(ROOP-uh-zha) Lithuanian for ‘frog’ and what you might call a person you didn’t like very much…including yourself).
Once there was a handsome young man who lived high in the mountains next to a sky-blue lake. Every single day, starting with the first day the ice melted in the Spring until the last leaf fell in the Fall, he would swim and splash and float and dive in that beautiful mountain lake. He was so graceful as he glided and swirled through the water, he almost wished that he could live in that watery world with the fish and the plants and their bubbles that danced and jiggled to the surface.
One day as he tumbled and twirled under water, he bumped his head on a log. That night he couldn’t sleep. His head throbbed. As he paced back and forth, the clock struck midnight. The boy happened to look in a mirror. He froze with fear. For there in the mirror was a rupuze. The boy turned and ran as fast as he could. He ran and ran and ran until just before the sun began to rise. He realized that he had changed back into the handsome swimmer. He was so relieved that he lay right down and slept until sunset. When he woke, his first thought was, “What if it happens again? What if it happens every night?” He sat there shivering in the foggy chill waiting for midnight. Sure enough, at midnight, he looked at himself and began to run and run and run.
He ran far for many, many nights. Until one day, just before he fell asleep at dawn, he realized that he was next to a beautiful lake, so much like the lake he loved. He fell asleep happy but woke up sad as he thought about his favorite lake and how he missed it and how happy he had been…before. As he sat at the edge of the sunset lake, he felt so sad that he sighed deeply. Much to his surprise, out of the waves came a beautiful girl with long flowing hair. She smiled and said, “I felt your sigh across the waves. Why are you so sad? Where do you come from?” The boy jumped up, began to run. “Don’t go,” the girl called. “Please come back tomorrow. I promise not to ask questions or talk.”
So, he came back the next night and the next night and for many nights after that. They would sit side by side from sunset till dark. The boy would be sure to leave long before midnight.
One night after many, many nights without uttering a single word, the girl said, “I love to swim.” The boy looked at her and slowly nodded his head. So, she began to talk about her favorite lake and a thousand other things about swimming and soon the boy began to speak of his great love for the water. They were both so excited as they talked that they forgot all about the time. Before he knew it, it had happened again. He was sick and angry and ashamed. He wanted to scream. As he jumped up to run, he glanced at the rippling water and there in the moonlight reflection was another rupuze.
He looked at the girl and at himself. She simply smiled.
He stood there for a long time then he slowly sat down next to her and they quietly waited for the dawn.