Authors: Tricia Bennett
The storyteller's smile widened as he considered the earnest sincerity of the young girl's persistent pleas, and it was only a matter of seconds before the other children joined in and begged for their parents and grandparents to be allowed to stay and listen in on Polly's further adventures.
“We promise you they won't make any noise whatsoever,” the children chanted over and over in perfect unison.
Eventually, albeit reluctantly, the storyteller found himself caving in to the children's rather unusual request. “Very well then, as long as they do as they're told and remain as silent as the night,” he said slightly tongue in cheek as a somewhat bemused look settled across his face. He then leaned over to blow away the thin film of dust that had settled on the pages of the thick book, which held many a story yet to be told.
As he began to finger the well-read pages, he hesitated briefly before deciding that this must surely be the perfect moment to caution his extremely attentive audience. His tone was gentle, yet serious. “It is right that this story be told to grown-ups and children alike, but I would not be doing my job properly if I did not take the time to warn all present that you will at times feel deeply stirred within your soul as I turn page after page to reveal more of young Polly's sad and troubling young life as she continues on with her personal journey. It is true to say that such terrible things still take place in many a children's home all over the world and will surely never cease until those who truly care rise from their dormant slumber to take some form of expedient affirmative action. So, may Polly's story serve a much higher cause than just to tickle your ears. Yes, may it also stir in your bosom a fresh and fervent determination to show more love and understanding to your own offspring, but may it also arouse a deep compassion to reach out and touch the poor and defenseless in our midst, who battle on in this life with little or no hope to be found.”
The room fell into a deathly hush. You could have heard a pin drop as all present seemed to mull over the storyteller's gentle but deeply convicting words. Never one to be in a hurry, he used the moment to take a deep breath and further study his audience, which rather alarmingly had not only quadrupled in size but appeared to come from every conceivable background.
And so it was on that otherwise ordinary day that the rich found themselves sitting alongside the poor, black touching elbows with white, and an honorable Indian chief who wished to take notes found himself borrowing the mighty pen of the determined politician seated right beside him as they all waited with bated breath and much anticipation for the storyteller to begin.
“Now purely for the sake of those who have only just cared to join us I feel it would be good to tell something of her journey so far,” the storyteller suggested. “So those among you who are already familiar with the story, I would ask that you bear with me and be patient a moment longer so that I can quickly fill in the uninitiated amongst us.
“Polly and her two brothers had been sent to the orphanage at a very young age. Her elder brother, Thomas, became very sick and died, leaving Polly and her younger brother, James, at the mercy of their cruel guardians, known to all as the Scumberrys.
“Life for Polly was so unbearable that hardly a day went by without her praying or sending a letter to God asking for His personal help, for she felt she had nobody else to turn to. Her two favorite schoolteachers, who gave her hope, moved on, and the social services, for no apparent reason, seemed to have entirely abandoned her and her family. As she had no living relatives to visit and thus keep an eye on her and her younger brother, she was left to the mercy of her guardians, who compelled all the children to keep secret everything that took place within their walls, the family motto being âWhat happens in the castle stays in the castle.' Failure to adhere to this command brought very severe consequences.
“One day help arrived in the form of two rather strange ragamuffins, one who went by the name of Ralph, the other, Hodgekiss. Polly was quickly befriended by these kind gentleman of the road, and there came a day when they gave her an invitation to come to tea at their house, which happened to be in a magical land called Piadora, a land where all her pain would cease and where all her dreams could and would come true.
“However, before she committed to leaving the home to go on this journey, she was warned that the journey would at times be perilously dangerous, and most who started the journey failed to ever make it to the end. If Polly was to run with this challenge, she would be allowed to take only one favorite item with her. Polly chose to take her tatty blue elephant, whose name is Langdon. The reason for her choice was simple: an elephant never forgets, and this elephant was very special, as he carried every tear she had ever cried.
“Despite many fears and misgivings, Polly soon found herself on a whirlwind adventure that was filled with tough tests and character-building challenges. On the journey she meets some very unusual characters who were there either to help or hinder her quest. There also came a time when she was informed that she must bury Langdon if she was to move on. This proved to be one of the hardest decisions of all.
“Polly finally met a young black boy named Aazi, who, just like herself, had suffered much. He was therefore equally determined to face every fresh crisis and fight every battle in his personal quest to also make it to Piadora. However, tragedy struck again, and Polly once more found herself alone as she continued to be forced to face her fears and doubts.
“Finally, against all odds, she made it to the kingdom of Piadora. Here, for the first time ever, Polly experienced the joy and happiness she had always been denied. She was no longer the good-for-nothing pauper she had always been led to believe she was, but she was transformed into a real and very caring princess. In Piadora, Polly is reunited with not only her brother Thomas but also Aazi. Langdon was also once more returned to her. The story should have ended there and would have done so, if only Hodgekiss hadn't called her to one side to show her other suffering people whom she alone could help. She was then given the hard choice of staying in Piadora and living happily ever after or returning to her difficult life in the orphanage, where she would be given countless opportunities to touch the lives of many others. Polly, being Polly, realized that there really was no choice, and so, against her better judgment, she agreed to return once more to the orphanage and to a life of deprivation and misery under the tyrannical rule of her cruel and heartless guardians Mr. and Mrs. Scumberry.
“So, if we are all comfortably settled, then allow me the privilege of starting the next chapter. Yes, I will begin where we left off, with Polly having arrived back at the castle after her eventful, if not immensely challenging, journey to the wondrously glorious and visually stunning, inexplicably breathtaking kingdom of Piadora.”
