At sixteen, Daniel cleared his state-level matriculation exam, securing seventh place. As a young man, he had his dreams; such as going out of his home state and exploring new cultures while studying in a metropolitan city in one of the best schools in India. But he had never held it more than a dream. Neither Puh Khozii nor Che Dune had a solid job. Let alone study in a big city, the couple would have to earn triple to support three teenagers even inside their home state. Puh Khozii and Che Dune were only simple farmers and any side income came from their business of making handmade cane bar stools and doing carpentry. No. Daniel could only dream, and "some dreams are meant to be just dreams," Daniel accepted.
Puh Khozii had told him it was not his time yet to worry about the expenses but it didn't move him from thinking some dreams were meant to be just dreams. Not until Paate Ronghei declared he would be sending him to New Delhi for his further education the following night they were celebrating Daniel and Sahriine's good news at Reiveihmai.
"Not to mean that Puh Khozii and Che Dune wouldn't be able to support you. I know they can," Uncle Ronghei had said, carefully laying his thoughts, "But there are three of you now. All big kids while I have just one little girl in primary school. And as a favor to my old friend, Rover, I've been thinking of fully supporting Daniel now. And Puh Khozii and I, there's hardly any difference in who provides for Daniel. We're a family and Daniel is my son too as much as he is yours. For so long, Che Dune and Puh Khozii have taken the bigger role. All I could provide was a roof over his head."
"No. No. No. You don't say that. You've provided more than a roof over his head!" Khozii had disagreed. "We know how well you're taking care of Daniel. You and Darcha Shangdar even pay his school fees when we couldn't make it in time. We're so grateful that Daniel has you."
"No need to thank us for that," added Darcha Shangdar, "That is our responsibility as parents. Daniel is such a blessing to us. Just look at how attached Lily is to him." She chuckled, looking over at Lily who was sleeping off on a stool next to Daniel, resting her head on his lap, "She loves him more than she loves us. He's been caring for her ever since she was born. I'm sure there's going to be an all-out war when he leaves."
The week that followed flew by with celebration. Daniel was felicitated at his school and even in his village by his tribe's student body for securing topper's rank in the matriculation exam. Then finally, the day of the apocalypse came. Lily refused to move from the floor since she woke up and entered Daniel's room, bawling and pulling at his shirt to stop him from packing. She cried like the little storm she was, face flooded with tears and nearly blowing the roof off of the house with her wailing, Shangdar had to grab her and take her out of the house in the front yard, where the neighbors came and attempted cheering her up. She scowled and screamed at them.
"Lily, stop your crying!" Shangdar urged exasperatedly. "Mocha will be back before Christmas."
Lily didn't care. She did what she was best at. She wailed and kept thrashing in her mother's arms.
"Lily, please! Big girls don't cry like that. You're making yourself look ugly. Stop it before people start laughing at you. He's going away only for a very short time."
"But who will I go to school with? Who will sit with me on the bus? I will be on my own."
"There's nothing to worry about that! You have so many friends. I will later ask Shangkim to sit with you on the bus every day. Or mummy and papa can drop you off at school. Why do you worry about that?"
When Lily realized that could work, she felt even more devastated and cried harder. Daniel finally came out of the house and took her in his arms. She let loose her dam of heartbreak into his comfort and was consoled for a moment until the time came for Daniel to get inside the car. All effort of calming Lily went straight out of the window. She wouldn't let go of his neck and she clung to him with all her might.
"Ashhh!" Ronghei frowned from the driver's seat, "When we're running out of time. Shangdar, take her inside."
"Nooo!" screamed Lily.
"It's alright," Daniel said and took her back in his arms. "We'll go around this corner for some ice cream."
Everyone watched as Daniel stepped out of the gate and headed toward the shop. At least, she'd stop howling like a little wolf. Then Che Dune finally broke out sobbing behind them. "This is too heartbreaking. It's like separating mother and daughter."
"Lily, do you want to go with me?" Daniel asked softly down the road.
"Mummy won't allow it," she hiccuped.
"She would. There are even better schools in Delhi. If you have told me earlier, we could have made arrangements for you as well. I'll tell you what. . . I'll go ahead and seek out the best school for you too. Then I'll come back and we'll fly together to Delhi again. We could even rent a house and stay together. How does that sound to you?"
Lily looked at him unsure, dilemma in her eyes now that there was a better idea.
She dried her tears and looked into his eyes, "Will mummy really agree to that?"
"Of course! We'll tell her we're going to school. I'll have to go ahead today and look for a house big enough for both of us."
"You promise you'll come back."
And he smiled, "I promise."
No one could tell how Daniel did it but the two returned home with ice cream cones in their hands and Lily no longer protested when Daniel handed her back to her mother. When he looked out of the window one last time and spotted the girl nearly in tears again, he felt a quiver in his heart, and tears sprung to his eyes. Lily wasn't the only one who hated this separation, it pained him too. The girl was his companion twenty-four hours a day. He would miss her dearly.
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The Girl Who Carried the SunRomance
Daniel was just ten years old when he moved into Ronghei's household and became the son he never had. When Ronghei's only daughter Lily was born, she filled the house with her fiery cries and Daniel's heart with her smile that seemed to carry the Su...