Paul just knew it. Life would never be the same again.
'Happy Birthday Paul,' called his Mum. 'Come on. Breakfast's ready.'
Any other birthday, Paul would have rushed downstairs, ready to pounce on his presents and eager to make the most of his own special day. This year he was eleven. It wasn't that his age had anything to do with the gloomy feelings. For as long as he could remember, all his other birthdays had been shared with his very best friend, Ben. His own mum and Ben's mum had been best friends too ... ever since they had been children. But this year, Ben was far away. His family had gone to live to New Zealand. Paul still missed him, more than anyone realised.
'We shall be just about as far away as anyone could be,' Ben had said miserably, the day he broke the news to Paul.
So this birthday, all he had to look forward to was a day out with the Monsters, his eight year old twin sisters. They were identical twins and tried to confuse everyone all the time. They took it turns to be naughty and hoped that no-one ever knew for certain which one had been the guilty one. That way, neither of them would get punished. Mum was rarely caught out as she knew them too well. Sometimes, Paul mixed them up but only when they set out to tease him on purpose.
'Happy birthday,' Becky and Rachel said, speaking at exactly the same time as they often did.
'We're going bowling this afternoon and then for tea at McDonalds',' Becky announced.
'Great,' muttered Paul with absolutely no enthusiasm. There was nothing wrong with bowling but the Monsters were not the company he would have chosen. If Ben had been there, it would have been a great afternoon out with jokes all the time and someone to take his side and help keep the twins in order.
'At least it's the school holidays when it's your birthday,' Rachel pointed out. 'We nearly always have to go to school on our birthday.'
'Come on you lot,' called Mum again. 'Paul ... there's a parcel from New Zealand,' she added. At least that might make Paul show a bit of enthusiasm, she hoped.
They all rushed downstairs, eager to see what Ben had sent. Paul tore the packaging away and inside, carefully wrapped in tissue paper was a small, beautiful wooden carving. The label said it was a Tiki, a Maori carving supposed to be the first man. There was a little book with the figure, which told his story. It was a part of the legends of the first people to live in New Zealand. The figure had a leather cord so it could be hung around the neck, just the way the Maoris wore them. Paul placed it round his neck and looked in the mirror.
'Smart, isn't it?' he to nobody in particular.
His Mother replied,
'Very nice dear. I'm glad you like it.' She was very pleased to see him smile again. He had been very glum for most of the past month, ever since Ben and his family has left. She missed her friend too, so she could sympathise with Paul.
'Paul's got a necklace,' chanted Becky. 'Paul's got a necklace!'
He was furious.
'Shut up you little horror. Mum, make her shut up.'
'Like your necklace, Paul,' his sister continued.
'So what? Loads of people wear things round their necks,' Paul said fiercely.
'All right you lot. Sit down and eat your breakfast.' They did as they were told but each time Mum looked away, silently, the twins mouthed their chant ... Paul's got a necklace. He munched his cornflakes in silence but he kept the Tiki round his neck all the time. He had lots of other presents for his birthday of course, but nothing that meant as much as the Tiki. Perhaps it was the strangeness of the little figure and the wood it was carved from. Or perhaps it was because it had come from Ben, half the way round the world. What he did know, was that it felt very special and he felt less lonely for Ben, when he wore it.
When the Easter holidays were over, Paul started the last term at this school. He still wore the Tiki round his neck. He kept it hidden beneath his shirt and always remembered to hide it in his pocket when he had to change his clothes for games. He wouldn't risk the others teasing him. It almost felt as if his friend Ben was still with him. Yet it wasn't quite his old friend that seemed to be with him. Something had changed. He tried to talk to his mum about the feeling of friendship he seemed to get from the Tiki, but it was too difficult to explain properly. He really didn't understand it, himself.
'Perhaps it reminds you of the good times you shared. It makes Ben seem less far away. You'll soon make some new friends.'
This may have been true, but it still wasn't quite what he had meant. Grown-ups were always too far away from being eleven years old themselves, to understand the real things their children think about. They thought they could remember what it was like but it was never quite the same. It didn't allow for all the things that had changed in between, like television, computer games and growing up. Ben was so far away. They might never see each other again. Whatever Mum said, Paul could never have a new friend instead of Ben. There would only ever be one Ben and Paul didn't want someone else.
