Flying Rice

He is dying. We see that. He coughs a rather shaky cough. It is barely audible. He turns on his side on the dirt with only his pants on. His clothes became other people’s property when he was too weak to fight for them. We look at him with a lot of interest.

“How long?” Saliza asks.

“Not long. He won’t last long enough to see the trucks.” I am sure of my answer.

He is maybe five. His mother must have left him three days ago. Probably couldn’t bear to see him die. Must have carried him here and told him she was coming back. She probably cried her way home knowing her child was dying.

He turns again. His ribs are sticking out as if they would tear off the loose skin that holds him body together. His sunken eyes hide inside his big head and several flies are parched on his nose.  High above vultures circle slowly.

We watch him. There is nothing else to do in the heat, not that any of us want to do anything except wait. The lorries are late, again.

He turns again, makes some incoherent sound, jerks for a second or two and is no more. Saliza makes the sign of a cross and then looks at the road in the desert.

He points and I see the cloud of dust.

We walk slowly towards the market place. We get there in time to see the lorries coming in. The market place is filled with hundreds of people. The lorries open and the scramble starts. We stand at the market gates and watch.

The dust rises and settles.  A bucket is thrown up, rice spills over and shouts increase.

A pregnant woman rushes from the lorry, her small bucket half filled with rice. A group chases her. They gain on her; one trying to trip her. We stand, watching.

She turns unexpectedly near the gate, making a sharp left; her flight is cut shot by a well placed foot. She trips. Her bucket spills over and she rolls on the dust, her hand breaking the impact of the fall.

Young teenage boys scramble for the rice and brown dust covers them as feet, hand and punches all dig in. The pregnant woman lies still. The dust settles and the boys are nowhere to be seen.

We wait for the masses to go home. An hour after the lorries leave; we walk down to the market place and start collecting rice, a piece at a time.

We will leave when the sun sets, to go and boil our dirt filled collection and wait for tomorrow.

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