Having been dismissed from Uncle Boritz's abysmally untidy study, an aimless Polly then made her miserable way down the long corridor to continue on with the relentless cleaning chores that most would agree had unfairly been assigned to her. In this latest family meeting she had been warned by her uncle that she was never again to make tea and sandwiches for the assortment of undesirables who regularly rang the doorbell begging for a little something to eat and drink. In this most private of meetings she was also to be threatened with all sorts of terrible punishments if she even dared strike up a conversation with any future callers to the castle. All this left Polly despairing as to whether she would ever be fortunate enough to once more meet up Ralph or Hodgekiss, those two thoroughly loveable gentlemen of the road who had indeed become very dear to her. Polly sighed deeply as she wondered what to do next.
Moments later she espied her brother James in the distance in his usual trance he headed toward the stairs, carefully holding a model plane in his outstretched hand. She knew with much certainty that he was headed for the boys' dormitory to place this newly built model beside all his other prize exhibits.
She knew that these planes were so precious to him purely because he had to work very hard to save the large amount of pennies that were required to buy the kits. This he did by helping Mr. Johnston dig over his beloved vegetable patch on the weekends. James was also very clever when it came to bartering various things with other boys at the school they attended. He therefore counted these models as his most important and therefore prized possessions.
Polly smiled to herself as she thought how preoccupied he had been putting this last plane kit together. She could not help but admire his tenacity as he picked up one tiny piece after another to painstakingly glue together until the model plane or military tank finally emerged. She knew for certain she did not have the patience for such things. As Polly reflected on all this, a few of the other children raced past, carelessly knocking into her and causing her to stumble as they tried to get to kitchen door first.
“Hey, watch where you're going,” she mumbled as she rubbed her upper arm, momentarily stopping to check for bruising.
Polly smiled and secretly rebuked herself for being so peevishly miserable, for as she looked down at the signet ring that still remained on the middle finger of her left hand, twisting it 'round and 'round, it once more reassured her that Piadora, with its Hoolie Koolie and Hubber Blubber trees, had not just been a figment of her seemingly wild and out-of-control imagination. She had to admit that she felt pretty upset, if not a tad angry, that her punishment had been extended for a further three months, especially as she believed she had done nothing to deserve the extra time. But as she continued to twist the ring on her finger, she reasoned that three more months on “Relinquishment of all privileges and enjoyments,” better known as ROPE, was indeed a small price to pay when she had just come back from the most wonderfully harmonious place that could ever possibly exist. This in itself would surely have been enough!
But the icing on the cake was that she now believed, for the first time in her miserable existence, that she had finally found real, true friends she could cherish forever, friends like Aazi, as well as the thoroughly likable lads Justin Kase and Justin Thyme, whom she felt the deepest bond with as a direct result of all the trials they had survived. And then the cherry on top of the cake was surely to see her beloved brother Thomas not only safe from all harm but now so deliriously happy and content that it was almost impossible to imagine he had ever been otherwise. Just witnessing his newfound joy had provoked such a deep sense of gratitude in her.
When all was said and done, she knew there was no price tag she could even begin to put on having been given that rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to partake in such an incredibly amazing journey, one that had taken her to a place that up until now had only ever existed in her wildest dreams and beyond, a land where all reference to pain and suffering was treated by all residents as nothing more than a contemptible byword that they no longer wished to be reminded of or indeed ever give another moment's thought to, for all inhabitants of Piadora lived in a place that could well be renamed “Land of Utter Bliss.” Piadora had indeed proven itself to be the place where every elusive childhood dream was miraculously resurrected and brought to fruition. She therefore had little choice but to admit that even if she were to be sentenced to a whopping seventy-seven years on ROPE, only to emerge a wizened, toothless old lady, she would still have chosen to embark on the journey to Piadora.
“Well, I'd better just grit my teeth and try to make the best of it,” she quietly resolved, at the same time reaching deep into her pocket until her fingers made contact with a small but thickly folded piece of paper. “If I keep my head down and do nothing further to upset my aunt and uncle, well, who knows, they may even cut my sentence in half,” she murmured, at the same time unconsciously shaking her head as if to suggest that the likelihood of that happening was very remote, for compassion or mercy was indeed in very short supply when it came to both her guardians. Polly pulled the piece of paper from her pocket and caressed it between her fingers, and as she did so, she felt a warm, tingly sensation run the whole length of her body.
“Thank goodness I remembered to ask dear Aazi for a forwarding address. I bet he's struggling just as much as I am since leaving Piadora to go back to his homeland,” she mumbled, her smile deepening as she instantly pictured his impish little dark face with its show-stopping smile.
“I must not leave it too long to write to him, although I have to confess to having absolutely no idea what it might cost to send a letter halfway around the globe. Oh, well. I will have to address that little problem when the time comes,” she muttered as she slipped the precious piece of paper back into her pocket for safekeeping.
By the time Polly finally completed the ridiculously lengthy list of tasks Aunt Mildred had so considerately pinned on the kitchen wall for Polly's benefit, it was very late into the evening and so way past her bedtime. So it was that a very bleary-eyed Polly found herself holding on ever so tightly to the banister as she struggled to haul her aching body slowly and exhaustedly up each step of the winding oak staircase. With every step she took she could hear her joints creaking and cracking in unison with every piece of oak flooring that her feet bore down on. She willed herself to make it as far as the dormitory and then farther still until she reached her bed, which happened to lie at the farthest end of the room.