Look out for the traffic! Be careful! Don’t fall into the drain!”
“Oh, Mum! I’m only going to the shop to buy you a loaf of bread. The way you’re going on, the neighbours will think I’m cycling all the way to London! You know there’s very little traffic on our quiet estate roads… and anyway, the drains are not even big enough for me to fall into!”
Shen’s mother sighed as she called after him, “Look out for cars! Be careful! Take care!”
Shaking his head, Shen cycled past their row of terrace houses, turned left into a back lane and right again to the estate bakery. It was hardly a minute’s ride away. What could happen to him during such a short trip? His mother was making a big fuss over nothing! Take care, indeed! She really was something!
Shen sighed, left his bicycle on the road and walked up a flight of steps towards the bakery. He bought a loaf of bread after arguing with the baker’s boy over the shrinking size of the loaf and the extra ten cents he had to pay for it.
He was very angry when he left the shop. He was so angry he did not notice a van pulling up outside the bakery. Two men jumped out of the van and pushed him back into the bakery. One man pointed a gun at his head.
“Keep quiet if you don’t want a hole right through your head!” the gunman growled.
The other man ran into the shop and held a dagger under the chin of the baker’s boy. The boy turned as white as the slices of bread he had been cutting. His knees shook and his teeth chattered.
“Give me the keys to the till! Hurry up or I’ll slit your throat from ear to ear!”
The gunman pushed Shen up against the counter, next to the baker’s boy who was struggling to get the keys out of his pocket. The boy’s hands shook so much that the keys fell with a loud clang at Shen’s feet.
Shen held his breath as the gunman bent down to snatch up the keys. Should he kick the gun out of the man’s hand? What if the gun went off? What if he was not fast enough? No, the risk was too great.
“Here, quick! Empty the till!” cried the gunman as he threw the keys to his friend. The gunman’s friend shoved the baker’s boy towards Shen, unlocked the till and crammed all the money into his pocket.
Shen recoiled as the baker’s boy collapsed into his arms, knocking his loaf of bread out of his hand. The loaf of bread fell on the floor.
“Hey! What’s going on in here! Who are you two men?” shouted the baker. He had just come out from a room at the back of the shop.
BANG! went the gun as the startled gunman pressed the trigger. The bullet slammed into the floor near Shen’s feet. His loaf of bread jumped up into the air as the bullet went through it.
Shen and the baker’s boy jumped with fright.
The baker fled back into the room and slammed the door shut.
The gunman and his friend ran out of the shop, jumped into the van, reversed it, knocked down Shen’s bicycle, ran over its front wheel and then moved off like a streak of lightning.
Shen gasped. Stunned, he watched the van race down the road and disappear round a bend. He bent to pick up his loaf of bread, turned, and ran out of the shop. He wouldn’t stay there a minute longer than was necessary. Nothing like this had ever happened to him before! His own mother had warned him about the traffic, the drain and about not falling off his bicycle, but this was something else!
He ran to his bicycle and then gave an angry yell when he saw his flattened wheel. The van had run over it. What was he going to tell his mother? She would be horrified if she were to see him carrying his bicycle home.
His mother was not only horrified, she was speechless for a good five seconds. Then the words came rushing to her lips. “Oh, Shen, you were knocked down by a car! You fell off your bicycle! You fell into the drain! You…!”
“Mum… please, Mum! Let me explain! No… no… don’t say anything! I was very careful! I took great care of myself… but then I got held up in the bakery!”
“Oh Shen, my dear boy! My poor boy!” his mother cried over and over again.
Glumly, Shen held out the loaf of bread. His mother took it. And then she gasped. One of her fingers had slopped into a hole in the middle of the loaf.
“What’s this?” she cried in amazement.
Shen stared at the loaf of bread. A bullet. A bullet hole! The gunman’s bullet must have hit the loaf of bread when his gun went off accidentally!
“That’s a bullet hole! The gunman…”
But before Shen could finish his sentence, his mother had fainted.
“Mum… Mum… you haven’t heard the whole story yet! You…” Shen broke off abruptly to stare at his unconscious mother.
“Oh me, oh my! What am I going to do now?” he thought frantically.
