THE HEN! THE HEN!: AN HOMAGE TO THE LITLLE STORYTELLER ON THE TRAIN

I’d run out of reading matter a few stops from my station, which is annoying, when a hassled thirty-something mum got on, dragging a feisty six-year-old and holding a crying, twisting, screaming two-year-old. They sat opposite me. For some puzzling reason, the baby was shouting at the top of her lungs for ‘The hen! The hen!,” as her mum desperately tried to find something. “I can’t find the book!,” she finally declared in defeat just when the elder girl stepped in to help: “Shall I tell you a tale?,” she volunteered to her baby sister. Yes, the baby nodded. “And what do you want in it? Would a princess do?,” she asked, predictably. “A hen,” the baby replied. “Ok,” the sister agreed, “but a princess, too.”

She embarked then on the most mesmerising story you might imagine, with a princess, a hen, a thrilling metaphysical plot about the sky falling over, compounded later with a witch who had a strawberry shaped house and grew strawberries in a field. The baby and her mum listened open-mouthed… and so did I. A woman sitting next to me turned her head and we smiled at each other amazed at what we were hearing. Two stations later the story still continued and I found myself considering the possibility of skipping my stop. I decided to get off but I had to tell the little girl that I loved her story very much and was very sorry to miss the end. She looked pleased!

All writers fabulate, as the little girl did, when they’re children and I was wondering, as I listened to her, whether she was making up her story (and would grow up to be a professional storyteller) or borrowing elements from tales she’d read. Checking the internet I’ve located books in Catalan about “La Gallina Fina” (Fina, the hen) and one about “La Bruixa Maduixa” (yes, the strawberry witch) but even supposing the little storyteller had borrowed from them, what was mesmerising was how she could hold our attention, 1 baby and 3 adults included. I wanted very much to tell the poor, distressed mum that her daughter’s talent was precious but I felt too shy, opting instead for offering her girl my praise.

I just wanted to share this lovely moment, which made me feel like another little girl and also reminded me of how powerful oral storytelling can still be. Keep it up, little girl!!

(A friend has wrongly believed this is fiction, but, believe me, it is not!! All I write here in this blog is 100% non-fiction)

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