Chainedby Lynne Kelly
After ten-year-old Hastin's family borrows money to pay for his sister's hospital bill, he leaves his village in northern India to take a job as an elephant keeper and work off the debt. He thinks it will be an adventure, but he isn't prepared for the cruel circus owner. The crowds that come to the circus see a lively animal who plays soccer and balances on milk… See more details below
After ten-year-old Hastin's family borrows money to pay for his sister's hospital bill, he leaves his village in northern India to take a job as an elephant keeper and work off the debt. He thinks it will be an adventure, but he isn't prepared for the cruel circus owner. The crowds that come to the circus see a lively animal who plays soccer and balances on milk bottles, but Hastin sees Nandita, a sweet elephant and his best friend, who is chained when she's not performing and hurt with a hook until she learns tricks perfectly. Hastin protects Nandita as best as he can, knowing that the only way they will both survive is if he can find a way for them to escape.
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By Lynne Kelly
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2012 Lynne Kelly
All rights reserved.
An entire herd of elephants will care for a member that falls ill.
—From Care of Jungle Elephants by Tin San Bo
The flood left, but the fever stayed.
I sit on the floor of our hut and hold a cold washcloth to Chanda's forehead. My mother boils another pot of basil tea on our village's clay stove in the courtyard. Voices of our neighbors gathered around her flow through the open door of our home.
"Here—papaya juice with honey."
"Have you tried raisins with ginger? Boil them together and have her drink the liquid."
"Take these onions, Parvati. When my son had a fever, I made him onion broth."
September marked the end of monsoon season, but an October rain flooded the river near our village last week. We all worried about the humming of mosquitoes that followed the water. Sometimes mosquitoes carry fever.
Sometimes the fever is stronger than a cold washcloth and basil tea and onions.
One of the fever-mosquitoes must have bitten my little sister, because she's been sick for five days. She is too tired to get up from her blanket. She does not want to eat or drink, not even fresh milk mixed with sugar.
Our mother enters the hut, holding a tea glass and a wooden bowl. She sets the tea glass next to me and kneels on the other side of Chanda.
"Neera made you papaya juice with honey. This will help you feel better."
She puts one hand behind Chanda's head and brings the bowl to her lips. Carefully she pours some papaya juice into Chanda's mouth.
"My head hurts, Amma."
"One more sip." She gives her another taste, then sets the bowl down and lowers Chanda's head to the blanket.
"Should we take her to a doctor, Amma?" I whisper.
She does not answer.
"I know we have no money, but ..." Ever since Baba died last year, I feel like my family is sliding down a hill of sand, clawing and grabbing for anything to hang on to.
"She will get better, Hastin," Amma says, but her eyes do not leave Chanda's face. "The fever will break with the next glass of tea, or with another good night's sleep. And everyone is praying she will get well," she adds.
They pray she will get well but speak like she will not.
I don't tell Amma about the neighbor who whispered to her husband last night as they left our hut. "How sad for Parvati," she had said. "First her husband, and now to lose her little girl ..." The man quieted his wife after he glanced back at me.
"Keep giving her the juice and the tea. While I'm making dinner I'll boil some onions for broth." Amma touches Chanda's face and forces a smile. "She is getting better, don't you think?"
No, I don't. I want to grab Amma's shoulders and shake her and yell, Can't you see she's getting worse? Do something! Make her better! But she has some hope left and I don't want to take it away.
She stands and hurries back to the courtyard.
Next to me, a fire burns in a mud-plastered bucket. A metal grill lies across the top of it. I set the tea glass on the grill so the fire will keep it warm. Once again, I dip the washcloth into a bowl of cold water, then place it across Chanda's forehead. Her chest moves up and down as she sleeps.
My stomach growls when I smell the roti dough baking in the clay oven outside.
I hope we will eat dinner soon—the flatbread tastes best when I pour the buttermilk on while it is still hot. Maybe we will even have beans tonight.
The sun dips lower in the sky, and the hut grows dark. Too early to light the lamp, though. From the wooden trunk that holds my belongings, I grab the ball Amma made me from fabric scraps and take it outside. Amma sits in front of the courtyard stove, covering her face with the end of her sari as gray smoke billows toward her.
Raj runs to me with his tail wagging. Chanda and I found him one day, drinking from the puddle around the water pump. He was so thin we could see his ribs beneath his sand-colored fur.
Amma wouldn't let us keep him. "We don't need one more mouth to feed!" she'd said when we asked her. But Raj doesn't have anyone else. When Amma isn't watching, Chanda and I bring him some of our dinner or a cup of milk. We shrug and try to look puzzled when she asks, "Why is that dog always following you around?"
Amma saw me petting Raj last week after I gave him a bite of roti. "The dog is getting fatter since you found him," she said, but I think she smiled a little.
From the doorway I throw the ball over and over again as far as I can, and Raj chases it and brings it back to me. He could play this game all day long.
I let the ball drop to the ground and turn toward Chanda's voice. I rush into the house and kneel next to her, then brush back the wet strands of hair matted against her face. Raj follows me into the hut and nudges me with the ball before setting it down next to me.
