Dirty Tricks and Wicked Gifts

August 19, 2009
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I stand here on the side, motionless and invisible, while I watch the market scene play before me. Every man’s step kicks up dust and filth behind the tattered soles of their shoes, as they walk the dirt roads. The tourists, natives, and children rush into one, mixing their different colors like a stew. All of us, together, under the luminous, menacing face of the sun.
The people perspire in the heat. Their hair sticks to their foreheads in a mass. Men rip the shirts off their backs, baring their chests. The air is thick and dry. The empty sky lays flattened on the land like a giant rock, weighing down the people who relentlessly rush, rush, rush.
And I stand here on the side.

I hold my wooden rack of beaded bracelets and woven anklets in my arms, close to my body. My thin dress clings to my back and sides. My eyesight begins to swell; I feel dizzy and rock backwards. But I will not sit down. That is not who I am, and that is not right. The people continue to run. My tangled hair, the color of night, winds itself around my shoulder and down to my knees, braided stiffly. It cries. I do not have water to clean you, I often remind my mane. I must care for my children first. She understands, but she still cries. I cry too, when my sons don’t look.

My five sons are here with me now. They, too, stand together, with their loud, wooden whistles in their hands. They approach the whites, showing their whistles and trying to communicate. It would be easier if they had an education. We could understand them and their ways, those white men. We may know the land, better than any white man could, but they have the money. And we don’t. I watch my first son snake the whistle around that chalky, white neck. Dollar, one dollar, says my son. The man shakes his head and my son smiles. My son takes the whistle and walks away.

After holding my rack for so many hours, I no longer feel its weight in my arms. The people do not pay attention to me. They worry about their own lives and duties. I am just the old woman who stands by the dirt road, selling her bracelets and anklets. I am nobody, and nobody is me. My sons return to me slowly, as if in retreat. Don’t feel sorry about anything. I pat my children on their backs and rub their shoulders, as if to knead away the pain. Hold onto those whistles. One day we will sell them and He will take us home. You wait.

I want my sons to find beauty in this world. I want to keep them safe from fate. Years have broken me into pieces and pieces that I have lost along the way. I have come too far. My sons have suffered scratches and burns, but they have not felt the pain of time and its dirty tricks and wicked gifts. Me? What about me? I swim in an endless lake of water, paddling against the salty waves that lap ferociously at my eyes. And if I were to plunge deep, deep, deep into this lake, I would hit the rock bottom, where fragments of my hope have drained down there to lay and wither away. Time has wasted me away.

I drop my rack of bracelets and anklets. It tumbles to the dirty ground. I push against the sultry weather to pick up my work. My back aches under the pressure. Slowly, I scoop my rack off the ground and rise again. A man stands there, having approached me while I was down on the ground. He looms over me with his tall height. I find his brown eyes up there; they blaze intensely in the sunlight, framed by a heavy set of lashes. He points to a purple bracelet on my rack with a straight, clean finger. I rip it off the rack, trembling. The man gets his coins. One dollar, I tell him with a voice that shakes. He nods and hides the coins away, back into his pocket. He finds a dollar bill. Thank you. I put the bracelet in his hands, and he puts the money in mine.

A little blonde girl hugs his knees. He gives her the bracelet. She cleans the beads on her shirt, as if it is dirty. The man looks back up at me. I cannot smile at this man. He gives me another wrinkled bill, with that pity in his dark eyes, and walks away with his little girl. Does he know what this money means? Thank you, I call after him quietly. He does not look back or hear my words. Even if he had, he would not understand them.
The money feels loose in my hand. A strong wind rips the bills away from me. My sons notice the flying money. They sprint ahead of me with tremendous energy that I did not know they possessed. My sons jump through the streets with outstretched arms and hands, reaching for my money. They hope, they dream, they jump for money. They do not say no.

The sun does not fall for night; night bows to the sun. When the hours have dragged on and the people leave the market, my sons and I finally lay down to rest by the road. We can feel our stomachs caving into our ribs. Our flesh eats at itself. We do not complain. We know it does not do any good, when His ears are for the white men, and we exist to serve.

My sons begin to snore little snores, like little men. The warm ground has been trampled on. It recovers while I pretend to sleep with my babies. My hand wraps itself around the wooden rack. The bracelets can move from side to side across the tube, with the hole that the purple bracelet has left. I feel the wrinkled bills in my deep, dress pockets. Through my closed eyes, I see my sons smile at me with white teeth. The boys inch closer to me, resting their heads on the sharp pebbles of the ground. And the empty sky releases its weight on the land, since the people do not rush. I breathe. I release my grip on the wooden rack. My body throbs, and I sleep here on the side.





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Mary K. said...
Aug. 23, 2009 at 11:18 pm
This is beautifully written!
 
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