick, sturdy handles were set at each place, six in all. A large pot of hot cocoa was heating on the stove as Koshki, Kootyushka and Egerke took their seats around the table.
“Not yet, Koshki!” scolded Sosthenes, as Koshki stretched out her kitten’s paw to swipe a dab of whipped cream from the top of the torte. Koshki blushed and smiled sheepishly. “Remember, we are still in the realm of time, and the party has not yet begun,” said Sosthenes.
“I can hardly wait to enter time-chen!” exclaimed Kootyushka as he turned to Meh, his long soft puppy tongue drooping out of his mouth.
“Yes, it will be a new experience for all of us, I believe,” replied Meh. “What I don’t understand is, what will we do with this endless time, or time-chen, whatever you want to call it? Won’t we be terribly bored after a while?”
“Oh no, no, no, no, no, my dear!” piped up Egerke in her squeaky little mouse’s voice. “For you see, as I understand it, time-chen isn’t just about quantity but also quality of time. It’s quite possible to be bored in a short amount of time if one doesn’t seize the opportunity of the moment. I’ll never forget the lesson of the music box,” she said with a smile.
“The lesson of the music box?” said Meh, Kootyushka, and Koshki in unison. And, propping their chins in their hands, they prepared to listen to the tale.
“Yes, yes, let’s hear the story of the music box,” cried Maci enthusiastically. “That’s one of my favorite stories.”
“Well, when I was just a wee little mouse,” began Egerke, “my older sister and I found a music box in the attic of the grand old house we lived in. We wound it up several times and danced together until we were completely out of breath. It was so much fun! With the help of some friends we were able to carry it back to our home and proudly showed off our new discovery to Mama and Papa. But soon we were bored with this toy and its one short melody, although it had seemed so charming to us at first. The music box remained in the corner of our home collecting dust, just as it had in the big dark attic. Sometimes I felt sorry for it. It looked so sad and lonely. One day, shortly before I was to be allowed to enter the world all alone as a big mouse, I decided to have a look inside the box. I took hold of the dark, smooth wooden cover and slowly propped it up. My breath caught at the sight of the shiny golden plate fixed firmly to the underside of the cover! It was so beautiful! I couldn’t believe that we had somehow never noticed it before. But what was even more fascinating were the words engraved on the golden plate: “Love never fails,” it said simply. In the quietness of that moment I heard Mama’s gentle footsteps entering the room. She came to me and wrapped her arms around my shoulders. Tears were in her eyes. ‘I’m so glad you’ve finally discovered the lesson of the music box,’ she said. ‘You see, the music is like my love for you. Each time the melody starts again, I’m loving you as if for the first time. Each new start represents a new start with love. The music plays on and on, as if it’s never played that melody before. And that is how we have to keep loving. That is how I will love you, always!’ That was the lesson of the music box,” concluded Egerke, wiping a tiny tear from her furry cheek. “Mama wanted me to know that everything I needed in this big world was in the music box of my heart, if only I will never grow tired of winding it.”
“Hear, hear!” exclaimed Sosthenes. “Let’s wind the music box! Let’s stir the hot cocoa! The moment has come to enter the realm of time-chen,” he said, rounding the table and filling each mug with steaming hot cocoa.
Meh laughed in her tiny lamb’s way at the simple and beautiful joy of the moment. She thought about the music box of her own heart. She wondered whether she would still recognize its melody. She had listened to so many other melodies, hoping that they would never stop entertaining her. But in the end, she had always been disenchanted, continually searching for that one perfect melody. Now she understood why. It was not the world’s job to make music for her, it was her job to make music for the world!
“My friends,” began Meh, “may I call you my friends?”
“On one condition,” purred Koshki with a broad smile, “that we may call you ours!” And with that she affectionately stroked Meh’s wool.
Meh took the kitten’s tiny paw in her own hoof and said, “My friends, it will be an honor to enter the realm of time-chen with you this afternoon!”
Chapter Five: Poppyseed Strudel
Long after the stars had started twinkling in the heavens above, and the full moon had begun to reign just over the bough of the big fur tree in Maci’s garden, the friends around the table were overcome by sleep. The laughter, the songs, the stories, the dancing—all of this remained timeless, but somehow their eyelids had managed to escape the realm of time-chen. Their heavy tug threatened to darken the light of the fire. And so, reluctantly, one by one, they drained the last drops of cold cocoa from their mugs with a sigh. Koshki stretched her paws high up into the air as she yawned, baring her full, round tummy.
