All Wombats Dig

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a nice, tidy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

Aunt Moss’s friend Rebekah came over one day to talk to Benson’s mother.

“I’m really worried about Ralph,” she said. Ralph was Rebekah’s grandson. He lived with her and she took care of him. “He’s always in his room,” she said. “He never goes outside to play or ride his bike. He just stays in his room, playing that awful violin.”

Benson’s mother said, “That doesn’t sound very healthy.”

“He doesn’t have any friends,” Rebekah said. “I’m so worried about him.”

“What are you going to do?” Benson’s mother asked her.

“Do you think Benson might take him to the playground?” Rebekah asked. “If he can meet some wombats his own age and make friends and have some fun, I think it would be good for him.”

Benson’s mother said, “Why don’t we ask Benson?”

Benson said, “Okay,” and then he said, “Ralph won’t bring his violin, will he?”

“I’ll make sure he leaves it at home,” Rebekah said.

The next day Benson and Ralph went to the playground together. Afterwards, when Benson got home, his mother asked him, “Did you and Ralph have a good time?”

Benson flopped down on the lounge. “It was awful,” he said. “He didn’t want to play with anyone, and he didn’t want to go on the swings or the slippery-slide. He just stood there, looking at the trees. He didn’t even want to dig in the sand-pit! He just kept pretending he was playing his violin!”

Benson’s mother said, “Maybe he just isn’t used to a lot of other people being around. What about if we go down to the creek tomorrow, so the two of you can play together?”

“Do I have to?” Benson groaned.

“No, but it would be a kind thing to do,” his mother said.

The next day they went down to the creek with Ralph. It was a beautiful sunny day. The creek sparkled and gurgled in the sun.

“Do you want to make a boat out of a leaf?” Benson asked Ralph.

“No, not really,” Ralph said, not really listening.

“How about dropping sticks in the water and seeing whose is the fastest?” Benson suggested.

Ralph didn’t even answer. His hands were starting to move as if they were playing the violin again.

Benson was just about ready to give up. “Well, let’s go and dig in the bank of the creek, then,” he said.

Ralph said, “I’d rather not, if you don’t mind. I don’t like digging.”

“You don’t like digging?” Benson said, aghast.

“No, I hate the dirt getting under my fingernails, and anyway, it’s boring,” Ralph said.

“Boring? Digging is boring?” Benson couldn’t believe his ears. “But all wombats dig!”

Ralph stuck his chin out. “Not me,” he said.

Benson said, “If you’re a wombat, you dig. Koalas eat gum leaves, kangaroos hop, and wombats dig. That’s the way it is.”

Ralph put his hands in his pockets and shrugged. “I’ve got better things to do,” he said.

Benson really gave up this time. “I’m going home,” he said.

That night he told his mother what Ralph had said. “He doesn’t even like digging!” he said in amazement.

His mother said, “That’s okay. Not everyone has to like digging.”

Benson didn’t believe her. “Do you know any wombats that don’t dig?” he said.

She thought hard. “No, I don’t,” she confessed.

Benson said darkly, “Maybe Ralph is an alien.”

The next day Benson’s mother went to see Nanna. They talked about Ralph, and Nanna said, “I think it might be a good idea to have a little concert and ask Ralph to play his violin for us.”

“Do you think so?” Benson’s mother said. She remembered what Ralph sounded like last time she heard him play the violin. It was like cats having a yowling competition.

Nanna smiled. “He plays much better now,” she said. “He practises all the time.”

The concert was at Nanna’s place. Aunt Lillibet flatly refused to go. “They don’t call it a ‘vile-in’ for nothing,” she said.

Even Aunt Moss said, “I don’t think I’ll go. You know I’m not fond of classical music.”

Benson’s mother said firmly, “We’re all going. Ralph needs our support.” Benson opened his mouth, but his mother said, “You, too, Benson. No arguments.”

Benson closed his mouth again, but he secretly put his mother’s pink ear-muffs on and put a thick, woolly hat over them so no-one could tell.

Nanna and Ralph played their violins together first. Benson’s mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss clapped and smiled at the end, so Benson thought it must have sounded all right. He couldn’t hear a thing through the ear-muffs.

Then Nanna said, “Now you play something, Ralph.”

Ralph said, “This is something I made up, called ‘Sunlight on the Water’.”

When he started playing, Benson saw tears begin to run down his mother’s face. Aunt Moss’s face was radiant, and Aunt Lillibet was listening with her mouth open. He wondered what was happening. He decided to risk it and take the ear-muffs off for just a second.

As soon as he heard the music, he forgot where he was. He was back at the creek again, watching tiny fish glinting deep in the water and hearing the magpies sing. Then Ralph stopped and Benson was jerked back to Nanna’s kitchen. There was complete silence, then everyone started clapping madly.

Ralph bowed. “Did you make that up?” Benson asked, amazed. “How did you do that?”

“Music just sort of comes into my head,” Ralph said. “I listen to it and then I try to work out how to play it. Listen, this is how the trees at the playground sound.”

He started playing again. It was music and it was birds singing and it was funny and amazing all at the same time. It reminded Benson exactly of the day they went to the playground.

Ralph said, “And this is Benson.” He played some music that was sort of low and lumpy, with some thinking parts and lots of happy parts. It made Benson smile just to hear it.

On the way home, he said to his mother, “Ralph makes up wonderful music, doesn’t he?”

His mother said, “Do you still think that all wombats have to dig?”

Benson thought about it, then he said, “Maybe not. But I still think Ralph is an alien.”

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