Two Unruly Children

Dear Reader: Narrating this story was difficult for me because it takes place in Paris and the dialogs were originally in French. I've done my best to capture the "feeling" of these dialogs but do not promise professional results. Also note that the two tales within this story are included in their entirety. I translated the first one (The Oak Tree and the Apple Tree) from French, whereas the second one (Little Red Riding Hood) was originally in English. I've therefore simply included the original text of the second tale, which spared me a nightmarish translation.

The two tales could conceivably be read to young tykes independently of the main story.

Pierrette, aged 8, was doing her math homework and trying her best to ignore her taunting brother Ngao. Although he was two years her senior, he was by far the least mature. Dinner was over, and he was fifteen minutes into his evening routine of teasing and irritating his sister while she tried to study.

"Plus 5 divided by 7 times 6 plus 9 divided by. . .," Ngao yelled, running around the table all the while.

"Stop it! Mama!" shrieked Pierrette.

Sung Li, their mother, was doing dishes in the kitchen when she heard Pierrette's shriek. She sighed. On days like this, when her day at work had been a nightmare, when she had to race home and cook dinner, only to endure her childrens' shrieks and squeals, she wished that they would just disappear. . . .

She winced and was immediately flodded by guilt at the thought. After their tumultuous childhood and the loss of their father after a nasty divorce, it was a miracle that they weren't in worse shape. . . .

"Mama! Tell him to stop!"

Sung Li flung down her sponge and stormed out of the kitchen. She pointed an angry finger at Ngao.

"To your room."

"But. . ."

"NOW!"

With tears welling in his eyes, Ngao trudged to his room.

Sung Li shot an ominous look at Pierrette, but knew that it would be to no avail. No sooner had she returned to the kitchen that she heard Pierrette scampering off towards Ngao's room. Sung Li waited a moment before turning on the tap, and her suspicions were confirmed.

"Crybaby, crybaby, Ngao is a crybaby," Pierrette whispered softly outside Ngao's closed door, assuming her mother couldn't hear."

"Shoo!" Ngao yelled from inside, "Or I'll tell on you."

"Shoo, or I'll tell on you! Shoo, or I'll tell on you!" Pierrette mocked, maintaining her whisper. "Why you're a poet, Ngao." And then she sung a song in English which almost all children in the world knew:

OhC NDgaEoE isD aE poDetD, andC heD doesCn'tC evA-enC knowA- itG-.

HeG- doesE-n'tG- eCvenD knowE thatD he'sC aA- po-D, po-E, poEetD.

OhC ID tellE youG he'sD# aE poDetC, butA- heC sureC doesA-n'tC knowA- itG-.

AG- poE-etG-, poCetD, poEetD yetC heA- doesD notE knowC.

LaC laD laE laE laD laE laD. . . .

Narrator's note: Notes without a minus sign are high C (the C above middle C) and above. Notes with a minus sign are middle C and above. The number of syllables in a name determine the initial filler words (Well now Sally is a poet/Oh Ngao is a poet/Jeremiah is a poet, etc.)

As Sung Li heard this song, she thought back to her childhood in Beijing, China and remembered which of her classmates would sing it. In general, they were sharp and witty like Pierrette. Sung Li knew that Ngao was feeling what she used to feel when her classmates taunted her with this song: helpless rage because she wasn't able to respond in an equally witty manner.

But Sung Li, unlike Ngao, had drive. Her father was French and at Sung Li's insistance, he would speak French with her and help her to read the books she brought to him. Her big dream was to live and work in Paris, and that her classmates would envy her as a result. When they taunted her, she would close her eyes, grit her teeth, and think about her dream.

Sung Li was oblivious to the shrieks of her children as her thoughts went back to that Winter day in 2198 when she left Beijing to "make it" in Paris. She was 18 years old then and saw her parents' faces vividly: her mother was crying and her father was sad, but proud. The three of them went together by miniplane to the Beijing International Airport. There was the tearful separation, and the supersonic jet which brought her to Paris in two hours.