"Chanda, are you feeling better?" Raj licks her face as I take the tea glass from the grill of the bucket fire. "Here, have some more tea."
She pushes the glass away.
"Do you want to rest in your playhouse?" I ask her. Chanda's always asking me to set up her playhouse for her. It's her favorite place to play with her doll or listen to stories I tell her.
She doesn't answer, but I grab two wooden trunks anyway and drag them across the floor. Then I set one near her head and one at her feet. From Amma's trunk I grab a purple sari, Chanda's favorite color, and drape it across the trunks to make a ceiling. The lamp I light shines through the fabric and makes a sunset on the wall.
Now and then I place a hand behind Chanda's head to help her take a drink. Finally she tilts the tea glass against her mouth for the last sip, then hands me the empty glass. I lean over to kiss her forehead. Still warm, but maybe not as burning hot as before. I run to the courtyard to tell Amma.
Just as I start to fall asleep that night I dream that Baba is playing catch with me and Raj. But then Chanda's voice pulls me away.
"Hastin, it's too hot."
I open my eyes and turn toward Chanda, where she lies on her blanket.
"I'm awake, what is it?" I ask. After Baba died, Chanda started having nightmares. When that happens I hold her hand until she falls asleep again. "Did you have a bad dream?"
"I'm burning up."
I crawl to her and touch her forehead, then hurry over to my mother.
"Amma, wake up!"
"What is it, Hastin? I am so tired," she says.
Amma sits up and flings off her blanket.
"What's wrong?" She races to Chanda and puts her hand on her cheek before I can answer. "Her fever is worse than before!" Amma lights a lamp from a nearby shelf. The lamplight reveals spots of red covering Chanda's face and hands. Oh, please, no ...
We have seen others break out in red spots after a bite from a fever-mosquito. If they get to the doctor in time, sometimes they get well and come back. Sometimes.
"What can we do, Amma?" I ask.
She picks up Chanda, limp like a doll in her arms. "I will take her to Amar's and ask him for a ride to the hospital."
"I want to go with you."
"No, stay here and take care of things. I'll be back as soon as I can." She carries Chanda across the courtyard to our neighbor Amar's house. He owns a rickshaw, so he can get them to the hospital in the city faster than anyone else.
"Amma, will she be all right?" I wait for her to give me some hope to cling to, to tell me again, She will get better.
She stops and turns to me. "I don't know, Hastin. All we can do is pray."CHAPTER 2
If necessary for survival, a herd divides itself into two.
—From Care of Jungle Elephants by Tin San Bo
From the doorway I watch Amar pedal out of sight with my whole world in the back of his rickshaw.
Inside the hut, I place the lamp next to the wooden figure of Ganesh. Of all the carvings my father made, this one of the elephant-headed god is what we have left. One by one we have sold the others, when Amma has shaken the last grains of rice from the bag and doesn't have enough sewing work to buy more. But we hold on to Ganesh. He is the remover of obstacles, and we need him.
"Glory to you, O Lord Ganesh, son of goddess Parvati and the great god Shiv." Chanda's head was so hot.
"Single-tusk kind lord with four arms, with the mark on your forehead, riding your mouse." She has to be all right.
Silently I continue: I'm sorry. I hope you will not mind if I just ask for what I want. Chanda needs to get well, and we need a way to pay the hospital.
From my pocket I take the stone I keep there. I've had it a little over a year now, when Baba brought it home from the marketplace on my ninth birthday. He'd met a man selling stones of all colors and from all over. The one he gave Chanda was purple and sparkled in the light, and I wondered why he brought me this stone with layers of light and dark.
"I picked this one because I know you like a story," Baba told me, even though I hadn't asked the question out loud. "This stone has been many places and taken on many forms. The stone man said it came from a volcano—"
"What's a volcano?" I asked him.
"It's a mountain that shoots fire into the sky!"
I laughed a little then. Sometimes Baba liked to tease me. But he said it was true, that after the fire-like liquid burst through the volcano, it cooled off and hardened into stone. Then it stayed there on the volcano for a long time, with the weight of more and more layers of stone pressing down on it.
I asked Baba how the stone got so smooth.
"I wondered the same thing," he said. "The man said the stone broke away from the volcano, and rolled and rolled until it landed in a river. Then it spent many lifetimes tumbling around in the water and all its sharp edges were smoothed away."
"This stone has been through a lot," I said.
"Yes, but it is stronger for it. A weaker stone would have crumbled away into nothing."
When I hold on to the stone now I feel a little stronger, as if Baba is still with me.
* * *
I don't remember falling asleep, but when I wake up, the sky outside the window is the blue-gray of early morning. The stone from Baba still rests in my hand. A quick glance around the hut lets me know I'm alone.
At breakfast in the courtyard my neighbors are all talking around me, but I don't hear what anyone is saying. I don't taste what I'm eating.
I spend the rest of the morning inside my house, but I can't stay away from the window. The rickshaw will come back soon, I know it will. I go outside and try to distract myself by throwing the ball with Raj, but I keep stopping to look in the direction of the city.
