'Ashes For Sale' | Circle Round 28

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

What does it mean to be a good friend?

Maybe you sit down and listen when your friend is upset. Or you share half your sandwich if your friend forgets to bring lunch.

If you’ve been a good friend to someone, then you could teach an awful lot to one of the characters we’ll meet in today’s story! Instead of having his friend’s back, he plays tricks on him… until he gets a taste of his own medicine. Our story is called “Ashes for Sale" and it comes from Mexico. People have been sharing versions of this story for years and years and years.

Voices in this episode include Laura Gardner, Hana Kenny, JaBen Early, Maizy Scarpa, Cheyenne Jackson and Patch Darragh. You can catch Patch as the lovable Principal Messner on the Netflix series, “Everything Sucks.” And look for Patch this summer in the feature film, “The Last Purge.”

And when Cheyenne isn’t gracing the stage or screen, he’s an ambassador for Starlight Children’s Foundation’s first-ever Design-a-Gown campaign. Starlight makes super-cozy hospital gowns for children and thousands of kids — and grown-ups — recently submitted their own design for a new line of gowns! (Find the gown template HERE!)  Starlight’s partner, Niagara Cares, will provide 30-thousand gown printed with the winning design to more than 800 children’s hospitals and health-care facilities across the country.

ADULTS! Print THIS OUT so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening
What can you do to be a good friend this week? Maybe you can let a buddy pick the movie you’ll watch at your next sleepover. Or if a pal isn’t feeling well, you could make a get-well card.

Think about one thing you can do, then talk about it with a grown-up. After that, have your grown-up tell you one thing they can do for one of their friends! Then, go out and do it. Both you and your friends will be all the happier for it.

Story Transcript
NARRATOR: Once, there were two friends: Antonio… and Jose.

Antonio had a big house, with an even bigger yard... and so many horses, cows and chickens, he had long lost count!

Jose, on the other hand, had a very small house, with barely any yard, and just one old brown cow. Each day he took the cheese he made from the cow’s milk, loaded it into his wheelbarrow, and pushed it to the market. Most days, he came home with just as much cheese as he’d left with.

Now, I know I said Antonio and Jose were “friends”… but the truth is, although they had grown up together… as the years went by... and the men’s lives and fortunes changed... their friendship grew strained.

You see, Antonio’s wealth changed him into a greedy, stingy man... who would constantly make fun of Jose for his bad luck.

ANTONIO:  Poor Jose. Another day at the market without any sales? How many days has it been now: five...? Ten...? Fifty...?

JOSE:  If you must know, Antonio, it’s only my fourth day without selling any cheese. But perhaps you can offer advice to a friend in need...?

NARRATOR: Jose was growing tired of these conversations. He dreamed of the day when his family would not have to struggle so much. He fantasized about sitting at the same fine table as Antonio, as Antonio asked him for advice.

But... until then... Jose was stuck begging his old friend to share his secrets.

Yet every time Jose asked Antonio for advice on how to make more money… the answer was always the same.

ANTONIO: Listen, Jose. I’ve made my own fortune my own way, and it’s nobody’s business but my own!

NARRATOR: Early one morning, Antonio was carrying a sack of flour to the baker when he ran into Jose on the street. He noticed Jose wasn’t pushing his usual wheelbarrow stacked high with cheese.

ANTONIO: Jose! Where is your wheelbarrow, man? And where is your cheese? Surely you’re going to try your luck at the market today, yes?

NARRATOR: Jose’s shoulders slumped.

JOSE: Not today, Antonio. Our cow is sick, and she can’t give us any milk. So I’m going to town to look for work. I have to find some sort of job; my family needs to eat!

NARRATOR: Just then, Jose noticed the large sack Antonio had slung over his shoulder. Suddenly, he had an idea.

JOSE: Tell me, Antonio: what is it you’re carrying in your sack? If it has anything to do with work or money, I am all ears. Goodness knows I seriously could use both.

NARRATOR: Antonio smiled. He always enjoyed teasing Jose, but now he realized he could have even more fun… by playing a little joke on his old friend.

ANTONIO: (totally lying, in order to lure Jose in) Oh, you want to know about this old sack here? Why, it’s just a sack... of ashes.

JOSE: Ashes?

ANTONIO:  Yes! Every few days, I scoop the ashes from my wood stove. Then I bring them to market, to sell. For some reason, everybody in town is desperate for extra ashes, and they’re willing to pay a lot of money for them!

