October 24, 2013

The Little Girl and the Mannequin, By Benjamin Chang

Editor's note: Benjamin's story so evoked the lovely joys and sadness of classic Hans Christian Andersen tales like "The Little Mermaid," I couldn't resist it.

Dedicated to Buddy Chang— beloved dog, friend, brother, and son. May you live a thousand years.

tailor had been saving money for years and finally was able to buy a little store on the corner of a street. He found himself a good wife who was also skilled with needle and thread, and they worked very hard to keep their business afloat.

The wife made a big mannequin and a little mannequin and placed them in front of the shop. She placed the finest adult clothing on the big one and the cutest children’s clothes on the little one.

Soon, the couple had saved up enough money and decided to have a child. Months later, the tailor’s wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl with hair as black as the raven. And as the years went by, the beautiful baby grew up to be a healthy little girl. She loved life and enjoyed hopscotch and jump rope. However, she did not seem to enjoy playing with other children.

As she grew older, the little girl became more and more reclusive. Her parents became worried. “How will she ever get married?” the mother asked. The father, hearing this, would only shake his head.

When the girl was eight, the mother and father decided to have another child, hoping dearly that a brother or a sister would help the little girl be more outgoing. When the mother’s belly had become great and swollen, she had terrible pains. She moaned and groaned loudly. Finally, the agony was unbearable.

The father was greatly worried and brought the wife to doctors of all kinds, but no physician could cure her. Desperate, the father went to the cabin of a witch who lived on the outskirts of the village. The father’s legs were shaking as he approached the old cabin. He knocked and found that the door wasn’t locked, for it swung open with a loud creak.

“Hello? Hello?” the father asked desperately. “Is there anybody here? Please, I need your help!”

A gentle voice bade the tailor to come in.

The father approached the witch nervously and saw her face. She was hideous and it scared him greatly. However, the witch was kind and spoke in a mellifluous voice. She offered the father tea with honey to calm him down and asked what bothered him so. The father was in tears as he told the witch about his difficult situation—about his wife’s agony, about his reclusive daughter, and about his unborn child.

The old witch frowned as she said solemnly, “My young man, I am sorry to say that there is nothing I can do to save your wife. Her death is God’s will. However, I can help your daughter. Take this enchanted button. When your wife starts shedding tears from her unbearable pain, let a teardrop fall onto this button. She will die, but some of her life’s essence will be preserved. Sew this button onto whatever object you will, and instantly that object will magically come to life with an amazing ability to communicate with others. Have that object talk to your daughter.”

The father thanked the ugly witch and kissed her on the cheek. Although he was heartbroken that his one true love would die that night, he rejoiced in knowing that there was still hope for their daughter. That same evening, he did everything the witch had instructed, and it was the longest evening the father had ever lived.

When the mother’s tear dropped onto it, the button glowed for a moment. And just as it returned to its normal state, the mother drew her last breath and died, along with her unborn child.

After this, the tailor’s daughter became more silent than ever and refused even to leave the shop. The father deliberated for a long time what object to sew the button on.

A ball? But what would she do if it rolled away? 

A coat? But what would she do if she became hot and forgot it in a corner?

A bracelet? But what would she do if it were stolen?

The father did not know what to do. He looked sadly at his daughter—his lonely daughter who spoke to no one but the little mannequin in the front of his shop. The mannequin!

Quickly, the tailor took the little mannequin and sewed the magic button onto its breast and instantly the mannequin came to life. He shook the father’s hand and smiled brightly. Just by looking at his face, the mannequin understood how the father felt. Immediately, he walked up to the little girl whose hair was as black as the raven.

The little mannequin extended his hand. “Little girl, pretty little girl, do you want to play with me?”

“No. I do not want to play with any person,” she said timidly.

The little mannequin grinned. “But little girl, pretty little girl, I am not a person, so play with me!
Come, let us go play with a ball and some jacks! Let us go play with the spindle and thread!”

The girl seemed reluctant at first, but then she nodded and ran along with the little mannequin all throughout the father’s shop. They played and danced and sang. Needless to say, they had a lovely time.

A few years went by, and as the girl grew taller, she grew livelier and more cheerful. Her hair, which was as black as the raven, grew longer and more beautiful. She was nearly as tall as the little mannequin now. The little girl did chores around the shop and loved her father dearly. However, she dared not leave the shop, and the father became more and more anxious.

