Heather Djunga is a mom and a writer who felt compelled to create stories to help her son, and other children, understand the Coronavirus pandemic. Here she shares the story 'Christian and the Unexpected Masterpiece', illustrated by her son, Christian Djunga.
No lion cub expects an adventure to come during a storm. At least, Christian the Lion Cub didn't.
This had been a particularly bad storm. Christian and sister Grace had clung to each other in the shadows of the late afternoon, hearing thunder and seeing the shadows lift with abruptness as lightning flashed across the entrance of their family's grotto.
From where they watched the great outdoors, sheltered in the family cave in the Rainbow Forest, Christian and Grace saw debris fly everywhere... leaves, branches, fruit from trees... These lay scattered everywhere, across the familiar paths.
Christian sunk to his paws with dismay. He felt particularly miserable.
First, the Corona Monster had come to the forest - the reason they had had to spend so much time in the grotto in the first place - and now this. Christian had already come up with what he considered his best story ever during his time at home. He had rehearsed it to share it with his friends when they met again.
It was his finest story, he reasoned: about a King, a mountain, a silver-voiced nightingale, and a great eagle with golden feathers. But one day had passed into the next and he was still at home, with no one to share his stories with... well, except for Grace, his baby sister. Christian was getting tired of being indoors. He was dying to show his friends how big his paws were getting and he was sure his tail was a good inch longer than it had been when last they met.
Had Mila his firefly friend grown? He suspected she might've. And what about Zeb his zebra buddy? Did he have an extra stripe? As the storm shook the forest, Christian could hear his mother and father speak in hushed whispers about things like floods and homes being washed away. He heard his mother speak about the berry and nut supplies in the forest. She sounded concerned.
Grace clung to Christian with both paws as the winds blew. "Christian," she said, "I am scared." Christian felt scared too but he decided not to tell Grace. Instead, he put on his big-brother-cub, solemn face. He didn't let Grace in on his secret that sometimes he felt he didn't recognise the Rainbow Forest anymore.
Sometimes he had to remind himself it was home. This was because it seemed colder and less friendly than it had been before the Corona Monster. Now, this.
Would the debris completely cover his favourite paths? How would he ever know where he was going again? Were he and Grace destined to stay indoors forever? Would he grow a mane that he would never be able to show his friends? Grace whimpered as the thunder boomed loudly once more.
"Make it stop! The thunder!" She said, thinking once more that big brother cubs could do anything. Sometimes her faith in Christian made her believe that this just might be true.
Christian took a deep breath. Something in his sister's tight embrace and fearful eyes moved his heart to compassion and he spoke gently toher: "That isn't thunder," he said.
Grace wasn't convinced.
He could see the fear grow in her eyes as the cave's entrance once again lit up with the electric light of a fierce flash of lightning.
"That Grace, is the King."
"The King?" the small cub asked.
"Of the Rainbow Forest. Don't you know?" asked Christian. He could see by Grace's expression that she didn't quite know.
He remembered the first time his father had told him about the King of the Rainbow Forest. He had taken Christian to a clearing in the forest and asked him to shut his eyes, explaining that the King wanted to meet with the cub, but was so bright, it was better Christian had his eyes closed when He arrived.
He also told the cub the King was so loud, He usually arrived on tippy-toes... and explained to Christian to listen extra carefully, as the King usually spoke to the tiny animals of the teeny Rainbow Forest in a still, small voice.
"Usually He comes in a whisper, because He's so big he doesn't want to scare us. We are little - tiny even - compared to Him," his father had said.
Now it was Christian's turn to tell Grace about the King. He reasoned this would comfort the small cub. "He comes quietly mostly, so that he doesn't scare us little animals. We are little, you understand..." Christian began.
"Am not..." retorted Grace.
"Little... compared to Him," said Christian. "But on occasion..." he examined his little sister's wide eyes. "On occasion, He comes really loudly... with the boom of thunder."
Grace's eyes grew extra big.
"You could say, He pulls out all of the stops," Christian continued.
"Stops? I don't understand," Grace frowned.
"It means that He goes full steam ahead in being loud and bright and dazzling, and just shows up, grandiose-style. Like with a boom and bang and trumpet blow. Like lightning across the sky. Like the roar of thunder."
Grace's eyes grew bigger - if that were possible. The thunder roared again but Grace seemed more settled after Christian's story. "Christian..." she began to ask.
Christian had known more questions would come. "Yes Grace..."