'Strange little man,' Paul whispered softly to his Tiki, as he lay in bed. He knew every bit of the carving as he felt it in the darkness. 'You are really quite ugly, with your staring eyes and your tongue sticking out. You couldn't do that here! I can just imagine what my Mum would say if I went around with my tongue sticking out like that. I wonder what you'd make of our world, if you were real, Tiki?'
'It should be called a Heitiki because it is worn round the neck. We usually pass them down from father to son but I see that you are not of our race. Nor is your Heitiki made of our precious greenstone. They are the only true carvings, but yet ... yours has strong powers. Already, you no longer feel alone. You will always feel friendship when you wear it. I can see you have a closeness and feel for my people.'
Paul opened his eyes wide. He sat up and switched on his bedside light. He stared at the little carving held in his hand.
'Heitiki?' he muttered. 'You are really a Heitiki?' He shook himself. He must have been dreaming but it all seemed so very real. It was a very strange thing to dream. How on earth could he know that word? He had never even heard it before. Come to think of it, he had never even heard of a Tiki until this one had arrived on his birthday. And the bit about not being alone ... it was true. He had not felt nearly so lonely after the Tiki, the Heitiki, had arrived from Ben. That was really what he had been trying to explain to his Mum.
'Are you all right Paul?' his Mum called from outside the room. 'Why is your light on? Can't you sleep?' She opened his bedroom door and looked in.
'I was dreaming and it was so real, I woke up. I had to put the light on to see ... to see what time it was.'
'It's after eleven o'clock. Settle down now. It's school tomorrow,' Mum said briskly.
'Mum...' Paul began. 'Mum, do you think you can dream things you don't know about and then find they are true?'
'I'm not sure I know what you mean. We usually dream about things we know. Strange things may happen which makes them seem different.'
'That isn't what I meant. Oh never mind. Good-night Mum.'
'Good-night Paul. Sweet dreams.' Mum closed the door softly, so that she didn't disturb the twins. Paul put out his light and turned over.
'All the same, he promised himself, I shall look up that word tomorrow, just to see if dreams do come true. As he slept, he kept hearing the word, Heitiki, Heitiki, Heitiki.
When he woke the next day, Paul had a muzzy head. He felt slightly sick. It was a bit like the time when they had gone on a camping holiday and bad storms had kept them awake all night. They had all felt dizzy and wanted to go to sleep most of the next day.
'He's only trying to get out of going to school,' Rachel said firmly. 'I bet he's got a test today.'
Mum looked at him very hard. Paul thought she was trying to peer right inside his head and see if there was really anything wrong. If he wasn't well, he should stay home but if it was only just a feeling, he could go to school. She wished that dad was here to give his opinion but he was away on business for a few days.
'Do you feel as if you should stay in bed?' she asked Paul.
'No I'm OK really. I just kept waking up in the night and now I feel a bit sleepier than usual. I'll be all right.'
He certainly was sleepy. Miss Copeland told him off in Geography for yawning. He broke a test-tube in Science, just because he yawned again and missed the rack.
'Get to bed a bit earlier in future,' said the cross Science Teacher.
At lunch-time, Paul went into the school library. He found a book about New Zealand. It had a very good section on Maoris and he took it out. He carried it across to one of the side benches. He skipped through several pages about how the Maori people arrived in New Zealand. There was a bit about the tribal system and Maori Myths and Legends. There was a list of words they called a glossary, at the back of the book. He looked for the word that had come to him so strangely in his dream. Heitiki. There it was.
Heitiki a type of neck pendant, especially prized when made of traditional greenstone. Usually handed down from generation to generation. It was believed to carry direct contact between those who had gone before and the present owner.
Paul felt a shiver run through his whole body. He could feel his Heitiki against his chest. There it was, exactly as he had dreamt. The book even mentioned the greenstone, which he knew he had never heard of before. And there had been something said about handing it down from father to son. Had he really been dreaming, or did the carving really hold some sort of magic power? Was it somehow trying to tell him something? It was all very weird.