Tibeta was, as usual, doing her best to keep a low profile. With her head down she sat behind the counter of her aunt's china shop. Surreptitiously she was reading her favourite ancient parables, but carefully enclosed in one of her aunt's books on business etiquette. She knew that if Celain caught her reading this forbidden material she'd be for the high jump.
As Tibeta had grown up, she'd learnt that the only way to get any sort of kindness from Celain was to obey her to the letter. There was just no argument with this strong, hard, woman who had taken her in when her parents had died suddenly. Her mum's sister she may have been, but there the resemblance ended: no gentleness, no openness, just a stern, over-bearing presence.
Things had improved slightly when Celain realised that Tibeta was actually a real benefit to her business: having a patient, smiling, face in her shop had encouraged the customers to not just come in but to stop and buy from her extensive range of pots and ornaments, ancient and modern. But, despite the increased sales, Tibeta herself benefited little from the store's profits... despite her aunt's assertions that she should be grateful for everything she had.
In speaking with her customers, especially when Celain was out buying stock, Tibeta had began to realise that she was not so alone with her feelings as she'd thought... nor did she need to fear having nowhere else to go or work. On a number of occasions her clear voice and wise words had been complimented and recently she'd even had the boss of their main competitor, Pots-R-Us - a much larger chain of stores, ask her to work for him!
As Celain sensed her niece's growing frustration and freedom of thought, she clamped down even more on Tibeta's physical freedom: she tightened the nightly curfew and took away her house key... which made Tibeta even more determined to break free. But Tibeta knew there was still no point trying to reason with her aunt, or to stand up to her physically, so she watched and waited. She'd also managed to obtain, through Caroline, one of her regular customers, some books on happiness... and on the root causes of misery.
Whilst reading this ancient wisdom and modern psychology, Tibeta began to see that her aunt really couldn't help the way she was: Tibeta herself could just remember her dictatorial grandfather and the way he rigidly controlled everybody and everything. She shuddered to think of him. Poor Celain she thought, sadly. Then burst out laughing at her own pun: porcelain! How appropriate for the owner of a china shop! Tibeta's mind took the parallels deeper: how fragile they both are! she realised. Just as all the plates and vases would chip at the slightest knock and break apart so easily, so her aunt would snap at the slightly thing out of place. Anything disturbing Celain's precise boundaries and she'd go to pieces too! All her toughness was just a front, like the glaze on her finest china pieces.
As the young Tibeta came to realise this, so she developed an understanding, and even compassion, for her aunt... and remembered to show Celain gratitude for taking her in and looking after her. Celain didn't really know what to make of this, being so unused to kindness, but in the privacy or her own room, she smiled to herself... and even began to imagine that Tibeta was her own daughter!
At this time their town was playing host to a big basketball tournament. Teams from miles around had gathered, followed by busloads of their enthusiastic fans. And so the streets were full of visitors, many trying to emulate their sporting stars by bouncing or keeping aloft their own basketballs. Needless to say, Celain was not at all impressed by such behaviour and had immediately put up a big sign banning balls from her shop.
One day, as Tibeta was minding the store, a group of five young men, each juggling a basketball, stopped outside the window and looked in. Fit and healthy looking, Tibeta could not help but stare at them. They smiled back and waved to her. As they came to the door to come in, the young lady blushed. Then quickly seeing her aunt's sign she panicked and pointed at it to the boys on the doorstep.
Shaking her head fearfully she pleaded with them not to come in. But the boys, being boys, just smiled all the more broadly and bounced their five balls over the threshold. Tibeta couldn't help but notice that they were all different colours: one red, one blue, one yellow, one green and one black. But that didn't help her. What could she do, her aunt would have a fit... but these young men were really fit too!... and handsome. They were in the shop now, still bouncing their basketballs in-between the displays of vases and plates... and asking her all sorts of personal questions. They were nice guys... and they seemed skilful enough.
At that moment poor Celain appeared at the door: the others had been too interested in each other to notice her approach. OUT she ordered with a vengeful stare and pointing finger. It was all too much for the boys who immediately lost their smiles... and their ball control skills. One after the other the basketballs went crashing into piles of cups and onto priceless ornaments. Within just a few minutes the whole shop was a mass of broken crockery.
As sporting the boys may have been, the shop looked like a massacre site and they could see from the fuming features of the owner that they could be the next victims. They fled. Faster than Tibeta had ever seen anybody run before. Her aunt strode out of the shop after them, shaking her fist.
It was some minutes before she returned and surveyed the devastation. Her jaw dropped and Tibeta could see tears forming in the corner of her aunt's eyes... although she frantically tried to brush them aside. Feeling her compassion well up inside her and genuine affection for the older women, Tibeta rushed to her aunt's side and put her arms around her waist, holding to her. Initially Celain resisted, but not for long. Soon her decades of held back tears had broken through the floodgates. She sobbed. She reciprocated the hug and held her wonderful niece to her, tightly.
The shop was closed, with shutters down, for a week after that. When it reopened, at first glance, little had chanced, Tibeta still sat behind the counter and a similar range of china-wear was on display. But now she read her ancient wisdom openly. Now she had her own key and no curfew. Now she had her share of the profits... to spend on dates with basketball players.