The little mannequin saw this and knew what to do. One day he approached the tailor’s daughter.

“Little girl, pretty little girl, the store is so crowded and small, let us go run in the green grass. Let us go jump in the bright sunshine!”

“No. I do not want to see the dangerous world,” said the little girl timidly.

“But little girl, you shan’t be in danger, for I shall always protect you.”

The mannequin took the little girl’s hands and slowly led her outside. When she felt the warm glow of sunshine on her cheeks, the little girl did a few twirls and landed on the grass. The mannequin and the little girl played jump rope and hopscotch during the day, and lay on the grass gazing at the stars at night.

Years later, the little girl was already taller than the little mannequin, and her dark hair was ever so long and beautiful. She became accustomed to the outdoors and spent many a day hanging cloths outside to dry and playing and singing with the little mannequin on the grassy lawn in front of the shop. They were the dearest of friends. She told him her deepest secrets and the mannequin, as you might expect, turned out to be a great listener.

Gradually, the mannequin brought the little girl farther and farther from her home, taking her all across town. He introduced her to the neighbors, to the town baker, to the judge and the sheriff, to the milkman and the mailman. The little girl grew fond of the village folk, and the people loved her dearly, for she was so kind and beautiful.

At the age of seventeen, the little girl, who was really not so little anymore, fell in love with a handsome young cobbler’s apprentice. The mannequin had taught her to speak to many people, and she had enjoyed wonderful conversations with the baker and the mailman. However, when she tried to address the handsome young apprentice, she couldn’t utter a sound—the harder she tried, the more her tongue refused to budge. And so, she ran home to her little mannequin, weeping.

“Little girl, pretty little girl,” the mannequin said, “what ails you so?”

“Oh, my dearest friend, you wouldn’t understand, for you are not human and you have no heart that aches and no tears to shed. I am in love, yet I do not know how to win my love’s heart!”

Although she did not know it, the little girl’s words greatly hurt the little mannequin. Though it was true the mannequin had no heart, the magic button that had been sewn on his breast to give him life had also given him great love. Though it was true he had no tears to shed, that was all the more reason why he suffered so inside.

“Little girl, pretty little girl, you are not a small, frail, pretty little girl anymore. Instead, you are now a big, strong, and beautiful woman! Trust your heart! Follow it, for God loves the innocent and shall surely guide you to your true love.”

And so the beautiful woman, whose long hair was as black as the raven, took the little mannequin’s advice, and tried again to speak to the handsome apprentice. And this time, her words flowed, and immediately, the apprentice fell in love with the young woman. Within a month, they were wed.

Seeing that his job was done, the mannequin decided to leave the shop and travel around the world. He began packing his things, but he hadn’t much to pack for he was not human and did not require clothes or food. The father, now old and weary, gave the mannequin and great hug and shed a tear.  

“Although you are not human, you are like a son to me. Thank you for all you have done. May God bless you on your journey.”

With the father’s blessing, the little mannequin sailed the seven seas and went to exotic places. He saw elephants in Africa and rubies in India. He went to the magnificent Chinese Empire to see its fine silks and to Russia to see its glorious mountains.

Because the little mannequin was so good at communicating with others, he was able to talk to animals as well, and on his travels he befriended a pug and a nightingale. During his long voyages, he sang with nightingale and danced with the pug. At night, he would regale his friends with stories about the father and the girl, as they sat there, listening eagerly. The little mannequin, because of his great talking abilities, also had a knack for trade. Over the next ten years, accompanied by the pug and the nightingale, he traded spices and silks and other fine things all around the world. He traveled farther than Marco Polo and braved the most dangerous waters of the New World, selling rare goods from all over the globe. He accrued great wealth and fame.

The little mannequin had no need for money, however, as he had no use for even the most exotic foods, nor did he covet gold or glory or great houses or palaces. Instead, throughout all his travels, he spent only ten gold coins, three of which he used to by a little blue collar for his beloved pug friend, another three for a little red scarf, which he gave to his dear nightingale. The last four gold pieces he used to buy a handsome suite and a good-looking hat.