“I declare, Maci, this is the best birthday party I’ve ever been to,” said Kootyushka, pushing his chair back from the table and rubbing his belly. “I know that I’ll probably say the same next year, and the year after that. I so enjoy celebrating your birthday!”
“Yes, Maci, your friendship is one of the dearest in the world to me. I’m sure my dreams will be filled with sweet memories of our time…well, I suppose I should say of our time-chen together,” chimed in Egerke, rubbing her tiny eyes.
“I’d be glad to give you a lift home on my back,” Koshki offered, turning to Egerke.
When the goodbyes had been said, and the warmth and love of the evening had been indelibly woven into each little heart, Maci remained alone with Sosthenes and Meh staring out the front window at the vast expanse of star-sprinkled sky. “It’s like poppy-seed strudel!” declared Maci at last, “So dark and dense with thousands, even millions of tiny sugar crystals peeking out.”
“Yes…yes, you’re exactly right,” replied Sosthenes, turning from the grand spectacle outside to smile at his friend.
“Well, Sosthenes, it seems that your plan to enter time-chen has indeed resolved Maci’s dilemma,” said Meh with a twinkle in her eye, “And the party was quite a success!”
“Oh, yes, yes! Thank you dear Sosthenes!” exclaimed Maci, and he wrapped the little boy in his strong furry arms. “But…” he continued, slowly letting go of his friend, “I’m afraid that unless I’m completely honest with you, unless I trust you with my most troubling secret, all of your help will work only temporarily and your efforts will have been in vain.” Seeing the puzzled looks on Meh and Sosthenes’ faces, he continued, “There’s something I must show you tonight.” And with that he took the candle from the table and motioned them to follow him up the creaky wooden stairway.
Chapter Six: Maci’s family photos
Once they were in the attic and Maci had lit the three lamps, only then did Sosthenes dare to break the silence: “Maci, you must know that no matter what your secret, no matter how troubling, I don’t believe that its power is stronger than our friendship.”
Maci’s voice was trembling as he said “Just wait.” He lifted a dusty, brown leather photo album from a pile of books, and as he did so a tear rolled down his cheek. He handed the album to Sosthenes, saying, almost breathlessly, “Open it.” Then he slowly sank into his chair. Meh hurried to his side and began stroking his paw.
As Sosthenes turned the crinkled pages he stared in amazement at what he saw. In photo after photo he saw angry grizzly bears, growling, bearing their claws, wrestling with each other…until he came to one of a bear tearing a fish to pieces. He hardly knew what to say, “Maci…I don’t understand…who are these bears? Why do you have these photos?”
By this time the tears had begun to flow freely from Maci’s brown eyes. “My dear friends, this is my family! And…I’m afraid…I’m afraid that my thinking will never be cleared up until I know that you love me still. Can you love me still? Aren’t you afraid of me? I’ve tried so hard to be a kind bear, to be honest and trustworthy…but I always knew that someday someone would find out who I really am.”
“Oh, Maci, is this really what has been upsetting you so? Do you think that you have earned my friendship by always doing the right thing?”spoke up Sosthenes, looking tenderly at his friend. “No, you are my friend because I chose you, and I choose to love you still!”
“But why?” asked Maci, placing his clumsy paw on top of Sosthenes’ tiny hand.
“Why?” laughed Sosthenes. “Why? Oh, I don’t know…because I like honey toast, and chestnut collections, and never-ending birthday parties! Ha, ha!” he shouted with glee.
Meh observed them in quiet amazement. Never before in all of her wanderings, in all of her studies had she seen the joy of true friendship. She realized that her own thinking had needed some clearing up. How many friends had she chosen simply because she wanted to love them? She remembered the state in which Maci had found her that morning, all alone and lost by the roadside. She lowered her tiny lamb’s head as she thought about what her reaction had been.
“Tiny ewe lamb, why do you look so sad?” asked Sosthenes. “Don’t you know that I have chosen you, too? And Maci has as well!”
“Yes, yes!” added Maci, rubbing his nose affectionately against Meh’s neck.
“Won’t you choose to love us, too? Isn’t this the true friendship you have been seeking?” And with this Sosthenes stood up and held out his hand. Maci stood with him, forming a half circle. Meh raised her eyes, glistening with tears. She stood on her hind legs and placed each of her front hooves in the hand and the paw which had been so generously offered to her.
The dance began without a word. They danced triumphantly around that awful dusty photo album, laughing at the secrets of the past, laughing because even those secrets could not change their present joy.