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Make Way for Dumplings

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“Hey, boss.” Pema’s assistant Ryoko tossed a brown-wrapped parcel onto the kitchen work table. “You got something from Xaofu.”

“Really?” Pema wiped her hands and examined the package. “I wasn’t expecting anything. Well, let’s see what we have here…” Two quick flicks of her utility knife took care of the strings; a second later Pema tore the wrapping away and gasped. “Why…it’s a book!”

“Huh. ‘The Monk Who Wouldn’t Eat’.” Ryoko snorted. “Is Bolin so hard up for ideas he’s stealing from the Chief these days?”

“Oh, I doubt that,” Pema shook her head. “Let’s see…” She flipped through the pages rapidly. “Oh, this looks delightful! I can’t wait to show this to everyone! I think Tenzin’s in his office; I’ll be right back!”

Ryoko sighed and shook her head. “He took the most boring story the Chief knows and made a book out of it. Wow. Can’t wait to endure I mean read it.”

****

“Oh, look! Ikki exclaimed. “It’s a picture of Bolin telling a bedtime story to the twins! Wow! Isn’t this so neat, Rohan?”

Her little brother studied the opening image carefully. “No Pabu,” he frowned.

“Well, this isn’t a Pabu story,” Ikki replied. “Oh, don’t make that face, Rohan! Bolin’s stories are always the best, aren’t they, Daddy?”

“Yes, they are,” Tenzin nodded. “Now then…” He cleared his throat. 

This is a story that Master Tenzin likes to tell new airbenders. It’s about a Monk named Tang Xu, who lived down at the Southern Air Temple a long time ago.

Ikki gasped with delight. “Daddy, they made the monk look like you!”

“They certainly did,” Pema smiled. “I’d know that handsome, distinguished face anywhere.”

“Hmmm,” Tenzin nodded smugly. 

Tang Xu loved to meditate. His pupils were amazed at how long he could remain like that, and certainly none of them could ever come close to matching him at it.

“The artist must have visited the Southern Air Temple,” Jinora pointed out. “The backgrounds are perfect.”

One day, Tang Xu fell into a very deep meditation. In fact, it was so deep that he didn’t eat breakfast, lunch or dinner. However, this wasn’t unusual for him, so his pupils simply let him be while they went about their duties.

“Well, it’s nice to know SOMEBODY listened to the story,” Tenzin commented. “Though technically speaking, his meditation took place at Whaletail Island, not the Air Temple…”

“Go on, dear,” Pema urged, restraining the urge to roll her eyes. Ryoko, working in the kitchen, had no such compunctions and added a quiet snort for good measure.

“No Pabu,” Rohan grumbled under his breath. Tenzin regarded his son for a moment before resuming.

A few days later, his pupils suddenly realized that no one had seen their teacher at any of the meal times. They hurried to the temple and there they found him, still very much in meditation. They knelt down beside him and said “Master, aren’t you hungry? Come and join us for lunch.” But Tang Xu smiled, shook his head, and continued to meditate.

“Boy, I hope Bolin doesn’t go on and on with every single day he doesn’t eat,” Meelo commented. “That gets boring really fast.” Tenzin shot him an intense glare in reply; Pema cleared her throat to restore order.

Day after day the students asked Tang Xu to join them at their meals, but he smiled and shook his head every single time. Before long they realized that their teacher hadn’t eaten for 98 days, which meant he hadn’t eaten any of the 294 delicious meals he’d been offered. They were so worried but no one knew what to do.

Thank the spirits, he skipped right to day 98, everyone but Tenzin silently, gratefully thought.

Tenzin turned the page and blinked in surprise. “My goodness…is that…?”

“Pabu?” Rohan asked hopefully.

“No…” Tenzin glanced up at Pema. “Dear, it would appear that…”

“That’s MOM!” Ikki exclaimed. “Look, Rohan! Bolin put Mom in the story! Isn’t that neat?”

“Hmmph,” Rohan sulked.

“My,” Pema blushed. “I’m very flattered. But go on with the story, Tenzin.”

