Ushi and his sister, Ta Sao, lived in a small farmhouse in China with their mother, father, and grandmother.
Ushi and Ta Sao were twins, but one would never know it by looking at them. Ta Sao, which means elder sister, was slender. She had thick black hair and dark, almond-shaped eyes. Ushi was plump and loved to eat, especially rice cakes.
On the twins’ birthday they ate a breakfast of hot cereal with extra sugar on it. The family was poor, so the twins did not expect any presents.
However, when they had finished breakfast, Father had a surprise for them. “Come with me,” he said, “I have something to show you.”
They followed him to the barn, where chickens hopped about, squawking loudly. Father picked up two fat young hens and gave one to each of the twins. “These are your very own chickens,” he told them. “They are your birthday presents, and you must take good care of them.”
The twins were excited.
“I will have lots of eggs to sell!” Ushi exclaimed. He patted his chicken. “You must give me the most eggs because I am the boy twin.”
Ta Sao’s brow wrinkled. She didn’t like it when Ushi bragged about being a boy. “It is my chicken that will lay the most eggs,” she said. “She will do so because I am the elder sister.”
Now it was Ushi’s turn to knit his brow. He didn’t say a word as they walked back to the house. Finally he couldn’t stand it any longer. “Just because you were born five minutes before I was,” he snapped, “you don’t have to keep reminding me about it!”
“Tsung-la (That will do)!” said Grandmother. “Twins should be friends.”
Ta Sao said, “Grandmother is right. We should not quarrel. Our chickens will soon show us which will lay the most eggs.”
Every day the twins ran out to the barn to see if their chickens had laid any eggs. And every day they came back to the farmhouse empty-handed.
“Are you sure you gave us hens and not roosters?” they asked Father.
Father laughed. “I would be a poor farmer if I didn’t know the difference between a hen and a rooster,” he said. “Farmers must learn to be patient, and so must the children of farmers.”
Then one day Ushi came running into the house. He was holding a precious egg carefully in his hand.
Ta Sao tried not to sound jealous. “What are you going to do with your egg?” she asked.
Ushi said, “I shall take it to the co-op and trade it for a rice cake.” That afternoon Ushi came home nibbling on a rice cake.
“Why didn’t you save a piece for your sister?” scolded Mother.
Ushi swallowed the last bit of his rice cake. “I forgot,” he said. “Next time I will share with Ta Sao.”
But Ushi loved rice cakes too much to share them with anyone. Each time he traded his egg for a rice cake, he finished eating it before he got home. There was not even a crumb left for Ta Sao.
Ta Sao didn’t mind. Her hen was beginning to lay eggs, too, and she had more important things to think about than rice cakes.
As the days went by, Ushi never saw Ta Sao take her eggs to the co-op. Finally his curiosity was too much for him. “What are you buying with your eggs?” Ushi asked his sister.
Ta Sao smiled mysteriously and said, “Come with me, Ushi. I will show you what I did with my eggs.”
“Will you share with me?” Ushi asked eagerly.
“I don’t think so,” Ta Sao answered. “You never shared with me. Remember?”
She took him to the barn. There, playing near her hen, were four tiny chicks. “My eggs are all hatched,” Ta Sao explained. “When they grow up and become laying hens like their mother, I shall have more eggs than you can count.”
Ushi’s eyes widened. “You’re pretty smart!” he exclaimed.
“That was a very nice thing for you to say,” Ta Sao told him. “For that you may have one of my chicks.”
Ushi smiled at his new little chick. “Just think of all the rice cakes my eggs will buy!” he said.
Ta Sao looked indignant, but before she could say anything, Ushi added quickly, “But this time I will save half of my rice cakes for my sister.”