She had arrived in Paris full of enthusiasm and hope. Since she was a citizen of the Planet Earth, she could legally live and work everywhere. She had no problem finding a job, a place to stay, and a man with whom she thought she would spend the rest of her days. . . .

That was 19 years ago. Now it was 2217, and at the age of 37, she was divorced and responsible for two unruly children who had been profoundly damaged by the painful divorce and the absence of their father. And to make matters worse, instead of taking this into account and treating her children compassionately, she would do things all wrong: indulging them where discipline was called for, and punishing them harshly and arbitrarily. She felt helpless and alone.

Well, not completely alone. For the past six months, she had been seeing Rajiv, an Indian who had recently come from New Delhi to "make it" in Paris. He always smiled, never lost his temper and cared deeply for the children and her. He even got along with the children much better than she, Sung Li thought ironically.

Within four months, they had declared their love for each other and Sung Li felt a wholeness with Rajiv that she had never felt with the childrens' real father. For almost a month, she had been secretly hoping that he would propose to her, although she felt unworthy of him and couldn't understand what he saw in her.

Sung Li knew that at 37, she wasn't unattractive. Her striking, miniature Oriental features and long, jet-black hair were the visions of countless suitors in Beijing. Yet Sung Li had refrained from a relationship in China because she feared it would prevent her from leaving. In Paris, she was finally ready. Unfortunately, her very first relationship had ended in disaster, save for two wonderful children whom she loved yet didn't know how to raise.

Now her hair was still long and beautiful, but her striking features had become somewhat careworn. Wouldn't Rajiv prefer someone younger and more buoyant? What's more, she had two children by another man. Even enlightened male egos encountered difficulties with this. Was Rajiv having doubts about proposing to her or was he just old-fashioned? She hoped that his visit this evening would shed light on this.

"Mama!!"

It was Ngao, who had cracked under his sister's tormenting. Unlike his sister, he would hold out to the bitter end before giving in. It was a senseless act of heroism that he had learned from his father.

Sung Li stormed out of the kitchen for the second time. Pierrette looked up, frightened. Sung Li grabbed Pierrette by her shirt collar, dragged her into her room, and slammed the door shut.

"So there we are," she mumbled to herself, bitterly. "Yet another evening where the only way that I can deal with the children is by locking them up."

She went to the living room and collapsed onto the couch with a sigh. A lonely silence filled the apartment. Tears welled in her eyes.

Suddenly, a nearby loudspeaker announced: "Sung Li, Rajiv is at the front door."

It was the home computer, saying what a doorbell would say if it could recognize faces and talk.

"I'm coming," she replied, hoping she wouldn't burst into tears in front of Rajiv for the umpteenth time. How many problems could he take at the beginning of a relationship?

Despite her fears, she couldn't help smiling when she greeted him at the door. He too was grinning. The two of them formed an odd-looking pair: they were both short and he was balding and plump. He was holding a metal container.

"I made some carrot halvah and jamun this weekend," he said in his lilting Indian accent. Her French was nowhere near as good as Sung Li's, but that added to his charm.

"You're going to make us both fat and ugly," she replied with an expression of mock disapproval.

"I'm already fat and ugly. And you allow yourself one exception per week, don't you?"

"I was just joking. Come in. We can share the dessert after dinner."

Upon entering the living room, Rajiv mimicked Sung Li's prior expression of mock disapproval.

"You've locked up the children again, haven't you?"

"You guessed it."

"May I free them again?"

"Do whatever you want," Sung Li answered, shrugging her shoulders.

"Pierrette! Ngao!" Rajiv called out.

"Rajiv!" they cried out in unison, bursting out of their rooms and running up to greet him. Pierrette tugged excitedly at his wrist, whereas Ngao tried to climb on top of him.

"Ho! Ngao! You're going to make me shorter than I already am!" he protested, smiling.

"They were irritating each other and me, so I locked them up," Sung Li muttered resignedly.

Rajiv frowned. "That's no solution for bored, lost children. Is it, you two?"

The two children shook their heads vigorously.

Rajiv crouched down on his knees and drew the children close to him. He looked them in the eyes and said "Would you two be interested in a juicy business proposition?"

