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Short Story Contest 2020-21

The Bamboo Wind Chimes

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Prisha arose from a tangle of sheets and placed her bare feet on the straw mat next to the bed. The early morning sunlight that streamed through the slats of the shutter that covered the bedroom window glinted from the gold ring she wore on the toe of her right foot. She slowly stood allowing her head and body adjust to the dizzying act of standing, an effect of a genetic inner-ear condition that only occasional acupuncture treatments provided brief relief from. She took her blue flower-print sari from the back of the chair and wrapped it around her body and then walked to the mirror. The bindi in the middle of her forehead had faded to a very pale red. She removed the cap from the jar of kumkum on the shelf beneath the mirror and dabbed her finger into the red paste and then applied it over top of the faded bindi. From the reflection in the mirror, the refreshed bindi stared back at her like a third eye. She slipped her bracelets onto her wrists and then turned to watch as Dev rolled onto his back, smacked his lips several times, but remained asleep.

“You could sleep through a typhoon,” she mumbled.

She left the bedroom, quietly separating the beaded curtains that hung in the doorway and walked into the main room of the house where their new television sat on a stand between the old refrigerator and stove. Next to the stove water dripped from the faucet of the sink where a small stack of unwashed dishes soaked in murky water in a plastic tub. She filled a kettle with water, placed it on the stove and turned the burner on under it. Shor’s cry from the courtyard made her turn, walk to the front door and throw it open.

The peacock was standing next to the wall of the well, its tail feathers fully fanned out and quivering. In the house next to hers where her mother-in-law lived the windows and front door were open. The old woman is up, she thought, but didn’t see her mother-in-law on the front porch where she usually sat first thing every morning or see her anywhere in the courtyard. The other house, directly across from hers on the other side of the courtyard, rented to one of the school teachers, Mr. Patel, was shuttered and silent. The meager rent Mr. Patel paid to live there supplemented Dev’s income as a sales clerk at the men’s clothing store located in the village. Mr. Patel always awoke before sunrise and walked to the school while most everyone else was still asleep.

When Shor cried out again, the jarring musicality of its cry echoing in the courtyard, Prisha looked down and saw a box tied with red string sitting on the door mat. She bent down, picked it up, and turned it over in her hands several times, noting how light it was and the slight movement of objects inside. Affixed to the top of the box was a small square of pale pink paper on which was written, “For Prisha.” She placed her ear against it and shook it and heard the rattle of wood. She untied the string and held the string between her teeth as she opened the box. With one hand she peeled back white tissue gift wrap unveiling a set of bamboo wind chimes. She looked over at Mr. Patel’s house and then turned and carried the box into her house. She pushed the tissue back into place, stuffed the string into the box, and then hid the box under the sink behind the pots and pans.


Sitting at the table, water dripped from Dev’s thick, wavy hair onto the collar of his shirt. He poked at the small stack of dosas on his plate with his fork while staring out the window above the sink at the cuckoos who were making a racket in the trees. His shoes and socks were in his lap.

Prisha ran more water into the plastic tub, filling it to the top, causing the suds to run over the edges. She turned off the tap and turned to see her husband seemingly lost in thought. “You’re going to be late for work again,” she chided him. “If you get fired what do we do then?”

“Mr. Reddy isn’t going to fire me,” he replied without looking at her. “I’ve worked for him for too long and I’m his best sales person.”

“You should take nothing for granted,” she replied as she turned back to the tub and splashed her fingers around in the lukewarm water. She glanced out the same window as her husband was and watched a female macaque with its infant grasping on to its mother’s underside scamper along the five foot high whitewashed wall that surrounded the small compound where they lived. While the village was becoming overrun with the hoards of monkeys it was unusual to see a mother with its child alone this far out in the countryside. The macaque leapt from the wall onto a tree branch and then climbed down the tree trunk and out of sight. Prisha turned her head again, this time to see Dev using one of the  cloth embroidered napkins she owned to dry his hair. “Dev!” she exclaimed loudly. “You’re so childish. Use a towel to dry off and not one of the napkins your mum gave us.”

He wadded the napkin and playfully threw it at her. It landed at her feet. “Did you take Mum her breakfast?”

She bent down, picked it up, and shook it out. “I went to look in on her twice but she must have walked to the village very early. Her house is open but she hasn’t been there.” She gazed admiringly at the embroidery of images of peacock feathers stitched into the napkin and then laid it across the drainer filled with freshly washed plates and cups. Imagining she could see the box hidden under the sink she stared down at the sink basin as if peering through the white enamel and steel into the pots and pans below. “Mr. Patel is a very smart man, isn’t he?”

