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It is the year 1826, and Narna dreams of a better life away from her demanding father

En las cimas de las montañas al norte . . . on the peaks of the mountains to the north . . . crecen flores pequeñas . . . small flowers grow . . . bajo el mismo cielo que nosotros conocemos . . . underneath the very sky we know . . .”

The lullaby was soft and comforting. It echoed through the dry, dusty room.

“I still can’t sleep,” Narna complained.

“It must be your thoughts. What are you thinking? Tell me,” Lana urged softly.

Narna groaned, but reluctantly mumbled: “Mamá. I’m thinking about Mamá. It’s just not fair. Why must Papá treat her practically like a servant!”

“She does work so hard.”

*          *          *

It’s the year 1826, and Narna and her sister Lana are whispering to each other underneath the cracking roof of their adobe house in the Mexican territory of New Mexico.

Narna and Lana are very different. Narna, a tall ten-year-old, has straight, dark hair and narrow eyes. She is practical, but always thinking about all the “shouldn’t be’s” of their poor family and community.

Lana is a small, meek, daydreamy seven-year-old with wispy light curls and misty gray eyes. But one difference that Narna thinks the biggest is that Lana is blind. Blind not from birth, but from a sickness four long years ago. Narna had never thought of them being similar after that.

*          *          *

“Pablo, stop crying!” Narna demanded, plucking their chubby baby brother from his cot and marching him into the open kitchen. She dropped him gently on the woven rug on the floor, surrounded him with toy blocks, and ordered him to sit and play. Narna had never liked babies. In her mind, they sat around crying and drooling and took an unnecessary portion of food. She supposed Pablo sensed this was what his big sister thought of him, which was why he chose the exact moments when he and Narna were alone together to throw his biggest of tantrums.

Narna turned away, and blinked back tears. It broke her heart to see her parents fighting.

Narna took a piece of cold cornbread and poured herself a tin cup of milk. She took the breakfast out onto the veranda and scanned the landscape with disapproval. Everything was dry and dusty, and Narna wished she could see beautiful, lush trees with trimmed branches in neat lines in place of the ugly, prickly cactuses scattered around. She took a nibble at her cornbread and kicked the dry, cracking earth. She stepped off the veranda and turned to look at their adobe house. Tufts of brown grass poked up through the veranda. The windows were just square holes in the walls. Many of the rooms had openings with awnings, letting the fresh air come in so the house did not get stuffy.

Then Narna heard arguing voices from the side of the house. She set down her breakfast, which she had hardly touched, and hurried over to see what all the fuss was about. When she got around the corner, she saw her parents. Her papá was sitting atop a tall brown stallion, and her mamá was standing nearby, staring up at him while clutching a washcloth.

“Ah, Francisca!” her papá was saying. “That hole in the roof of my bedroom! It’s been there for weeks! Why haven’t you mended it?”

“Why, Diego, you haven’t asked me to,” her mamá said calmly.

“Well, Francisca! That is hardly an excuse! I thought I would not have to demand a woman to fix a mere hole in my bedroom roof! It seems only practical that you would not have to be asked.”

“Diego, I don’t believe that—”

“I don’t want to hear it! Now, you shall go to my bedroom and fix that hole. What if it rains tonight? Now, you wouldn’t want me getting soaked!”

“I think that it’s—”

“This business has been settled!” Narna’s papá boomed, before riding importantly away.

Sitting in Nature

Narna turned away and blinked back tears. It broke her heart to see her parents fighting. And her mamá did not have the choice of leaving her papá. All their money came from him. The house was his, all the horses were his, and the few workers who lived on their property were his. Only papá could choose to leave mamá.

Narna ran back to the veranda and sat stoutly down on the veranda step. She snatched up a nearby stick and drew scribbles in the dirt with it. She didn’t realize how hard she was pushing until the stick snapped. She groaned, sat back on her heels, and pulled her rebozo over her shoulders.

“What’s troubling you, Narna?” Lana asked, coming up from the stream with a large basket of clean, scrubbed clothes. Even though Lana was blind, she could wash clothes in the shallow stream. Only getting to the stream was tricky, because of the narrow path, but their mamá had tied a rope from a little post near the adobe house to a tree down near the little stream. Lana would hold the basket of clothes in one hand and the rope in the other. It would guide her down, and now she could make it to the stream and back easily.