NARRATOR: Antonio leaned in closer to Jose, as if letting him in on a special secret.

ANTONIO:  Now, listen, my friend. I know you’re in need of extra cash. Perhaps you can make some by selling the ashes from your stove!

NARRATOR: After so many years of being the butt of Antonio’s jokes, Jose was overjoyed. Antonio was finally offering some kindness! And some business advice!

Jose pointed at Antonio’s sack.

JOSE: So... let me get this straight. The people in town are willing to pay good money... for a simple bag of ashes?

NARRATOR: Antonio chuckled.

ANTONIO: “Willing to pay good money”? Oh, no! They’re falling over themselves to pay good money! No - to pay great money!

NARRATOR: Then, with his sack still slung over his shoulder, Antonio went whistling on his merry way.

ANTONIO: [whistling as he walks away with his sack]

NARRATOR: Jose, meanwhile, rushed back home to tell his wife, Silvia, what Antonio had shared with him.

JOSE: Soon, our worries will be over, Silvia! Antonio’s idea will make us a lot of good money. No – a lot of great money!

NARRATOR: Silvia put her hands on her hips as Jose scraped ashes from their tiny fireplace. She furrowed her brow as he crammed the ashes into a sack.

SILVIA: I don’t know, Jose. Antonio hasn’t helped us out in years – not since before he made his fortune. Why would he suddenly be so generous?

NARRATOR: Jose wiped his hands and gave Silvia a quick hug and kiss.

JOSE: Don’t you worry, my sweet. This plan is foolproof. I just know it!

NARRATOR: Then he slung his sack over his shoulder… and bounded out the door.

[music in]

NARRATOR: What do you think will happen next? Will Jose realize what Antonio’s really up to?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.


NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today, our story is called “Ashes for Sale.”

When we left off, Jose was heading to market with a bag full... of ashes. His prosperous friend, Antonio, had told him that ashes were in high demand. Little did Jose know that Antonio... was playing a trick on him.

Jose walked right to the middle of the marketplace and began to shout:

JOSE: (calling out, vendor-style) Ashes! Ashes for sale! Get your ashes here! Ashes for sale!

NARRATOR: Based on what Antonio had told him, Jose expected to see a huge line of people, all of them eager to take home scoop after scoop of ashes.

But that is not what happened.

Instead, some people looked at Jose as if he’d sprouted five extra eyes and three ears. Other people just burst out laughing. None of them were “falling over themselves” to “pay great money,” as Antonio had promised.

By the time the market closed and everyone had left, Jose’s voice was hoarse from yelling “Ashes! Ashes for sale!” for so many hours.

As he picked up his heavy sack, he noticed one other person was still at the market: a woman who’d been selling homemade masks all day.

JOSE: Excuse me, miss. You’re here everyday, selling the masks you make. Might you know, then: why didn’t anybody want to buy my ashes? My friend told me everybody in town would want them!

NARRATOR: The maskmaker smiled, and rested her hand on Jose’s shoulder.

MASKMAKER: Oh, dear. I’m afraid you’ve been the victim of a cruel, cruel joke. Nobody is going to buy ashes from you – or from anyone! Every one of us has all the ashes we need in our own wood stoves! At home! (pause) But, listen…

NARRATOR: The maskmaker reached into a bag and pulled out a mask.

MASKMAKER: Let me give you one of my masks. I had a really good day at the market – I sold every mask but this one – so maybe my good luck will rub off on you! At the very least, perhaps this mask will be of use to you some day.

NARRATOR: Jose took a closer look at the mask. It looked like a fierce crocodile, complete with a broad snout, silvery eyes and sharp teeth. Jose wasn’t sure how such a mask would be of any use, but he accepted the gift and thanked the maskmaker for her kindness.

As he trudged toward his house, Jose reflected on the day’s utter failure.

JOSE: (to himself) And to think I told my wife this plan was foolproof. Turns out, it proved me to be the fool! Oh, that Antonio. Once again, he’s gotten the best of me.

NARRATOR: Jose was so lost in his thoughts that he took a wrong turn. Next thing he knew, it was the middle of the night, and he was standing in a dense forest, right beside a cave.

JOSE: There’s no way I’ll find my way back to the house tonight. It’s so dark, and the air is getting colder. (beat) Maybe I’ll sleep for a few hours in this cave; it should be warmer in there. Then, when the sun comes up, I’ll find my way home!

NARRATOR: As Jose ventured into the cave, he kept his hands on the moist stone wall, to help him navigate in the darkness. To his surprise, the cave was actually a maze of tunnels! He followed one of the tunnels until he found a spot that was dry enough for him to lie down.

