A Character Interlude

Wrote a little character interlude, think I’m going to try putting them in between the main chapters. We’ll see.

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One of the advantages of growing up in a big house is that it usually has lots of little secret spaces, and Saraswati knew them all. She’d used them to hide from her older brothers when she was small, especially Bhagesh, who had a vicious streak. He’d start out yelling, mimicking the way their father yelled at his workers, and end up hurting as much as he thought he could get away with. So she’d learned to hide – in the cubby under the stairs, in the wardrobe in Ammama’s room, under the wide porch.

She was under the porch that day, when Malar ducked in, intruding on the fragile world Swati had created. She’d built an entire city out of dirt, with sticks to draw bridges between the buildings, and stones placed carefully for support. When Malar swung her dark brown legs under the porch railings to enter, she almost slammed right into it. Swati cried out, “No!” and Malar miraculously managed to yank her legs back just enough to avoid toppling the tallest tower.

“This is incredible,” Malar said, dropping to her haunches to gaze upon the city, eyes shining. “How long did it take you to build it?”

Swati shrugged; she lost track of time when she was working, always had, which was good when she was studying for school and bad when it meant she was too focused to notice Bhagesh creeping up on her, ready to twist her ear and then claim it was only a joke. If she were lucky, her mother might be sober enough to pay attention and yank him away. That was rare, though. Her ayah, Malar’s mother, was more reliable, but also much busier. And if Swati’s father happened to notice, he was just as likely to laugh and egg Bhagesh on as to intervene on Swati’s behalf. He hated that his daughter was smarter than all of his sons, and didn’t hesitate to proclaim what a waste it was, how the gods must be mocking him with such uselessness.

“Can I help?” Malar asked, her hand reaching out towards a pile of sticks, then hesitating.

Swati bit her lip, then said, “If you’re careful.” Their heads bent together, dark hair slicked back with coconut oil into neat braids, and for an uncountable time, they disappeared into a better world.

That was the beginning.

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