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Palm Trees

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To Be Free
“Chatura!” The sharp authoritative tone of her mother’s voice brought Chatura back from her imaginary fantasies, and back to reality. Chatura slid her fingers through her lustrous, long, black hair. Sighing, she carelessly jumped down from the palm tree. Her tree. The tree which she loved to come, and sit, and just think. It was her special place to dream. Every evening she escaped into places of adventure… she dreamed she was a young entrepreneur in America, an explorer discovering a new island, or a famous actress known all across Europe. Even though she daydreamed constantly about faraway places, Chatura loved India. She adored the countryside of India, the beautiful plains of rice paddies, cotton and sugar cane fields, and palm trees. She enjoyed meandering through the marketplace, going to this vendor and that one, watching her Maa haggle great deals. But, when one was given opportunities to imagine the impossible, the possibilities were endless.
Brushing aside the cloth curtain which served as a door to the bungalow, Chatura made her way to the cramped kitchen. Inside she found her mother, father, and a strange man with pointy eyes, dark hair, and a crooked nose. “Yes, Maa? What is it?”
“Come sit down, daughter. Now, listen to me. Mr. Gupta has come here today with the most generous offer.” Chatura’s mother, beaming at Mr. Gupta, motioned for him to talk.
Chatura cautiously knelt down on the floor. What was this all about?
“Chatura, I am a very happy man today. I have come to find a wife for my son, Arnesh. He is lonely boy, even in the big city of Delhi, and has been acting quite strange lately. I thought perhaps a wife would cheer him up. So, I have proposed to your parents that you marry Arnesh. It has been arranged that you marry him tomorrow, as neither I nor your parents really wants to make a big deal out of it.”
Her mouth dropped. I’m not surprised about the whole marriage proposal thing. I knew one would come, eventually. It’s just that I am only sixteen. I know that it was common for Indian girls to get married young, but still. I need some time! I’m not ready to devote my whole life to the welfare of this Arnesh, and follow him the rest of my life! And Mr. Gupta said he was acting strange! I wish I had some time to think about all this! I’m not ready to marry tomorrow! Chatura bitterly thought. She would have no choice. Of course she would have to agree, otherwise, she would be detested by her parents, her family, her friends, the whole village. There is no way around it. There was no use of a girl who will not marry and bring wealth and honor to the family. That was how it was done in the village. That was how it had always been.
Seeing her satisfied, selfish father, anger burned inside her chest. Did her care if she married some nobody- some boy she knew nothing about? Did anyone care about what happened to her? Abruptly, she got up, throwing the pillow her fingers had been tightly grasping down, and stormed out the door. She heard the shouts of her mother. But she didn’t care in the least. She ran. Through the buffalo dung and rice paddies, dust rose as Chatura sprinted to her tree.
Could she say no? No, she couldn’t. It had never been done. But, the least her parents could do before they threw her out of her home, from the love and comfort of family, was give her time! She needed time to prepare herself, and to move out of the precious days of girlhood. But of course, no one thought of such a thing. The thoughts of love, freedom, and security fled from her, and were replaced by hatred.
The sun shone brightly, waking Chatura from her slumber. Chatura groaned, sorely positioning herself in an upright position. She must have slept in the tree all night. From her sacred place of refuge, the world seemed so beautiful… the emerald colored parrots chirping, the mangoes on the neighbor’s tree smelled delicious, and the bright pink mundhara flowers looked perfect for putting in her hair. But wait, what was she doing sleeping in a tree? She usually wasn’t up this early! But then she remembered yesterday evening. Her anger returned immediately.
She got up and went to the kitchen. Maa was there, frying dosas. She gave Chatura a few, and some coconut chutney, not saying anything. Chatura gulped the food down, and then dunked a glass of fresh guava juice down her throat. About to slip out the door, she was startled by her Maa’s voice. ”Daughter, go into your room and pack to leave. Then come into my room and we shall prepare you for your ceremony tonight.”
Sulking, Chatura threw all her langas, saris, and scarves into a faded burgundy bag. She carefully put in her adored few pieces of jewelry: four magenta bangles, a gold necklace, and a matching pair of earrings. It didn’t take her very long, as she had very few belongings. She wondered what it would be like to live in the city, with a family she didn’t even know, and absolutely no friends. Would it even be possible?
With henna designs on her hands, her best sari, and her decked in her sparse jewelry, Chatura and her family packed into the rickshaw normally meant for only two people.
She felt a sense of awe as she saw the business of Delhi. Thousands of people, auto-rickshaws, motorcycles, and cars filled the streets. Horns blared, a loud cacophony. Dirty pigs, stray dogs, and cows, sacred to Hindus, roamed the street. Countless clothing, fruit, meat, toys, and jewelry shops lined the streets. There seemed no end. All sights and sounds swirled together in one overwhelming sensation of wonder. Chatura felt bewildered, as the thought at living in this tangle of people and animals.
They arrived at a white-washed high rise. It was actually pretty nice, with a roof top garden, and places to walk. Inside her new apartment, Chatura, through her veil, nervously sat through the ceremony. She survived the numerous blessings and the rice that was thrown at her. She tried to catch a glimpse of the countenance of Arnesh, who was stiffly sitting beside her, looking forward. Gosh, they wouldn’t even let her look at the guy she was supposed to spend the rest of eternity with. Chatura grimaced at the thought of spending her whole life with this boy who wouldn’t even catch her eye.
Oh, how was she going to survive?

