When I was seven years old, I was sent to spend Easter with my granny in the country. I loved Easter more than any other occasion, even Christmas and my birthday, although all were eagerly anticipated for the treats they would inevitably bring.
My passion, however, was for chocolate eggs, and of course these only came once a year, but in all shapes and sizes, and I would happily gorge until I felt distinctly ill, smearing all in my vicinity with sticky fingerprints, making my annual Easter mark on the furniture and the walls.
On this occasion, my mother was expecting the imminent arrival of my sibling, and experiencing complications, was admitted prematurely into hospital. I was not unduly worried; the excitement of a train journey, several extra weeks off school and the indulgence afforded me by my grandmother far outweighed my impatient interest in the new addition to my family.
Granny’s cottage was situated amongst open fields on the outskirts of a tiny village. The cottage itself was quaint and antiquated with practically no amenities. Every inch of space was crowded with a lifetime’s collection of memorabilia, creating for me days of endless fascination. The fields round about were perfect for hunting wild man-eating bears, fighting scalp-hunting red Indians, chasing robbers and other boyish occupations far too numerous to mention. In those days, WII and DS were futuristic fantasies, and few benefited from the luxury of television.
When I came down to breakfast that Easter Sunday, Granny said that she had a surprise for me on our return from church. Looking round, I discreetly noted a distinct lack of chocolate eggs. Disappointment set in. How could Granny forget? Easter just wasn’t right without chocolate eggs. But what of the surprise? I decided nothing would compensate for an egg-less Easter. Yet, curiosity tightened within me like a coiled spring, and I could not sit still through the service but wriggle and squirm as a means of release. Granny pretended not to notice but there was no mistaking the half smile of amusement which crossed her features.
After lunch, Granny turned to me with an enigmatic glimmer in her eye and said, “I have hidden something for you in the garden; if you can find it, it is yours.” Then she took up her crochet and would say no more.
Something hidden for me in the garden, I mused. How strange! It must be my chocolate egg! But how was I to find it in this rambling chaos my granny kindly referred to as her garden? I begged and pleaded for clues and directions, but when none were forthcoming I set about my task, a mission which to me equalled life or death – chocolate egg, or no chocolate egg!
After two hours of searching I was hot, sticky, red in the face, becoming increasingly irritated, and still had found nothing. What was I looking for? I started again… and again… and again. I left no leaf untouched, no stone unturned. I befriended every slug, snail, beetle and spider co-habiting there, and by teatime was just about to give up, when… there it was, sitting patiently and obviously in a place I had searched dozens of times to no avail.
‘It’ was a very SMALL cloth-wrapped package. Very small, and very lonely. I was indignant; all this effort and heartache in just one day, and my only reward was a single tiny egg? Was this Granny’s idea of fun? Rebellious thoughts rushed through my head. I snatched up the object. It was very heavy for something so small, far too heavy for an Easter egg, and I would know, this being my area of expertise. What, then, could it be?
I carefully unwrapped the cloth and into the palm of my hand tumbled… a pebble.
As I examined it, I realised it was no ordinary stone. It was so tiny that it fitted snugly into my little hand. It was smooth and perfectly egg-shaped, and bitingly cold to the touch. Rich translucent amber in colour, dark veins ran through it, drawing light into its heart where they merged, which writhed like flames in slow time. I was entranced.
I decided I liked the stone after all, although I was at a loss as to what to do with it. Granny would know. I rushed to her side.
“Thank you for the egg-stone, Granny,” I said.
“Ah, so you have it, then.” Her voice was gruff, her hands moving faster over her crochet.
“Er… what is it?”
“Why, its an egg-stone, of course. What did you think it was?”
“Well, what’s it for? It took me ages to find.”
“You don’t find an egg-stone. It found you. Now, listen.” She leaned towards me now, eyes intent, crochet forgotten. “It found me too when I was your age. Look after it, and it will look after you. You must polish it occasionally, and hold it every day, but you must never ever let anyone know about it, or see it.” Her eyes burning into mine, and if she hadn’t been my granny, I would have been scared.