“Very well.” Tenzin cleared his throat.

But on the 98th day, a very pretty woman entered the kitchen, rolled up her sleeves and set to work. Before too long an incredibly delicious smell filled the air of the temple. Mouths started to water as everyone hurried to the kitchens to see who was making this delicious food.

“Miss Pema, what are you making?” they demanded. “And more importantly, when will they be finished? And can we eat them?”

“Boy, sure sounds like Bolin to me,” Meelo smirked.

Miss Pema smiled. “These are my special vegetable dumplings and they are for everyone,” she told them. “They will be done soon, so please be patient until then.” They begged and pleaded, but she shook her head and asked them to leave. And then she waited.

Tang Xu was nearby, still in very deep meditation. But he smelled the delicious dumplings cooking, and his stomach began to growl. He shut his eyes and tried to concentrate, but it seemed like the smell just got better and better with every passing moment. And the better it smelled, the more his stomach remembered that it hadn’t been filled in ninety-eight days.

“Oh, Bolin,” Pema smiled. “You’re too sweet.”

“Remember the time he ate twenty-one of them in one sitting?” Ikki grinned. “And then he asked for dessert?”

Tenzin coughed. “Let me continue, please.”

Pema was just about finished with the dumplings when she heard a polite cough from the doorway. “Excuse me,” Tang Xu said. “Could I possibly have one of those incredible dumplings?”

“Why yes,” Pema nodded. “You may have as many as you’d like, Master.” And before he knew it Tang Xu had eaten twenty -one dumplings in one sitting.

“Did you like them?” Pema asked.

“Yes, I did. They were delicious” Tang Xu said, a big smile on his face. “Do you have anything for dessert?” he added a second later.

“Knew it!” Ikki and Meelo cackled in triumph.

“Is that it?” Jinora asked.

“No, there’s still one more page.”

And so Tang Xu decided he liked Miss Pema’s cooking so much, he asked her to marry him so that he could eat her delicious food whenever he wanted. And whenever he could, he asked for dumplings.

Tenzin closed the book and smiled. “Well that was very sweet. Of course, the air nomads didn’t really believe in the concept of marriage as it’s currently defined…”

“Daddy,” Ikki sighed, “don’t ruin the story.” She snatched the book from him and thumbed through it. “Hey, there was something on the very last page! See, Mom?”

Pema leaned forward to get a better look. “Oh, this is wonderful! It says the book is dedicated to Mistress Pema, who makes the very best, most delicious dumplings in the entire world. And right below it is my recipe!” Pema smiled in realization. “That little sneak…I had wondered why Opal had asked me for my dumpling recipe, but I figured it was just for Bolin.”

“Wow, Mom,” Ikki beamed. “Everyone’s going to know what a great cook you are now! Isn’t that great, Rohan?”

“Hmph,” Rohan scowled. “No Pabu.”

****

The island had familiar visitors a few weeks later. “We’re sorry to have deceived you, Pema, but it was in a good cause,” Opal commented. “Bolin really wanted the book to be a surprise. I didn’t think you’d mind too much.”

“Oh, certainly not,” Pema replied. “I was very flattered.”

“Mind you, we had to make him change the ending a little bit,” Opal laughed. “I think the original line was that Tang Xu married Pema so that he could have her dumplings whenever he wanted.”

“Oh dear,” Pema giggled.

“I still can’t believe I had to explain to him why that could be taken the wrong way.” Opal shook her head. “I thought Mom was going to hurt herself from laughing so hard.”

“Well, let me assure you that Tenzin has NEVER had a problem with my dumplings,” Pema smiled. “By the way, I hope Rohan didn’t give Bolin too hard a time about the book.”

“I think promises were made about the next book,” Opal replied. “Ahh, and speaking of which…in here, Bolin, kids! How are Mako, Korra and Asami?”

“Well, you can ask them yourself,” Bolin said. “They said they’d be coming for dinner—uhh, that’s not going to be a problem, is it Pema?”

“Not at all!” Pema laughed. “How do dumplings sound?”

“GREAT!” yelled Bolin, San and Jade in unison.