It's Storytime! Read: Christian, the striped bandit and the birthday surprise

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"Christian, The Striped Bandit And The Birthday Surprise."
"Christian, The Striped Bandit And The Birthday Surprise."

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, the striped bandit and the birthday surprise', illustrated by her son, Christian Djunga

Christian, the Lion Cub, had a spring in his step as he walked through the forest on this particular afternoon. He had a new story to share – one that had arrived quite spontaneously and danced around his heart, even as he skipped along.

He was what his mom called, 'inspired'. He hummed a song to himself, the song he had heard a nightingale sing earlier.

He felt the story swell inside of him. It was a good day for a cub who had battled to tell any story since the coronamonster had swept through the forest.

Christian, the Lion Cub, was back and back with a vengeance! He might've trotted along just like that, skipping, hopping, alive and feeling free, all day, had something not caught his attention.

Read: Local storybook invites children on a journey of faith and bravery

Now it took a lot to catch Christian the Lion Cub's attention. Christian had seen all kinds of things. He had seen a golden eagle, one of the giant ones big enough to allow animals to ride on their backs!

He had been to the top of one of the enormous oaks and seen the Great Mountain from a perspective few animals ever would. And it was more beautiful than the animals who had been there having said it was.

He had seen metal birds flying low, close to the tree tops, and leaving a terrifying explosive fire in their wake. He had met a river turtle named Norbert – but that was another story, for another day.

Now this something which caught his attention as he skipped along was something most unusual. It appeared to be a cub - paws, claws, etc. - but at the same time was Zeb-liked.

Zeb was Christian's zebra friend. Christian had believed Zeb and his herd to be the only striped animals in the forest. Until now. Who was this striped bandit who had infiltrated the forest? This Zeb wannabee?

Christian reasoned he had painted stripes on himself, possibly for camouflage – which is why he thought of him as a bandit, as only a bandit would be so intent on trying to blend in so cunningly with his surroundings through camouflage.

"Who goes there?" he asked the striped cub. When no answer came, he cleared his throat and spoke substantially louder: "I say, who goes there?"

He might've been roaring just then – but not quite. It was the growl of a determined and very brave cub. Christian felt pleased with himself – he even sounded just a little vicious.

Someone came creeping out from behind the trees. As all cubs had, he had wide eyes and golden fur. "I go, uh, there… or rather, here," said the cub.

Christian circled the cub, this way and then that. "Attempting to be camouflaged then?" he asked.

Christian hadn't expected this adventure but decided to play along: was now Christian, the Chief Spy in Command, and this was his suspect.

Interrogate he would until the striped bandit confessed everything. Christian was determined. He would not relent. The striped cub shrugged.

"I am just walking through the forest," he said… "Same as you."

"And the stripes?" Christian, the Chief Spy in Command, continued to interrogate. "Explain yourself."

"I have always had them."

"Always, you say?" Christian asked in his Chief Spy voice.

"Yes," challenged the cub. Intrigued, Christian continued questioning: "Then what… or rather, who, are you… and what is your mission?"

The cub considered Christian for a moment. "Oh, I understand," he said after some deliberation.

"You are playing a game, and I am the suspect. I have played that game too."

It didn't feel like a game at this moment. There was a real striped cub in front of Christian, and Christian did want answers.

"I really would like to know what kind of an animal you are," said Christian.

"I have never seen one like you."

"A tiger," laughed the cub. "I am a tiger."

'Tiger', Christian had never heard of one of those. His father had told him many animals in the forest he knew nothing about. This must've been one of them.

"Pleased to meet you," said Christian, "I am a lion. Christian the Lion. Christian the Lion Cub, to be exact."

"I am a Zory, the tiger," said the striped cub.

He took a deep breath, "A Zory the Tiger Cub."

Zory grew silent a moment, sizing Christian up… and down. "Oh, alright, I'll tell you… my mission," he said. "I am searching for something."

Christian's ears perked up. He liked Zory already.

"What are you searching for, if I might ask?"

"I am looking for something colourful and bright," answered the tiger.

"It's been so bleak in the forest as of late. I wanted to bring something exciting and full of colour back home."

"A quest!" said Christian. "I am just the right cub to help you."

Zory continued to consider Christian with wide eyes. He came closer to the lion cub to speak in a whisper.

"I can't hear you," Christian said when the tiger's whispers were too discreet.

"It's because I don't want anyone else to hear," said the tiger. "Especially not those 'little birds' everyone refers to when they say, 'A little bird told me'".

"I understand," said Christian.

"I am whispering," Zory continued, "Because I want to find him before the others do – and if I speak too loud, who knows."

"Find who?" Christian asked.

Zory sighed significantly: "The I Know, of course," he said.

