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Stone Soup This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


   The nun tilted her head, her glasses glowing like the windows, and began: "Onceupon a time there was a very clever man who was also very poor. He came to astrange town, and although he was starving, no one would give him food. Beingvery clever, he decided to outwit the miserly townspeople.

"He builta fire to boil some water and threw stones into the pot. The town butcher, seeingthe man boiling a pot full of stones, asked the man what he was making. 'Oh, it'sa very special recipe, the most delicious food in the world,' replied the cleverman. 'It's called stone soup. You see, the stones are magical.'

"Andthe curious butcher asked, 'Can I have some too?'

"'Of course,' theman replied, 'but, you must add something of your own into the soup for the magicto work right.'

"The butcher, who was delivering some chicken, addedit to the pot." The nun's story continued, but I was no longerlistening.

"But, Sister," I interrupted. "I don'tunderstand. Didn't the people figure out that the man was just using theirfood?"

"That is not the point," the Sisteranswered.

So exactly what was the point? I didn't ask. You didn't saysomething like that to a Sister; even I knew that. And what was a butcher? Was ita type of person? Maybe a butcher was like saying "a smart person" or"a tall person." Well, Parus's father ate chicken; he was the onlyperson I knew who ate chicken. He smoked, too, and Mama said that she couldn'tunderstand why because he was such a smart man. So maybe a butcher was a smartperson who ate chicken and smoked. Busy wondering about butchers and theirsignificance, I missed most of the story. But it was all the same thing - curiouspassersby swindled into adding their food to the man's pot for a promise of"magical stone soup."

"When the soup was cooked, the manoffered some to all the townsfolk. They all said that the soup was reallymagical, 'It is better than anything we have ever eaten!' they criedhappily.

"And after that, the poor man never went hungry again,"finished the nun.

It really wasn't Sister's fault that I didn'tunderstand. She told the story with such interest, her hands tucked awaysomewhere in her habit and the light glinting off her gigantic glasses. Shedidn't realize that most of the kids hated story time, especially because it wasin English. Most of us stopped paying attention after the first few words, andjust listened to her voice droning the strange, jagged nonsensical Englishwords.

It had been like that since the first day. There were mutinousfeelings in the class: Why should children in a school in India have to learnEnglish? The fact that the nuns chose to teach us English in nursery rhymes andfables made the language even harder and stranger. For the longest time, I wasconvinced that a shoe was a place to live, because, "There was a little oldwoman who lived in a shoe ..."

I suppose the sister's effortsweren't entirely wasted. When my family moved to America a few years later, myEnglish was decent, but my pronunciation muddy. It still is that way eleven yearslater. When I'm really flustered or nervous, I pronounce a W like a V again andmy tongue starts tripping over words, like when you're wearing shoes that aren'tthe right size and your feet stumble.

But, at least my speech wasbearable. My writing was not. Writing was a foreign concept. It was so hard tothink in a different language. At every parent-teacher conference, myelementary-school teachers would sadly inform my parents that "Aditi'sreally a bright student. But she needs to practice writing. She tends to rushthrough her work and her grammar is sloppy. Her writing comes out unfocused andrambling."

Because I was so exposed to English, I started forgettingHindi. And as the language I had been born with, the one I had lived with all mylife ebbed out of me, I was left with a language I could notaccept.

English came to me as a dead language, a language stillborn. Wordswere only copies of an image, a

feeling, a thought. No word is ever realunless someone makes it so. I learned English through copies of copies. For me,exhaustion was not a weariness in my flesh that felt like a single rubber bandstretched taut and ready to snap. It was only an echo - an echo of the Hindi wordthuk-na, that was an echo of the feeling. I needed to untangle my Hindi from myEnglish so that the two languages could stand separately, without one compromisedin the other. You can't go halfway with languages.

Ms. Sawyer took thedead English from me and brought it to life. Or rather, she showed me how tobring it to life. Ms. Sawyer was the school librarian, and if nothing else, Iwill always remember this: At the library check-out counter, halfway up the wall,there was a battered teal poster with a white heart crumbling to pieces, and thewords "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will always hurtme" trailing across the top.

Ms. Sawyer introduced me to a new world.There are no picture books and almost no nonfiction literature in Hindi; there isno fiction to read solely for pleasure. Mrs. Sawyer showed me where to find thepicture books, the ones with artwork that would pull me into the story, where thedrawings were so beautiful that I wanted to find the words for them. The picturesspoke more clearly than the English language itself could. I began linking wordswith images rather than words with words with images. And soon I struggled ontobooks without pictures, where words crowded from one edge of the margin to theother, like a line of determined ants carrying something precious back to theanthill. I hungered for the books, for the words, for the stories that theauthors gave me. The writers made the words real for me, so that the words wereno longer copies. I began devouring books, reading more and more to fill thatemptiness in me that Hindi had not been able to fill.

And finally, Englishcame to life, because all of us - the nun, Ms. Sawyer, the writers and I - hadadded something of our own into my stone soup to make the magic work right.






A Woman of Old China by Dan Y., Brooklyn, NY









   


By Stephanie H., Highland Village, TX


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This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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