Ones' Thatched Hat

March 28, 2012
Sonya unfolds her lower body to a perpendicular stance, embracing the waves of muscle tension flowing through the back of her legs. She lifts her head to get a good look at the other workers, sweat rolling down their bare backs. Blurry spots cloud the contours of their bodies as her eyes readjust to the light. Sonya is the only women in the gardens, but they don’t mind because she works twice as hard as most of the men. She twists her body to unhook the leather pouch hanging from her belt. The belt contains the pouch as well as a water jug made from cow hide, and a purse holding a small loaf of bread and some raisins. Loosening the leather sack, she draws a handful of seeds. Then kneeling back down, she uses her forefinger to push the moist soil into rows of mini dirt bowls. One by one she drops the seeds into their place.

It had been eighteen years since Sonya’s mother had hiked the terrain from Zaraysk to the outskirts of Urumqi, her baby attached to her back. As she traveled across land, she came upon a small village, no more than thirty people and mostly family relations. She worked the fields in exchange for board and later the villagers took advantage of her skill with herbs. On a trip to the city, it had been three days since Sonya had seen her mother, their longest separation. For the first time, Sonya had to cook, clean, and work the garden independently, all chores taking twice as long. Before bed, her mother would sing lullabies as she untangled her ebony locks, a task much less pleasant when done alone.

When all the seeds are dispersed, Sonya collects her tools and heads back up the hill to her cabin. Barefoot, her feet sweep against the hem of her linen skirt, her thighs, sticky from kneeling too long finally cooled by the motions of her legs. The doorway is covered by a faded green curtain. She pushes it to the side and wipes her feet on the grass rug. Sonya removes her leather belt and distributes the weight to the table. She lets the hat fall to her back, her forehead marked and irritated from sweat. Sonya knows what she needs, spring water and a nice bath. Gathering a piece of cream cloth and a bar of soap from a shelf near the doorway she places her hat back onto her tired head. Sonya then proceeds down the hill, past her mothers’ herb garden. The grass on her feet, as cool and refreshing as running water, compared to the course dirt. A neighboring farmer approaches the hill, a childhood friend now masked with manhood. Huan is his name. Huan’s long braided hair sways side to side as he struts up the hill, rake over his shoulder. Walking shirtless and sweating, he was clearly the second to be finished with his work.
“Hello, Sonya.” He bellowed across the meadow, making the cloudy bubble around her head sound.
She looks up “Good evening, Huan, hot day!”
Huan speaks with a deep, striking voice, “Would you like to join my family and me for dinner tonight?” Sonya’s eyebrows smile with her mouth as she nods.
“What shall I bring?” she asks.
He smiles back and replies, “Just yourself,” And they bid each other farewell as they walk in opposite directions.
Sonya reaches the wood. There, under the shelter of the trees lies the big wooden wash box. Bright green moss grows around the base of the tub as it would the trunk of a tree. There are five bathing boxes surrounding the bottom of the hill. Privacy is respected so Sonya and the rest of the villagers have a general idea of each others routines. Bathing is therefore sacred and undisturbed.
Little by little she gathers water from the stream nearby and pours it into the wooden tub. She then takes a hot stone and places it in its compartment, igniting the tub with steam. Sonya removes her dirty skirt and top and splashes the stains with the water from the stream. She finds a sunny spot through the shadows of the trees and hangs her garments on branches to dry. She removes a single clip from her dark curly hair and lets the braid fall past her waist. She uses her fingers to manage the remaining knots and then slips one foot into the steam. In one fluid motion Sonya is immersed in water and warmth. The stresses of the day melt off her skin and evaporate into the blessed air. She rubs her face and body with the sweet smells of amber and combs her hair with her scented fingers. Sonya lets her muscles relax; a neck muscle in particular, pulled earlier that morning. She closes her eyes and sees her mother walking the busy streets. The sun slips further and further to the other side of the earth and she rests. The crickets begin to chirp and the birds quiet their song. The red marks on her forehead begin to dissipate. Sonya angles her head against the wood to watch a subtle breeze knock her sun hat to the ground.

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