JOSE: (sounds of making himself comfortable on the ground)

NARRATOR: But just as Jose settled down on the ground, he felt a sudden PLOP, right on his face!

JOSE: Errgggh. Water!

NARRATOR: Jose got up and moved to another spot, but still... PLOP!

JOSE: Oh, this is ridiculous. I can’t sleep with water in my eyes! But, wait! The mask!

NARRATOR: Jose reached into his bag, grabbed the crocodile mask, and put it over his face. With his eyes protected from the dripping water, Jose finally drifted off to sleep.

But before long, he was jolted awake.

JOSE: (sound of being jolted awake)

NARRATOR: Coming from somewhere inside the pitch-dark cave... were noises. Strange noises that were getting louder and louder… and closer and closer.

JOSE: (to himself) What am I hearing? What could it be?

NARRATOR: Soon, Jose realized the noises… were voices. As he lay on his back, he began to tremble.

JOSE: (to himself) I’ve heard stories about thieves and bandits using caves as their hiding place! What if they find me? I have nothing to steal, but what might they do? (beat) I’m just going to lie here, completely still, and maybe they won’t see me. Maybe they’ll go away!

NARRATOR: Jose was so frightened that he forgot one thing:

He was still wearing the crocodile mask.

Soon, a wild-looking group of men and women stumbled over to where Jose was lying on the ground. Jose was right: they were bandits who used the cave as their hide-out! As they moved in closer, he could see some of them were carrying torches. Others were carrying bags of money.

Jose lay on the ground as still as he could.

BANDIT 1: Alright, ladies and gents. This is where we’ll stop for the rest of the night. In the morning, we’ll split up the money and go our separate ways!

NARRATOR: Suddenly, Jose felt something crawling up his leg. Imagining that it was a scorpion, or a tarantula, he let out a yell.

JOSE: (yells)

NARRATOR: In truth, it was only a fly. But it was too late. The bandits rushed to the spot where they’d heard the yell. One of the bandits crouched down and shoved her torch close to Jose’s face. Suddenly, she let out a scream.

BANDIT 2: (screams)

NARRATOR: You see, when the flames of the torch lit up Jose’s face, what did the bandit see… but the crocodile mask! Only, she didn’t know it was a mask. She thought it was a real crocodile, complete with a broad snout, silvery eyes and sharp teeth!

BANDIT 2: Oh my, my, my, my, my! An angry crocodile has found its way into this cave and he’s going to eat us all! We have to run! Now!

NARRATOR: The bandit dropped her torch on the ground, right next to Jose. The flame was so close, he was sure it would burn him to a crisp. He let out a groan.

JOSE: (groan as he thinks he’s going to get burnt)

BANDIT 2: Ayyy! Now the crocodile is growling at us! He looks hungry, and now we’re all going to be his breakfast! Run, I tell you! Run like the wind!

NARRATOR: The bandits sprinted through the tunnels of the cave, trying to escape the angry, hungry crocodile. They dropped their bags of money as they ran, before disappearing into the forest.

Meanwhile, Jose had jumped up and started running, too. He stopped in a dark corner of the cave, and when he could no longer hear the bandits’ shouts, he headed back to the cave’s entrance. And there... what did he see… but the bags of money!

Jose tried counting all the gold coins, but he gave up; there simply were too many!

JOSE: (to himself) I can’t believe it! At last, my family and I will have enough money to live comfortably! For the rest of our lives! I must go home and tell Silvia!

NARRATOR: Back at the house, Silvia listened as her husband recounted the fiasco of trying to sell ashes at the market. Then he told her about the bandits and the cave – including the part about the crocodile mask.

But he saved the best part... for last.

JOSE: And when I finally wound my way out of the cave, what did I find… but these!

NARRATOR: Silvia gasped as Jose led her to the barn… and showed her the bags of money he’d stashed there.

SILVIA: Oh, Jose! I can hardly believe it! (beat) But, you do realize… this money… it doesn’t belong to us. It didn’t belong to the bandits, either. We can’t keep all these shining gold coins! To do so would be greedy, and wrong. Why, we’d be no better than your old friend, Antonio.

NARRATOR: Jose had gotten so caught up in the action of the evening that he hadn’t even thought about that. But he knew Silvia was right.

JOSE: Of course, my dear Silvia. I tell you what: I’ll find out where this money came from, then I’ll make sure it goes back where it belongs.