The two nodded their heads exaggeratedly. They knew this game.

"Okay, this is the proposition. You two go and play with each other like the good little children you see on television. If you can keep up the act until the home computer tells you time is up, in about 45 minutes, I'll read you each your favorite bedtime story. Is that a deal?"

The two hesitated, then nodded affirmatively.

Rajiv then looked at Sung Li, who was the only one who could command the home computer.

"F?ix!" Sung Li called out, using the name the children had given the home computer.

"Yes, Sung Li?" came a melodious voice from a nearby loudspeaker.

"Please alert the children in the living room when it is 9 o' clock," she said, articulating clearly.

"I have understood your command," it answered, whereupon the children scampered off to the living room.

Sung Li and Rajiv ate dinner, and the atmosphere was calm and trusting. She had served steamed vegetables and sauteed tofu on a heap of rice. Rajiv had complimented her and devoured his meal. They talked about their work, worries and problems and also of more pleasant things.

For dessert, they dug up Rajiv's carrot halvah. (Rajiv had mischievously suggested that they share this moment alone.) At Sung Li's insistence, he had prepared it with corn syrup instead of sugar, and it was subtle and delectable.

They were in the middle of their third piece of halvah when Pierrette burst into the kitchen.

"Rajiv, F?ix says 45 minutes is up. Oh, halvah!"

"Tomorrow," Rajiv answered, rising from his chair and scooping her up in his arms. "Now you're going to get your favorite bedtime story."


Rajiv, Sung Li, and Ngao were at Pierrette's bedside. It was the fourth time that Ngao was also present. When Rajiv had first suggested to Ngao that Pierrette would enjoy her big brother reading her a bedtime story, he had scoffed at the idea and stormed out of the room. Pierrette had had tears in her eyes, but Rajiv promised her that her brother would eventually come around.

Rajiv had repeated his request from time to time, but to no avail. For the past three weeks, however, he had listened in from the hallway near Pierrette's bedroom door. And the past three nights, he had walked in with a chair during the middle of the story. And that evening, he had come in with the chair as soon as they had tucked Pierrette in.

Tiny Pierrette was sitting eagerly in bed, propped up by two pillows. She handed Rajiv her favorite children's book, worn by years of use. Rajiv had read it so often that he almost knew it by heart.He opened the large, abundantly illustrated book and began to read:

Le pommier et le ch?e (The Apple Tree and the Oak Tree)

Once upon a time, a massive oak tree stood alone in a large field. The towering oak had stood in this field for more than two hundred years. Much had happened during those years, but trees have remarkable memories, and the oak vividly remembered the very first moments of his consciousness.

The oak tree was then no more than a three-month-old sapling when its hazy perceptions merged into awareness. He saw a haggard-looking old man in from of him. Behind the man stood a red farmhouse. An elderly woman was working in the garden. The old man had a gentle smile and was looking tenderly at the oak.

"You're awake now my child, aren't you?"

"Who am I?" answered the oak.

"You are an oak tree," the man answered, "a symbol of hope for my children and my children's children in this world. Until now, I used this field to grow soybeans and wheat for cows and chickens. Only now do I realize how wasteful and needless this has been."

The old man's words flew by too quickly for the young oak. Several large animals were roaming in the field; several small animals were pecking at the ground near the woman.

"What is a cow?" What is a chicken?" asked the oak, perplexed.

No sooner had Rajiv read these words than Ngao snatched the book out from Rajiv's hands, to the amazement of the other three. After a moment of embarrassed hesitation, Ngao began to read, more slowly and with less assurance than Rajiv, but determined to make a good impression.

"'What is a cow? What is a ch-, chicken?' asked the oak perplexed," Ngao continued.

Those large, four-legged animals in the field are cows, my child. They are gentle, peaceful, harmless animals. Until recently, they would feed them with the grains I grew in this field and then kill them so that others could eat their flesh. I did the same with those small birds near my wife, called chickens. Although people in this world are dying of hunger, I wasted the space of this field and wasted the grains I grew on the animals. I could have fed many more people by giving them the grains directly.

