Billy's birthday present

Once upon a time long ago there was a boy called Billy. The story I’m going to tell you happened on Billy’s birthday. Billy was six years old and all day people had been coming to his house bringing presents. In the afternoon there’d been a party with yet more presents and by the end of the day Billy had so many wonderful new toys that he couldn’t decide which one to play with next.

In the evening when everyone had gone home Billy sat on the floor looking at the front door. He was waiting. Waiting for his grandad to come. Billy knew his Grandad would come. Grandad always came on his birthday and every year he brought Billy a special present.

Last year Grandad had brought a gleaming red bike and Billy couldn’t wait to find out what this year’s special present would be.

There was a knock on the door.

‘Happy Birthday, Billy,’ said Grandad.

‘What have you brought me, Grandad?’ said Billy.

‘I’ve brought you something very special,’ said Grandad. ‘Something that you’re going to love. Something you can keep for the rest of your life.’

But Billy couldn’t see any present. Grandad didn’t seem to be holding anything in his hands.

‘Where is it?’ said Billy. ‘I want to see my special present.’

‘Your present is a story,’ said Grandad.

Billy was angry and disappointed.

‘I don’t want a story!’ he said. ‘I want a proper present. How can a story be a present?’

‘If you listen carefully you’ll find out,’ said Grandad.

‘I don’t want to listen carefully,’ said Billy. ‘A story can’t be a present. I want a present I can pick up and play with. A story is a rubbish present.’

‘That’s a pity,’ said Grandad. ‘Cos if you did listen to it...this story might turn out to be the best present you’ve ever had.’

‘I don’t want it,’ said Billy. ‘I’m not going to listen to it.’

Grandad just smiled and started the story.

‘Once upon a time...’

‘I’m not listening,’ said Billy and he covered his ears with his hands.

But Grandad kept going. He just kept telling his story and after a while Billy took his hands away from his ears. Even though he was still angry he found himself listening. It was a good story...a very good story...and as he was listening to it Billy’s imagination started to work.

In his imagination Billy could see mountains and rivers. He could see an old house on the edge of a forest where a wicked witch lived...

In his imagination he could hear a baby crying and he could smell the smoke which poured from a dragon’s nose...

And Billy found that the story made him feel things too. He felt sad and angry when the dragon helped the witch to steal a baby and happy when the baby’s mother fought the witch and rescued the child.

When the story finished Billy was very still. He was thinking about a dragon and a witch and a frightened baby crying in its mother’s arms.

‘Thank you Grandad,’ he said. ‘It’s a good story. It’s a good present.’

All this happened a long time ago. I know exactly how Billy felt when he heard that story because - Billy was me. Yes that’s right. I’m Billy and a long time ago on my sixth birthday my grandad told me a story. I’m an old man now and I’ve treasured that story and kept it in my head for 70 years.

All those new toys I was given that day? Well they all got lost or thrown away but I’ve still got that story and it’s as fresh and new as the day I first heard it. I’ve got a grandson of my own now and tomorrow’s his sixth birthday. I’m planning to give him a very special present. What do you think his special present will be?

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