“I know all the Monkey songs,” said Tulip wistfully. “But I have never seen it for real, on the stage. I’ve never even been to a theatre before. I would have liked to go.” Izzie couldn’t think of anything to say. She knew how she would feel if she couldn’t go herself. Apparently, the finale in the house of the Monkey King was truly spectacular, with fireworks and everything. It was not to be missed.
“Sorry Tule,” said Izzie, feeling terribly guilty. “I’m late for gym. See you later.” She left Tulip standing rather forlornly in the draughty corridor. She was mouthing some words to herself, one of the songs that she knew so well.
That night, while Izzie was having a bubble bath, her mum came in with a fluffy towel and sat on the edge of the bath.
“I was talking to your friend Tulip’s auntie the other day, at the school gates,” she said. Izzie sunk lower into the foam and pretended not to hear. “Tulip is ever so disappointed about that monkey musical, but there aren’t any more places are there?” Izzie shook her head. “What a shame,” said Mrs Watkins, handing her the towel. She went out of the room, leaving Izzie to ponder.
An idea began to grow in Izzie’s head and, try as she might, it wouldn’t go away. Perhaps St Jude had been listening. She knew what she had to do.
The following day, after the school bell brought a merciful end to double maths, class 6B came tearing out of the room for their break, leaving the teacher in a spin. Only Izzie hung behind.
“Well, Izzie, I’m sure it’s not a love of fractions that’s keeping you here,” said Mrs Partridge.
“No Miss, I’m catching up on something for Sister Boniface.” “Well don’t be long,” said the teacher, sweeping up her tweed jacket and striding out.
There was the “Our Pledges for Jesus” poster in front of Izzie. She took down her card and looked at the scribble about chocolate biscuits. She nearly wrote ‘and I’m giving up my ticket to Monkey Magic for Tulip’, but then she put her pencil down again. A brilliant pledge like that would look like she was just trying to score points, after being laughed at for her biscuits. She put back her card as it was, and went off to have a quiet word with Miss Sidebotham in the office.
During English that afternoon, Kevin was reading out loud from David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Tulip had been called away from the classroom. Kevin had got to the dramatic bit where David had walked all the way from London to his aunt’s house in Dover, when a shrieking sound erupted in the corridor outside. Everyone rushed out to see what was happening.
Tulip was racing towards the classroom waving a ticket in her hand. She was so excited that she had to put her other hand over her mouth to stop herself from singing.
“Oh Izzie,” she gasped, grabbing her friend’s hands and dancing around in a circle.
“Do you know what has happened? There is a spare ticket after all to see the monkeys.” “That’s great,” said Izzie. “Actually...” Tulip didn’t wait for her to finish. “You will sit next to me on the coach, yes?” The words came pouring out.
“Well actually, no, I’m not going. It’s, er, not really my thing,” said Izzie, trying to swallow a lump in her throat. “Oh well,” said Tulip, and bounced over to talk to the other children who were going. A pang of disappointment welled up in Izzie’s chest.
Monkey Saturday came and went. Mrs Watkins was the only person who knew what she’d done, or so Izzie thought, and she made a fuss of her all day.
“Izzie I’m proud of you,” she said, buttering her a toasted hot cross bun. Nice, but not the same as hearing all those wonderful songs and going to a real theatre and having ice creams and tea in a restaurant and buying monkey T-shirts and stuff.
Nothing nice would ever happen again, Izzie decided, tearfully. It wasn’t as if she could tell Oliver either. He wasn’t going anyway, as he thought musicals were a bit “girlie”.
Monday was even worse. Practically everyone had got fantastic monkey masks from the theatre, and they all put them on to make silly chimp noises and beat their chests. Tulip couldn’t stop talking about the Monkey King and how well he sang and played the tom tom drums.
“You should have gone” she said to Izzie, “you don’t know what you missed!” If only Tulip knew. “Oh I must go again if I can,” she warbled.
