Loaves and fishes

By Rob John

When my mother heard that the great teacher was coming, she was very excited. ‘He’s going to be giving a speech tomorrow, near the lake,’ she said. ‘Shall we go and hear him?’ ‘I’m not sure,’ I said. I was only ten. Listening to speeches wasn’t my idea of fun. ‘Come on Sarah,’ said mother. ‘It’ll be fun.’ ‘It won’t be fun,’ I said. ‘The lake’s so far away. We’ll be walking for hours in the hot sun.’ ‘But he’s really famous,’ said mother. ‘He’s showing us a new and better way to live. Everyone’s talking about him. This is our chance to hear what he has to say.’ ‘I don’t want to hear what he has to say,’ I said. ‘And I don’t want a new and better way to live. I’m fine living the way I am.’ ‘It’ll be an adventure,’ said mother. ‘How can walking all day and then listening to a boring speech be an adventure?’ I said. When I was ten, I wasn’t very good at walking...or listening. ‘I’m making honey cakes,’ said Mother. ‘Honey cakes to eat on the journey.’ I looked up at mother. Suddenly I was interested. Honey cakes were my favourite thing to eat in the whole world. ‘If you come with me tomorrow, Sarah,’ she said.’ I’ll make you a big honey cake and you can eat it all by yourself.’ Now I really was interested. The problem with honey cakes was that you always had to share them with your little brothers and sisters. You never got a whole cake to yourself. When I was ten, I wasn’t very good at sharing things. ‘Eat it all myself?’ I said. ‘No sharing?’ ‘No sharing,’ said mother. Early next morning, mother and I set off from our village. Mother was excited because she was going to hear the famous teacher. I was excited because in my pocket was the biggest honey cake I’d ever seen. And it was all mine. We walked along the track beside the desert, and then followed the dry riverbed. It was hot. Each time we stopped to drink water from a well, mother asked if I wanted to eat my cake. And she smiled as each time I said, ‘Not yet. I’m saving it.’ When we came to the place where the teacher was to speak there was a huge crowd. Someone said there were five thousand people there that day. Only a hundred people lived in our village, so the sight of five thousand in one place was truly amazing to me. Then the teacher appeared, and the huge crowd went silent as he prepared to speak. It was late in the day when the great man finished speaking, and people were starting to feel hungry. Lots of them had been so excited about seeing the teacher they’d forgotten to bring food. I was very glad that mother and I had saved our lovely honey cakes. Then a strange thing happened. The teacher told the crowd not to worry. He said that he and his helpers would share their food. He placed a few loaves of bread and some fishes in a basket, and asked his helpers to take the basket through the crowd. ‘It’s not much,’ said the teacher. ‘but I promise there will be enough for everybody.’ I remember laughing. It sounded so silly. How could a few bits of bread and a couple of fish be enough to feed a crowd of this size? Then I noticed that although people kept reaching into the basket the food didn’t seem to run out. The teacher called for more baskets and they too seemed to stay full of food, even though everyone was helping themselves. A basket was passed along the line towards us. I watched mother take out a small piece of bread and a piece of fish. And then she did something I hadn’t expected. Mother took her honey cake, and placed it in the basket. She just gave her cake away. I couldn’t believe it. Then the basket was in front of me, it was my turn. I took some fish and some bread, and then just as the basket was about to move onto the next person, I did the same as mother. I don’t know why, but I put my cake in the basket. And moments later that delicious, perfect honey cake which I’d been looking forward to eating all day was moving away from me, as the basket was passed down the line. A little boy saw my cake, and he stuck out his hand and grabbed it. For a second I felt a stab of anger and jealousy as the boy sank his teeth into my cake. I wanted to say, ‘Wait...wait. That cake’s mine!’ Then the boy tasted butter and honey in his mouth, and he smiled like this was the most beautiful thing he’d tasted in his whole life. And suddenly I understood. I didn’t feel angry or jealous any more. Seeing that kid enjoy my cake felt almost as good as eating it myself. In fact, in some ways it felt better. I looked at mother. She was smiling at me. She knew I’d learned something important from the great teacher. Sharing can feel good. In fact, sometimes sharing feels a whole lot better than good.

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