"I continued to raise and kill chickens and cows even after I learned that eating their flesh is more wasteful than eating the grains used to feed them. Yet I treated them nicely, until their untimely death, that is. They had better lives than on those horrifying factory farms. In factory farms, thousands of chickens are confined indoors, never see the light of day and are packed in cages so tightly that they can barely move. And I also avoided using chemicals to kill insects in the field and fight diseases in the animals, for these chemicals also poison the ground, other animals and humans. In this respect, I was more compassionate and caring than many of my fellow farmers.

"Nevertheless, I always felt guilt and sadness every time I killed a cow or chicken so others could eat their flesh. My wife and son would hold a gentle cow still, and I would break open her head with a large hammer. Her large, innocent eyes would always stare bewildered at me, as if to say "Why?". And when I would cut off a chicken's head with an ax, his poor body would run helplessly around, looking for his lost head, desperate to be alive again.

"These thoughts weighed heavily on my heart and soul. And as the years passed, I felt more and more saddened and helpless. Yet I had little choice: I had borrowed much money from the bank and they threatened to ruin my family and me if I stopped the killing.

"It was my son who freed me from this misery. He went to study in the city and thanks to his job, my wife and I could finally pay off the bank. When I asked my son, 'But what will become of the animals?' he answered, 'Make sure that they cannot have children, and let them live out the rest of their lives in peace, Father.' And when I asked him, 'But what will become of the field?' he answered, 'Father, this field used to belong to the trees. Ever since we took the trees away, much precious, life-giving soil in the field has been washed away by the rain. Give the field back to the trees, Father. They will keep the soil in place and give precious, life-giving oxygen back to the air. And if you choose food-bearing trees, they will also feed people too.'

"That is why I have planted you, dear child. You will hold the soil in place, give oxygen to the air and bear acorns to nourish us. And we can eat your acorns without having to kill and destroy you. You are a blessing for me, and a symbol of hope for my children and my children's children. And I will soon fill this whole field with trees, so that you may have friends and work together."

But the old man died before he could plant other trees, and the wife moved to the city to join her son. Other people later moved into the farmhouse, and though they were forbidden to chop down the oak tree or raise animals, they cared little for the old man's vision, and planted no new trees.

Many years went by before the oak tree understood the meaning of the old man's words. And though with each passing year, the oak tree grew mightier and mightier, it also grew sadder and sadder, for it had no friends, and rain continued to wash away the soil.

Eight generations came and went. And though much topsoil had washed away and the oak was still friendless, it learned through watching them that the world had changed very much. People everywhere had stopped killing and eating animals, realizing the senselessness of it all. People had also stopped killing each other, and the world had become a great country, where everyone could travel freely everywhere. The French language had evolved and changed and everyone in the world spoke English as a second language, so that they could communicate with each other.

A middle-aged man, his wife and their young daughter now lived in the farmhouse. The oak tree learned from them that much work still remained to be done. Soil was still being washed away from former pastures and grain fields, and large-scale tree-planting projects were taking place everywhere.

One day, the young girl from the farmhouse came to the oak tree. She was smiling and holding a small notebook.

"Hello, oak tree," she said with a grin, her curly red locks blowing in the wind, "I found my ancestor's diary this morning. He was the one who stopped raising animals, I believe. I had difficulties understanding his French, but I believe that he planted you as the first of many trees to give this weary field new life. I'm afraid that my ancestors after him have neglected you. But that is going to change now. In six months from now, the government is going to give us enough saplings to entirely plant this field. After that, you'll never be alone again, and you and your friends can feed us, clean the air and hold the soil in place.

"But fear not, oak tree, that you will remain friendless for another six months. Tomorrow, I will plant a baby apple tree next to you. It will keep you company and bring you joy. And thanks to your wisdom and experience, you can guide and comfort it and the other saplings that follow."

The young girl was faithful to her promise, and the next morning, she planted a tender, fragile apple sapling next to the oak. The sapling was too young to be aware of its own existence. In the months that followed, the oak tree sung soft and reassuring songs to the apple sapling, waiting patiently for it to awaken.

