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The First Customer | Ep. 207

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

There’s an old expression that says: "Go out on a limb. That's where the fruit is."

In other words: if you want to find the true sweetness in life, sometimes you have to take a risk!

In today’s story, our main character goes out on a limb to make her dream come true. And the fruit she finds is sweeter than she ever imagined! 

Our story is called “The First Customer.” Versions of this tale come from the Philippines, an island country in Southeast Asia.

Voices in this episode include Evan Casey, Igor Shimelonis, Amory Sivertson, Dawn Ursula, and Stephanie Panisello.

Stephanie Panisello voices the audiobooks of Disney’s “Encanto.” She plays Betty Ross in Marvel’s “What If…?” on Disney Plus, Claire Redfield in the Resident Evil franchise, and Bean in the animated series “Ba Da Bean.”

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Nora Saks. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

Coloring Page

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

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, 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

Just like Isa, you can bring even more kindness into the world… by creating a Kindness Paper Chain!

  1. Think about one act of kindness you’ve done – or received – lately, then write that act down, or draw a picture of it, on a rectangular slip of paper.
  2. Ask a friend or family member about an act of kindness they’ve done or received, and have them write or draw it on another slip of paper.
  3. Glue or tape the strips together to make the first link in your chain.

Every time you do or receive a kind act, add it to your chain. Eventually you’ll have a heartwarming record of all the generous things you’ve done for others – and others have done for you!

Musical Spotlight: Celeste

(Courtesy of Schiedmayer Celesta GmbH)
(Courtesy of Schiedmayer Celesta GmbH)

The celeste (a.k.a. celesta) is a keyboard instrument that looks a lot like a piano, but instead of having strings inside, the celeste has metal bars - just like a xylophone or glockenspiel. These metal bars give the celeste a delicate, bell-like, magical sound, which is quite apt, since in French celeste means “celestial” or “heavenly”! You can also hear the celeste in our season 2 story, “The Friendship Orchard,” our season 3 tale, “The Fallen Sparrow,” our season 4 episode, “The Bearded Lake,” as well as our Shortie, “The Leaky Bucket.”


NARRATOR: Ever since Isa was a little girl, she dreamed of running her own shop. More specifically, her own grocery, where customers could stop by and pick up everyday items like rice and beans, sugar and flour, fruits, vegetables, soap.

After years of working hard at other people’s groceries, Isa finally saved enough money to make her dream come true.

ISA: Now I just need to find the perfect space! I want my grocery to be right in the center of a busy town, with plenty of people walking by. After all, more people means more customers!

NARRATOR: So Isa traveled from town to town, searching for the perfect space. After looking at spots that were either too big, too small, too expensive, or too out of the way, she finally found one that was just the right size, just the right price, and in just the right location: along a bustling cobblestone square in the middle of town, right beside a busy hardware store.

There was just one problem.

ISA: This place is in shambles! It looks like another grocery used to be here, but judging by the peeling walls and creaky floors it must have been ages ago! Not only that, but it seems like the owner suddenly abandoned the place!

NARRATOR: It was true. Rows of rickety shelves stretched from wall to wall. And they were still crammed with old groceries, all spoiled and covered in dust!

ISA: I don’t know what happened, but I’ll do what I can to fix this place up. Then I’ll make it the best grocery this town has ever seen! Customers will come streaming through my doors!

NARRATOR: Isa spent the next months painting walls, replacing floorboards, tearing down shelves and building new ones. Then she went about stocking those shelves with groceries.

ISA: Let’s see… How about if I put the rice and beans in this aisle here… I put the flour and sugar in that aisle there… Then I’ll put the soap in the back, and the fruits and vegetables out front! I can hardly wait to see all my new customers come rushing in on opening day!

NARRATOR: When opening day arrived, Isa was buzzing with excitement as she gave the floors one last polish and gave the windows one last scrub. Then, with trembling fingers, she unlocked her doors, flipped the “Closed” sign to “Open,” and eagerly awaited her first customers.

Well… Isa waited…

ISA: Wow! What a slow morning!

NARRATOR: …and waited...