Narna looked her little sister in the eye, even though Narna knew she could not see her, and Lana looked back.

“Mamá and Papá were arguing again,” Narna told her. She looked down at the ground where she had scribbled with her stick. “It isn’t right. It isn’t fair!”

Lana came and sat with her, and Narna guided her down onto the step. She didn’t say a word, but even Lana’s understanding and sympathetic sigh was comforting.

“I must go to Pablo,” Lana finally said, so Narna helped her to her feet. “Things will get better,” Lana whispered.

“How do you know?” Narna dropped her head. She knew somehow Lana did know, but Narna did not know how. But her sister’s words were comforting, and Narna almost believed her.

*          *          *

“Girl, run along now and get me my last sack from my bedroom. Hurry!” Narna’s papá urged.

“Yes, sir,” Narna mumbled, and ran back into the adobe house. Her papá was going on a trip to the market. And he wouldn’t be back for several days! Hope filled Narna’s heart. At last: three whole days of just her, Lana, Pablo, and Mamá. No arguing. Just peace and happiness. Narna couldn’t imagine what they would do without Papá’s strict orders making them rush about daily.

One wonderful day went by, and Narna was at ease. Her papá was gone, and he had said that he didn’t expect to be back for at least four days. Though Narna had noticed that Mamá, and Lana too, did not act as peaceful as she felt. They still seemed to be rushing about.

That day, Narna was lying on a little raft, floating around in the shallow stream. The raft was too wide and heavy to be carried away in the gentle current. It bobbed around, every once in a while getting stuck on the bottom. Then Narna would have to climb out and give it a little nudge. Today she was as open and carefree as the shining, teal, New Mexico sky glazed above her.

She had been on the raft for hours and never noticed the sun dropping in the sky, casting a magic spell of darkness across New Mexico. Shady evening air brushed lightly on her cheeks, and she had to force herself to pull the raft to shore. She flopped onto the pebbly earth and pulled on her boots and shawl. It was early summer, and even the nights were hot and still. Narna trudged up the path to the adobe house and met her mamá on the veranda. The two did not speak, but clasped each other’s hands, leaned on each other’s shoulders, and walked into the familiar house.

*          *          *

“I’ll get Pablo and you wake Narna . . .”

“. . . yes, Mamá.”

“Careful, don’t carry too many bundles . . .”

“ . . . do we have enough blankets?”

Narna heard whispering voices, but her mind did not process the words. She drifted back to sleep. But soon after, she felt someone shaking her.

“Narna. Narna, wake up.”


“We must go in the dark of night.”


“Narna, it’s Lana. Come on.”

*          *          *

Narna and her family were lifting packed bundles onto their backs and readying to go. They were leaving. Leaving their little adobe house, leaving their papá.

“It’s our only chance,” Mamá had said. She and Lana had been packing many of their belongings and food into bundles yesterday while Narna was oblivious on the raft. They had been planning and preparing for weeks. Narna was a little upset that her mamá had told Lana and not her. But she understood. The secret would not have been safe with her.

So her Mamá had finally had enough of her husband! Narna had too. But she still had no clues on where they would be going. Or how they would get there. And she was so scared! What would happen to them without a man? Would Mamá remarry? How could they leave this darling little adobe house they had called home since Narna was born? Lana clearly sensed her sister’s unease, for she took her hand and said softly and determinedly, “If we are brave enough to say goodbye, then life will reward us with a new hello.”

Narna smiled in the darkness, and her heart swelled in her chest as she squeezed her sister’s hand in gratitude.

*          *          *

The warm night wind whipped thick at their faces. Narna was grateful they had taken two horses from their stable and did not have to travel on foot.

“Is there a moon tonight, Narna?” Lana asked from behind Narna on the horse they shared.

“Yes,” Narna answered. “A crescent moon. Slim, small, but bright.”

