Once upon a time, a little girl called Layla was crying in the street.
After a while, up came a man with snow-white hair and a snow-white beard. "Hello, my name is Jerry. Why are you crying?" he asked her.
"I wish that my mother had some money so she could buy food for me to eat," she said in between snuffles.
"Never mind, little girl," said Jerry. "I can tell you how to find a magic money tree, and you can pick some money and give it to your mother so she can buy food for you to eat."
"Really?" Layla was happy upon hearing this and stopped crying.
But suddenly up popped an iron-grey-haired woman who said, "Don't believe this man, Layla, there's no such thing as a magic money tree. He just wants to lure you away and bad things will happen."
"Who are you?" asked Layla.
"I am Terry, and I am in charge and I know everything," said the woman. "So you have to trust me."
But Jerry insisted he was right and what's more he told Layla where to go to find the magic money tree.
"Who shall I trust, Jerry or Terry?" Layla thought to herself. "Well, there's only one way to find out."
So Layla packed a bag with some jam tomorrow sandwiches, which Terry gave her, and some milk of human kindness, which Jerry gave her, and set off walking.
She followed a river upstream and along the way she met a boy her own age. "Excuse me but can you tell me the name of this river?" she asked.
"Certainly. This is the River of the Tears of the Low Waged."
"Thank you," said Layla. "That's what I thought. I'm on the right track. But can you tell me now how far it is until I get to the Bank That's Too Big to Fail?"
"Not far, just keep walking up the river for about an hour and you can't miss it."
It was indeed impossible not to notice this bank because it towered above the left side of the river, just as Jerry had said. Jerry had told her that she had to climb to the top of this bank but she thought she had better sleep first because it looked like a long, hard, climb. She lay down and went to sleep.
In the morning she woke up refreshed, and for breakfast drank some of the milk of human kindness, which was very nice, and tried to eat some of the jam tomorrow sandwiches, but they seemed to melt into nothingness as soon as she put them in her mouth.
Anyway, she washed her face in the river and started climbing. By midday she was halfway up. The river looked very small far below.
By half past four she had got to the top. She was so high up that she was above the clouds and could no longer see the River of the Tears of the Low Waged.
She was met by a man who was only one metre tall in a green hat. "How do you do." The man held out his hand. "I am Peter the Gnome, who are you?"
"I am Layla," said the girl, who was surprised that the man was the same height as herself. "And I am looking for a magic money tree."
"Then you have come to the right place," said Peter. "Follow me."
She followed the gnome into a forest in which every tree was different. There were big trees and little trees and trees of every conceivable colour.
"Some people say that the magic money tree does not exist," said Layla to Peter. "So I am very much looking forward to seeing it."
"The people who say that it does not exist wish to keep it a secret so that they can keep the money for themselves," said Peter.
"That's not very nice," said Layla.
"The truth is that the tree nearly died a few years ago," said Peter. "It was all we could do to keep it alive. We have looked after it very carefully. It is now much better and it has started producing money again. Look–"
|The magic money tree was not well for a while.|
They had come to a clearing. In the middle a shaft of sunlight came down from above and shone onto a beautiful tree. Its branches fanned out from the trunk, which was a golden brown, and its leaves fanned out from the branches, and were bright green. It was covered in big golden flowers and their smell was like the most fragrant perfume Layla had ever smelt.
"It's beautiful!" she exclaimed. "But where is the money?"
"Look carefully at the flowers," said Peter.
Layla approached the magic money tree. The flowers were twice as big as the palms of her hands. Each petal was the size of her ear and upon each petal was a pattern and writing. She gasped. "It says these are million pounds notes! Is that real?"
Peter nodded. "Yes, each of these petals is a million pound note."
The tree was adorned with thousands of flowers and each flower was made of very many petals. Layla thought that there must be billions, if not trillions of pounds on this tree.
Peter plucked one of the petals and gave it to Layla. "Here you are."
"Is this for me?"
Peter smiled. "You can take it away with you when you leave."
"And this is not a dream? And I will be able to spend it when I get home?"
"Yes. For you see this money was originally yours, or perhaps your mother's. Or perhaps it belonged to many of the people who now live at the source of the River of the Tears of the Low Waged. They paid it in their taxes to the government. But when the bank that we are standing on–"
"-You mean the Bank That's Too Big To Fail?"
"Yes, when it looked like it was going to fail and the tree was going to die, the government used trillions of pounds of that money to prop up the bank so that it wouldn't collapse into the river and the tree would live. Now it is all right again but they haven't given the money back."
"I'm not sure that I understand that," said Layla, "but thank you anyway."
She put the million pound note carefully in her bag and started climbing back the way she had come. On the way down she thought to herself, "Funny, but this story is awfully like the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, except that I didn't have to kill a giant, and I didn't have to plant a bean. Well, I suppose it isn't really like the story of Jack and the Beanstalk at all in that case."
Somehow, when she got back to the river, she found herself in a different place from where she had started. "I must have taken a wrong turning," she thought to herself.
For there in front of her was a huge city of poor houses with holes in their rooves. She passed a hospital with broken windows and a school that was boarded up.
She came upon another little girl just like herself who was sitting sadly by the side of the road. "Excuse me, could you tell me where I am please?" Layla asked her.
"You are in the City of the Low Waged," replied the little girl. "We all work very hard but we never have enough to eat because we are not paid enough."
"But haven't you heard about the Magic Money Tree?" said Layla, giving her a drink from the bottle containing the milk of human kindness. She thought it strange that no matter how much she drank from it, it never seemed to run out.
The little girl shook her head.
"It is on top of the Bank That's Too Big to Fail." Layla took off her bag and got out her million pound note. "Look. I've just been up there and got this from the tree. There are plenty more where that came from."
"But we have been told by a woman called Terry that it doesn't exist!"
"That's what she told me too, but a man called Jerry told me how to find it."
"You mean I should trust Jerry and not Terry?" said the little girl.
"That's exactly right," said Layla, and went off to look for a food market.
David Thorpe's script for The Young Robin Hood tv series is currently being read by CBBC and he's busy on a novel of the same title. He grew up in Nottingham and Robin Hood was (and still is) his hero, so he definitely approves of a Robin Hood Tax.
His new short story imagining a future Britain – For The Greater Good – is featured in this free ebook: Weatherfronts: Climate Change and The Stories We Tell. His novels for teens – Hybrids and Stormteller – can be found and bought here.