Carp Is for Courage

by Jean Van Riper

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    “There, it’s all done!” Jeff said as he knotted the bridle line to his kite. Jeff felt proud as he held up the kite to check the glued tissue paper edges. He was sure he would win the Highest Flyer Award in the kite tournament to be held the next afternoon.

    As Jeff picked up scraps of paper and sticks from the porch floor, he heard the creak of rusty hinges. “Oh, no,” he groaned. “Robin Hood has escaped again!”

    With a sick feeling, Jeff remembered his father’s words, “If that dog steals something just once more, Jeff, he’ll have to go!”

    Hurdling the porch steps in one leap, Jeff raced to the alley and whistled. He hoped that maybe this time Robin Hood hadn’t picked up anything belonging to someone else, but his hope faded as Robin Hood came around the corner dragging a big paper fish. With his tail wagging, the dog dropped his gift at Jeff’s feet.

    “Bad dog!” Jeff scolded. Robin Hood retreated to the farthest corner of the yard. Jeff remembered to close the gate this time, but he felt guilty that he had let his dog get loose.

    The paper fish was ripped, but Jeff could see that it had been skillfully painted with loops to look like fish scales. Turning it over, he saw the broken basswood and knew it had been a kite. Someone had probably made this strange-looking kite to enter in the tournament, and Robin Hood had stolen it.

    Jeff knew what he had to do. He started walking toward Mr. Peterson’s fruit market, taking the broken fish kite with him. Mr. Peterson knew just about everybody, and many times before he had helped Jeff find the owner of Robin Hood’s other gifts.

    “Has Robin Hood been at it again?” Mr. Peterson asked Jeff as he polished an apple. “That carp kite’s in pretty bad shape.”

    “Do you know who it belongs to?” Jeff asked.

    “Wouldn’t take much to figure out,” answered Mr. Peterson. “A new boy about your age has been coming into the store a lot lately. His name is Jimu, and he’s talked to me about carp kites. The carp stands for courage, you know.”

    “No, I didn’t know,” said Jeff.

    “Japanese boys fly carp kites every year on Boys’ Festival Day,” said Mr. Peterson. “It’s supposed to remind them to be courageous.”

    “Do you know where Jimu lives?” Jeff asked.

    “No,” said Mr. Peterson, “but he usually goes toward Miller Street.”

    Jeff thanked Mr. Peterson and went back home. His shoulders drooped as he climbed the steps. Robin Hood, stretched out by the lilac bush, opened his eyes and watched.

    “Come on,” Jeff called as he picked up both kites. “We have a job to do.”

    Jeff and Robin Hood walked up and down Miller Street, but they couldn’t find anyone who knew of a boy named Jimu.

    “Sorry I can’t help you,” said a lady who was watering her lawn. “Why don’t you ask your dog?” she joked.

    “Why didn’t I think of that!” said Jeff. He gave the carp kite to Robin Hood to carry in his mouth.

    “Take it back!” Jeff commanded.

    Robin Hood seemed to understand. He held the kite tightly between his teeth and led Jeff to the corner, turned right, and then disappeared down an alley. Jeff followed the dog down the alley and through an opening in a high wooden fence, where Robin Hood stopped.

    This must be the house, Jeff thought as he walked into a strange garden. There were dwarf trees in low vases sitting in raked white sand.

    Ohayo (good morning),” said a voice, and a short black-haired boy came around the corner of the house.

    “You must be Jimu,” Jeff said. “I’m Jeff.”

    The Japanese boy bowed. His dark eyes looked from Robin Hood to the carp kite and back to Jeff.

    Jeff didn’t know what to say at first, but once he got started, the story came tumbling out.

    Sumimasen (very sorry),” Jimu said after Jeff finished. “Perhaps you should try a cardboard collar.”

    “I don’t understand,” said Jeff.

    “I have a friend who had a dog with a sore ear,” Jimu explained. “He cut a big wheel-shaped piece of cardboard and then cut a hole in the middle. He put it around the dog’s neck so the dog couldn’t scratch its ear. His dog also had difficulty picking up objects with his mouth.”

    “That sounds like a great idea,” Jeff said. “I’ll try it. But that won’t help you fix your kite, so I want you to have mine instead.”

    Jeff held his kite out to Jimu, who took it and looked at it carefully.

    “Very nice,” Jimu said at last. “But please come with me.”

    He led Jeff to a sliding door at the back of the house. They both removed their shoes and went inside.

    “Please sit on the tatami,” Jimu told Jeff as he pointed to the straw mat on the porch floor. He put Jeff’s kite on a low table covered with jars of paint and a brush.

    Jimu picked up the brush and asked, “May I?”

    Jeff nodded. He watched Jimu swiftly paint an outline of a fish on the kite Jeff had given him. Soon a carp filled the kite as Jimu painted half-hoop scales all over.

    “Now you’ll have a kite to fly today,” said Jeff.

    Jimu smiled mysteriously as he excused himself and disappeared behind a screen.

    When Jimu returned, he said, “I already have a kite.” He held up a paper fish. “The first one I made broke, and Robin Hood must have found it in the trash.”

    “But why did you paint this beautiful fish on my kite?” Jeff asked.

    “Because it took much courage for you to come to me,” Jimu answered. “And the carp stands for courage. You would honor me to fly your kite with me today,” he added.

    “That would be great,” Jeff answered. And the two boys, with Robin Hood tagging along behind, picked up their kites and ran out into the field together.

    Illustrated by Charles Quilter