“I promise.” I put aside my thoughts of chocolate. I was aware that Granny had passed onto me something far more precious, and I was intrigued.
I hid the egg-stone at the bottom of my bed, beneath the mattress. Later, I took it out to examine it more closely. This time, it felt quite warm, cupped in my hands. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with homesickness, and a longing to be with my family. A little chocolate egg would have gone a long way towards cheering me up, I thought sadly.
Then I was shaken from my thoughts by Granny’s voice calling me downstairs.
“There is a visitor for you,” she said.
Strange; I had no friends from the village.
I skipped down the stairs to find a large woman and a small girl standing in the hallway. The girl smiled shyly and offered me a straw basket, in which nestled three small, perfectly-formed mouth-watering chocolate eggs! I gazed at her in jaw-dropped amazement. I understood the magnitude of this sacrifice.
We sat among Granny’s rambling flowers and shared the eggs while the grown-ups chatted over tea.
The next day, a telegram arrived. Granny read it in silence, then smiled a slow smile.
“You have a baby brother, and your mother and he are both doing well,” she announced. “I am to take you home on the next train.”
I went upstairs, sat on my bed, and took out the egg-stone. I felt very uneasy.
“You’ve done this,” I whispered to it.
All the things I had wished for the night before had come true; a new friend to ease my loneliness, the gift of chocolate eggs, the return to my family. Of course, it was coincidence. Or was it? The heart of the stone glittered.
Back home, Granny fussed over the baby, and my parents fussed over me. My new brother was not what I expected; I wanted a brother I could play football and climb trees with, but all this one did was eat, sleep and cry. But I was happy to be home, and there was even a host of Easter eggs decorating my room.
There was only one dark cloud on the horizon.
School. And that meant Brian.
Brian was the typical school bully; every school has one. Big, fat, stupid and mouthy, with the weight and the cronies to back him up. He had picked on just about everyone in the school at one time or another, and had yet to be defied. I knew with a sickening certainty that now it would be my turn. I took the egg-stone with me for support.
On my arrival at the school gate, a crowd gathered around me. Well, I had just had an extra fortnight off school, been to the country, and had a new baby brother! Brian did not like anyone else to be the centre of attention and so in the lunch break he made his move.
“Got a new baby brother have you?” he sneered. “Bet he’s an ugly ginger speccy four eyes, just like you!”
His friends joined in the cruel chorus. He took a menacing step towards me, and began pushing me backwards with each jeer until my back was pressed hard against the wall.
“And now do you know what I’m going to do?” he taunted. “I’m going to smash your specs and then I’m going to give you a black eye.”
I braced myself, slipping my hand into my trouser pocket, and felt the egg stone nestling there, smooth and reassuring. Unfortunately, this did not go unnoticed.
“What you got there then? Get it, lads! “
A hundred hands reached for the egg-stone at his command, taking the opportunity to aim a few well-directed thumps in my direction as they did so. Struggle as I might, I could not resist them.
“Well well, what have we here?” Brian turned the stone over curiously in his hands.
“It’s only a lump of rock,” said one of his gang.
“It’s an egg-stone,” I muttered sullenly, “and its mine. Give it back.”
“Finders keepers,” trilled Brian, and with that my resentment flared into anger. I lunged at him. At the same time, the egg-stone began to glow fiercely. There was a shriek from Brian, and it fell from his hands. It hit the tarmac with a resounding crack and shattered into a million pieces.
There was shocked silence, broken only by Brian’s blubbering. He was blowing on his hands, trying to cool them. They looked badly burned. All eyes were on me. Full of righteous rage, I flew at Brian, hating him, wanting to kill. After a few seconds pause, the whole yard full of children poured around me, screaming their encouragement, some even joining in the attack.
Of course, I was punished both by the school and my parents, but I didn’t care. Brian and his mates never bullied anyone again, so it was a small price to pay.
As for the egg stone, to this day I still keep a shard of it at the bottom of my bed, beneath my mattress.