Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for pre-intermediate learners. The name of the story is The Legend of Lake Toba. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Lake. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Lake. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
So the weather for the last, I don’t know, month has just been cold, cold, cold and cloudy, cloudy, cloudy. We have had very little sunlight. A few days we did have frost. Frost is when it gets very icy in the morning and there is ice all over the ground, and I have to be very careful because I live next to a big hill, and I walk down the hill to go to work. So when it’s icy, I can fall over.
Actually, the other day I fell over when I was walking into town and there were some other people behind me and I thought they were going to laugh at me, but actually they said, ‘Oh no! Are you OK?’ So I felt OK about it. When you fall over, you just have to laugh at yourself. That’s what I do now. It took me a long time to be able to laugh at myself, but it’s a much better way.
Speaking of cold, I have a slight cold myself. So I have had a bit of sneezing and so on recently. Sneezing is when you go atchoo! Hopefully, you can’t hear the cold in my voice too much.
But anyway, I just want summer! I want summer right now. I don’t want to wait until spring. I don’t want to wait months and months. I just want summer now because the other day I was looking at photos from a few years ago in the summer and I thought, “Oh, it’s so nice when it’s sunny and you can wear nice clothes!” I just want summer. Unfortunately, we can’t always have what we want.
Anyway, today’s story was written by a listener. Micheal Andre from Indonesia sent in today’s story. So today’s story is a legend from Indonesia. A legend is a story in a culture, a very old story, and everyone knows that it’s not really true but it is an important part of the culture. We have lots of English legends here. Some famous legendary characters are King Arthur and Robin Hood, and there is a very famous legend of the City of Atlantis, which supposedly is underneath the sea.
So Michael sent in a beautiful picture of Lake Toba along with the story, and the story was very well written. Michael said he thought he had “broken English” but it was a very, very well-written story, so I really didn’t have to change too much. I like to add my own details to make it more lively, but really, thank you so much, Andre.
This is the second story we’ve had from a listener on the podcast. So if you want to have a go at writing—maybe you’re feeling creative, maybe you want to share an important story or legend from your culture—please do email me at . I would love to read your message.
OK, I’ll just explain some words that are in today’s story.
A fishing rod, and rod is spelt R-O-D, is a tool for catching fish. So it is a long stick with string on it, and you throw it in the water and you put some food on the end. So the fish come and eat the food, and then you pull the fishing rod out of the water and then the fish is yours and you can eat the fish. I have to say, I have never been fishing myself. It does not interest me.
Lick your lips. So your lips are the front part of your mouth that are outside your mouth, and when you are very, very hungry, you might run your tongue over your lips to make them wet because you are looking forward to eating.
A scale is a part of the skin of a fish. So fishes have hundreds and hundreds of scales and they all sit together and protect their skin. Also snakes have scales.
Bold means brave or courageous. If you are bold, you are not afraid to do or say unusual things. You are not scared of standing out or being different.
Naughty means badly-behaved. So someone who is naughty is a very badly-behaved person. Usually, we only use it with children. For example, a boy who hits his sister or steals food is a very naughty boy.
“Eventually” means finally, after a long, long time. For example, you might lose your ring and spend hours searching for it, and you search and search, and eventually you find it. Or maybe, eventually you give up.
Burst into tears—burst is spelt B-U-R-S-T and tears is spelt T-E-A-R-S—means to start crying. So the tears start falling from your eyes. And it’s quite a sudden change. Like this: [sobbing]. That is me bursting into tears.
Slap is when you hit someone with an open hand. So you don’t have a closed fist. Your hand is open. And usually you slap someone on the cheek, or on the face. And a slap sounds like this: [slap]. In the West, anyway, slapping is seen as feminine, so it’s something that women do, whereas men punch people.
Finally, puddle is a small pool of water on the ground. So when it rains, after the rain, you will find puddles in the street, bits of water in the street, and you don’t want to walk in them because your shoes will get very wet. Actually, that’s one of the worst feelings, when you walk and you see a puddle, or you don’t see it, and it’s quite deep, and you accidentally walk in it and then for the rest of the day your foot is all wet and cold. Ooh, it’s horrible! I hate it.
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OK, so listen and enjoy!
The Legend of Lake Toba
A long time ago, in North Sumatra, there lived a poor young man in a valley. He had no parents, but the valley was beautiful, and anything he planted there grew wonderfully. He lived by farming and fishing in the river near his home. The food he made was not special, but he never went hungry.
One afternoon, after working hard in the fields, he went fishing in the river. Today was not his day, though, and after hours of waiting, he still hadn’t caught a single fish. This had never happened before. Disappointed, he pulled his rod out of the water. But just as his rod was leaving the water, a fish bit it. He pulled it out, and was very happy to see a pretty little goldfish on the end of the rod. The young man hurried home to cook the fish.
He got home, put the goldfish on the kitchen table, and ran out to get some firewood from the garden. As he went, he licked his lips and thought about the fish. How good it would taste!
But when he came back, the goldfish was gone! And where it had been, there sat three pieces of gold.
‘Good evening,’ came a soft voice behind him.
The man turned around and saw a beautiful woman standing in front of him. She had long, bright red straight hair that went down to her knees. And she had no clothes on. The man turned red and looked at his feet.
‘Who are you, oh beautiful lady? And where did you come from?’ He said “oh” because it seemed right. She had to be magical.
‘I was that goldfish on your table. But I am no ordinary goldfish, as you can see.’ She played with her hair and smiled at him. ‘Those gold coins were my scales.’
The man looked at her, and then went red again and looked away. He had never seen such a beautiful woman before, and he was so lonely…
‘W-will you, will you marry me, oh beautiful lady?’