"The I Know?" Christian asked.

Must read: A story for uncertain times: Christian and the Unexpected Masterpiece

Zory continued to whisper. "Yes, the I know. He's really big and ancient – and powerful. My brother told me about him. His friend told him – and he, by his friend. They saw him – they did."

Christian frowned: "Ok. So what is special about him?"

"He knows," said the tiger. "Get it… the 'I Know'."

Christian continued to frown. "He knows what – exactly?"

"Everything," said Zory. "He will know what bright and colourful thing to give me to take back home."

"Now I understand!" said Christian. "Then we shall find him! And even if we don't, we will certainly have an adventure."

Christian only said this because he was doubtful they might find the I Know. Still, he decided to play along. With that, the cubs set off to find the I Know.

"His feet leave big impressions in the sand, so I have been told," Zory explained as they walked along. "When he breathes one place, he causes wind in another," the tiger continued.

"He has powerful weapons to use against his adversaries and can even bulldoze down trees… an army." Christian, the Chief Spy in Command, listened intently.

Trained in spy work, Christian reasoned he would help Zory search for evidence of the I Know. He would gather clues and, based on these and his tracking skills would determine the I Know's actual location – and identity.

He was a little suspicious about this I Know. Did a creature who knew everything resort to violence, like bulldozing – and would a creature who knew everything delights in 'force'?

While they walked along, down forest paths and through meadow areas, Zory seemed a little distracted.

Christian noticed this because as they journeyed, Zory and himself passed many bright and colourful things, which would have been perfect for Zory to take back to his home to brighten things up.

They passed through the Field of Flowers, as the animals called it, which was filled with daffodils, violets, and orange daisy-like flowers.

Zory could quickly have taken an entire bunch but continued, determined the I Know knew better. They walked along the river bed, where giant snails had made their home, with brilliant crimson and yellow spiral shells – so colourful, yet Zory seemed not to see them.

They continued to walk, and a colourful feather drifted from the sky as some parakeets flew into the distance. It was blue and green, iridescent and dared Christian to say it, 'ethereal'.

He didn't know what the latter word meant, but he had used it when colourful, beautiful things were described. But Zory didn't notice the beautiful, colourful feather. He seemed so intent on finding the I Know that he had forgotten what was around him as he focused on his mission.

"I have found no clues of the I know," Christian eventually said. "Are you sure there is one?"

"Every tiger knows there is an…." Zory began.

"An I Know, I know," said Christian, "But we can pretend… should we… and then find some colourful things ourselves…"

He thought of the flowers and shells and feathers. "…I have seen many in the forest so far… Take, for example, those colourful crimson berries ahead of us. We use them to brighten up our family cave all the time. Mother loves them because they are bright, and you can use them to make berry pie."

"This is not a game," said Zory. "It is a real mission and very important to me."

Christian noticed the tiger appeared slightly tearful. He imagined his home must have been left very grey and bleak after the coronamonster – and the roaring steel birds intent on war – and felt compassion rise in his heart for the striped bandit.

Zory spoke softly, fighting back the tears: "He's big, and he has seen so many things, and that's why he knows." Just then, the bulrushes around them started to move. "Who knows?" a face peeped out from among the reeds.

Also see: Locals encouraged to tell their homegrown stories to ignite a love for reading

Christian was relieved to see his friend Zeb there.

"Zup?" asked Zeb as he stepped into full view. "I was by the river catching a drink and heard you – or rather saw you. I would know that tuft from your tail anywhere. What are you doing, Christian the Lion Cub?"

Zeb's eye caught the other striped animal, and each animal considered the other. "I see you have stripes," said the zebra and the tiger at the exact moment.

Zeb gave Zory 'the look'.

Zory gave Zeb, 'the look'.

"My pardon," Christian interjected, "Zeb, this is Zory; Zory, Zeb. Zory and I were looking for the… uh… the I Know…"

"The I Know?" Zeb scratched its head with a hoof.

"Yes," said Zory.

"The I Know?" Zeb asked again. He looked like he was about to start laughing.

"He's huge and powerful and knows things."

"The rhino?" asked Zeb.

"No, the I Know," corrected Zory.

Zeb sighed.

"You have just described the rhino. Everyone – every grazer who has grazed alongside a rhino–knows the story about how some animal misheard the name 'rhino' and thought it to be 'I Know'."

Also see: Browse local children's stories in all official languages

There was a moment's silence. One could have heard that bright and colourful feather (which Christian had noticed earlier) drop had it not already been on the ground by the animals' feet.

"The rhino!" Christian's eyes lit up with the realisation.

Zory's eyes filled with tears. "It cannot be," he said.

"He is awfully big and powerful with those horns, but just a rhino," said Zeb apologetically.