Several months later, the moment arrived. The oak tree felt a slight shiver from the apple tree, and knew that it was now awake.

"You're awake now my child, aren't you?" the oak tree asked.

"Who am I?" answered the apple tree.

"You are an apple tree, "the oak tree answered, "a symbol of hope for the healing and betterment of this world. When I first came to life, this field had been used to grow grains for cows and chickens, who were later killed and eaten. Only later did my Master realize how senseless this had been."

The oak tree's words flew by too quickly for the young apple tree.

"What is a cow? What is a chicken?" asked the apple tree, perplexed.

"Never mind, my child," the oak tree responded, more slowly and reassuringly, "For those sad times have passed and the world today is filled with hope and promise. Give thanks and rejoice, my child, for together we can heal the earth, clean the air and feed the people. And soon, very soon, many friends will join us and help us in our task."

And the oak tree began to sing a lullaby to the apple tree. The apple tree was comforted, and the oak tree was happy. And the sun set slowly behind the large field of hope ....

Ngao finished the last sentence and looked up timidly. Pierrette had fallen asleep, and she was still clutching Rajiv's arm. Sung Li's hand rested on Ngao's shoulder.

"You should be proud of yourself, Ngao," said Rajiv. "You've made your sister very happy and even comforted her to sleep."

Ngao looked shyly at the ground, wiping it with his slippers. After awhile, he looked at Rajiv.

"Did there really used to be cows and chickens?"

"Yes, Ngao."

"What happened to them?"

"They did like they said in the story. They made it so they stopped having children, and then let them live out their lives in peace, "answered Rajiv.

"Why did they do that? Why couldn't they let them keep having children?"

"It's difficult to explain, Ngao. Cows and chickens were like dogs and cats. They started out as animals who could fend for themselves, but we made them completely dependent on us and unable to survive alone. But whereas dogs and cats are small and can fit in houses and apartments, cows and chickens needed to be outside and needed our precious space and food. With twelve billion people on Earth, we couldn't afford to waste our food and fields on animals."

"Are there no more cows and chickens anywhere?"

Rajiv frowned. "Maybe somewhere, but killing animals is illegal now. Come now, Ngao. It's bed time."

Ngao was tucked in bed. This time, it was Sung Li who read.

Little Red Riding Hood
She had baked chocolate cookies, and beaming with pride,
Little Red Riding Hood ventured outside.
She was wearing her red cap and her special blouse.
For today she was going to grandmother's house!

They would celebrate grandmother's birthday today.
And not even the hunter could keep her away.
The terrible hunter, who filled her with fear.
Who would shoot all the birds and the rabbits and deer.

The woods had been safe, they'd been happy and fun
'Til the day that the hunter showed up with his gun.
"I love the outdoors and the nature," he said.
But when he saw nature, he'd then shoot it dead!

And before long the joy in the woods changed to fear.
And the nature would flee when the hunter came near.
And since bullets who miss a young fawn can hit you,
All the people who lived in the woods were scared too!

Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother knew,
That the hunter was wrong, and he must be stopped too.
But alas! Killing animals was still allowed.
So last month her grandmother went into town.

"Oh we must stop this hunter," she'd said to the mayor,
"For while he's in the woods, no one else is safe there."
And the mayor agreed and was going to give in.
When suddenly our foe, the hunter, came in!

"Do not heed this old woman," the hunter exclaimed
"For her mind has grown weak and her body is lame.
"Without me, all the rabbits would soon multiply
"And would soon have no food, and eventually die."

"It is sad, but the rabbits I kill in turn give
"The rabbits whose lives I spare more space to live"
And grandmother replied, "How could he find it sad?"
"With those hunting parties and contests he's had?"

After that, the mayor did not know what to do.
And he shrugged and he frowned and he said to the two
"We will vote on this matter the end of the month."
"Until then the hunter can continue to hunt."

"They let the hunter keep on killing the animals?!" squealed Ngao, he always did at this part in the story.

"Yes, Ngao. You know that hunting wasn't outlawed until recently." Answered Rajiv, who then nodded at Sung Li to continue reading.

