Shabanu is tending the herd in the middle of the day when she notices vultures circling in the sky. She runs toward the birds and finds them swarming around a felled camel, who, she deduces, has been bitten by a poisonous snake or scorpion driven out of its hole by the rain. As she draws closer to the camel, however, she sees that the situation is more complicated: the camel, near paralysis and death, is giving birth. She knows the mother will die and that the fate of the baby camel depends on her.

She heaves at the half-born camel, holding its head and forelegs, and manages to pull it out of its mother's birth canal an inch. Suddenly, she remembers a midwife helping Auntie give birth by lying across Auntie's stomach. Shabanu throws herself on the mother camel and squeezes with all her might. Her head swims with horrified pictures of Phulan giving birth. She struggles, and finally the baby is born. Shabanu bites the umbilical cord in two and watches as the vultures begin feeding on the dead mother. Shabanu dries the baby camel with her skirt, and the two return to the toba and fall into an exhausted sleep.

They wake at sundown. Dadi and Phulan appear on Guluband. Dadi is upset, as the mother and baby were to be part of Phulan's dowry. The three rightly fear that no other nursing camel will be willing nurse the new baby.

Shabanu notices that Phulan is wearing the long head covering of an adult woman, a chadr. Shabanu resents this and feels disgusted with Phulan when she clumsily knocks the chadr off.

The two sisters, however, work together to devise a way to feed the orphaned camel: Shabanu lets the baby suck on her fingers while Phulan pours milk down Shabanu's hand. In this way, the sisters suckle the baby.


A month has passed, and Shabanu and her father are ready to leave for the fair. Shabanu looks forward to wearing her "first grown-up clothes": a long blue skirt and dress.