*
*
*
It had been precisely one year and four months. Not that Chatura had been counting. It had been hard to adjust, but slowly, little by little, Chatura had found the knack of navigating through the streets of Delhi. She also learned slowly how to live with Arnesh. And Mr. Gupta had been right; Arnesh was strange. He always seemed rather preoccupied. Chatura and Arnesh, though they spend most of their lives in the same room, only talked when necessary. She minded her business, cleaning, cooking, and washing, and he minded his.
One particular day, Chatura had just put the evening dinner on the table. She had worked hard all afternoon making chapatis, peas and paneer curry, lentils, and curds. The couple were about to sit down, when they heard a rapid succession of knocks on the door.
Arnesh rose. ”Who’s there?”
”It’s Hussam. Come quickly. There’s an emergency.” A low voice sounded, impatient.
”Come in, come in.” Arnesh gave the mysterious person permission to enter, a worried expression on his face. When Hussam, a heavy set, older man entered, Arnesh began questioning him. ”What went wrong? Oh, was it Pushpesh? That coward… I knew I should have done the assassination myself! Pushpesh- just wait until I get my hands on him!” Arnesh was disgusted.
Glancing at Chatura, Hussam said nervously,”Just come on! I’ll tell you on the way there! I mean,” Hussam then barked, “Does she know?”
”No, of course not! This was a secret, remember! I kept my part of the deal! Let’s just get out of here! Stay here Chatura! I’ll be back… later this night!” Arnesh hastily strapped his sandals on, and they ran out the door, leaving Chatura there, mouth wide, and eyes open. What? An assassination? What was Arnesh planning to do? And who in the world was Pushpesh?
Angry at her husband and his friend for totally abandoning her in the apartment, she reasoned with herself. She wanted to know what they were doing. Why did Arnesh tell her to stay in the apartment? Really, it’s not like she would be in the way, or would she? Tortured by all these questions that she knew she would never get the answer to, curiosity took a hold of her. She quickly slipped her feet into flip-flops and took off.
After descending four flights of stairs, she looked left. No not there. She scanned the streets to the right. Ah, there he was. Leaving about twenty feet between her and her husband, she vigilantly followed them, struggling to keep up with their swift pace.
Finally, after twenty minutes of stressful walking, Chatura saw the two men dart into a narrow alley. When she got there, they had disappeared. There was a narrow staircase going down, and a doorway on the right. Chatura chose to take the staircase. As she neared the bottom, she heard voices coming from down the hallway. Following the length of the hallway, she stopped at the last door. There, she heard a man’s voice. She pressed her ear against the door, and listened.
”Welcome, Arnesh and Hussam. We have come to discuss the planned murder. As you might guess, Pushpesh did not succeed in killing Vajresh Kapur.”
Chatura gasped. WHAT? Vajresh……. Vajresh Kapur was… the prime minister of India! Where these men seriously trying to kill him? How dare they! Why in the world would they do that?
She again focused her attention on the conversation that was going on inside the door.
”And now, as we cannot trust Pushpesh with this task, we need a volunteer to complete this task. Would anyone care to do the honors?” she heard the same voice say.
A moment of silence followed this request. Then she heard it. The same quiet, demanding voice she had heard but half an hour ago.
”I’ll do it.”
Applause broke out. The main speaker called for attention.”Thank you, Mr. Gupta for accepting this dangerous task, and continuing our mission for justice started over a year ago. Let’s get it over tomorrow night at, say, 8:00. Vajresh will be just starting his dinner. Got it? Alright… now that we got this business out of the way, let’s finish the agenda for tonight…”
Tomorrow night. 8:00. Chatura made a mental note. And now that she had figured out what she came for, she left.

