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The Dolphin Boy

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The small fishing village was once a happy place.

Now it is not.

Once upon a time, the village fishermen used to go fishing every day.

Now they don’t usually.

Once upon a time, there was a lot of fish to fish.

Now there is no more.

Now the boats are ashore as the sun peels their paint and the rain rots their sails.

Jim’s father was the only fisherman who still left with the boat. That’s because I loved Sally May as an old friend and just couldn’t separate from him. Whenever Jim wasn’t in school, his father would take him with him. Jim loved Sally May as much as his father, despite its time-torn candles. There was nothing he liked better than holding the helm or pulling the nets with his father.

One day on the way home from school, Jim saw his father sitting alone on the quay staring at a deserted bay. Jim couldn’t see Sally May anywhere.

– Where’s Sally May? – He asked.

The father answered:

– It’s on the beach with all the other boats. I haven’t fished anything all week, Jim. The boat needs new sails and I have no money to pay them. Without fish, there is no money. We can’t live without money. Sorry, Jim.

That night Jim wept until he fell asleep.

From that day on, Jim always chose the way from the beach to school because he enjoyed seeing Sally May before school started. One morning as he was walking along the beach, he noticed something lying in the sand among the seaweed. At first it looked like a big trunk, but it wasn’t. Move. It had a tail and a head. It was a dolphin!

Jim knelt in the sand beside him. Boy and dolphin looked into each other’s eyes. Jim knew what to do right away.

“Don’t fret,” he said. – I’ll get help. I promise I’ll be back very soon.

He climbed the hill and ran to school as fast as he could. They were all in the playground.

– Come with me! – shouted. – There’s a dolphin on the beach! We have to put it back in the water or it will die.

And there they were all running downhill toward the beach, teachers included.

Soon the whole village was there – Jim’s father and mother too.

– Go get Sally May’s candle! Shouted the mother. – Let’s wrap it in it.

When they brought the candle, Jim crouched by the dolphin’s head, cheering and reassuring him.

“Don’t fret,” he whispered. “Soon you will be back at sea.”

They held out the candle and rolled it gently over it. Then, when everyone had firmly grasped the edge of the candle, Jim’s father shouted:

– Lifting!

With the joint effort of a hundred hands, they carried the dolphin to the edge of the sea, letting the waves cover it. The dolphin squealed and crackled, and its smiling mouth crashed into the waves.

When she started swimming, she didn’t seem to want to leave. He kept walking in circles.

“Go away,” Jim shouted, getting into the water and trying to push him into the sea.

“Go away,” he repeated.

And the animal was there at last. Everyone applauded enthusiastically, saying goodbye. What Jim really wanted was for him to come back. But it didn’t come back. Together with the others, Jim watched the dolphin walk away until it disappeared completely.

That day at school Jim could think of nothing but the dolphin. He even created a name for him. He thought Smiler [1] would fit him perfectly. As soon as school was over, the boy ran to the beach, hoping that Smiler had returned. But Smiler was not there. Impossible to catch a glimpse of him from anywhere.

Overcome with sudden sadness, Jim ran to the jetty.

– Come back, Smiler! – shouted. – Please come back. Please!

Just then Smiler jumped in the air right in front of him. It whirled and whirled before plunging into the water, wetting Jim from head to toe. The boy didn’t even think twice. He set down his briefcase, took off his shoes, and threw himself off the jetty.

The dolphin appeared right beside him – swimming around him, jumping over him, diving beneath him. Suddenly Jim felt them lift him. I was sitting on Smiler! I was riding it. And there they went into the sea at great speed. Jim clung as best he could. Every time he fell — which often happened — Smiler always went back, so Jim could ride him again. As they ventured farther and farther away, the faster they reached and the higher the speed, the more Jim enjoyed the experience.

They went round and round the bay and finally returned to the dock. By this time, everyone in the village had seen them and the children were jumping off the dock to swim to meet them. They all wanted to swim with Smiler, touch him, party with him, play with him. And the dolphin was happy. They were experiencing the best moments of their lives.

From that day on, Smiler always swam by the dock, waiting for Jim to settle for his horse. And every day the other kids swam and played with him. They loved their kind eyes and smiling face. Smiler was the best friend of all.

But one day the dolphin did not appear. They waited for him. They sought him everywhere, but in vain. It did not appear the next day, neither the next nor the next. Jim was heartbroken, as were all the other children. Everyone in the village, young and old, missed the animal and longed for its return. Every day they went looking for him but he never showed up.

For Jim’s birthday, his mother offered him a gift he hoped would cheer him up: a beautiful dolphin sculpture that she had carved with herself from the beach. But not even that cheered the boy. It was then that the father had a brilliant idea.

“Jim,” he said, “how about we all go for a walk in Sally May?” Do you like the idea?

– Yes! Exclaimed Jim. – And we could look for Smiler.

Then they poured Sally May into the water and hoisted the sails. Leaving the bay behind, they headed toward the high seas. Despite the patched sails, Sally May glided over the waves. Jim loved to feel the wind in his face and the salty splashes on his lips. There were lots of seagulls and gannets, but no sign of Smiler. Jim called him over and over, but the dolphin never showed up.

The sun was setting and the sea around it glittered with golden reflections.

“I think we’d better think about returning,” Jim’s father said.

“Just a little longer,” said his son. “I’m sure he’s around here.”

As Sally May headed home, Jim called out to him yet again:

– Come back, Smiler! Please come back. Please!

Suddenly the sea began to swirl around the boat as if it came to life. And it was, in fact, alive! Hundreds of dolphins leaped beside, behind and in front of the boat! It was then that one of them took a big leap over Sally May, even over Jim’s head. It was the Smiler! He had returned and apparently had brought the whole family with him. As Sally May approached the bay, everyone rushed to see him as dolphins danced around him in the golden sea. What a beautiful show!

Within days, the village was filled with visitors just to see the famous dolphins and Smiler playing with Jim and the children. And every morning Sally May and the other small fishing boats were crammed into the sea with visitors, beaming at the voyage of their lives. They raved about each moment, grabbing their hats and laughing in delight as the dolphins danced around them.

Never had Jim been so happy in his life. Smiler was back, and his father could finally buy Sally May new sails. Likewise, all the other fishermen could mend their sails and paint their boats. The village was once again a happy place.

As for the children… they could now dive with the dolphins whenever they felt like it. They could party with them, swim with them, play with them, and even talk to them. But everyone knew there was only one dolphin that let them sit on it … It was Smiler!

And everyone knew that there was only one person in the world who rode him: Jim! Michael Morpurgo; Michael Foreman Dolphin Boy London, Andersen Press, 2004 (Translation and Adaptation)

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