Once upon a time, there lived a family with three sons. Malik was the youngest boy. He was forever working to prove how strong, brave and wise he was, following his brothers as they plowed the fields and milked the cows and herded sheep. “You can’t keep up,” his brothers teased, but Malik was determined to show them what a grownup he was.
One day his father called Malik to his side. “We are going to go away to the city to sell our vegetables,” he told his son. “Your brothers will be going with me, and I need you to stay here and help your mother care for the cows and the sheep and the garden.”
“Of course!” Malik said. “I will be the perfect man of the house!”
For the first week, Malik was a perfect son. He milked the cows, herded the sheep, helped his mother with the cooking, cleaning and preparing of their meals. At the end of the week, Malik’s mother said, “Here are five coins to go to market to buy us some peas for supper.”
Malik had never before been to the market on his own, and he had never been the one to hold the money. As he ran toward town, he felt proud, strong and brave.
When he reached the market, even it seemed brighter and shinier than he remembered. The booths looked bigger than usual, the fruits and vegetables looked fresher, the people seemed to be smiling more broadly, and their clothes were more colorful. Everything smelled sweeter, and even the sounds seemed different.
That’s when Malik heard a sound he had never heard before. It rose above the voices of the merchants selling their wares; it was deeper and more resonant, more compelling. “Bong, ke-bong, ke-bong, bong, bong,” came the sound, and Malik felt he had to dance. He walked toward the merchant selling peas, but he couldn’t resist. That sound was luring him forward, and at long last he came to the source of that sound.
A sea of people stood in his way, and he could not see what was making that sound, but all those people were swaying their hips, clapping their hands and dancing, and Malik, too, began to dance.
“Bong, ke-bong, ke-bong, bong, bong …” Malik pushed forward, trying to see what was making that sound.
At long last, he dodged his way through the dancers, and he saw it: A tall, skinny man beating his hands upon a tall, skinny drum: “Bong, ke-bong, bong, bong.” Malik felt his hands begin to twitch. He had to play that drum, and he moved closer until the man was smiling down at him, laughing, looking at the boy’s twitching fingers.
“You want to play my drum?” he asked as he tapped out the “bong, ke-bong, bong, bong” beat.
“I do,” Malik said, and so the man stepped aside. Malik took his place before that tall, skinny barrel-like thing with leather stretched taut across its top, and he began to pound.
The moment he touched that drum and heard that sound, he felt his heart begin to soar, as if this was what he was meant to do.
“I can’t stop,” Malik said, pounding out one beat after another. All the people gathered closer still and danced.
“You want to buy my drum?” the merchant asked, and Malik forgot all about the peas. He heard those five coins jangling in his pocket, and he nodded at the man. “I do, yes, please!”
“Ten gold coins,” the man said. Malik stopped drumming and a tear fell from his eye. “I have only five,” he said.
“Let him have the drum,” someone in the crowd shouted. “He’s a master drummer,” someone else called. “I’ll pay the extra,” said another man, and soon everyone was offering coins to help Malik purchase his drum.
“Very well, it’s yours,” the man said, and he handed Malik his new drum.
Never had a young man been happier than Malik was in that moment. All thoughts of his errands and responsibilities floated away as he took the drum in his arms and began to play.
Once again, the people gathered around, and everyone began to follow him back home, dancing after him, cheering him on as he played, “Ke-bong, ke-bong, bong, bong …”
Suddenly, he stopped. “I’ve failed my family!” he wailed. “I spent all our money on this drum, but I didn’t buy peas. I promised my mother …”
Malik began to cry, but just then one of the women in the crowd stepped forward. “I’ll share my basket of vegetables,” she said. “You play so beautifully, and I love to dance.”
And a couple stepped forward and said, “And we’ll give you a pig if only you will keep playing.”
“I’ll give some bread,” called a young girl, and another said, “And I have cakes. We’ll all share and dance together.”
And so they did, and from that day on, Malik was known as the young man who brought joy to their village and pride to his family.
“You followed your kind heart,” his father later told him. “That, my son, is how to be a good man.”
by Amy Friedman and Meredith Johnson