ISA: It’s lunchtime already! Where is everyone?

NARRATOR: …and waited.

ISA: It’s nearly closing time! Why is nobody coming in?

NARRATOR: By the end of the day, not one customer had visited Isa’s grocery. With a heavy heart, she locked her doors and flipped the “Open” sign to “Closed.”

ISA: Well that was depressing! I’ve worked my tail off all these years to make my dream come true… but that dream was supposed to include customers! Many, many customers, flocking through the doors of my grocery! I’ll never get by if this keeps up!

NARRATOR: So the next morning, Isa hung a big colorful “Open for Business” banner in the grocery’s front window. Then, just like yesterday, she unlocked her doors, flipped the “Closed” sign to “Open,” and…

…she waited.

ISA: Ugh!


ISA: What is going on? My grocery has been open for two days now, and I haven’t gotten one customer. Not one! Maybe this was all a terrible idea. Maybe I should just forget everything and – my first customer!

NARRATOR: Isa spun her head toward the front door. Shuffling into the grocery was an old woman. Her powder-white hair was streaked with silver, and draped over her shoulders was a tattered, threadbare shawl. Clutched in her soft, wrinkled hand was a gnarled walking stick.

ISA: Good day, madam! Welcome to my brand new grocery! Would you believe you’re my very first customer? How may I help you?

NARRATOR: The woman flashed Isa a wide, toothy grin.

OLD WOMAN: Good day, young lady! And congratulations on your grand opening!  I would like to buy a mango.

ISA: A mango? No problem! Mangoes are my favorite, and I’ve got plenty of them in that basket over there. Just pick whichever one you want and –

OLD WOMAN: Oh, I’m sorry! What I was going to say is, I would like to buy a mango… but I can’t. I’m afraid I have no money.

NARRATOR: Isa felt a wave of disappointment. At last, her first customer… and she couldn’t even buy anything? But as she gazed into the woman’s twinkling brown eyes, her disappointment gave way to compassion.

ISA: You know what, madam? I’d be happy to give you a mango. In fact, you can take all of the mangoes! Free of charge!

NARRATOR: Isa stuffed all the mangoes into a brown paper bag and gave them to the woman.

OLD WOMAN: My, my! Such generosity! Thank you, young lady! You know, you and I have something in common.

ISA: We both love mangoes?

OLD WOMAN: Well, yes… but something else, too! You see, I once owned a grocery just like this one. I sold rice and beans, sugar and flour, fruits, vegetables, soap… It had always been my dream.

ISA: It’s always been my dream too!

OLD WOMAN: But unlike you, I never gave anything away for free! I was too concerned about the bottom line. Making a profit. So my prices were high, and my patience was low. Do you know what I did if a customer wanted something but had no money? I threw them out! That’s what I did. But clearly you would never do such a thing. And I admire that.

ISA: Thank you, Madam!

OLD WOMAN: No – thank you! What did you say your name was? Isa?

NARRATOR: Isa paused. Had she actually said what her name was…?

ISA: Um, yes! It’s Isa!

OLD WOMAN: Well then, thank you, Isa. I hope this grocery brings you great fortune.

NARRATOR: And with that, the old woman shuffled out of the shop and into the crowded town square.

ISA: How did that woman know my name? It isn’t like word has gotten around about my grocery. If it had, I’d be swamped with customers by now!

NARRATOR: Isa let out a sigh. Then she noticed something on the floor by the door.

ISA: Wait a minute! Is that the old woman’s walking stick? She must have dropped it by accident. I must find her and give it back!

NARRATOR: With the walking stick tucked under her arm, Isa raced outside. She didn’t see the old woman anywhere. So she began tapping people on the shoulder and asking if they’d seen her.

ISA: Excuse me! Did you see an old woman just now? Silvery-white hair, tattered shawl, walks with sort of a shuffle…?

MAN 1: An old woman? Can’t say I did!

WOMAN 1: Nuh-uh! I didn’t see an old woman!

CHILD 1: I definitely didn’t see an old woman!

WOMAN 2: Sorry! I never saw anyone like that!