NARRATOR: But try as he might to locate the owner of those gold coins, Jose simply could not do it. The bandits must have stolen the money in a land far from his own.

So, Jose decided there was just one thing to do: use the money… to assist those in need. He donated to schools and libraries… to food kitchens and shelters… he even took money to the market, and gave it to men and women who were struggling to sell their wares – just like he’d once struggled to sell his cheese.

What was left, he kept for his family... just enough so they could live comfortably.

Meanwhile, Jose’s old friend, Antonio, had grown quite curious… and jealous.

ANTONIO: That Jose – he seems to have so much money these days! Why, he can afford to just give it away! (beat) I must find out how he came into such wealth... and then use his tricks to make more money for myself!

NARRATOR: Antonio rode his finest horse to Jose’s house and knocked on the door.

JOSE: Hello? Oh! Antonio!

ANTONIO: (laying it on thick) Jose! My oldest, dearest friend. I can’t help but notice how your luck has changed! Perhaps you could tell me how you’ve come so far from your days struggling to sell cheese…?

NARRATOR: This was the moment Jose had been dreaming of: the moment Antonio would come to him for guidance on how to make money.

That’s when Jose had an idea.

JOSE: Well, Antonio, to tell you the truth, I owe all this money to your good advice!

NARRATOR: Antonio was confused.

ANTONIO: My good advice…?

JOSE: Yes! Do you remember when you suggested I go to town to sell my ashes?

ANTONIO:  Um, yes…

JOSE: Well, I did exactly what you said! One thing led to another, and next thing I knew... I was rich!

ANTONIO: You tried selling ashes… and you got rich?

JOSE: Yes! So rich, in fact, that I can afford to give my money away! (beat) Now, you should know that I’m long retired from the ash-selling business. But if you wish to continue it... to take the business over… well, like you say, the people of the town would probably be (echoing Antonio’s original words) falling over themselves to pay good money! No - to pay great money!

NARRATOR: Antonio could hardly believe that his silly idea of selling ashes had actually worked. But Jose’s story must be true. After all, how else could his old friend be so wealthy now?

ANTONIO:  Well, Jose, I see how the plan worked for you, so I tell you what: I accept your offer. I will take over your ash-selling business.

JOSE: (pleased, shaking hands) It’s a deal!

NARRATOR: The next morning, Antonio bent over his wood stove and gathered his ashes into a big sack. He dragged the bag to the market and set up shop right in the middle.

ANTONIO: Ashes! Ashes for sale! Get your ashes here! Ashes for sale!

NARRATOR: Antonio did his best to sell those ashes… but… as with Jose before him… people would walk by and look at Antonio as if he were speaking gibberish. Or they would just laugh.

At the end of the day, Antonio knew what he had to do. He headed to Jose’s house. Jose had just gotten back from another day of charity work.

JOSE: Antonio! What brings you here again?

NARRATOR: Antonio took a deep breath.

ANTONIO: Jose… I’ve come to apologize.

JOSE: Apologize?!?

ANTONIO: Yes! For trying to trick you about selling ashes. It was a mean thing to do. I let my greed get the better of me. I’ve let it get the better of me for a long, long time now. We used to be such good friends, Jose! Can you ever… forgive me?

NARRATOR: Jose gazed at his old friend.

JOSE: You know, I’ve been waiting a long time for this day, Antonio. But, in a way... I have to thank you! If it weren’t for you, I never would have gotten this chance to share so much with others! It makes me so very happy!

NARRATOR: Antonio felt a sudden rush of envy. Only, this time, it had nothing to do with Jose’s money. It had to with... his happiness! Because although Antonio had a big house, with an even bigger yard, and so many horses, cows and chickens that he’d long lost count, none of it brought the kind of happiness Jose described.

ANTONIO: This happiness you get from helping others, Jose... Will you… will you show me how to help others, too?

NARRATOR: Jose beamed from ear to ear.

JOSE:  My oldest, dearest friend...

NARRATOR: He embraced Antonio in a warm hug.

JOSE: I most certainly will.

NARRATOR: So, Jose taught Antonio the many ways he could practice kindness and generosity. Like helping a neighbor fix a broken roof... or offering to bring food to a hungry family.

From then on, Jose and Antonio saw each other all the time. They spent a lot of time in each other’s homes… in front of their wood stoves, in fact! Not scooping up ashes… but cooking up meals... which they sat down and enjoyed... together... just like two friends should.

Headshot of Rebecca Sheir

Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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