So grandmother, discouraged, went back to the woods,
Avoiding the bullets as best as she could.
That was one month ago, now it was her birthday
And Little Red Riding Hood would come today!

Little Red Riding Hood skipped and she hopped.
But when she heard a gun, to the ground she would drop.
She would lie there in fear for a moment and then
Skip cautiously towards her grandmother's again.

Little Red Riding Hood skipped for awhile
When from nowhere, the hunter appeared with a smile.
His face was unshaven, his manner was rude,
He said: "My what a beauty, with all of that food!"

Red Riding Hood did not know who this man was.
But she answered politely: "I'm sorry, because
"This food I have made for my grandmother, Sir."
"I'm going to celebrate her birthday with her."

"Your grandmother?" he said (as his jaw slowly dropped)
"Is she not the one who wants hunting to stop?"
"Precisely!" Red Riding Hood answered with glee.
"And it will, thanks to something she'll soon give to me."

"That's wonderful news!" he exclaimed wickedly.
"I'm so happy, but say, what could this something be?"
"A marvelous project," Red Riding Hood said.
"How to give rabbits space without shooting them dead."

The hunter stayed calm (which for him was a chore).
And he said: "Tell me where this fine woman lives, for"
"I'd like to help out with her dreams and her plans"
"And her words have now made me her greatest of fans."

"I will tell you where she lives," she said, "listen good."
"Go over the river, and then through the woods,"
"You must walk quite awhile, but don't fret and don't grouse."
"For you'll finally end up at grandmother's house."

The hunter left quickly. No thanks did he give.
And he ran to the house where poor grandmother lived.
He burst through the door with his terrible gun.
And he said "Now I've got you! Yes now I have won!"

Poor grandmother shrieked: what a terrible plight!
And she kicked and she screamed and she put up a fight.
But the hunter subdued her and locked her away.
What a hideous fate for grandmother's birthday!

The hunter screamed: "Silence, else you are dead!"
And he dressed up as grandma and went in her bed.
With her bonnet and glasses, he thought with a grin
"I know that Red Riding Hood soon will come in."

And she did! She was skipping and singing away.
She burst in: "Hello grandmother! Happy birthday!"
"I've baked you some treats, chocolate cookies you see."
And the hunter said: "Come my child, sit next to me."

Red Riding Hood did so, but then raised her brow.
For she found that grandmother was different somehow.
Could it be her glasses? The way she was clad?
Then she noticed: "Grandmother, what big eyes you have!"

The hunter stayed calm. He had nothing to fear.
He replied: "All the better to see you, my dear."
But she wasn't convinced. Grandma looked very bad.
Then she saw it: "Grandma, what a big nose you have!"

A very slight frown on his face then appeared
As he said: "All the better to smell you, my dear."
And Little Red Riding Hood thought "Am I mad?"
Then she spied it: "Grandma, what a big mouth you have!"

The hunter got angry. This game wasn't fun.
And he jumped out of bed and he brandished his gun.
And he said "That's enough now! I've had it with you!"
"I'm rid of your grandma. Now I'll get you too!"

She shrieked and her basket fell down to the ground.
She ran from the hunter, who chased her around.
And the hunter subdued her and surely would win,
But to his great amazement, the mayor came in!

"We've got you now hunter! You won't get away."
"It is my great pride to arrest you today."
"You've killed more than rabbits: You've killed birds and deer."
"And the nature has suffered since you have come here."

"Where hunting's illegal, you didn't care less."
"And we've heard reports of your journeys of death.
"Where you broke into places you weren't allowed.
"And killed all the animals, hunting them down."

The hunter yelled out and he tried to escape.
But then fifteen police people took him away.
They freed the grandmother and then calmed her down.
And Red Riding Hood smiled, but the mayor then frowned.

He said: "I am happy that he's in his place.
"But afraid that the rabbits don't have enough place.
"I'm scared that the rabbits will still multiply.
"And will soon have no food, and eventually die."

But Red Riding Hood's grandmother quickly exclaimed.
"Fear not my dear mayor, for I have a way
"To lessen their numbers, yet keep them alive:
"We must make it so some of them can't multiply."