There was no deciding what must be done. Her husband was going to murder the prime minister. This plan must definitely be thwarted. Chatura respected the prime minister. He had helped the people of India; he had given the outcasts, or untouchables, of India more rights, and lowered taxes. Chatura had no idea why anyone would want to do anything bad.

The next day, Chatura avoided her husband’s glances. She did not speak to him when he came home from his farming. She just set his dinner down, and hid away in her room.

At last, hearing the click! of the door, she got ready to go. She did not double cross herself. I’ll do whatever I have to do to save the prime minister, she reaffirmed herself. Taking deep breaths, she clasped the metal gun, and put it in her pocket.

When she arrived at the prime minister’s house, only a few steps behind Arnesh, she decided to wait for him to strike. She watched him go around the house, and then come back the other way. He was determining the location of the prime minister. Finally, Chatura perceived Arnesh climb into a tall tree. He took aim. His body heaved considerably, nervously anticipating the results of what could possibly happen from this. His arm shook. He tried to steady his arm, and then Chatura saw his finger inching closer, closer to the trigger…
”Noooooo!” Chatura heard herself scream hysterically, breaking the deathly silence. She ran to the window across from the tree faster than the speed of bullets whizzing through the air. She banged on the window, begging to be heard. ” Prime minister! Someone’s trying to kill you!” The prime minster, startled, looked through the window toward Chatura. She frantically pointed to the tree, but then she heard it.
Boom! The shot rang through the air. Chatura ducked. The window shattered. Luckily, the prime minister too ducked. She heard another shot. Oh no – if Arnesh kept shooting, surely he would get the prime minister.
There was only one thing Chatura had come for: to protect the prime minister. Maybe she could end this thing with words. ”STOP! Stop it, Arnesh! What are you doing!?” Chatura took her gun from the folds of her sari, and carefully pointed at her husband, her pointer finger on the trigger. In a flash Arnesh’s gun was aimed upon her.
The moment seemed to last a lifetime. Husband and wife, two opposite ends, were pointing guns at each other.
”No! I will do as I please! Go!” Arnesh finally yelled back in a fury, swaying. He, in his rage and confusion, lost his balance, and fell. Chatura watched; she was amazed that she had caught her typically nonchalant husband off guard. She was so alarmed that her finger pressed the trigger. The bullet bounced off the tree, and into the body of Arnesh.
Horrified, Chatura watched as the blood seeped from the bullet wound in his motionless body to the ground.

What had she done?


Three days later, she sat in her old dream spot in a stupor. She hadn’t meant to kill him; it had been an accident. He hadn’t been a bad husband. He wasn’t cruel or demanding… yet… he had almost killed the prime minister. And would have if it weren’t for her. But she had to do it. She had done the right thing.

The prime minister had offered her prizes for saving his life: honor, riches, and fame. But she denied all of it. She only wanted one thing. And he had given it to her.
She desired with all her heart only one thing: to be in a palm tree.
The feeling that was wonderful, blissful, exhilarating, the feeling that she lived for
She desired freedom.



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TouchOfARose said...
Jul. 16, 2012 at 12:53 pm
Wow, I loved the developement of this, as Chatura grows from a headstrong girl to a mature wife, and has the sense to not just conform to her husband's wishes, however demanding. The imagery of the streets and food and landscapes was spot on; I felt as if I were in India right alongside Chatura.
I liked how the pace of the story really picked up, and how you mixed both action and drama together to create a really unforgetable story. The ending was good too, not a cliff-hanger or one that l... (more »)
 
Atl.Braves03This teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
May 15, 2012 at 3:32 pm
The first few paragraphs were very good. I think you did a great job setting up the story. Personally, I think the middle needed more developing. It seemed to go a little fast for me. It think this has potential to be very good if you made it longer!
 
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