Hemp

Hemp
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Come and listen to the wailing and keening filling the tepid air, rank with the stench of a hundred unwashed bodies crowded under the wilted yellow thatch. Look at the withered shape lying on the dusty floor, its emaciation mercifully covered by white. When the hot wind blows through the door, it is I, as neighbor and friend, who must bend down and cover the exposed head, with the dark mottled skin around the neck.

Squat next to me on your haunches, and you will be privy to the red rimmed eyes of his widowed wife who sits besides him, face bowed under the faded cotton sari she has drawn over her head. Her look of anguish, of questions unanswered has lost its impact, amidst hundreds like it that you and I have seen. Nor will the rivulets of tears and snot running down the brown faces of his children, laying tracks of clean skin as they wash away the grime, pull at our heartstrings.

Those dark eyes, as countless others, have scoured the heavens as dried split lips beseeched the gods in vain. But the only water they have seen, for the fifth year in a row, is what cascades down their cheeks, and splashes into the parched earth.

The land was ripe for the bitterness that we sowed. Look at what a good harvest we’ve had.

Our trees are still strong. The branches do not break with our weight swinging on them. Our bodies are light. Skin and bones, devoid of hope, but weighed down with hopelessness.

I will coil it and slip it under my turban when no one is looking. It hung in the well, tied to the bucket, before he took it. It used to hear the cool wind, the sound of the laughter of the women ringing out while they filled water, their soft songs about the future.

There is no water anymore. The wells are abandoned, their bottoms dry. The rusty pail lies on the ground. There is no laughter. There are no songs.

I have looked it over carefully. It took his weight, and the weight of his wife’s helplessness, his children’s hunger. It took the weight of the dead seeds, the desiccated stalks, the bloated carcasses, the mounting debts, the moneylender’s threats, the government’s empty promises.

It has not frayed.

It will do. Besides, I am even lighter than he was.

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Dimple Shah

About Dimple Shah

Dimple Shah arrived in Hong Kong 10 years ago and promptly decided to forego a lucrative career in Banking and Finance for the unquantifiable joys of writing. An avid consumer of words all her life, she has only recently officially assumed the mantle of producer of words and spinner of yarns. Read more about her and her work at www.dimpleshahchronicles.com

Dimple Shah arrived in Hong Kong 10 years ago and promptly decided to forego a lucrative career in Banking and Finance for the unquantifiable joys of writing. An avid consumer of words all her life, she has only recently officially assumed the mantle of producer of words and spinner of yarns. Read more about her and her work at www.dimpleshahchronicles.com

4 comments

  1. Amrita says:

    Striking images in the text but quite opposite to the picture that the story starts with. So much water there that it took some work to realise what the story was saying. Was that deliberate?

    • Dimple Shah Dimple Shah says:

      Thanks so much for stopping by and reading this Amrita and for your kind words. I agree the image does seem incongruous at first but I think it is meant to show the dichotomy between the parched earth and the agglomeration of brackish water that cannot be used for irrigation. Apparently this is a common occurrence in areas with long term drought.
      Thank you again for your feedback, really appreciate it!

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