Sampada, a girl with dark, keen eyes and a bubbling laugh, lived with her family in a village beside a grove of mango trees. This grove and the village fell in the shadow of the Great House, an enormous, gleaming structure, appearing to be made out of the clouds in which it rose. The village was quiet, but not as tranquil as the gardens around the Great House, for no one had ever seen anyone within the House’s gates.
For many generations the Great House stood, watching over the little village, but no one was allowed inside the gates. The story was told that the Master cleared the land and built the village. He planted the mango trees for their beauty and fruit, then He left to live in the House, never to be seen again.
Sampada ran along the path in front of the Great House every day on her way to do chores for her mother. In the morning it might be for water from the well or to pick fruit for lunch and in the evening she might take some bit of news to her mother’s sister. And each time, Sampada would slow to peer through the trees beyond the fence, but never did she see movement. No old man stooped to pull a weed, no child danced in an imaginary parade, no monkeys played hide and seek.
Today, she skipped along the path, humming, when she heard someone call her name. “Sampada!” Wasn’t she alone? “Sampada! Come here.” She was not frightened, for although the voice was unfamiliar, it sparkled like her mother’s voice, and was comforting like her father’s. She knew she was safe.
Sampada hurried up the path and saw a young man standing, holding open the gate and smiling. “Sampada. I am so happy to see you.” He gestured with his hand outstretched, inviting her inside. Curiosity pulled her along.
The gardens were beyond her imagination. Monkeys did play, scurrying from tree to tree and biting each other’s tails. A tiger lumbered from beyond a stand of trees, looking at them, and for the first time Sampada felt a tremor of fear. Her guide smiled. “Do not fear, Sampada. You are safe.”
The front door of the Great House was large, towering over even the tall man beside her. Sampada followed the man through the House, looking around, her eyes not missing anything—the marble floors inlayed with gold, magnificent flowers standing proudly in every corner. Had a bird just flown overhead, wings brighter blue than the sky in summertime?
He approached a doorway. The young man stepped aside, allowing Sampada to enter. An enormous table, laden with more food than she had ever seen, overpowered the room. “Come and eat, Sampada.” This voice was different. She looked back at the doorway, but the young man was nowhere to be seen. She turned around and at the far end of the table now sat a different man, older than the first, but ageless in countenance. She knew this was the Master.
“What is this, Master?” He smiled at her for her quick mind and for her courage to ask.
“A banquet for you.”
“Did you know I was coming?” Who would make this much food for a surprise guest?
“No. But I hoped.” He smiled again.
“May I go find my family? They are hungry and I would like to share.”
“My son has left to invite the village. Not all will come, but those who do will not be turned away.”
Sampada began to eat. Never had food tasted so delicious nor water quenched her thirst like this did. Soon the Master’s son returned, with half the village following, including her mother and father.
Sampada looked at her plate, piled with food. She feared she had taken too much and her family and friends would be deprived.
“Do not fear, Sampada. In this House there is always enough. No one will ever leave here unsatisfied.”
“Why did you do this today?”
“I arrange for this banquet every day. I have seen you walk by every day and I always call your name, but you could not hear me. Today, my son invited you instead. His voice you could hear.”
“Why was I the first, Master?”
“Your ears were open and your heart was willing.”
So on that day, with the permission of the Master, the villagers moved the gate so that the village was no longer in the shadow of the Great House, but safe within its walls.
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