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The girls sleep outside and huddle together under a quilt in the cold night. They discuss the future. Phulan, in anticipation of Shabanu's wedding, speaks with excitement about the beautiful new clothes Shabanu will have. Shabanu has been wearing the same tunic and skirt since she was eight, and they are colorless, tattered, and far too small for her. Without thinking, she tells Phulan she will miss her next year, and Phulan begins crying at the thought of leaving the desert.

Now Shabanu feels frightened. She knows that next year, she will be promised to Murad, Hamir's brother. Like Phulan, she will go and live with him in Mehrabpur, the settled, agricultural region where Hamir and Murad own land. The people of Mehrabpur do not welcome nomadic herders. The two girls fall asleep, preoccupied by the gravity of their concerns.

In the morning, rain begins to fall. The family is overjoyed. They spend the day inside their mud huts, telling stories and mending harnesses. When night comes, Dadi can hardly wait to go to the toba and see how much water has collected, but Mama chides him affectionately for his impatience and tells him to wait until the next morning.

The morning dawns cold, clear, and sparkling. Shabanu climbs atop Guluband, the finest camel of the family's herd. Guluband wears great brass bracelets around his feet and dances to the music of drums and pipes. Shabanu loves him dearly. The pair sets off in the direction of the toba, going to fetch water for the family.

When they arrive, they find Dadi splashing about in the water. In his joy, he tosses Shabanu in the air above the water. The toba is full, and Dadi predicts that they can stay in the desert until Phulan's wedding.


Shabanu, our young narrator, gradually introduces us to the details and history of her everyday life. One by one, she uses and briefly explains the words particular to her world—toba, shatoosh, chapatis, lungi, hookah, pogh. She also narrates the history and relationships of the various characters but briefly and only when needed. For example, she introduces and characterizes Auntie several pages before explaining that while Auntie may be rich with sons, she only sees her husband a few times a year. This delayed foreclosure and the unfamiliarity of words, names of towns, and customs creates a sense of unfolding: her daily and yearly routines in and of themselves are part of the story.