NARRATOR: Isa was confused. The old woman didn’t move very fast – especially without her stick to help her out! So how come none of these people had spotted her hobbling around?

Isa returned to the grocery and placed the walking stick behind the counter.

ISA: I’ll just hold on to the walking stick until the old woman returns. That is, assuming my grocery is still open by then! If business doesn’t pick up, I might as well shut this place down and –

NARRATOR: Isa didn't have time to finish her sentence. Because all of a sudden, she received a big surprise. One that made her heart stop, her eyes pop, and her jaw drop!

What do you think gave Isa such a surprise?

We’ll find out what it was, after a quick break.


NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to Circle Round. Today our story is called “The First Customer.”

Before the break, Isa the grocer gave all her mangoes to her first and only customer: a penniless old woman. The woman left her walking stick behind, so Isa rushed out to return it. But the old woman was nowhere to be found.

So Isa went back to her grocery, placed the walking stick under the counter, and hoped beyond hope that more customers might walk through her door. And at that very moment…lo and behold they did! The front door burst open and all at once, a throng of people came streaming inside the shop!

MAN: Hi there! I’m looking for soap!

WOMAN: I need some flour!

MAN: I need sugar!

WOMAN: Do you have any rice and beans?

NARRATOR: Isa could hardly believe her eyes.

ISA: Uh, hello everyone! Welcome! You’ll find rice and beans in aisle one, flour and sugar in aisle two, and soap in the back!

NARRATOR: All day long, Isa had her hands fantastically full as she rang up customer…

ISA: Thanks for coming by!

NARRATOR: …after customer…

ISA: Have a lovely afternoon!

NARRATOR: … after customer.

ISA: Hope to see you again!

NARRATOR: By closing time, as Isa locked the doors and flipped the Open sign to Closed, she was exhausted… and elated.

ISA: That was amazing! So many customers all of a sudden! That old woman told me she hoped this grocery would bring me good fortune; who knew her words would come true so quickly? Anyway, my shelves are nearly empty. I’d better restock them in case business is equally brisk tomorrow.

NARRATOR: And wouldn’t you know it, business was equally brisk – if not more so! When Isa got to the grocery the next morning, a long line of customers snaked around the cobblestone square.

ISA: Good morning, everyone! Great to see you! I’ll just unlock the doors and you can shop away!

NARRATOR: And “shop away” they did - all day long!

ISA: Thanks for your business!

I appreciate you stopping by!

Enjoy your groceries!

NARRATOR: More customers showed up the next day, and the next week, and the next month. And late one night, after restocking her shelves for the umpteenth time, Isa came to a realization.

ISA: I need a bigger grocery! But how am I going to find a space that’s just the right size, just the right price, and in just the right location?

NARRATOR: As if by magic, the answer came the very next morning, when Isa spotted a ‘For Sale’ sign in the window of the hardware store one door over. When Isa paid a visit, the owner told her he was retiring.

HARDWARE STORE OWNER: I’ve owned this hardware store for a very long time! And after all these years, I’m ready for a break.

ISA: A well-deserved break, sir! It’s clear you’ve worked hard.

HARDWARE STORE OWNER: You’re so kind, Isa. And now that I’m retiring, I couldn’t imagine selling my place to a friendlier, more generous soul. Let me tell ya, you’re nothing like the neighbor I used to have! Did you know that long before you moved in, there was another, much older grocer next door? Not very friendly. Never gave me so much as a “hello.”

ISA: All I know is they left a real mess when they closed. The shelves were still filled with old groceries! All spoiled and rotting!

HARDWARE STORE OWNER: Well, business didn’t work out so well and the grocer up and left town. They’re long gone now. Probably passed away! But anyway, enough about the past. Here’s to your future, Isa! May it shine as bright as the sun!

ISA: Thank you, sir! Thank you!

NARRATOR: Now that Isa had more space, she wasted no time starting her renovations. She knocked down walls, she built new shelves, then she expanded her inventory – and her customers!

ISA: Thanks for visiting my new and improved grocery!

I hope you found everything you need!

Have a marvelous rest of your day!