A few more years passed and the little mannequin and his pug and nightingale were still the closest of friends. However, the nightingale did not sing as much as before, for she was getting tired, and the little pug would not dance as lively as before for he had trouble breathing. One day, as the little mannequin watching his companions eat, the nightingale suddenly stopped and said, “I think it is time for me to go.”

“Go where, my little nightingale?” the mannequin asked.

“High, high above the clouds.”

“Will I ever see you again?”

“Hopefully not for long time, my dear friend.”

And so the pug and little mannequin stood on the deck of their trading ship and bade the nightingale farewell as she soared higher and higher in the sky until all that was left to see was a small black dot with a little bit of red in it—the scarf she wore around her neck. A moment later, she was out of sight.

The little mannequin could not help feeling sad. The button, which was his heart, seemed heavier than usual. He could not understand why his friend had gone away. The pug, however, knew what had happened. The nightingale was getting very old and had flown to another world, a more peaceful world from where she would never visit them ever again. He explained this to the little mannequin, and thus the little mannequin began to deeply miss his old home. “What if the tailor and his daughter also flew up beyond clouds?” he thought to himself. He decided to sail home.

After a long voyage, the little mannequin returned to the tailor’s shop and found that it was owned by someone he had never seen before. He asked the owner about the old tailor and was told that the old tailor had died years ago, peacefully in his sleep. The little mannequin was sad indeed. However, the little pug cheered him up with these words, “Do not feel sad, little mannequin, for the tailor lived a good life and, like the nightingale, is high up above the clouds now. He is one with God. I’m sure he thought of you as he died and wished all the best for you.” The mannequin knew this to was likely and felt much better. He also asked about the beautiful woman with hair as black as the raven and was told where he could find her.

The woman and her handsome husband lived in a little cottage up on a hill, and so the mannequin and his little pug friend went there to see her. Just as the mannequin was about to knock on the door, he saw his old friend through the window. She had on an apron and was cooking stew. Around her were little children, a boy and a girl, who were playing with wooden blocks. The husband, who was now a master cobbler, was fixing a shoe in the corner, but now he walked up to the woman, kissed her on the lips, and told her that her stew smelled delicious.

The mannequin decided not to go in, and he and his pug friend went back to the village. The pug was breathing even louder than usual and he asked his wooden friend to stop so he could rest. The mannequin sat on a log and rested his head on his hands.

“What ails you, my dearest friend?” the pug asked.

“I don’t know, little pug. I think about lucky I am, and I know I should feel happy, but I just feel sad inside. Very sad indeed,” the mannequin replied.

“Does it have anything to do with the beautiful woman in the cottage?”

“I guess so.”

“But my dear friend, you mustn’t forget. You’ve lived such a full life, a life that other mannequins can only envy. You’ve seen creatures of all kinds and gone on amazing journeys to the farthest edges of the world.”

“I know, little pug. I enjoy the never-ending love of a father, who still prays for me in God’s kingdom. I’ve listened to the most beautiful and heart-felt songs from our beloved nightingale, and I watched her ascend to a more peaceful and brighter world. And I have you by my side, comforting me at all times. I should be the happiest little mannequin in this world, yet my heart aches so, little pug. I’ve accomplished so much—I have done what men in this world can only dream of, and yet I could not win the love of the little girl, all because I am not a handsome man, but a little mannequin, whose bolts now are beginning to rust and whose color has faded greatly with the years. Is it God’s will that I be sad like this when I know I should be happy?”

The pug sat there for a while, not knowing what to say, for he understood that life is unfair sometimes, yet he also had full faith in God. “Little mannequin, you mustn’t think this way. God has a plan for all creatures great and small, even for you, friend. Come, let us go the nearby zoo. I know you always smile brightly when you play with animals in the brilliant sunshine.”

And so they walked into the village, but the pug was coughing and coughing. Finally, he could go no farther and he lay on the ground.

“What is happening to you, little pug!” the mannequin exclaimed.

“I fear it must be my time to leave as well, my dearest friend.”

The mannequin was heartbroken. “Will you be joining the little nightingale in the clouds?”

“I fear not, little mannequin, for I have no wings to carry me there.”

“Will you be joining the tailor in the God’s kingdom?”

“I fear not, little mannequin, for heaven is only reserved for God’s greatest creature.”