He held his breath as he waited for her answer. He knew it was a very bold question to ask, but in stories, men always asked women like that, all bold.
But the woman laughed. ‘I thought you would never ask. Believe me, it is a lonely life when you are a magical goldfish. I was waiting for someone to come and put their rod in my water… if you understand me.’
Now the man went as red as her hair. ‘R-really?’
‘Yes. But there is one condition.’ Suddenly, her smile disappeared, and the air in the room felt heavier. ‘You must never tell anyone that I was a fish. Do you understand?’
‘Oh, of course.’ The man hadn’t thought of telling anyone. He didn’t have any friends, and anyway, why would he tell them his beautiful wife used to be a fish? ‘But why, if I can ask?’
‘Just promise me. You won’t tell anyone, will you?’
‘No, no. I promise.’
The woman smiled and clapped her hands. ‘Well, then! I suppose we are married.’
‘Just like that?’
‘Just like that.’
And just as naturally as it began, their marriage continued. They soon found that they were very similar. Although they had been lonely before, they only needed each other’s company to feel happy.
Soon they also had a son, who they named Samosir. Samosir grew as quickly as the flowers in the ground, and at six years of age, he was a strong and very naughty boy. His mother was always asking him to help her clean the house and bring dinner to his father in the fields. Some days, Samosir did as he was told, but most days he shouted, ‘No!’ and ran off to play.
One day, as usual, Samosir was being naughty. He had refused to eat his breakfast, sang loudly while his mother worked, and now he was refusing to bring his father dinner.
‘Why don’t you do it?’ he said.
‘Because I’m cooking dinner for you!’ she said.
‘But I don’t want dinner.’
‘You will in an hour.’
‘How do you know?’
‘Because you’re a human, and humans get hungry at the same time every evening!’
‘I won’t get hungry.’
‘You didn’t eat your breakfast today. Of course you will.’
‘See? I wasn’t hungry this morning, so I won’t be hungry later!’
Eventually, Samosir’s mother convinced him to take a box of rice and fish to his father. It was a long walk through the fields, and as he went, Samosir started to feel hungry.
‘I guess Mum was right!’ he said. ‘Well, I’m sure Dad won’t mind if I just eat a few grains of rice…’
So he opened the box, and the rice looked so fresh and delicious, and the fish so hot and juicy. He ate just a little of both, but that only made him feel more hungry, so then he ate a bit more, and a bit more, and…
‘Oh no, I’ve eaten all of Dad’s dinner!’
All that was left were the fishbones. Hoping his father wouldn’t notice, Samosir put the bones back in the box, wrapped it up, and continued on his way.
When he found his father, he handed him the box, and was about to run away. But his father was hungry too, and he immediately opened the box and saw the bones.
‘Samosir!’ he shouted, and ran after the boy.
Samosir was fast, but his father was faster, and he quickly caught the boy.
‘Why were there only fish bones in the box? Did you eat my dinner?’
Samosir burst into tears, and cried loudly, saying, ‘Oh, Dad! It was horrible. A fox attacked me and ate all the food, and said I had to keep it a secret…’
‘Don’t lie to me!’ his father shouted. His cheeks were bright red.
‘I’m not lying!’
‘Yes you are, you son of a fish!’
And without warning, he slapped Samosir across the face. Samosir gasped and his mouth fell wide open. His father had never hit him before.
‘I’m not a son of a fish,’ said Samosir. He was crying again, but this time it was real.
Samosir turned and ran all the way home, and when he came into the house, he said, ‘Mum, am I the son of a fish?’ He meant it as a joke, but his mother’s face turned deadly serious.
‘Samosir. What did you just say?’
‘I said, “Am I the son of a fish?” Dad just said it to me…’
His mother started crying silently, and put her arms around him. ‘He has broken his promise.’
‘What, you really mean I am the son of a fish?’ He looked up at her face. ‘But you’re not…’
But as he spoke, his mother’s face started to change. It looked… smoother than before. And the light shone on it in a strange way.
After picking up the box, Samosir’s father thought about what he had said. It was a joke, but then he had slapped his son… It was a stupid thing to do. It started to rain, so he ran towards the house. He could see his wife inside, hugging Samosir, but just then lightning struck, and the two of them disappeared.
He ran inside, and looked all through the house for them. But they were gone. Where they had stood, there was a big puddle of water. He stayed up all night, walking through the fields looking for them. The rain went through his clothes and he shook with cold, but he did not find them. When he finally gave up and went home, he found that all the gold coins in the house were gone.
It was only then that he realised just what he had done.
The rains continued for weeks, but the man fell into a deep depression. He lay in his bed and listened to the rain and thunder outside, and cried. He did not work in the fields, or catch fish, and soon the small amount of rice he had was gone. Not that it mattered, because the rains were so heavy that he couldn’t light a fire, and the valley started to flood.
The man stayed in his house for as long as he could. Surely the rains would eventually stop…? But they didn’t, and finally he had to swim for his life, fighting the dancing waters and heavy rain. He didn’t last long, though, because his will to live had disappeared with his wife and his son.
The man was pulled down under the waters and never came back up. Still the rains went on and on, until the beautiful valley eventually turned into a lake.
When the rains stopped, people came to see the lake that had formed. Although the man had no friends, some people knew about him, and his strange but beautiful wife. They knew he had died alone and miserable, although they did not understand where his wife and son had gone.
Because of his sad story, they called the place Lake Tuba. Tuba meant “ungrateful”, and over time the name changed to Lake Toba. In the centre of the lake was a small island, and this was called the Island of Samosir. Over time, the people forgot about the man, and he became just a story, but the lake stayed forever.
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