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The red, orange, and blue of the dancers swirl towards me, a kaleidoscope of colors, celebrating the arrival of spring. The steady boom, boom of the drum stirs my heart and it tries to beat in time, as my feet tap out the hypnotic rhythm too. I would love to join the swirling crowd but I am an outcast.
My life is not what I want it to be. I am wretched. Already I am fifteen, and I have no husband. We are poor, our life is uncertain. I am a mixed blood. My father married Raja, a woman from another tribe, who died in my childbirth. My father Vagish has since remarried, now I have two younger brothers and a stepmother who hates me. They laugh and make fun of me. My brothers are pure-blooded and will soon be men. I am only a woman of mixed blood, a lower caste, unmarriageable. Mixed bloods are not welcome in our society.
My stepmother tells me I am a slave.. When I get up in the morning, it is my job to go down to the communal well and get the water for our family. The water is heavy but no man will do it. It is considered to be woman’s work.
While I am waiting for my turn at the well a shower of rain passes over. The hot, earthy smell of the rain comes off the rocks and delights my nose. The birds enjoy the rain too, raucous calls sing out as they flash in and out of the dark green forest. Tiny jewels of blue, red, and yellow among the many shades of green.
After our meager breakfast of gruel, I help my father and brothers on our small farm. Our llamas are our main source of wealth though we also grow pumpkins and some maize.
When the day is done and I have some time to myself, I love to pretend that I am a princess from a wealthy court. Princess Cashabah, I like the sound of it. It sounds mysterious and exotic.
I have only one friend, another girl of mixed blood called Ashanti. In our games, she becomes my devoted companion. When a rebel prince falls in love with me and takes me away from my father’s court, I will take my loyal friend Ashanti with me. We will have many adventures together. This is the only time I feel happy and carefree.
I overheard my stepmother telling the other women how ashamed she is of my ugliness, she tells them I am lazy, disobedient, and I eat too much food, food that should go to her sons. She tells them she has to beat me as I am stubborn and won’t do as I am told.
I don’t feel safe here where life can be ended on a whim, where there is danger everywhere you turn. There is never enough food, or clean drinking water, and disease is everywhere. Our people have so much pain and suffering.
The nuns are teaching me to read the bible, and I read stories of travelers to other lands. I would like to be a traveler, and see these other far away places. My stepmother cannot read or write, and now she hates me even more. She tells me that I am not better than the others are, indeed, I am much worse.
How I long to escape.
I have heard people speak of these other lands where there is too much food, little or no disease, and everyone has lots of money; I wish I had been born in a place such as this.
There are many things I wish for myself. I want a good life where I can be free. Not at everyone’s beck and call as I am now. I don’t want to be hungry all the time. Will I ever find a kind and gentle husband who will love me? I want many children who will fill my house with the sound of laughter, and most importantly I want to be loved and accepted for who I am.
I am so alone.
My father doesn’t love me. He wishes I had died instead of my beautiful mother. He is tired when he comes home from our field, and my stepmother greets him with a list of complaints. My stepmother wants to get rid of me even though I do most of the work.
Surely if there is a god as the nuns say, then he wouldn’t want his children to live in misery and poverty. I pray every day that something good will happen to me.