“So how was it? Did you have fun?” asked Helene as she pulled their old pickup onto the two-lane country road that bordered the front of Kuhaylah Arabians.
“Yes, I had fun,” Bethany grinned.
“How about some details?” Helene again prodded.
“Mom, I had fun. I wish you wouldn’t interrogate me.”
Helene sighed, “My new boss, Mr. Singh, invited us for dinner tonight.”
“Mom, I just want to go home. I don’t want to go anywhere,” Bethany whined.
“Bethany please, this is important to me. I really love my new job. You’ll like him. I promise.”
“Okay. I don’t have a choice, do I?” said Bethany.
Helene laughed, “Not really. Especially considering that he’s the one that arranged for you to get the job at Kuhaylah Arabians.”
“I told you on the way to the ranch. I guess you didn’t hear me?”
Bethany smiled at her mom but didn’t respond. She turned and just stared out the window as they drove down the country road into town. Her view consisted of field after field dotted with cows, a random horse or two, and wood-frame houses. Many of the homes needed repairs and a new coat of paint. There wasn’t a lot of money in Dale City. Most people lived off the land or paycheck to paycheck, except for the lucky ones that worked at James Corp, the best employer in the small town, Bethany always heard the adults saying. But she didn’t care about any of that because her head was filled with dreams of galloping Fyrestorm across green pastures.
As they reached the city limits, Bethany peered at the brick, ranch style houses, which were popular among the rural, middle class. She dreamed of living in a house like that instead of the old trailer she lived in with her mom. Bethany’s stomach rumbled as they drove past McDonalds, Burger King, and Dairy Queen; the three fast food chains that made up “restaurant row” in Dale City. Helene slowed the rambling truck to 35 mph as she pulled into the old downtown. She eased into one of the angled parking spots in front of a shop which bore the sign, Singh’s Antiques and Curiosities.
Amir stepped out onto the walkway in front of his shop to greet Bethany and her mom as they exited the truck, the heavy metal doors screeching as they slammed them both shut. Amir Singh was Helene’s age, but unlike her, he was fit. His black hair was cropped short, but was full and a bit wavy, complementing his olive-colored skin.
“Helene, so happy you and your daughter could make it for dinner,” he greeted them with a smile.
“Hello Amir, this is Bethany,” Helene said, waving an arm toward her daughter as Bethany stepped onto the sidewalk next to her mom.
“You call your boss by his first name?” Bethany blurted out.
“We’re informal around here,” said Amir with a smile as he extended his right hand toward her.
Bethany looked at his hand for a moment, then reached out and took it. She shook it firmly as her dad had taught her before he left them. It was the only thing she ever learned from him. “Thank you for getting me the job at Kuhaylah Arabians,” she said.
“Good handshake, Bethany! I’m happy to finally make your acquaintance. You’re welcome, but you got the job yourself. You must have made a good impression on Antonia. Let’s head inside. I hope you girls like the dinner I’ve prepared,” said Amir as he turned and walked toward his shop with Bethany and her mom following behind him.
They walked through the shop, which was full of the standard antiques found in any small, Texas town. There were old wooden dressers with chips and scratches, ancient looking garden gnomes, decorative plates on little metal stands depicting women with big, old-fashioned dresses, and ceramic figurines in the shapes of cats and roosters and the like.
“Everything is so old in here!” said Bethany.
“Bethany!” Helene admonished.
“It’s ok Helene. She’s right. Everything is old,” said Amir.
“Well why would people want to buy old things?” Asked Bethany.
“That’s an excellent question, Bethany. I think sometimes old things comfort people. They remind them of a simpler time, I assume.”
“That makes sense,” said Bethany as they reached a door in the back that Amir opened and led them through.
“It smells funny in here,” said Bethany.
“That’s because you’ve never smelled Indian spices before I’d wager. I’ve made us some butter chicken and some naan,” said Amir.
“Just chicken with butter? And what’s naan?” asked Bethany.
“Come, I’ll show you,” said Amir. They followed him through the back of the apartment to the kitchen. Amir lifted the lid of a large, silver pot on the stove. “Come look,” he invited.
Bethany and Helene peered into the pot and saw chicken covered in a brownish sauce. “Oh, I like chicken and gravy,” said Bethany.
“And here is the naan,” said Amir as he lifted a thin, white cloth from a plate on the counter.
“Oh, it’s just flatbread. I love bread!” said Bethany.
Bethany was distracted by a photograph on the wall just past the stove and near the kitchen table as Amir placed the cloth back over the bread. It was a picture of Amir, although younger, smiling and standing next to a beautiful golden colored horse, with a blaze running down the length of its face. Bethany walked closer to the photo and said, “What’s wrong with that horse’s ears?”
“There’s nothing wrong with Apollo’s ears. He’s a Marwari horse, their ears are supposed to curve inward.”
