12+ Señora Gabriela is a respected storyteller. Her exact age is unknown, but it is years more than ninety. One warm afternoon, Señorita Margarita, a fourteen-year-old girl, whose blonde hair is silky soft, unlike the coarse black hair of everyone else, decides to spy on Señora Gabriela.
It is a desperate decision that grieves Señorita Margarita. Señora Gabriela and the others have been so kind. Señorita Margarita has been loved, fed, clothed, and since she was an infant, she has lived with Señora Francisca and her family in their hacienda.
Señorita Margarita does not wish to spy, but she doesn't know what else to do. Señora Gabriela is unwell. She will pass on soon.
Where does she hide her extraordinary treasure chest of untold stories? Everyone knows there is such a remarkable chest, but nobody knows where it is. If it can be discovered, they will be able to have wonderful new stories after Señora Gabriela is gone.
Señorita Margarita tiptoes to a window of Señora Gabriela whitewashed adobe hacienda. Señora Gabriela is relaxing in her dwelling that is sparsely appointed, but it has everything anyone could ever need — a rectangular kitchen table and tiled bench, a creaky rocking chair, a woven rug, a tidy stack of raffia ribbon-bound notebooks on a low stool, a comfortable bed, a carved dresser, a wrought iron lamp, and a cactus plant with a beautiful white bloom.
Señorita Margarita has always felt welcomed and comfortable in Señora Gabriela's humble home.
Suddenly, the old storyteller stops rocking in her chair. She leans forward and folds the faded rug back, revealing a worn leather pull-tab that is nailed to the floor. She tugs on the tab and a section of a floorboard lifts up. She reaches down and retrieves an undersized and unadorned wooden box. Señorita Margarita had always imagined that it would be a large and elaborately jewelled treasure chest.
To Señorita Margarita's surprise, Señora Gabriela opens the chest and removes a clay-colored stone about the size of a small tomato.
Next, she removes a little hammer and a slender chisel. She carefully taps off a chip of the stone, so tiny that Señorita Margarita can't even see it. Señora Gabriela then puts the stone, hammer, and chisel back into the chest, returns the chest to its hiding place, replaces the floorboard, and smoothes the rug.
Señora Gabriela's feeble hands take a notebook from the stool. She unties its raffia ribbon binding and folds open the papel picado cover. She then puts the stone chip in the center of the top page. A rising puff of smoke swirls like a miniature tornado.
As quickly as the smoke materializes, it disappears. Margarita is flabbergasted to see fresh parchment pages. It is a story!
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Señora Gabriela binds the crisp new pages into the notebook with the raffia ribbon, slips the notebook into her tapestry bag, and retrieves her walking stick.
Señorita Margarita hides while Señora Gabriela hobbles to the community courtyard, where everyone congregates to sing, talk about interesting things, and listen to stories. When Señora Gabriela takes her honored place, all the others, including Señorita Margarita, gather to listen.
Señora Gabriela speaks with a frail but persuasive voice, "Dear ones, I cannot tell stories anymore, stories that encourage us, and fill our hearts with joy. It is time for someone to come and live with me so that I may teach her the art of storytelling. When I pass on, my home will be hers."
Señora Gabriela looks at Señorita Margarita. "Respect and cherish her because she will be the trusted keeper of our stories. Tonight she shall read a story that should interest her very much because it will answer some of her lifelong questions. Señorita Margarita, please take this book. You are our new storyteller."
Señorita Margarita is stunned. With tears streaming down her cheeks and with a strong young voice, she begins to read.