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Chandra's Jewels
By Colleen Messina

1     Chandra had finished her work inside the hut. She felt nervous, so she decided to make chapattis to keep busy. She scooped flour into a bowl, added water, and began to stir the gooey mass with a spoon. She stirred so hard that her arm began to ache.
2     "Do you see anyone?" Chandra called eagerly as she peered out the door with the mixing bowl nestled in her arm.
3     "Not yet, Mother," replied thirteen-year-old Sarada. Sarada was washing clothing in the pond next to their hut. She slapped the clothing on the stones and watched her three-year-old brother as he waded into the green water and grabbed at fish with his chubby hands. For Naren, play-not work-was his priority!
4     Sarada glanced up the road again. The purple vista rippled in the heat, but Sarada stayed cool. A grove of mango trees made an inky pool of shade by the pond. In the distance, water buffalos lumbered wearily in the red muck of the rice fields. In sharp contrast, the village children dashed merrily after waddling ducks. Suddenly, the flock flew off like white kites dancing in the azure sky. Their cries of protest filled the air.
5     Inside her hut, Chandra slapped chapattis back and forth in her hands. The rhythmic motion steadied her mind. Chandra had simple tastes. She didn't mind her sparsely furnished home with its sweet-smelling straw roof and hard-packed mud floor. Chandra hummed a song to her favorite god, Shiva, so that the visit with her sister would go well. Chandra tried not to let the arrival of her guest disconcert her, but she worried that Rani might think that Chandra's home was lackluster or even ascetic. She rinsed her hands in a bowl of water and began frying chapattis on top of their oven.
6     Khudiram, her husband, came back from cultivating his rice fields. Instead of pants, he wore a dhoti that wrapped around his waist and looped through his legs. He came into the hut and handed his wife two luscious mangoes while he told her about the tender rice shoots pushing up through the red earth like slender, green straws. Seeing her concern, he reminded her that formerly her sister was poor and had only lived in luxury since her marriage two years ago. Rani had become a bit callous, and she sometimes said virulent things. Her sharp words sometimes caused an altercation with Chandra.
7     Any moment Rani would arrive from Calcutta. Bustling Calcutta was a modern city, where men wore trousers and women no longer veiled their faces in the presence of strangers. Rani had moved there when she married, and she now lived in a charming chateau. She never worked except to order various servants here and there; her word was the edict of law in her household. Rani had every blessing...except children.
8     "She's here! She's here!" cried Sarada.

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