The JournalistA Story by Sonia
Something close to my heart
It had been three months since I last saw home, one month since I had arrived at the tiny village, and the drought had continued to ravage the country. I called it a village, but really it was nothing more than a few huts made out of scraps of garbage and dirt, looking like molehills in the distance. Behind these huts lay vast squares of land, looking barer than the desert of Tattooine in Star Wars. I had to laugh at myself when I made that connection. Star Wars, movies, television, what did anyone here know about these things? Referencing them only showed what a bubble I had been living in. No, out here was the real world, where the only thing the natives saw looking at their barren farms was an empty belly.
I climbed out of my tent and into the relentless sunlight, adjusting the lens of my camera. Even though it had been a month, most of the villagers were still shocked at the device. They had perhaps heard of such things before; the word of new technologies were whispered and retold as legends from traveler to traveler. But seeing it in front of their own eyes, in the hands of a strange man from some land far away, was a different thing all together. They would gather around me whenever they saw it, asking me again and again what it did, how it did it, demanding that I show them proof of such strange sorcery.
But there was no one who gathered around today. The drought had overtaken too much. Men sat sadly idle, dismayed by the ruins of their life's work. Women tried desperately to calm their starving children, knowing that they could not supply the milk their babies craved for. My crew and I had tried to help, of course; people always try to help. But this village had lost its livelihood, and no amount of water bottles or canned food that we could spare would bring back the joviality that must have once brightened these people.
I walked past the huts, every now and then snapping a photo of something I hoped would end up on the front page of National Geographic some day. This was supposed to be my big break, after all, my one opportunity to take stunning photographs of things people back in the life of luxury didn't want to think about as they cruised down the streets in their air conditioned Mercedes.
I was playing with the lighting on one particular hut when I heard a sniffling behind me. There, on the ground, rubbing a dry stick into the dirt, was a small boy, his eyes dotted with tears. I turned around and bent towards him, something I couldn't do until just recently without the children running away in fright from the strange white man with the strange device around his neck. But by now the villagers had become accustomed to my face, and this boy did not jump in fright. Instead he just continued digging into the dirt and sniffling back his tears.
"What's the matter, little boy?" I asked, hoping my dialect was correct. I was still a bit rusty on the language. The boy said nothing, so I tried again.
"Why are you crying?"
"Because my brother is dead," the boy said. "Because my brother is dead and I will die too,".
I stood crouched by him in grave silence. He had said it so calmly, despite the tears on his face. Because my brother is dead. Yes, of course I remembered. Two days ago a young boy had died from tuberculosis. The funeral had been quick and unceremonious; many people had been dying since the drought, the combination of heat and malnutrition inviting death into every family.
And I will die too. I looked at the boy. You could see nothing but the sharp edges of bones, none of the soft cherubic look you expect from children. He couldn't be more than five years, and yet here he was, sitting on the ground, mourning for his brother and silently preparing for his own death. I thought of my children. When they were five they only worried about what toys they would get for their birthday, or whether they had to eat their vegetables or not.
I looked up and saw a woman emerge from the hut. She was worn and tired like all the other women, but there was a lot of beauty in her face that would have stunned many people back home. I imagine that she could have been a model there; she certainly had the figure for it. Emaciated from the neck down with arms and legs thin as wires, her ribcage poking out even from her dress.
But what good had her beauty done her here? It hadn't fed her family or brought her any comfort. And yet millions of women would pay every shred of money they had to look like her.
She gave me a small nod when she saw me, too reserved to talk to another man face to face, and picked her son up from the ground. I looked at her eyes and saw in them a clash of emotions. First there was the mourning, the devastating feeling of losing one of her own, and a desperate need to cling to the one son she had left. But second, and the most disturbing, was the relief. The relief of having one less mouth to feed, of having to see one less creature suffer, pulling on her skirt and asking her, begging her, for the food and nourishment she could not give.
She caught my eye and grew afraid, as though she had given herself away, and she quickly hurried back into the hut. I got up and made my way back to my tent, the image of her eyes still in my head.
Then, that night, a miracle happened.
There was rain. Blessed, sweet rain, cascading from the sky like a waterfall, bringing everything to life around it. I at first could hardly believe what I was hearing, what I was seeing. All those months in the dry sunlight, I had almost forgotten what the rain felt like. The people two, were in shock. They emerged from their huts like earthworms coming to the surface for the first time. They stood watching the sky in amazement, silent as ever until one man raised his voice and let out a single sound.
And then all at once there was a torrent of noise as everyone jumped and cried and laughed and sang. They ran out into the mud and sank to their hands and knees, kissing the ground as if God himself was there in front of them. They rolled around in the water, uncaring if the next day they were to catch pneumonia or some other sickness.
No one slept for the rest of the night. As the rain continued, the men and children danced and sang, drawing me out of my tent until I joined them, careful not to get any mud on my camera. The women gathered together and cooked up every last shred of food they could find, not worrying about what they would eat tomorrow. It didn’t matter; the rain had come and now it was time to dance and feast. It was time to forget the deaths and the starvation and the sorrow, and to quench our souls with the holy liquid falling from the sky.
It was colder when I got back home. A week among cars, electricity, central heating and cooling, made me realize how startlingly easy it was to forget my trip, as though it was a nightmare of hardship and struggle that vanished as soon as I opened my eyes. My photos were a large success; three magazines had wanted to publish them and even National Geographic was interested. My kids were glad to see me as well, and they were even more glad when I brought them gifts from the city. Everything was going great; I was making much more money thanks to the trip, my wife was almost due with our third child, and I was back safely in my bubble where there were no skeletons walking the street with faces that told of starvation, disease and pain.
I went out into the street and looked up at the sky of my bubble, watching rain clouds gather. Then, drops began to fall on my nose, light at first but soon coming down thick and fast. I feared I would get sick from the cold and started to turn back inside my house, but something kept my feet on the sidewalk. I remembered the village, the village with people who had fell to tears at the sight of water, even if they would still wake up tomorrow, and the next month, and the next year, with a hard bed, an empty stomach and death on their doorstep.
I closed my eyes and let the rain drench me. Then smiling and looking back at the cloudy, dark sky, I opened my mouth and uttered a single word.
© 2011 Sonia
Added on November 11, 2011
Last Updated on November 11, 2011
AboutHmm...where to begin... Well, my name is Sonia and I am currently a college freshman. Though I am not majoring in writing it is one of my great passions, along with many other things which occupy my .. more..