“Mahr-wahr-ee? How do you spell that?” asked Bethany.
“M-a-r-w-a-r-i,” Amir answered.
“Marwari,” Bethany repeated, under her breath. “Apollo was beautiful. He was your horse?” asked Bethany.
“It’s a long story. Let’s discuss it while we eat supper,” said Amir as he began to scoop the butter chicken onto three plates. He handed one of the plates to Bethany and he carried the other two to the table. “Helene, could you get the water pitcher from the fridge and fill three glasses for us?”
Helene retrieved the Brita water pitcher and poured water into the three glasses that Amir had set on the table. Then Amir removed the warm plate of naan from the microwave and placed it on the table.
The three of them sat down at the table, which had already been set with forks and napkins. Amir reached for the plate of naan and removed one of the flatbreads before passing it onto Helene. He then ripped off a small piece of naan and used it to pick up some of the chicken and then began eating.
Bethany asked, “You’re not going to use a fork?”
“I’m eating in the traditional Indian style, but sometimes I use a fork too. I set the table with forks because I know that’s what you’re used to.”
Bethany copied his technique and used a piece of bread to eat the butter chicken. “I like eating this way,” she said.
“Well, I hope you two won’t be offended if I use a fork.” Helene smiled.
“Suit yourself, Mom,” said Bethany.
Amir smiled at Helene and then turned his attention to Bethany. “I’m very happy that my good friend Antonia gave you the job at the ranch. I used to work on a horse ranch in India.”
“You did? Is that where you met Apollo?” asked Bethany.
“Yes, he was a prized Marwari stallion in those days. I miss him very much.”
“What happened to him?”
“He left this world some time ago. That picture was from another time, many years before you were born. Tell me about your job,” finished Amir.
“Oh, I’m going to get paid to work at the stable, plus get free riding lessons! But I’m most excited about the beautiful Arabian filly my mom and I saw running in the pasture today! No one has ridden her because she came from a ranch in Wyoming where she ran wild all her life.”
“I see. Apollo was wild when I first saw him too,” said Amir.
“Really?! So, you gained his trust?! I mean, you must have since you have the picture!” exclaimed Bethany.
“Yes, and that’s the story I mentioned earlier. Apollo was found running wild in the hills on the outskirts of the ranch where I worked. It took four men to capture him, and no one could control him. He was practically dragged onto the ranch double lassoed by a rider on each side and two riders driving him from behind. When I first laid eyes on him, I was about your age and in awe, just like you with the filly. I watched from one of the paddocks where I had been re-filling water troughs as Apollo screamed and reared in the air, fighting the riders with all his might. They managed to drive him into a large round pen, with 10-foot-high wooden sides and shut the gate behind him. I could hear him still screaming and galloping around the pen, looking for a means of escape. The men left, laughing, and talking because they felt immense pride at capturing such a magnificent stallion. After they were gone, I went to the gate to look at the horse. He was glorious even lathered in sweat and with the two lariats still hanging from his powerful neck.
His golden coat gleamed in the evening sun and his cream-colored mane and tail flowed like banners. He was the most beautiful Marwari horse I had ever seen. He was standing still by that time, but his sides heaved from exhaustion. The great horse watched me with alert eyes which contained no trust for humans. I ran and filled a bucket with water, returning as quickly as I could. The great stallion watched as I gently placed the bucket down just inside the gate. I stepped back and the horse sniffed the air with flared nostrils. His thirst was great, so he stepped toward the bucket, never taking his eyes off me. He reached the bucket, snorted a warning at me and then plunged his muzzle into the cool water, gulping madly in his thirst. He drained the bucket, so I moved forward to reach in and grab it. He wheeled around and screamed again as he bolted to the farthest end of the pen. I retrieved more water and also brought hay. Thus began the lengthy process of befriending the greatest Marwari stallion that ever lived.”
“So, I can do it! I can gain Fyrestorm’s trust!”
“Yes, but it took several months. You must be patient. The filly is Arabian and like the Marwari, somewhat hot-blooded. You will have to earn her trust. In fact, the two breeds are related. Marwari horses were infused with Arabian blood early in their history. According to legend, an Arabian ship containing seven Arabian stallions wrecked off the coast of India and were taken to the Marwar region to be used as bloodstock for the Marwari breed. The Marwari and Arabian horses are the most ancient breeds in the world, and both carried warriors into battle,” said Amir.
“Warriors? That’s so cool!” said Bethany.
“Very cool, indeed. My ancestors were Rajput warriors, so I believe I was born with a love for the Marwari horse,” said Amir.
“So, what is the filly’s name, and why did they bring a wild horse from Wyoming in the first place?” asked Helene.
“Her name is Fyrestorm, with a y, and I don’t know, I’ll ask Strider next time I see him,”
“So, it was fate that she is here and that you came into her life. I believe remarkable things are on the horizon for you and Fyrestorm,” said Amir.