Christian could hardly stand; he was laughing hard, but he noticed the misunderstanding didn't amuse Zory.

Zory's shoulders had sunk low with defeat.

"Hey buddy, it is better that you know the truth," he said to the tiger cub, "… But we still had an adventure."

Read further: This children's book will teach your child about the importance of thankfulness

He followed Zory, who was now walking away with a crestfallen gait. "… I could show you a whole lot of colourful things along the forest path to take back home with," Christian said, following him.

"Besides, it was fun looking for the I Know, but as Christian the Chief Spy in Command, I must declare this case closed! Or rather… 'successfully solved'."

Tail between his legs and shoulders sunken, Zory continued to walk a little way before slumping to the sand in defeat. "You don't understand," he said.

"It's my birthday, and I wanted a surprise. I wanted good news for a change – not the bad news of coronamonster, the famine in the forest and lack of berries for the animals, or the..."

"The roaring birds, you mean?" asked Christian.

"Yes," said Zory.

"Have you seen them too? They want to scare us with their explosions. They want to bring fighting into the forest."

The tiger sighed: "I want the colour to return to the Rainbow Forest. This is the Rainbow forest, you know. It's supposed to be colourful."

"It is still the Rainbow Forest," Christian reassured him. Zory sighed, "But if it is still the Rainbow Forest, where has the colour gone?"

Christian understood the nothingness Zory felt inside, but he also knew how he had overcome his nothingness.

He remembered why he had had the spring in his step earlier – he had spent time with the King of the Rainbow Forest and traded in his nothing with the King for a something: a good news story See full story here.

However, though it had swirled inside him and left him hopping and skipping and 'inspired' the whole morning, the story had not been quite apparent… until now.

Christian had a story, and it was like a story his father had told him, and one his father had told, and he knew just then that it was precisely the story Zory needed.

"The colour is not gone, and you will have your birthday gift," said Christian. "I think I might know just the bright and colourful thing you can take home with you. It comes in a story."

He continued: "You do love the Rainbow Forest, don't you?" "Yes, it's the only home I know," said the cub. "But did you know that it started with just one tree?"

Christian began. "No," said the cub, through tears, "I didn't."

"This was long ago," said Christian, remembering the story his father had told him about the Rainbow Forest's beginnings.

"The tree was very lonely. One day, things looked especially bad for the tree. Dark clouds had gathered overhead, and the winds roared something fierce."

The tiger drew closer to listen. Christian used the words his father had used when he had first told him the story, realising that some stories did not change – and this was one of them.

"The winds roared louder than the mightiest lion," he said, "The tree was even scared. Even mighty oaks can feel small sometimes."

He continued to tell the story: "The storms raged on, and the tree shook violently in the wind. He felt like parts of him were being blown away. His branches felt empty and violated."

The tiger listened with wide eyes. "When the rain stopped, the tree felt broken," said Christian. "Everything was calm, but all his leaves were gone. He might've been a Weeping Willow just then. He was an unfortunate tree."

"I can imagine," said Zory.

Also read: Christian, the golden feather and the fast ball

"The King – the Creator - whispered to him that he would paint a sign in the sky that everything was going to be ok and that He would remember to show His goodness and mercy to His creation and save whoever turned to Him and believed in Him."

"When the tree saw this sign, he said it was the hope of better times ahead. When the tree first saw the rainbow, the King's promised to sign. The rainbow was mesmerisingly beautiful, and the tree's leaves shivered beneath it with excitement." Zory smiled, "Rainbows are colourful."

"When the rainbow faded, the tree felt empty again. But then one morning, he woke up to see little green leaves scattered around him, as far as the eye could see." "Where did they come from?" Zory asked.

"I will tell you now," said the cub, continuing his story. "Day by day, the leaves grew taller, and the lonely, sad tree realised they were shoots, and the shoots became bigger and bigger until they too became trees.

The mighty and brave oak was no longer lonely. He thanked the King. He said his sign in the sky was a good sign indeed. There was a whole forest of trees now…" Christian studied the tiger cub's thoughtful expression.

" So, do you see now?" he asked the tiger.

Zory frowned. "The King explained to the tree that He allowed the storm to shake the seeds from his branches into the wind, to be carried to the farthest corners of the land so that he would no longer be alone. He said to him, 'It is because of the storm that you are now part of a forest.'"

Zory smiled. "And that is the story of the Rainbow Forest and of hope," Christian told the tiger cub, as his father had told him.

"It is also the story of the first rainbow – and a bright, most colourful story you can take home to share with others."

Zory sighed: "I like the story, but you cannot touch or hold a rainbow – it's just an illusion, and when they tell me about the King of the Rainbow Forest, he feels like an illusion too. I want to believe, but…."

