By Naomi Wendland, 12, Lusaka, Zambia
Illustrated by Lilly Bee Pierce, 13, Fallbrook, California
It was a cool, dusky morning in a village by a river bank. A mother and her daughter sat and watched the sky above the horizon change colors–from blue to purple to pink to orange-red. It was a good start to a new day.
It was only when the sun peaked over the horizon that the other people of the village emerged. Sashi knew then that her mother would have to start the fire. Sashi and her mother, Betra, had sat and watched the sun every morning since Sashi could remember, but once the families started to awaken, the chores would have to be started.
Her mother would usually start up a hot fire for the porridge to be cooked. Once she had done that, the task of feeding the family would be under way. It was Sashi's job to make sure there was enough wood for the fire and that her two younger sisters and younger brother were ready and awake for the new day ahead of them.
Sashi and her mother had a special relationship between them–unlike any other relationship between a mother and daughter in the village. They could always share feelings and jobs. But there was something that they never did together–pot making. Her mother was a well-known potter. She specialized in her pots. Betra's pots were sold in the city, and the money from the pots was used to support the family, for the father of Sashi had gone away and not returned. There was a strange feeling and look about Betra's pots that lured people to them. Sashi thought it was partially because Betra spent so much time on them, but mostly because Betra would talk to the pots and the pot would talk to her. While Betra would be making the pot, she would have to be alone. Not even the little child, Chachala, could talk to her. Betra would make sure that she didn't spend too much time on the pot instead of being outside with her family.
Out of all the pots Betra made, there was one that Sashi had seen all her life. It was the only one that Betra ever kept. It was a big pot with many small designs on it. This pot was not as pretty as the pots that were sold in the city, but it was said that it was Betra's first pot that she had made with her mother. It wasn't the beauty of the pot, it was that it was a part of her mother. It sat to the right of the doorway of the small hut and had never been moved. Betra had told the children since they were babies that they were never to touch it.
Soon the porridge had been eaten. Two of the three older children ran off screaming with laughter to go play with the other children of the village. Chachala, the youngest, who hadn't learned to walk yet, started to play in the dirt. Her dark skin had been lightened by the tan dirt from the earth. Betra and Sashi both knew it was time for bathing her, but Betra needed to make her pots, so it was obvious that Sashi would be stuck with it. Betra staggered away behind some bushes with the heavy bag of clay on her head to do her pot. Sashi and Chachala were left alone.
Sashi went to fetch the big tin tub from inside the hut. She dragged it out beside the ashes left from the fire. She looked around for the bucket that was used to haul water, but it was nowhere in sight. She checked inside the hut. Then she remembered that Mrs. Tembo from the western side of the village had borrowed it to water her garden. She looked around her. The only other things to carry water were a small dried gourd and the old pot. It was logical, the pot was bigger so it could carry more water. If she used the pot, it would take a much shorter time. She went over to the pot and held it in her hands. Then she remembered what her mother had said. She was just going to put it down when she remembered that she wanted to play with Lyan.
At first on her way to the river bank, she held the pot tightly in her hands. As she walked further, she found it easier to put it on her head. She held a tight grip with her hands, one hand on each side of the pot. As she walked further, she found it easier to put it on her head. She held a tight grip on it with both hands. However, both hands soon reduced to one; then she slowly let go and balanced it on her head. It wobbled a bit, but it was a light pot for its size. Finally, she reached the cool water. The water was soothing to her hard dry hand, and when she sipped the water, she could feel it go down her throat. Sashi dipped the pot in the water and the water filled to the brim. She found the pot surprisingly heavy and had great difficulty lifting it out of the river. Once she had placed it on her head, it felt as if a ton of bricks swayed down on her. Her steps were slow strides. The water splashed over the sides and got Sashi wet. Slowly the pot started to slip off her head. She felt it when it was too late. As her hand went up to catch it, it slipped, plummeting to the ground, smashing into hundreds of pieces. She cupped her mouth as she stared at the scattered pot pieces. Sashi fell on her knees and started to cry. She held a few broken pieces in her hands and began to wail louder. It hurt her to know that she had just broken something that meant so much to her mother. It was her mother's history. Still sobbing, she swept up all the pieces with her shaking hand. She scooped the pieces into her dress and started home. Chachala watched as Sashi poured them into a small gourd cup. She then hid it under her blankets. Meanwhile she swept the ground around the hut.
Soon after, Betra returned. Her first sight was Chachala's face. "Why is she not clean?" Betra questioned.
"I forgot and played with Lyan," Sashi lied.
"Well, you better fetch some water. I will help you wash her." She looked around as if looking for the bucket to hand to Sashi. As she scanned the room, she noticed her pot wasn't in its place. "Where is my pot?" she spoke angrily. She walked over and touched the spot where it used to be.
"Well, Mother, while I was gone, Chachala rolled it over and cracked it by hitting it with stones."
"Tell me how she could have turned that pot over and hit it with such force that it broke. Besides, you know to take her with you," Betra said fiercely.
Sashi looked aside, for she could say nothing. Tears filled her eyes as she thought of what happened. Betra's face was tight. Her eyes flamed red with anger. Sashi felt so small in front of her mother. She thought, Will we never watch the sun together again?
Sashi was ready to be yelled at, but instead, her mother said in a soft weak voice, "You lied, you lied to me. Can't I trust my own daughter?" She covered her face and wept sorrowfully. She collapsed on her knees and began to cry. Sashi ran into the hut and got the pieces. She placed them before her mother. Betra took her hand from her face and stared at the small gourd shell. "How can a big pot be in a small gourd?" Betra asked slowly as she reached for the gourd and poured out the pieces. Then she put two of the pieces in her hand. She stared at them for a long time. Suddenly, she began to gather all the broken pieces in her torn dress and walked behind some bushes. Sashi knew that she wouldn't return for a long time so she started to make a fire for the porridge at mealtime. By the time the two children returned from play, the porridge was ready to be eaten. Although the children didn't see their mother, they didn't ask any questions. That meal was a quiet one.
The sun was nearing the horizon when the mother appeared from the bushes. She called for Sashi, and Sashi followed her as she walked on a dusty path. It was the same path her mother would take when she was going pot making. Finally, they came to a spot with a lighted fire and clay pots scattered all around. She and her mother sat down. "We are going to make your first pot. This will be no ordinary pot. It will be the pot that reassures us both that we will never lie to each other. It will be like the pot my mother and I made."
So Sashi and Betra made that pot from the remains of the former pot, and it stood at the right of the hut. It always was a reminder that they should be true to their word and never lie.