“Not so smart,” Dev replied. “He teaches school but it is to me he pays rent and he walks to work while I ride a scooter.”

“He didn’t inherit a father’s property as you did, dearest husband,” she replied.

He pushed his plate of uneaten food back, propped his foot up on the table and slipped a sock over it.

“Dev!” Prisha shrieked.


Prisha stood on the porch and watched Dev ride out of the compound on his scooter through the open gate. She ignored the racket Shor was creating by chasing the chickens around the courtyard. Usually she would have grabbed the broom and ran after the aggressive peacock, but now her thoughts were on Mr. Patel. He had always been so shy around her that receiving the gift of the wind chimes without him even having the courage to sign his name to the tag on it filled her heart with deep affection for him. She glanced over at her mother-in-law’s house, and with no sign that the woman had returned, Prisha ran into the house, grabbed the box from under the sink, and then returned to the porch. There she opened it, took out the bamboo wind chimes, and climbed onto a chair. She hung them from a hook in the middle of the porch ceiling placed there for hanging holiday decorations, stepped down from the chair and then stared at them admiringly. The honey-colored lacquer on the carefully carved stalks of bamboo gleamed in the morning light. The first soft breeze that made them tap gently against each other and produce a series of melodic wooden notes brought tears to her eyes. She rushed into the house, filled a cup with tea, and then rushed back out onto the porch, sat down in the chair and stared up at the chimes while sipping on the tea.

It was only a sudden piercing cry from Shor that brought her out of her reverie. She looked up in time to see her mother-in-law coming through the gate. The peacock was like a pet to the old woman and it ran to her, its tail feathers quivering. The woman shifted the bag she was carrying from one arm to the other and patted the peacock on the head. Without hesitating, Prisha climbed onto the chair and took down the chimes. She jumped down, crammed them into the box, and then hurried into the house and returned the box to its hiding place. When she came out of the house her mother-in-law was standing by the well, picking ants from the stone wall that encircled the well, and feeding them to Shor.

“Where have you been all morning, Saasu Ma?” she called out from the porch to her mother-law.

Nearing seventy-five and hunched over from osteoporosis, the old woman slowly raised her head and glanced at Prisha. Although her son had married Prisha, ten years before, she couldn’t escape the feeling that her daughter-in-law was always up to no good. His first wife had run off with another man, leaving her son devastated and publicly embarrassed. Saasu Ma kept a close eye on his second wife, although Prisha had always been a kind and dutiful wife and daughter-in-law. She lifted the bag, showing it to Prisha. “I went to pick some mangoes from Mr. Singh’s grove.”

Prisha walked across the courtyard, stopping a few feet from where her mother-in-law and Shor stood. “You should be careful, Saasu Ma, Mr. Singh doesn’t like others picking mangoes from his trees. Dev could buy them for you from Mr. Singh and save you all the trouble.”

“I love my son, but he hasn’t the amount of intelligence that Saraswati gave to Shor to make the kind of deal I made with Mr. Singh. He let me have an entire bag of fresh mangoes for only three of my embroidered napkins. ”

Prisha glanced down the well that had gone unused since plumbing had been installed in all three houses. The air that circulated inside it, rubbing against the stone walls, sounded eerily like the wind chimes. “Come into my house and I’ll make you some tea and breakfast.”

“You’re too good to me,” the old woman said.


Mr. Patel limped through the gate and stopped for a moment and rubbed his right leg, left weak and always aching since he was stricken with polio as a teenager. Standing near the well, Shor shrieked upon seeing the teacher. The two had nothing but animosity for one another. Shor learned early not to physically attack Mr. Patel when he tried to bite the man’s leg and was whacked on the head with the teacher’s briefcase. From that point on they maintained a safe distance but Shor never ceased to let his displeasure with seeing Mr. Patel go unnoticed.

Hearing the commotion, Prisha ran out of her house with the freshly ironed embroidered napkin in her hand. Seeing Mr. Patel she stopped on the porch, smoothed the wrinkles in her sari and then stepped from the porch into the courtyard dirt. The macaque she had seen earlier that morning was sitting on the wall preening its infant’s fur.

“Good day, dear Mr. Patel,” Prisha called out to the teacher.

