In grade school in the 1970s, I read a short story I would like to find again. I think it was assigned reading, a school book (reader) that one of the schools used. It may also have been in an old reader that I borrowed from a school library. It was in any case not a new story even then.

I'll tell the story as I remember it:

A geography class in an American grade school is studying India. The Taj Mahal is the current subject. A new student in school mentions that the school book picture (black and white) doesn't do it justice, and that the described color is wrong - the Taj Mahal is a sort of wonderful pink color when seen near sunset (or sunrise.)

The teacher is slightly peeved at being interrupted, and asks the student which book gave him that description of the Taj Mahal.

The student tells the teacher that he didn't read it, he'd actually been there and seen it.

The teacher assumes the student is a liar and sends him to the principal who sends the student home with a note that he's in trouble for disrupting class and telling lies.

The mother shows up in school the next day, and asks the teacher what supposed lie her son had told.

The teacher tells her that the son had claimed to have been to the Taj Mahal. The mother responds that yes, they had both been to the Taj Mahal. The teacher asks what color it is, and the mother describes it much like the student had and leaves.

The narrarator then notes that he didn't think the teacher believed it but the teacher didn't give him any more trouble about it. The narrarator is the student, and goes on to say that thereafter he never mentioned the year he traveled with his mother to anyone so as to not cause more trouble.

The story then goes on to tell why the two traveled through the Orient and on to India - and at least one incident from their travels.

The boy's father died. His mother and father had had dreams of traveling the world and visiting the Taj Mahal, but the father died while the son was a young boy.

The mother fell into depression when the father died, and at some point decided to carry out the dream and travel the Orient. Possibly she saw it as a way to commit suicide without actually killing herself - travel a dangerous and chaotic part of the world with just herself and her son.

At some point while traveling through a desert, they are taken prisoner by a bunch of bandits who threaten to kill the mother and her son.

Through the translator, she tells the chief of the bandits that he should go right ahead and kill them but that he would regret it. Part of what she said was "death rides a fast horse behind me." In the end, the bandit chief is so impressed with her fearlessness and concerned about what he perceives as a curse on the mother that he lets them go and even gives them a guide out of his territory.

The story was less about the travel and the Taj Mahal as it was about a young boy growing up to understand what drove his mother into making that trip.

The story stuck with me for a couple of reasons.

One was that I could identify with the boy in the story. As a child, I was nearly always the new kid in the class.

The other thing was the quote from the mother when facing down the bandits.

I'd like to find and read this story again.

I'm pretty sure it was old even when I read it - I have a vague memory of it referring to events that I recognized even then as being old.

That's about all that I can recall about it, though.

  • @Randal'Thor: The question already mentions it being a short story. I've edited to include the story being set in America. – JRE Nov 17 '19 at 17:24
  • Oops, sorry, somehow I missed that. – Rand al'Thor Nov 17 '19 at 17:30
  • No problem. I think the question is nearly as long as the story. – JRE Nov 17 '19 at 17:41
  • Was it a work of translation? Or originally published in English? – CinCout Nov 18 '19 at 4:37
  • Definitely originally in English. Why would someone write a story from the viewpoint of an American grade school student in another language? – JRE Nov 18 '19 at 6:34

I found the story. I had mis-remembered one word - with the correct wording, I found the story.

The title is "Sorrow Rides a Fast Horse" by Dorothy Gilman Butters.

The story is much as I described it in the question, so I won't summarise it again here.

I had remembered the one sentence from the story as "death rides a fast horse" when it should have been "sorrow."

The full story is available as a PDF on the site in the first link.

  • I can't believe I found this. I've also been searching for this story for YEARS - - 35 years! The part that stuck with me is how the father died: reciting Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" (he collapses just after saying ". . .down to a sunless sea", and then dies of a brain hemorrhage). I could never find the story. THANK YOU! – Kit Marlowe Jun 26 '20 at 16:39

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