by Mira Desai
Raja shaded his eyes and scoured the skies. Fleecy clouds dotted the endless blue-yellow. Empty clouds, good for nothing, like a rich man’s promises. The fiery orb had just begun its journey; later in the day it would bear down, intent, scorching everything in sight.
As it had all summer, drying the scraggly wheat in their kerchief-sized field to a bleached yellow. Wasted. The sun had sucked out all traces of moisture long ago, dried out the wells and blotted up their meager river – sometimes if you were lucky, you reached a brackish trickle.
About this time dark, rain-filled monsoon clouds should have filled the skies. But it was past the second week of June, and the skies were just as clear. The Rain Gods were angry, the second year in row.
If he didn’t pay back the moneylenders soon, they’d tear him apart.
“Looks like your Gods are furious again,” he shouted to Sitamma, his wife. She was squatting by a gnarled, weather-beaten neem tree. “Not one cloud.”
She searched the vast expanse, a brilliant generous sky that showered dry heat.
As far as the eye could see the earth was dry, parched, burnt out, thirsting for water. In places the land had crusted and fractured, as if a giant had reached deep inside and torn the pieces apart. In the evening the storms from the distant desert would blow hard, covering everything with a fine dust.
“You’re impatient! I saw a line of red ants this morning – didn’t I tell you? It will rain.”
“You and your old wives tales! Instead of usual three months, it rained just a week last year. That too, scanty, like a miser – what did your red ants say then?”
“Last year there were no ant lines. Laugh at me all you like!”
“If it rains soon, there’ll be time for a second crop, bajra or even jawar. Else I’ll have to do something else.”
“The city?” she asked, her eyes fearful.
“Not everyone loses a limb like your brother did. Not all construction scaffolds collapse. I’ll be fine. But I must pay back the Sethji. And fast ”
“Those anklets? I don’t want them back. Let the thief moneylender keep them.”
“Not just your anklets. We have debts to repay, Sitamma. But not the land, never!”
They stared at the marching ants.
published 13 November 2013