Mr. Patel pushed his wire rim glasses up to the bridge of his nose and squinted at Prisha who was blanketed in harsh white sunlight. “Good day to you too, Misses,” he replied. “It’s very hot today, isn’t it?”

“Yes it is. I’ve just made you some iced tea thinking your walk back from school would make you hot and thirsty.”

“You made it for me?” he replied, unable to hide his puzzlement. She had never made him tea before other than on nights when he played cards with her and Dev.

“Yes, please do come and sit on the porch and I’ll bring it out to you.” She turned and ran into the house.

He walked to her porch, sat on a chair, and placed his briefcase on his lap. He watched as the macaque with her infant cradled in one arm climbed down the wall, scurried across the courtyard, grabbing a chicken’s egg left abandoned in the dirt, and scampered up another wall with the egg held in its teeth. It sat down, broke the egg open and poured the contents into its mouth.

Prisha came out of her house holding two glasses of tea filled with large ice cubes. She handed him a glass and then leaned against one of the porch posts as she drank her tea, watching him take sips of his. “You’re nothing like my husband,” she said after a few moments of silence. “You even drink your tea like a man with refined qualities.”

“Dev seems very nice,” he replied.

“Yes, he’s nice. He never beats me or speaks harshly to me, but he never gives me gifts.”

He took a large gulp of his drink. “I’m sorry to hear that. A wife should receive gifts from her husband.”

“Do you like teaching?” she asked after a moment of quiet.

“Standing on my leg most of the day is difficult.”

“You need a wife to massage it every night to ease the discomfort.”

His cheeks turned red. He looked across the courtyard at his house. “Perhaps some day I’ll marry, when I can afford to.”

She drank the last of her tea. “I think any woman would be happy being your wife,” she said. “It’s the little things that a man does for her that makes all the difference.”

He stood up and handed her his glass. “You should teach classes on how a woman should be treated.”

“I wouldn’t need a classroom to do that,” she replied with a nervous giggle.

He blushed again and then stepped off of the porch. “Your husband will be home soon. We will have to have another evening of playing Satte Pe Satta sometime soon.”

“I’ll mention it to him,” she said.

She watched as he walked to his house, practically dragging his lame leg along. Shor stood by the well and shrieked at him as he passed by.


As soon as Dev fell into a deep sleep, Prisha got out of bed, waited for the dizziness to pass and then put on the sari she had worn that evening She glanced at her bindi in the mirror before leaving the bedroom noting the brightness of the red kumkum. She took the box containing the wind chimes from behind the pots and pans, tucked it under arm, and then went out the front door. The courtyard was aglow with the iridescent light cast by a full moon. There were no lights showing from either of the other two houses. The windows and door at her mother-in-law’s house were closed. Standing on the porch she took the chimes from the box, dropping one of the red strings that held the box together, unable to catch it before a breeze carried it off. She held the chimes, shook them slightly,  and smiled as their music played softly.

“Only a man who loves a woman gives her such a gift,” she murmured.

She put the chimes back in the box, placed it on a chair, and then crossed the courtyard. Resting by the well, Shor stood and spread his feathers as she passed. She opened the front door to Mr. Patel’s house and went in, closing the door behind her.


At sunrise, Prisha left Mr. Patel’s house, crossed the courtyard, seeing the macaque sitting on the wall with her infant, watching her. On her porch she gathered up the box in her arms just as her mother-in-law stepped out onto the porch of her house. “Good morning, Prisha. You’re up very early this morning.”

At first startled by her mother-in-law’s sudden appearance, she quickly collected her wits. “Good morning, Saasu Ma. I was about to hang these wind chimes so that I could hear their music in the morning breeze.”

Her mother-in-law left her porch and walked to the edge of Prisha’s porch. “Yesterday you didn’t mention getting them. I was afraid you didn’t like my gift.”

“Your gift?

“Yes, I sold a few of my embroidered napkins and bought the wind chimes for you for being such a good wife to my son.”

“Your gift?” Prisha repeated, stuttering.

“I thought you would know that from the red embroidery string I used to bind the box with.”

Prisha suddenly felt dizzier than she had ever felt before.

Steve Carr (USA)

Steve Carr, from Richmond, Virginia, has had over 560 short stories – new and reprints – published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals, reviews, and anthologies since June 2016. He has had seven collections of his short stories published. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice. A Map of Humanity, his eighth collection, came out in January 2022.

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