“Then what will become of you, little pug?” The mannequin tried to cry, but of course no tears could flow from his eyes for he was only a thing of wood.

“I do not know, my friend. But you mustn’t worry about me. You have no flesh that can rot, and so I am sure you will continue to live happily for many, many long years.”

“But what life is there to have when all my dearest friends are gone. Don’t leave me, little pug, for my heart is already broken.”

There was nothing the little pug could do or say to make the mannequin feel any better, so he closed his eyes and waited for his life to leave him.

The mannequin refused to let the little pug venture into the unknown, and so he picked up his friend and ran straight to the tailor’s shop. He had no lungs and had no muscles, so he sprinted faster than any man could. Racing into the shop, he grabbed some thread, a needle, and a pair scissors. He cut off his magic button and, careful not to drop it, used the thread and needle to sew it onto the old pug’s blue collar. The pug begged him to stop, for he understood that once the little mannequin let go of the magical button, he would cease to exist, as he had no wings with which to fly about the clouds and he had no soul with which to ascend to the kingdom of heaven. However, he was so old and weak, and he was powerless to stop him.

When the button was firmly attached to the little pug’s collar, the mannequin bent down and kissed his friend on the forehead with his dry, wooden lips, and said, “Thank you so much my friend, for all you’ve done for me. Do not cry for me, little pug, for this is what I want to do.” And so, the little mannequin let go of the pug’s collar and immediately the essence of life in the magical button invigorated the little pug. The little mannequin was now…just a little mannequin, and he stood there motionless, with a smile on his lips and what appeared to be a little teardrop that fell from his wooden cheeks. The little pug wailed in agony for he did not yet know what God had in store for the little mannequin.

Seeing the mannequin’s great love and pure heart, and the great sacrifice he had made, God decided 
to reward the little mannequin with a soul. It flew at once from the wooden man into the tailor’s embrace. God also heard the little pug’s painful wails and had mercy on the poor thing. He cast winds down into the tailor’s shop and turned what remained of the little mannequin into golden dust, which the winds carried up into the deep, blue azure of the sky.

The pug saw this and understood. He cried no more, and with his newly invigorated body, continued his travels across the world, making new friends. He eventually settled down with a master and married a beautiful girl pug.

From heaven, the little mannequin smiled lovingly upon the little pug and the beautiful woman with hair as black as the raven. His heartache was no more, and he visited the lovely nightingale high up in the clouds every now and then to sing with her. Every day from that day onwards, the little mannequin said a prayer for his beloved pug friend and for the woman’s family.

Whether this tale is true or not, I do not know. On the surface, it does seem rather fantastical. But then again, a little pug (who wore a blue color with a black button on it) spoke rather fine English and told me this story, which seemed very convincing. I adopted him, as he was kind and trustworthy, and we live quite happily.

Benjamin Chang is an 18-year-old student. Born and raised in Beijing, he lives there happily with his mother, father, and brother.


Lissa Sloan said...

So sweet and touching! I agree that it really does have a Hans Christian Anderson melancholy feel to it. Lovely story!

Aliza Faber said...

Beautiful :)

Anonymous said...

This was a very strange story to me. I see this story as mostly a traveling story that warns people of the dangers of wanting to live forever. This mannequin was very happy at first and as time progressed and his friends and family either died or moved on with their lives he was stuck in the same routine. Yes he moved around and made many friends ultimately they all would leave him alone in some way which is ironic because he was brought to life by the father of the little girl to give her someone to play with so that she would not have to be alone and it is because of the mannequin that she was able to grow in to happy and cheerful person who was able to get married to the man of her dreams because of the courage and strength she got from being friends with the mannequin. TG

Anonymous said...

This story was so original and I am glad I got the chance to read it! This would be an appropriate fairytale for children and I think that it would better help them cope with death. The innocence of the mannequin is childlike and he himself does not understand what death is. When the bird is dying the pug explains to the mannequin in a way that he could understand and also in a way that a child hearing the story could understand. When the mannequin gained a bird with a red scarf and a dancing pug for friends it made me think of something that would be in a Disney movie. Pocahontas in particular came to mind, probably because of the pug, but also because of the unlikely friendships in the movie. This is a great story of life and death and how you can still move on in life even when you have lost loved ones.
Paige F.