“The air smells like rain,” Mamá said from the other horse, where she rode tall and determined while clutching Pablo to her chest. And soon enough, there was a soft drizzle damping the air. But it did not stop there. A single flash of lightning struck the sky ahead, illuminating everything silver for a split second. Then the rain picked up, soft and drizzly, then hard and steady, then drenching and heavy. More lightning continued, and within five minutes booms of thunder followed. Narna believed the thunder sounded like towering giants marching across the Earth toward them. But she was grateful for the thunder and noise of the thick rain to drown out her frightened whimpers.

Hours passed.

Narna had not noticed that Pablo had been wailing until the thunder ceased and the rain softened. Slowly, huge rays of light peered up from behind the distant mountains, preparing for the sun to appear. And slowly and gallantly the sun did appear, spreading its comforting light around Narna and her worries. But, oh, couldn’t it rise any faster?  Narna thought it was rising as slow as molasses on a cold day! Narna was not cold—in fact, she was the opposite. But she still longed to feel the powerful light of the sun against her cheeks.

And slowly and gallantly the sun did appear, spreading its comforting light around Narna and her worries.

She felt the ends of her lips curl upward into a little smile when she thought of her cruel papá, with his disagreeable look, awfully bushy brows, firm face, and unruly, baggy clothes shaking his fist in the air when he realized that they had gone.

“Look!” Mamá cried, pointing forward with her free hand. Narna looked. Just barely visible on the horizon was a little village of adobe houses, just like their own, but smaller, and these had no windows.

“What do you see?” Lana asked. As Narna described the scene to her sister, the sun rose higher and higher in the New Mexico sky.

“Girls,” Mamá said, smiling, “we’re only a mere six miles from Santa Fe!”

Narna cheered with Lana, though she knew they wouldn’t actually ever see Santa Fe; they would be staying with her aunt and uncle in their community, several miles from the border of “The City Different.”

*          *          *

Finally, the horses walked into the little community of adobe houses. Mamá led them to one of the smaller houses and pulled the reins for her horse to stop. Narna stopped her horse too.

“Oh, Carlos! ¡Es tu hermana! It’s your sister!”

“Ah, Francisca! ¡Buenos días! Good morning!”

“Tío Carlos!” Narna cried as her uncle lifted Lana from the horse. Narna hadn’t seen her uncle since she was quite young, but he had written many letters.

“Narna, Lana, you remember my wife, Tía Ramira?” Narna ran to hug her aunt, who wore a brilliant crimson rebozo over her long, dark hair.

“And I’d like you to meet our daughter, Isa,” Tía Ramira said when a little girl ran out of the adobe house.

“¡Hola!” the girl said. She looked about Lana’s age. She had thick hair and long lashes, and carried a platter of red peppers, which she handed to Tía Ramira.

“Would you like me to show you our house?” she asked cheerfully. Narna glanced at Lana, who was holding Pablo while Mamá untied their bundles. Then she ran after Isa, her cousin, into the little adobe house.

It had three small rooms. The largest room doubled as the kitchen and living room, and the second room was a bedroom with a bed that took up all the floor space. The third room was the smallest room, with three little cots all side by side against one wall.

“I sleep here,” Isa said, pointing to the left cot. “You can sleep here,” she continued, pointing to the right cot, “and Lana will sleep here,” she finished, pointing to the middle cot. Narna nodded with approval.

“And your mamá can sleep in the main room. We have a bed set up for her and your little brother. What is his name?” Isa asked.

“Pablo,” Narna answered absently, looking about the room. Now she felt ashamed that she had ever thought that her adobe house had been dry,

dusty, or tiny. This one was truly all those things. The cots were the only furniture in the room, and cobwebs hung in every corner. And it had a dirt floor! Luckily, the main room had a wood floor.

The house was clearly insignificant, and yet Isa had shown her around with such pride and satisfaction. Narna could not understand how.

*          *          *

“Hehehe!” Pablo giggled as Lana and Isa tickled him all over. They scooped the baby up and rushed him outside into the morning air. He waved his arms at the birds soaring overhead. The two girls laughed as they tickled his toes and kissed his hands.

“I wish I had a little sibling!” Isa exclaimed, sitting down with Pablo on her lap.