When Amma and Chanda still aren't back after lunchtime, I decide to fix the hole in our roof. Last week the rain leaked through our ceiling, so I set out some river grasses to dry. I've never repaired the roof by myself before, but I helped Baba sometimes.
We keep a ladder next to the cowshed, and when I pick it up I almost fall over from the weight of it. I set it on the ground to drag it by the top rung to my house. A neighbor would help me carry it if I asked, but I want to do this myself.
I gather the grasses and twist the ends to hold them together. With the bundle of river grass tucked under my arm, I climb the rickety ladder to the roof. Raj lies down next to the ladder to wait for me.
The thatch crunches beneath my hands and knees as I crawl to the spot that leaks. I take a piece of twine from my pocket and hold it in my teeth as I work to cover the hole.
When I was a little boy, the age Chanda is now, I thought our home grew right out of the ground and that our roof was made of a tree whose branches drooped down to cover the walls. I cried when I found out I was wrong.
"I built our home from the earth, Hastin," Baba told me. "And it is made from the river, too. I mixed the river water with the dirt, until it was thick enough to make strong walls."
I asked him then about the tree that grew to make our roof.
"Also from the river," said Baba. "I gathered the reeds and grasses that grew in the water. After the sun dried them, I tied them in bundles to make our roof. That post in the middle of the hut—that is a tree trunk. I placed it in the ground myself, to hold the roof over us."
As I tie the knot that will hold the new grass on our roof, I realize I wasn't completely wrong. A tree did help to make our home. So did the earth, and the sun, and the river. But so did Baba, and that is even better.
On my way back to the ladder, I stop when I see something moving in the distance. I watch and wait as it gets closer. Finally I can make out the shape of the rickshaw, with Amar pedaling in front and Amma sitting in the back. That's all. I wait for Chanda's head to come into view next to Amma. But she isn't there.
Maybe she's lying in Amma's lap and that's why I can't see her. That has to be it.
I scramble down the ladder and jump to the ground, skipping the last three rungs. As fast as I can I run toward the rickshaw, then skid to a stop when I'm close enough to see the empty seat next to Amma.
"Where ...?" The rest of my question is stuck in my throat. I point to the seat where Chanda should be.
"Let's go inside," Amma says as she climbs out of the rickshaw. All the eyes of our neighbors are on us as we walk to our hut.
Inside, we sit down next to each other and I lean against Amma. Neither of us speaks. Maybe we're both trying to hang on to this moment, when everything feels safe and all we need is each other.
She brushes my hair back with her hand. My wavy hair and round face are like Baba's. I wonder if Amma still sees him when she looks at me, and if the reminder hurts or makes her happy.
"Amma, where is Chanda?"
"I had to leave her at the hospital. The doctors think she will be all right, with the treatment they are giving her."
"But how much will that cost?"
It seems Amma is not going to answer. Finally she says, "Four thousand rupees."
"Four thousand rupees! That's—"
"Yes, four thousand rupees is more than we have. If I sewed day and night and we stopped eating until the year's end, it's still more than we'd have."
"So what now? How will she get better if we'll never have so much money?"
"Amar knew of a man who could loan us the money. The man—his name is Raju Sharma—sent a worker with the money for Chanda's care. The whole four thousand! He handed it over like he was buying a bag of flour. Can you imagine it?" She looks like she is staring at something far away.
"We cannot lose her, Hastin. There is no way I could ever pay what the doctors wanted. Then there was this person who could take care of everything, and I told them yes, please help us. What else could I do?"
"How will we pay him back?"
Before she turns away, I see how tired she looks.
"I'll work in the factory," I offer.
"No!" Amma looks into my eyes.
Others have done this, like my best friend, Ajay. Many of the carpet factory workers are younger than I am.
"But you already work so hard," I say. "And Chanda will need you at home to take care of her when she's well. Let me help."
"You've seen the children who come back from those places."
She is right. When Ajay returned after a year of work, he looked like an old person, hunched over and too thin. He couldn't stop coughing from the dust that filled the factory day after day. Thinking about it makes my throat scratchy.
I hang my head. "Then how do we pay back Sharmaji?"
"He needs a new maid to clean his house in the city."
"In the city? So we have to move there?" I glance around our hut and out the window toward the courtyard. Everything I know is here.
"No, Hastin, just me."
So I will be alone? I hold my breath, as if caught in a sandstorm with no cloth to cover my face.
"I need you to stay here to take care of our home. When Chanda is well enough, Amar will drive you to the hospital to pick her up. I will talk to the neighbors before I leave. I'm sure they'll help you." She takes both of my hands in hers. "I'm sorry—I have to do this for Chanda. It would be different if your father were still here. But he is gone and so are his carvings. I wish I knew another way."
"It's all right, Amma." I wipe the tears from her face and try my best to look brave. But I worry I'll never feel safe again.
Chanda will get better, and Amma found a way to take care of us and pay the hospital. It strikes me then that my prayers have been answered.
Excerpted from Chained by Lynne Kelly. Copyright © 2012 Lynne Kelly. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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