Despite herself, Izzie’s mood began to lift; Tulip’s enthusiasm was infectious. “I will sing you the Monkey King’s lament, it is so beautiful. But not now, on Easter Saturday when Jesus will allow me!” Even Mr Thorogood, who had come to complain about the noise going on in 6B, had to laugh. Easter Saturday came nearer and nearer. Holy Week meant special services arranged for the children by Fr Tony. He always knew how to make them feel involved. On Good Friday, for the Passion service, Izzie helped Oliver carry the poster of pledges up to the altar, and laid it next to all the other class posters. Izzie’s face was a red as a tomato.
“Jesus,” said Izzie inside her head, “I hope you don’t mind that I ate some biscuits, but I did give up a ticket for my friend instead.” It wasn’t even written on her card, but she hoped it wouldn’t matter.
At last, the afternoon of the Easter Egg Hunt arrived. Children from all over the village were darting in and out of the trees and gravestones in the church yard. Dozens of little chocolate eggs, decorated with white chocolate animals and birds and wrapped in coloured paper, were scattered about. Squeals of excitement greeted each new discovery.
But everyone knew what they were really waiting for. At four o’clock, the children gathered at a table inside the church hall to pick up the first clue.
Each time they answered one correctly, it would lead them to the next clue, and so on until the final one that revealed where the Grand Egg was hidden.
Everyone scattered. Izzie waved to Oliver and Tulip, as they scrambled about following different trails.
After a while, she realised she was ahead of everyone else, even Aisha. Behind a particularly mossy gravestone, she found a card with the final clue: “I was a saintly man from a land of hot sunshine. Animals and birds were my friends. My light shines for all to see. When you see the light, kneel at my feet.” What on earth could it mean? Izzie was lost in thought, when she saw a figure coming closer, out of the corner of her eye. Someone trying to pinch the clue?
No, it was Sister Boniface. “There you are Isobel” she said brightly. “I’ve been looking for you.” Izzie winced, hoping she wasn’t in trouble again. “I know what you did for Tulip Ndbele, Isobel, and I know how much of a sacrifice it was for you. You’re an example to us all.” Izzie couldn’t speak. She didn’t think she’d ever heard Sister praise her like that before. She could feel her face beginning to crumple, and she didn’t have a tissue.
“You know Our Blessed Lord made a sacrifice for his friends too,” said Sister Boniface.
“That’s what it’s all about.” She lent Izzie her big linen handkerchief. “Now, how are you doing with that clue?” “I’m a bid stug,” said Izzie sniffing. “Well then my dear,” said Sister Boniface with a wink, “why don’t you pray to St Francis for inspiration?” And with that, she marched off, her voluminous habit flapping behind her.
Of course! Izzie sped into the church, her heart racing. There, on the south wall, was a beautiful stained glass window, lit by the early spring sunshine. In the middle was the figure of St Francis of Assisi surrounded by doves and deer, a shaft of light shining through his saintly features onto the floor below.
Izzie went up to the base of the window. “Kneel at my feet,” she said to herself, recalling the clue. There was a kneeler right there. She was about to kneel down, when she noticed a cloth covering something just in front of her.
Her heart missed a beat as she pulled off the cloth to find a large box. Inside, wrapped in golden silk and exotic ribbons was... the Grand Egg. “I’ve found it, I’ve found it!” yodelled Izzie, as she cradled the treasure in her arms and staggered out of the church and into the church hall. She almost tripped; the egg was so heavy. “I’ve found the Grand Egg!” Everyone in the hall started clapping and the word got round that the hunt was over.
“Congratulations!” said Fr Tony, who was the organiser.
“Bring it to the table and find out your prize.” Izzie approached the main table and laid the egg down gently like a baby.
Antoine the confec tioner kissed her sloppily on both cheeks, tickling her with his twirly moustache.
He then began the delicate process of unwrapping the cloths around the egg and separating it into two halves. Tulip came over to Izzie and squeezed her hand. The suspense was terrible.
“Voila!” said Antoine, handing her a golden envelope. Izzie’s hands shook as she opened it to find ... two tickets for Monkey Magic.
“Talk about the most perfect end to Lent,” she said to Tulip, giving her a hug. “Hallelujah!” said Tulip.