Just then, a giant shadow loomed overhead. Ben, the golden eagle, did his usual river bed rounds. Spying the animals, he swooped down.

Zory gasped at the sight of the golden eagle. He – Ben - was the most significant thing Zory had ever seen. "Hello there, Christian and Zeb," said Ben.

"Caught you with my eagle vision and had to say 'hello'… And who do we have here?" he asked, studying the tiger cub.

"Zory," said Christian. "He is a tiger."

"I know," said Ben.

Christian pulled Ben aside a moment. "Try not to say 'I know'," he whispered to the eagle. "Zory has not had a good day."

"I see," said Ben.

He walked over to the tiger cub: "Not having a good day then?" he said, putting a reassuring wing around the tiger cub's shoulders.

"… And it's his birthday," said Christian.

Ben smiled knowingly: "Then we will have to give you a birthday surprise to remember!" he said to Zory.

The tiger cub lifted his head, and Christian thought he saw a glimmer of hope burn in his eyes. Christian knew precisely what Ben meant by 'surprise'.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" Ben asked, lowering his head so the tiger cub could climb onto his back.

"Hold on tight," he said as they lifted into the air, soaring higher and higher until the treetops of the Rainbow forest became a carpet of green beneath them.

From this height, Zory could see many bright and colourful things. The Field of Flowers was a patchwork of colour, and the river ran like a blue ribbon through the emerald meadows and grassland areas.

A herd of antelope in the distance appeared like flecks of gold. Ben flew towards the Great Mountain. This was the legendary mountain that few animals had climbed.

But rumours in the forest were that on the mountain was water sweeter than honey; Jacaranda trees grew there – and carpets of purple left by Jacaranda blossoms cascaded down the sides.

There were rose gardens at the top, said some animals, with golden yellow roses, which had pink-trimmed petals, and ancient rocks, which had gems encrusted in their depths and which sparkled like diamonds in the morning sun.

Tiny waterfalls flowed over these rocks, many of which tapered downwards towards the mountain's base and fed the forest's main rivers.

"Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?" asked Ben.

Zory hadn't. He took a deep breath, noticing the waterfalls, but more importantly, the many rainbows which rose in all directions as the sun's light reflected on the cascading waters.

"We must be headed back," he said to Zory.

"I will take you up another day for another glimpse of His mountain."

"His mountain?"

"Yes, it's the King's mountain, don't you know? The King of the Rainbow Forest."

"It's beautiful," said the tiger, taking in the vastness and breathtaking beauty of the landscape beneath them. "All of it."

"Do you see why they call it the Rainbow Forest?" asked Ben.

"Sometimes it takes a shift in perspective." Ben landed on the forest floor and lowered his head so the cub could climb down. "Thank you," said the cub, throwing his paws around Ben's neck. "This has been the best birthday ever."

Also see: It's Storytime! Read: Christian, the roar thief and the song of the nightingale

The tiger cub turned to face Christian and Zeb, who had been waiting for him on the ground: "I was wrong, Christian. It's still the same Rainbow Forest. It is! The bad news hasn't made it less beautiful, bright, or colourful."

"Tell the other animals the good news," said Ben.

"I will tell them…" said Zory, "About the first rainbow… about the tree which was scared but became brave because of the King's promise."

"Tell them about the King who was stronger than the wind and who turned what seemed against the tree for its good," said Christian.

"Tell them about the King who wanted the tree to be a part of a forest, no longer lonely and afraid." "And then come back and tell us how it went," Ben encouraged the tiger cub.

"There's not just a King and a Rainbow Forest… but also a tiger cub who is a part of that forest. And how do I know it?"

"How?" asked the tiger cub.

"You are striped, that is how," said the golden eagle.

"You would have no stripes if there were no trees. The King gave you the stripes so you could be camouflaged among the trees. You are a part of the forest as we are – and we all belong to the King."

"I have stripes too!" said Zeb, now excited.

"Thank you, Christian. Thank you, Zeb. Thank you, Ben," said Zory.

"This has been the best birthday ever. Thank you, Ben, for allowing me to ride on your back and giving me eagle's wings for the day."

"It was courtesy of His Majesty, the King of the Rainbow Forest," said Ben. "He is the rainbow-painter and the forest-maker."

"The King of the Rainbow Forest," Zory repeated the words with wonder.

He thought of the Great Mountain's wonders, the rainbows that transcended upwards from the leaping waterfalls, and the carpets of breathtaking purple.

He had felt the King's presence there, as he had been given eagle's wings. He had! "I had heard the stories," he said. "But now my eyes have seen the truth.

The King is real! Long live the King!

"He has a name," said Christian. "You cannot leave that out of your story." Christian remembered the name that had turned his life around. 'Jesus.'


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