Shen pulled the loaf of bread off his mother’s finger and slipped it under her head. That would cushion her head while he ran over to Grandma’s house. She would know what to do!
Their next-door neighbours came running as Shen sprinted for the gate.
“What happened, Shen?”
“What’s wrong with your mother,” cried the two neighbours, horrified at the sight of Shen’s mother stretched out on the porch in full view of everyone passing by.
“Oh, Mrs. Chen… Madam Salimah! Please stay with my mother for a while. I’m going to call my grandma! I’m going over to call my aunts!”
“All right, boy! All right… but what happened? What happened?”
“There’s a bullet hole in the bread. The gun went off! The gunman escaped. My bicycle was run over. Please stay with my mother. I must call my grandma. I must call my aunts,” cried Shen as he ran off, greatly agitated.
The two neighbours stared at one another in shock. Soon they were joined by more neighbours who came rushing in through the open gate.
Mrs. Chen stared at the growing crowd and then blurted out in horror, “Shen’s mother has a bullet hole in her head!”
The crowd of women gasped.
“A gunman shot her,” wailed Madam Salimah.
“He ran over Shen’s bicycle,” wept Mrs. Chen.
“What shall we do,” asked Mrs. Bala. She looked very worried.
“Call the police. Ring up for the ambulance. Ring up Shen’s father,” cried several voices.
Meanwhile, Shen’s mother came back to her senses. “What… what… what’s wrong. Where… where… where am I ?” she cried..
The neighbours drew back in alarm. Then they bent over Shen’s bewildered mother.
“Don’t move, Mrs. Huang. Don’t move, there’s a bullet hole in your head!”
“No… keep still, please, Mrs. Huang.”
“Don’t move! Shen’s gone to get his grandma and his aunts.”
“Mrs. Lin has gone to ring up the police.”
“The ambulance is on its way.”
“Be careful of the bullet hole in your head! Don’t move. Keep still.” cried the excited neighbours.
“I don’t need the police! I don’t need the ambulance! The bullet hole is not in my head! It is in the bread!” cried Mrs. Huang. She pushed away the hands holding her down and struggled to her feet.
Mrs Chen, Madam Salimah, Mrs. Bala, Mrs. Lin and all the other women gasped. They picked up the bread and examined it. Yes, there was a bullet hole right through the loaf of bread. Their fingers probed the hole. Yes, it was a hole all right. A real bullet hole.
“But who shot the bread?”
“Why shoot the bread?” asked several voices.
“Excuse me, ladies! Excuse me, ladies! Oh, Mum… Mum! You’re all right! Grandma’s not in — the house is all locked up.”
“What happened, Shen? What happened?” cried his mother.
“You sit down, Mum. You sit down and I’ll tell you,” sighed Shen.
Everyone listened as Shen told his story. His mother gasped several times. So did the other ladies.
Excited cries filled the air as questions were asked and answers given. Finally, the police arrived. So did the ambulance.
Shen told his story all over again. He even showed the ambulance men the bullet hole in the bread. They shook their heads, then moved off to answer another call. Groups of people gathered to discuss the bread that was shot in the head. Then everyone followed the police to the bakery where investigations began in earnest.
The baker’s boy told his story, the baker told his story, and Shen told his story all over again. He had got over his shock and was beginning to feel that his encounter with the robbers was the highlight of his young life. It was the best thing that had happened to him — the most exciting adventure he had had so far!
The crowd listened to his story three times over after the police left, taking the bread with the bullet hole in it with them. Then, their curiosity satisfied, they went home.
Shen sighed, bought another loaf of bread and walked home with his mother. It was getting dark and Dad would be coming home soon for dinner. Yes, he could tell Dad his story. Then, there would be Grandma and the aunts — they would want to hear the story, too.
“Are you all right now, Mum,” asked Shen.
His mother nodded. She put her arms round him, thankful that he was safe.
Shen grinned and kissed his mother’s cheek. He would always be grateful to her. If she had not said, “Take care!” none of this would have happened to him.
(From Laughing Together: Stories, Riddles and Proverbs from Asia and the Pacific; Published by the National Book Trust under a UNESCO project.)