One

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GLOSSARY

1. Puh – Paternal uncles addressed as Father in Poumai

2. Che – Aunts addressed as Mother in Poumai

3. Paate – Paternal uncle in Uipo (Khoibu)

4. Adarcha – Aunt in Uipo (Khoibu)

One

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Out at the forlorn horizon, the sad sun stretched out its arms across the sky, reaching for the tender face of the young boy, Daniel, as it sank behind the hills of the forefathers of his forefathers. Ten-year-old Daniel, as if in response to the desperate call, suddenly stopped short on his track, from chasing his cousin sisters and friends – playing tag – and turned his attention to the lonely sun. The day was ending. And before it was too late in the evening, he'd leave his beloved village, Reiveihmai. And now, his eyes were transfixed on his long companion slowly disappearing out of sight. He'd miss home.

The lusty hills too seemed to mourn for his departure, Daniel's innocent heart wished he could comb through the jungle one last time with his friends, eating wild fruits, and bathing in the streams. Voices seemed farther at this late hour, the dust thicker, and although morning had long gone, Che Dune's brown rooster raised its neck and crowed at the top of its lungs, balancing on one leg on the tip of a bamboo pole.

"What are you looking at?" cousin Sahriine asked.

He turned to her and shook his head, "Nothing."

"Daniel! It's nearly time to go. Come inside!" Che Dune called from the rusty kitchen door.

Daniel dusted his pants and rushed inside, followed by his cousins Sahriine and Eziine. Che Dune invited the rest of his friends too and treated them with goodies again. The night before, they'd also gathered for a grand dinner. Daniel stood at the door and watched Puh Khozii and Uncle Ronghei load his belongings into the backseat of the maroon Maruti-800 that Uncle Ronghei drove. Children circled it, stroking and admiring the automobile like it had dropped from the sky. No one in the village had yet owned a car. No one had yet even dared to dream of owning one.

Five minutes later, Daniel was strapped into the front seat of the car. A long bumpy ride awaited them, and Uncle Ronghei predicted that they would reach his home in the dark just in time for dinner. For that, Che Dune made sure that Daniel was wearing his thickest jacket since February nights were just as cold as January.

Daniel had to cling to a handle above his head for dear life as Uncle Ronghei manoeuvred them down the long winding road. The road up the hill to his village was just wide enough to fit the tiny Maruti, any wrong move would have them rolling down the cliff. But Uncle Ronghei seemed confident in his driving skill. He sang and told stories for most of the ride. He told Daniel stories about his younger days, back when he and Daniel's father were into rock music and tall boots. He told the young boy they even formed a band that was quite the talk of the town for a while until the members got married one after the other and they never truly got back together again. Some of them had died. Daniel's father was one.

Daniel's father, Rovei Ramai, had died four years ago due to a sudden illness, and ever since, Daniel had been living with his father's younger brother, Khozii and his wife, Dune. The couple had no son of their own, but two daughters, Sahriine and Eziine. Now that Sahriine and Daniel have turned ten, there was no class fit for them in the village primary school anymore. They had to be sent to town if they were to continue learning. Uncle Khozii first decided to keep all three of them at a boarding home in town. That was when Ronghei stepped in and told Khozii that his house was empty, inhabited just by him and his wife. Having no children yet, Ronghei had said the kids would bring life to his home. Khozii considered it and decided that three children would be too big a burden for them. However, he agreed to let Daniel live with them, while his daughters would be kept at a boarding home.

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