"So they can't multiply?" cried out Red Riding Hood.
"Why that goes against nature! That cannot be good!"
But grandmother replied with the utmost of tact
"It is against nature, but let's face the facts."

"We've unbalanced nature for thousands of years
"And if nature could speak, it would burst out in tears.
"All the forests destroyed. All the topsoil we've lost.
"All the species wiped out: this is what progress cost."

"And now there's no perfect solution or plan.
"So all we can do is the best that we can.
"In this way the rabbits do not have to die.
"A small price to pay so that they stay alive."

Red Riding Hood smiled, and she nodded her head.
"I'd rather some surgery than be shot dead."
And the mayor and all the townspeople agreed.
And the rabbits were happy. The forest was free!

Ngao was fast asleep and clutching Sung Li's wrist, as Pierrette had done with Rajiv.

"Look at him: he's exhausted," Rajiv said, looking at Ngao. "Tonight both of them fell asleep less than halfway through their stories. It's amazing how appearances can be deceiving. Some say that young children have a wisdom that grown-ups have lost. That may be true for some things, but certain children, from the day that they're born, will keep on racing around and screaming and playing long after they are really exhausted, running on purely nervous energy. These two must have had a really stressful day to have fallen asleep so quickly.... He stopped short when he suddenly realized that Sung Li was crying softly beside him. He turned around to face her and saw tears in her eyes and streaming down her cheeks. He led her to the living room, where she began to sob heavily.

"What's the matter? What happened?" he said, putting his arms around her.

"I'm a-, I'm a failure as a mother," she said, sobbing all the while. "These children have had miserable lives and I'm driving them deeper into a hole! If it wasn't for you, they'd probably be in a psychiatric institute by now!"

"Nonsense," answered Rajiv. "What happened is that you made some wrong choices and then ended up in a desperate situation which you were unprepared to face. And when you're in a desperate situation, you often do stupid things that you wouldn't have done if you'd had a clear head. You have what it takes to be a good mother, Sung Li. Otherwise, I wouldn't be with you. And you will be a good mother when you get out of your hole."

"You mean if I get out of my hole," she retorted. "Why are you wasting your time with me, Rajiv? I'm old and already have two children. You could find someone younger, more attractive and start a new family, with children who have your blood and who look like you. What's in this relationship for you, Rajiv? What could I possibly give you that someone else couldn't give you more of and better?"

She stopped crying and stared at Rajiv silently, knowing that the truth of her words would finally bring him to his senses. Their entire relationship had been leading up to this inevitable moment of truth.

Rajiv reflected silently. Sung Li was sure that he was planning some eloquent way of putting an end to the relationship. Finally, he spoke.

"I've been thinking about these issues for the last month," he said, slowly and somewhat hesitantly. "And I've also been thinking about how this is my first real relationship. I'm two years younger than you, have never had children myself, and don't have any real experience with women." He paused a moment and went on. "Finally, last night, I came to the following conclusion: for a single man who has never dated, and doesn't know what he wants, it would be unwise to go on with an older woman with two children and plenty of problems. The responsibility would be too great and he'd end up resenting the situation in the long run."

She thought she had been prepared for this response, but she wasn't. Her heart sank.

But Rajiv continued: "However, I am a man who knows what I want. And what I see before me is an attractive woman with lasting beauty, not like a deceptively enticing flower which quickly shrivels up, leaving nothing behind. I see a woman with two wonderful children who may not have my blood, but do have part of my spirit, for I've made a lasting impression upon them. And the feeling is mutual, for I've grown to love them and love their mother, who seems to endure the sight of me too. And she will assuredly become a wonderful mother when she gets out of her hole.

"And notice that I said 'when she gets out of her hole'," he continued, grasping her hand, going down to his knees, for I know that you will make it with me or without me. But I hope that it will be with me because you would make me the happiest man in the world if you accepted me as your husband, that we may continue our journey through life together."

Copyright ? 1995-2003 by Mohan Embar. All Rights Reserved
May be used in unchanged form by avowed Animal Rightists if accompanied by this copyright message.

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