NARRATOR: Isa’s business was booming, beyond her wildest dreams! Then one evening, after the last customer filed out and Isa was getting ready to close, she heard a familiar voice.


NARRATOR: Isa turned her head. And who should she see standing in the doorway but the old woman – with her silvery-white hair and tattered shawl!

ISA: Good evening, madam! It’s wonderful to see you!

OLD WOMAN: And it’s wonderful to see you, Isa!

NARRATOR: The woman’s twinkling eyes roved around the shop.

OLD WOMAN: Would you look at this place! It’s so much bigger than it was before!

ISA: Let’s just say business has been good. Very good. I couldn’t be more thankful.

NARRATOR: The woman gazed at Isa.

OLD WOMAN: You know, Isa… Back when I was a grocer, I would have done anything to expand my shop like this! Anything! But I never got the chance.  

ISA: What happened?

OLD WOMAN: Well, you may remember that I wasn’t the most generous of grocers. Word spread about my high prices… and my not-so-friendly ‘customer service’… and business took a turn for the worse. I had to close my doors and leave town – practically overnight! I abandoned my shop… and my dream.

NARRATOR: Isa felt a rush of sympathy.

ISA: That must have been hard for you, Madam. I’m sorry.

OLD WOMAN: I’m sorry, too. I’m sorry for everything I did all those years ago – more years than I can count! But look at you! I remember telling you I hoped this grocery would bring you great fortune. And it has!

ISA: Yes! Which reminds me…

NARRATOR: Isa reached under the counter.

ISA: …I believe this belongs to you.

NARRATOR: The woman’s wrinkled face broke into a grin.

OLD WOMAN: My walking stick! I must have dropped this the day we met. I appreciate you keeping it safe.

ISA: Well when I discovered you’d left it here, I raced out to the town square to find you. But I couldn’t! I asked around, but nobody had seen you – nobody at all. It was like you’d vanished! So I just gave up and… Anyway, I’m glad I can return it now.

OLD WOMAN: And I appreciate it. Congratulations, Isa. Success couldn’t come to a more deserving soul.

NARRATOR: And with that, the woman grasped her gnarled walking stick, flashed Isa a toothy smile, then shuffled out the door.

After she left, Isa had a sudden thought.

ISA: Wait! I can’t let that poor woman leave empty-handed! I’ll give her some mangoes! For old time’s sake!

NARRATOR: Isa grabbed the basket of mangoes, then raced outside. But all she saw in the square was a bunch of townspeople milling about in the moonlight. And when she asked them if they’d seen the old woman…?

ISA: Silvery-white hair, tattered shawl, walks with sort of a shuffle…?

NARRATOR: …their answers sounded oddly familiar.

MAN: An old woman? I didn’t see an old woman!

WOMAN: I definitely didn’t see an old woman.

CHILD: Nope! Never saw her.

WOMAN: Sorry! No old woman here!

NARRATOR: Once again, it was as if the old woman had vanished into thin air!

ISA: Where on earth could the old woman be? And why does she keep disappearing? And how come nobody ever sees her but me???

NARRATOR: Isa puzzled and pondered the mystery, thinking back to all that had happened since she and the old woman first met.

OLD WOMAN: I once owned a grocery just like this one… I had to close my doors and leave town – practically overnight! 

ISA: All I know is they left a real mess when they closed. The shelves were still filled with old groceries! 

HARDWARE STORE OWNER: Business didn’t work out so well and the grocer up and left town. They’re long gone now. Probably passed away! 

NARRATOR: Isa froze in her tracks.

A chill ran down her spine.

Yet at the same time, a warmth filled up her heart.

And all at once, she knew what she had to do.

She walked back to her grocery and placed the basket of mangoes outside the front door. Then she flipped the “Open” sign to “Closed,” locked up, and headed home.

When she got to work the next morning… the mangoes were gone.

Isa knew the fruit could have been taken by anyone. A group of late-night revelers. A hungry passer-by. A stray dog or cat.

But she liked to think it was her old friend with the silvery-white hair and tattered shawl, coming back to visit the dream she had to abandon so long ago – and getting a little bit of sweetness in return.

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



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