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from Hiren's Journey by Rebecca Onkar

Chapter 11
Unfamiliar Territory

“Good morning, Abram. We saw that you returned. How was the journey?” Sarah Chellings asked as she walked in the door with Charity by her side. She was wearing a faded and much washed gray and green gingham dress that was nearly worn through in the elbows and cuffs but, nonetheless, she looked neat and clean as she always did. Over her dress she wore a white apron, slightly patched. Her dark grey hair was pulled into a tight thin braid that fell halfway down her straight back and every last strand was tucked cleanly under her white cap. Her blue eyes looked tired and the wrinkles surrounding them seemed much deeper in her weather-worn face but her energy level was high, as high as that of a much younger woman.

Bram and Thea traded glances and then in unison turned their heads to where Hiren was sitting on the floor with a still sleeping Gabe.

“Oh my gracious.” was all Sarah said. And she kept her eyes glued on Hiren.

“Sarah and Charity, this is Hiren. She’s come to stay with us for a while,” Thea filled in at last.

Then for the fourth time in less than a day Bram found himself repeating what he now thought of as “The Hiren Story.”

While Bram spoke, Charity had inched herself over toward Hiren and Gabe by playing with a toy horse that Abel had made for his nephew. She pushed the horse closer and closer to Hiren’s corner until she was sitting right next to the older girl. Hiren glanced up every once in a while to watch the girl’s progress and did not seem unpleased to have Charity next to her. She even joined in the little girl’s play occasionally by returning the horse to Charity when the little girl had pushed the horse away.

Hiren found the child amusing and even caught herself on the verge of a laugh a couple of times. The little girl’s hair was unbound and so light that it almost appeared colorless. It was full of tangles and was obviously unbrushed. However, the girl didn’t seem to mind that her hair was loose and fell continuously into her small light blue eyes. She just vigorously pushed it back with her hand and continued playing.

Hiren observed that the girl was wearing a dress much like Hiren’s own, but the child’s dress was of the lightest blue no, Hiren thought, it was faded to the lightest blue. Looking closer Hiren could tell the dress had once been a much darker color but after much use and much washing the fading was almost complete.

Thea observed the interaction between the two girls while sitting at the table next to her husband. After watching them for several minutes she joined them on the floor and taught Hiren Charity and Sarah’s names.

Hiren was feeling better than she had felt in many months. She had been led to believe that many terrible things awaited her here in this new land. All that she had been told beforehand had been confirmed for her during her many weeks on the ship.

Now she was not so certain. So far she had been taken care of and treated with kindness. She was relieved to see that there were women in the house, although Manju had explained to her that in the temple she had feared the women who watched over her the most, much more than the men. Hiren could not understand all of what Manju said, but the fear in her eyes when she spoke of the “temple woman” spoke more clearly to Hiren than words ever could.

Manju had feared the women, but so far Hiren had only experienced kindness from the few women that she had met since coming to this land, the ones called Thea and Sarah and the other wizened one who cared so tenderly for her feet. Even the wicked washer woman had not harmed her.
Since being removed from the boat and purchased by the one called Bram even the men had not tried to touch her. She still wasn’t ready to trust them.

Hiren longed for her home. To mix the cornmeal and water and flatten...

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