Story: The Bag Full of Stories
A folk tale from Southeast Asia, retold by Kelly Ehrman.
Once upon a time there was a little baby boy whose grandfather loved to tell him stories. His grandfather had heard the stories from his mother, his auntie, and his own beloved grandfather. The little baby boy heard wonderful stories from his grandfather from the time he was in his cradle and could not even speak all the way through his childhood. There were stories of magical snakes, stories of lemon trees and carpets that could fly, stories of bewitched water and melons, stories of princes on grand adventures.
The boy loved all of the stories. When he went out to play with his friends he often bragged of the stories his grandfather told him and they would all cry, “Tell us the story too! We want to hear about the great tiger also!” But the boy guarded his stories jealously so although he loved them he would not share them with anyone. And the stories themselves began to be collected into a bag in his closet. They were never shared, so they could not come out, and they were no longer free.
Now over the years the bag of stories got more and more full. Each night the little boy was happy when he heard a story from his grandfather but every day he held onto it so tightly that it went into the bag of stories and could not come out. The bag grew bigger and bigger and inside the stories felt crowded. They collected dust and had no fresh air. They could not see the light of day and so they felt cranky. They had no usefulness and so they felt tired and old and worn out.
And the boy grew and grew until he was a young man. The night before his wedding, he and his grandfather sat together and his grandfather said, “Tomorrow you are to be married. Today I will tell you one last story.” The young man listened carefully to the last story from his grandfather. And that story too went into the bag of stories, which by this time was so crowded that the stories had begun to bicker each day, fighting with each other and giving each other no peace. When the last story went in the bag, it was the last straw! A roar of anger went up, and one of the stories called out, “Enough! It is the boy who has done this to us, by keeping us locked up tight in this bag where we cannot see the light of day or feel the warmth of a human heart!” And another story said, “That’s right, and I think we should teach the boy a lesson!” A third story cried out, “I know! Tomorrow I will turn myself into a drink of water and when the boy drinks me he will feel a pain in his stomach and will never want to eat again!” And a fourth story declared, “Yes, and I will turn myself into a melon and when he eats me he will feel such a pain in his head that he will never want to think again!” And the fifth story hissed, “And I will turn myself into a snake and bite the boy on the leg so he will never want to walk again!” And so the stories plotted their unhappy vengeance on the boy.
But fortunately, as the stories began their shouts of anger, the young man’s grandfather had gone into his closet to see that his wedding clothes were ready for the next day. And when he heard the story’s plots he thought to himself, “Ah, through all the years I told my grandson stories but I never explained that they must in turn be given away. It is I who has brought this misfortune on him, and I will protect him on his wedding day.”
The next day, the young man dressed for his wedding and as was the tradition, he mounted a donkey to ride in style to the village where he would marry his beloved bride. But to his surprise, the servant who was to lead the donkey was nowhere to be found and instead his grandfather was holding the reins. His grandfather led the way to the village, always keeping his eyes and ears open for the vengeful stories.
When they passed a well, the young man called out, “Grandfather, halt a moment! I am thirsty and I would like a drink of water!” but to his surprise, his grandfather refused to stop. When they passed a melon patch, the young man called out, “Grandfather, it’s a hot day and I’m thirsty, let us stop just for a minute and eat a juicy melon to quench our thirst!” and yet his grandfather would not let him near the melons. Finally they arrived and the beautiful wedding ceremony began. But much to the surprise of the young man and everyone in attendance, there came grandfather running up with a large stick in his hand! He looked as though he would strike the bride! The young man was furious and he stepped in front to protect her. But his grandfather threw back the rug she was standing on to reveal a poisonous snake, which he struck dead with one blow from his club.
Then the young man hugged his grandfather tight and thanked him! Grandfather sat down exhausted, thankful and relieved that he had fulfilled his mission to protect his grandson from the angry stories. The wedding ceremony continued and all the merry crowd celebrated the whole night long. As soon as he could, the young man took his grandfather aside to ask him, how did he know about the terrible snake hiding under the rug? And so his grandfather told him the whole story, of how keeping all those stories for himself had caused them to gather in the dark and crowded bag until it was so full the stories themselves were bursting with anger.
The young man understood, and that very night he told one of the wonderful stories to his new bride. And every day for the rest of his life, he gave away the stories, telling them to anybody who asked, and setting them free. His children and grandchildren especially loved to hear the story of the bag full of stories.