I was once friends with a kappa named Cucumber.
We met on a Saturday. It had rained Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday!
Come Saturday it was still raining, so I put on my yellow boots and jacket; and I took an umbrella, a bucket, and some cucumber sandwiches; and went down the lane to collect frogspawn.
Along the way I splashed through every puddle, but thanks to the yellow boots my feet stayed nice and dry.
When I got to the pond, I saw something floating on the water. It had big green eyes, so I thought it was a frog. But as I came closer it suddenly spoke!
“I know it well, that human smell.”
It wasn't a frog at all… it was a little girl! She was standing in the pond and looking at me with her huge, round eyes, green as green. She had long, red hair and a lily pad on top of her head.
“If you don’t get out of the rain, you’ll catch cold” I told her, and I offered her my umbrella. But the girl shook her head.
“Underwater it’s wet enough, the cold and the rain is what I love” she replied.
As I thought how strange it was to speak in rhymes and swim in the rain, I noticed the girl looking at me very hungrily. So I took a cucumber sandwich out of my pocket.
“If you’re hungry, you may share my lunch with me” I said.
Quick as a flash she snatched it away, opened wide and swallowed it whole. Then she wanted the next sandwich, and the next. Before long she had eaten them all.
I asked her: “Do you really like cucumbers that much?” She nodded and smiled. I smiled too.
“Let’s be friends!” I cried “Please, oh please! After I get some frogspawn you can come to my house and play.” The girl looked very sad.
“Although I would like to come and play, here in the water I must stay” she said apologetically. But then she took my bucket and dived beneath the surface. A moment later she returned, and the bucket was brimming with frogspawn!
“Come find me in the pouring rain, when you want to meet again”. So I picked up my things and splashed all the way home.
From that day on, whenever it rained I would go down to the pond to see her. I always took her favourite cucumber sandwiches, and because she loved them more than anything else I called her ‘Cucumber’.
I didn't tell anyone else about her: she was my special, secret friend.
Sometimes we played checkers (which Cucumber always won).
Sometimes we shared stories (though Cucumber preferred to listen).
We paddled in the shallows and when there was no more frogspawn she helped me collect pebbles. One day the bucket was so heavy I couldn't carry it. Then, when Cucumber came to help me, I looked down and saw she had webbed feet like a duck.
“Why do your feet look like that Cucumber?” I said.
“All kappa toes are the same as those” answered Cucumber, and shrugged. “Who knows?”
I didn't know what a kappa was, but it felt rude to say so. Instead I went home and asked my mother. Her face turned a strange colour and she got very angry.
“Kappa are the river children; foul, evil creatures who make mischief wherever they go. They cause floods, sink boats and drown animals. If they catch you they will drag you into the water and gobble you up! Don’t you ever go near the river, that’s where they live – and there’s nothing they like better to eat than little boys!”
I ran outside before she could wonder where I had heard of kappa. I was in such a hurry that I even forgot my umbrella and jacket.
By the time I reached the pond my clothes were drenched and my shoes were full of rain; I felt so miserable that I burst into tears, but Cucumber waved at me brightly.
“How very nice, to visit twice” said she, bobbing up and down. I thought about her webbed feet, her scaly skin, her bulging eyes and spiky teeth – she wasn't human.
“Were you going to eat me, Cucumber?” I mumbled. She stopped combing the weeds out of her red hair and stared down at our reflections for a while.
“Yes, human meat is what I eat; and yes, at first I planned the worst” she replied.
“Yet in the end we’re best of friends! Please don’t get mad, I'm not all bad… and since we met I've felt so glad; for every day you came to play.”
She bit her lip as if she were about to cry. But kappa are made of water – they cannot cry.
At that moment I heard my mother calling me. When she arrived I was soaked and shivering and Cucumber was nowhere to be found. Mum took me home and put me to bed.
I lay watching the rain outside my window wondering if I would ever see that strange little girl again.
The next day I was too poorly for school. Mum gave me medicine and told me to rest. As I slept, I dreamed that Cucumber was peering through the glass at me – I let her in, but my throat hurt so badly I couldn't say anything.
She brought me little white flowers and a stripy snail. She held my hand, and her hands felt warm and dry. Then she took the lily pad off her head and placed it on mine.
When I woke up my cold had gone, and there was something wet on the pillow...
Why, Cucumber’s hat! And on the windowsill I found the bunch of flowers and the snail in its stripy shell. She must have come to visit after all.
It had rained so much overnight that the streets completely flooded, people were paddling about in canoes and eating picnics on the rooftops.
Mum couldn't believe I’d recovered so suddenly, and told me to stay in bed while she was busy downstairs. Of course, I didn't mention Cucumber.
I waited impatiently until night-time, certain that she would come back again. Out in the garden the Moon floated on the surface of the water like a giant fishing lure.
Cucumber’s eyes made the Moon look square.
“ I'm so glad to see you again” I said the moment she came into view. She sat upon the fence with water streaming down her knees. But she looked deathly pale, and my heart sank. Did Cucumber get sick because of me?
I removed the lily pad and floated it across to her. “This is yours. Thanks for lending it to me”.
She put it on and immediately perked up, but she didn't smile like she used to. When she spoke, her tone was serious. “My friend, this is the end. The deal we made has been repaid”.
“Are you leaving, Cucumber?” I asked, bewildered.
She nodded. “Because I dared to interfere, it’s time that I go far from here”.
I didn't understand, and I had so many more questions to ask her, but for some reason they wouldn't come out. Was it my fault she had to leave? Would she ever come back again?
At last Cucumber heaved a sigh. “Although I’d love to stay, I must now be on my way”.
“But… I’ll miss you” I whispered.
“I’ll miss you too” she whispered back. Then she turned away, and slipped into the darkness without a sound.
I love the rain. Now, whenever it starts to pour, I put on my yellow boots and jacket; and take an umbrella, a backpack, and some sandwiches; and splash through every puddle down the lane on my way to school. Sometimes I go to the pond where the white flowers grow to collect frogspawn or pebbles, which I keep in jars under the window.
But I’ll never forget how I was once friends with a kappa named Cucumber.