“No, you don’t,” Narna insisted, coming out from the adobe house. She sat down too, on the woven straw rug outside the door. Lana laughed, and explained to Isa how Narna despised babies. Isa laughed too, and Narna frowned.

“What are those?” she asked, pointing to a pile of straight, smooth sticks lying by the door.

“Broomsticks,” Isa answered. “We are going to make them into brooms for the June fiesta! Everyone brings something to share. We are going to bring brooms and paella.”

“Yum!” Lana exclaimed. Paella was one of Narna and Lana’s favorite dishes.

“Can we help make the brooms?” Lana asked. Isa hesitated.

“It—it might be difficult for you.”

Lana’s happy expression did not fade.

“Then I can help with the paella. I’ve done it before.”

Isa nodded, and Lana went inside.

“Would you like to help me with the brooms, Narna?” Isa asked. Narna shrugged. She was all for traditions, and she knew how to weave brooms.


“I’ll gather the hay. You can get the twine!” Isa ran off, and Narna slipped into the adobe house to ask for twine.

In a few minutes, Narna and Isa were sitting in front of the adobe house (which had no veranda, Narna had noticed with a frown).

They were weaving the straw onto the long sticks and tying it all into place with the twine. They had finished three broomsticks already and had enough materials to make many more. Narna watched Isa very closely and soon observed she was an exceptional broom weaver.

Both girls’ cheeks were rosy, partly from the burning sun and partly because of the joy and fun of . . . well, weaving brooms? No, it wasn’t that. Narna decided it was the joy of making a friend. She knew that she had not had a friend back at her adobe house because it was far from other houses. But here, the little adobe houses were no more than a few feet apart! It was a small village, but it must have had at least twenty other houses. Narna was just imagining all the other girls her age that might be living in the other houses.

*          *          *

The day of the June fiesta had arrived! It was a majestic evening, and inside the little adobe houses, families were happily preparing.

Narna skipped into the main room and gushed when she spotted her aunt. Tía Ramira was wearing a murky blue dress with little brown buttons fastened all the way from the hem up to her neck. And she wore a thin crimson shawl over her shoulders.

Isa then appeared from behind her mother’s big skirt. She wore a long lavender skirt and loose white top, and her dark hair was done up and tied with bright blue and red hair ribbons.

Tío Carlos was, unsurprisingly, not dressed up, but he had combed his hair. Narna’s mamá came out from behind her. She had on her brown dress and green shawl. Lana was wearing a light teal dress made from a curtain. And her hair was tied with smooth brown yarn.

“I think we are all ready!” Tía Ramira exclaimed.

Narna had not noticed the little village square when she had arrived, but now the sight could not be missed. String lights were hung between houses and across the village square, illuminating the area. Many tables were lined up in front of every house, and much food, treats, and household goods were piled.

A circular area had been cleared in the middle for dancing!

Narna thought back to what Lana had told her the night they had escaped: “If we are brave enough to say goodbye, then life will reward us with a new hello.”

Narna set down her armful of brooms in a barrel and her basket of cornmeal scones on the table next to it. Noises filled the village around her: people laughing, footsteps dancing, children playing, and happy, eager voices.

Narna saw Tío Carlos reaching out his arm to Tía Ramira, and then her aunt hurrying to set down her basket of potatoes. Narna rushed over.

“Tío Carlos, are you going to dance?” she asked.

“Well, what else is a fellow supposed to do at a fiesta like this, eh?” he replied, smiling. Narna giggled and stepped back to watch everyone.

This village might be poor, she thought, but it’s not about the place itself, but the people who live in it!

Soon, Narna knew, Tío Carlos and Tía Ramira would begin helping Mamá build an adobe house of their own here!

Narna thought back to what Lana had told her the night they had escaped: “If we are brave enough to say goodbye, then life will reward us with a new hello.”

And this, the little village, and her aunt and uncle, and new cousin Isa, were Narna’s new hello. How had her little sister known?

Narna tilted her head back and gazed up at the smooth, purple-pink sky and decided that wherever she went, she always wanted to be able to look up at her big New Mexico sky.