Cyril hated being different. His brothers, sisters and cousins all teased him mercilessly behind their parents’ backs, making him feel worse. But, even if they hadn’t, Cyril would still feel different. Not only did he look different, but he was the only lamb in the field who liked to sing and dance. Even the full grown sheep – who were generally much nicer to him than the lambs – thought that was odd and undignified behaviour.
That day, all of the other lambs were helping each other pull burrs and prickles from each other’s fleece in preparation for the big troop of schoolchildren that the farmer and his wife had told them were coming for a special visit to celebrate the holidays.
Cyril was standing on his own, working on a welcome dance that involved a lot of kicking and jumping.
‘Why don’t you go stand in the shadows and dance for the trees, Cyril,’ his cousin, Bernard, the biggest lamb, taunted Cyril. The others giggled and shook their shining white fleece, emphasizing the difference between them and him. Cyril bowed his head in embarrassment. Out of the corner of his eye, Cyril inspected his black fleece critically. It was soft and as shiny as the white fleece of his family.
It was all so unfair! He hadn’t chosen to be different but they all acted like Cyril had some sort of disease. Then, Cyril remembered something important.
Lifting his head defiantly, he said in a low voice, ‘The farmer says I’m special.’
Bernard laughed loudly and the others quickly followed suit.
“Of course he did,’ Bernard smirked once the laughter died down, ‘The farmer’s nice to everyone, but I bet the truth is that he can’t wait for shearing season so that he can throw your fleece away! What good is black wool?’
‘The farmer’s wife knits clothes with black wool all the time,’ Cyril protested.
‘No she doesn’t,’ Bernard replied smugly, ‘She knits with beautiful white wool that has been dyed black you silly twit. And everyone knows you can’t dye black wool.’
Bernard’s words stung more tan Cyril wanted to admit. Cyril’s cousin’s just stood there staring at him, as if daring him to continue the argument. But before Cyril could think of anything to say, the adult sheep entered the field of lambs, followed closely by Ava the sheep dog.
‘Come on now children,’ Ava called out, ‘the farmer wants you all down at the shed. Move along now. Have to get ready for our little visitors!’
Silently, the lambs all filed in behind the sheep and made their way down to the shed.
‘Not you, Cyril,’ Ava barked sharply as he made his way sullenly into then line.
He stepped away from the herd in shock. If he could have, Cyril would have turned bright red with shame. He looked over to see Bernard grinning broadly in triumph, though he knew not even his pompous cousin would be game enough to say something mean in front of the big, shaggy dog who protected them all.
Ava, who never missed a thing, had noticed the exchange of looks between the two and narrowed her eyes at them both.
‘Wait for me here, Cyril,’ she ordered before leading the others away.
Feeling even worse, Cyril waited nervously for Ava to return, shuffling his feet in rhythm to the tune he made up in his head to pass the time. Finally she crested the hill that led down to the farm yards. Tousling her silky fur, Ava sat down in front of Cyril and regarded him seriously.
‘What was all that about?’ she asked him quietly.
‘They all hate me because I’m different,’ Cyril whispered miserably.
Cyril shrugged, ‘Because I like to sing and dance…and because…because I have black fleece.’
Ava looked startled for a moment and then started to laugh.
‘Don’t you laugh at me too, Ava!’ Cyril cried.
‘Oh my poor baby,’ Ava walked over and nuzzled her warm nose against him, ‘I wasn’t laughing at you. After all, in case you hadn’t noticed, I have both black and white fur and,’ she lowered her voice conspiratorially, ‘I’m not even a sheep! No, I’m laughing because you – and the other lambs – are all in for a big surprise. Watch with me now.’
Confused, Cyril stood silently with Ava. Shortly, he saw the farmer leading his family back into their field. Cyril’s eyes widened with shock. Every one of them had been dyed a different colour. There were blues, greens, reds, pinks and yellows and – Cyril noticed with delight – several who’d been dyed black like him, including a stunned looking Bernard.
The farmer came over to Cyril with a smile, and stroked his dark wool.
‘Sorry if you felt left out little one,’ he whispered, ‘but they had to be made special for our Christmas visitors, and you’re already special. And now I’d like you to teach them all that special dance of yours to perform on Christmas Eve.
And so Cyril did, and to his surprise, all of them listened carefully to his instructions. Christmas Eve came quickly and all of the children were delighted to see the multi-coloured sheep and lambs dance across the stage to the tune of jazzy Christmas Carols. Cyril had never felt so special in all his life.
The best part, however, came after the show. Bernard approached Cyril slowly, an embarrassed look now on his face.
‘I wanted to say how sorry I was for all the teasing. I was mean and nasty and didn’t understand…’ Bernard’s voice trailed away.
‘Understand what, Bernard?’
Suddenly, Bernard grinned broadly, ‘How awesome it is to feel special like you!’ he finally exclaimed.
All the lambs sang and danced with Cyril late into the night and they never, ever teased him again.
© Alison Pearce 2009