"Why is he louder than usual this afternoon?" she asked, cuddling close to her big brother. "Why can't He just whisper?" Christian thought about this for a while. "Maybe He wants to remind us how big He is," said the cub. With everything happening in the forest, he himself had needed a reminder.
Grace now relaxed against Christian. "Tell me another story, Christian," she said.
Christian was about to argue that what he had said wasn't a story, but decided not to. Instead, he tried to think of what story he might tell his little sister, on a stormy afternoon like this one. He didn't want to scare the cub. "Right," said Christian, clearing his throat. "It begins like this. It was a dark and stormy afternoon..."
"It is scary," said Grace, "But I like it."
"There was a cub who set out from home, into the dark woods - with a story to tell."
"Can the cub's name be Grace? Please," begged Grace.
Christian supposed the cub could be called Grace. He supposed he was big enough to handle two Graces. "So Grace had a story to tell," continued Christian, "This was the reason she set out on her journey. As she set out, she was unconcerned about the wind in the forest. Her story and her desire to tell it were so much greater than her fear."
Grace smiled: "She's a brave cub."
"The best kind," said Christian. "Only, it so happened that there was a nasty porcupine in that part of the forest. A particularly prickly one who didn't want a cub telling any story, especially not a happy one with kings and beautiful mountains and teeny-tiny nightingales. This porcupine happened to hear Grace singing along the forest path as she skipped along. Grace was singing about her story and how she was going to share it with the whole Rainbow Forest."
"Porcupines can be prickly," agreed Grace. "This one was the prickliest, most pointed-nosed who had ever roamed the forest," said Christian, in his storyteller's voice.
"However, Grace didn't know the porcupine had intercepted her plan to share her story, and by the time she had reached the river, the porcupine had already told the crocodiles all about the cub's desire to make the forest a gleeful, sunshine-filled place. This is something prickly, scaly, cold-hearted animals don't always want."
Grace pulled closer to Christian, who continued.
"So the crocodiles were waiting for her when she arrived to take a drink from the river. They said to her, 'Where are you going, cub?', even though they already knew."
"Those tricksters!" pouted Grace.
"Well, really they were a little greener than most crocodiles. Green with envy... because the cub was happy with a story, and they wished they could be happy with a story too."
"They weren't happy?"
"No," said Christian. "There's weren't just greener than most crocs, they also had longer faces than most. They were green crocs with long, miserable faces."
"The worst kind," said Grace.
"In trying to pretend to be something they weren't and to convince the cub to give up her story, they smiled just a little too wide and the cub saw their sharp teeth, and slithery tongues and realised their intentions might not be good. So she excused herself politely and continued on her journey, a little more weary than before." Christian continued.
"There was a frog who spotted her next. He was even greener than the crocs, if that were possible. See, he had heard frogs could become princes and he was waiting to become one - and had been waiting for a long, long time. When he saw the cub, he felt particularly bad, because he was green and cold - and she was warm and happy, with a story like sunshine on her heart.
"'I have a story to tell,' the cub said, explaining her happiness, and the frog decided he would make plans to stop her, before everyone heard her story and the forest became so happy, he would be the only cold, miserable one left.
"When the cub asked for directions through the marshlands, he led her astray, and she would've lost her way, had she not come across a large hippo who knew the marshlands like the back of her - well, the back of her paw-foot-thing."
Grace smiled. "I don't know what you call a hippo's foot either," she said.
"Well, this hippo felt bad about not being as nimble-footed as the cub, who skipped, even through the marshes," Christian said. "After she had explained to Grace how to get out of the marshlands, she made sure to splash about a little more than usual so that the cub's golden fur was left covered with mud."
"Oh dear," said Grace, "Poor cub."
"It was a long journey for the cub... " Christian continued, "Through the storm, walking covered with mud, through the wind, and with tired paws. So many things, so many animals seemed against her, but she made it Grace - she did! She braved the winds and found her friends to tell them the story."
"I knew she would make it, Christian!" said Grace, who was still counting the thunder booms outside of the family's grotto, even while listening to the story.
"Only when she found her friends, she was terribly tired from her journey. The winds, the storm, the opposition had knocked the wind right out of her sails," said Christian.
"So what did she do?" asked Grace.
"Well," said Christian. "She readjusted her sails. She decided the story in her heart was too important to give up on. However, when she told it to her friends, it didn't come out as she had planned."
"Yes, storms can change our plans," said Christian. "Her original story had been beautiful, but when she spoke, she realised she hadn't just gone on a journey, the journey had changed her story. She told a different story. A better one. It was no longer a rehearsed one. It was the story born when pressure and circumstances are such, they squeeze every last drop from the heart, to leave just dazzling truth."
"She told the story of a determined cub, who faced giants but made it to the finish line. It was a story of colour and substance. Yes, all the characters were still there: the nightingale, the singing turtle, the golden fish and the King were still in her story. Nothing could shake the King out of the cub's story, but now there were other characters there: scaly crocodiles and slimy frogs and muddy hippos. She had left home with a story, but her journey had given her a masterpiece."
"I like it," said Grace, as the thunder roared. It must've been the seventh time that same afternoon that the thunder had roared. Grace had been counting.
"Now I will tell you a secret," Christian said to Grace, as the thunder roared again. "Something Papa once told me."
Grace listened, intrigued.
"The King's thoughts are not our thoughts," said Christian. "... And His ways are not our ways."
"Not our thoughts. Not our ways," said Grace and she thought about this the rest of the afternoon, until much later, when the storm finally subsided.
Now, night-time, darkness had covered the forest, and Christian's mother and father feared the worst. They feared the destruction of the forest from the storm. It had not been the only storm that week.
Violent storms had shaken the forest for days. The entire family's hearts longed for the home they had known - before the Corona Monster, before the storms. It seemed the damage to their home was irreversible.
When morning came, Grace nudged Christian - even while it was still dark outside: "Christian the Lion Cub, wake up! It's Morning Day!"
Still groggy and tired, Christian knew what Morning Day meant. Grace had learned that expression from him. 'Morning Day' was that time of the day when it was not quite day but no longer night. The moment before dawn, when light started to peep like a golden line over the horizon, and the first birds started to sing.
Stirring awake, and half-sitting, Christian listened to the singing for a moment, wishing he would hear Taniya the nightingale sing once more.
While hearing many beautiful songs, he knew she wasn't singing among the birds nearby the grotto. The mysterious bird had flown off into the forest - it must've been a month ago. But he knew she would be back. Taniya always came back to sing for him.
"I'm up," he said. He stood up now, shaking his paws and tail. He was ready for an adventure. While he was no longer a little cub, like Grace, no age could shake the adventure out of his heart. They weren't allowed far from the cave until the Corona Monster had gone, so he and his sister stayed in the garden area at its entrance.
From here, they could see across the valley, to where the river met the sky. This was the best spot to watch the sunrise and Christian had found himself noticing more sunrises than ever before, since the Corona Monster had come.
"Do you see that?" Grace jumped up and down, a bit like a skittish deer.
"I see," said Christian. It was a beautiful sunrise. Breathtaking. The sun's reflection danced in a golden waltz across the river. "No two sunrises are alike Grace," he mused, in his big-brother-cub voice.
"No, I don't mean that," said his sister. "Look!"
Christian followed her pointed paw to where some zebra were nosing branches off the forest path.
"They're cleaning it up!" said Grace. "They're cleaning up the mess!"
Even from a distance, the zebra spotted the cubs and lifted their heads. Christian lifted a paw in greeting. They had to stay separate because of the Corona Monster but the zebras returned the gesture with a nod of their heads.
"And look there!" Grace continued.
A family of squirrels was scurrying around beneath the canopy of trees to remove nuts that had fallen from branches. They were carrying them to a communal collection place for all the animals to share in the harvest.
"Wow!" said Christian. Overhead he saw eagles circling, diving at intervals into the thick of the forest and re-emerging above the canopy of leaves and into the sky, carrying leaves and branches and debris from the storm. The eagles cried out in greeting, spying at Grace and Christian with their eagle eyes.
"Now I understand why the King was roaring like thunder," said Grace, "He was showing us he is bigger than the storms. Just look at that Christian," she said with little-cub exuberance. "Home is still here! I am starting to recognise it. See how the animals are cleaning up and making it beautiful again."
"Yes, it is still here. Home," Christian smiled. "There are the familiar paths." Christian silently wondered whether it was in fact the King's roar in the thunder and His brilliance in the lightning, reminding them that he was bigger than the Corona Monster and that all would be ok.
If they just kept believing in their hearts, even if the story they had hoped to tell changed somewhat over their journey and didn't pan out as they had planned - they would have a masterpiece at the final chapter when everyone gathered around to listen. The King of the Rainbow Forest was not done writing!
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