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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic


“There’s plenty in it for everyone. A new land to settle on with compensations. This is the best deal you’ll ever get,” she implored for the last time, her patience worn too thin.

“But the paddies,” came a variation of the same response, “who’s gon look after the paddies come rain?”

“Look around, ma. Rain or not, this place isn’t fit for growing anymore.”

Some in the ragged gathering followed the motion of her hand like thralls to some ribald conduction provoking from their simple minds a lost lust for the dead valley where they had lived and borne and died, and whence what few youths they did sire had escaped never to return. If not for the promotion, she wouldn’t have agreed to the assignment in the first place.

“We’s thankful for the missus’s concern and the guvmint’s offer,” said the ancient ealdorman. “But we caint leave, leastways not before the harvest.”

“You know what happened to the hamlet over the hill. If you don’t leave they’ll bring in the police.”

“Aye, ‘tis true, but we simply caint leave be that as it may. The old man aint gon like it,” spoke the ealdorman.

“That he aint,” echoed a few from among the peasantry.

“Say, momma,” the ealdorman turned to her old mother, “why don’t ye invite yer young’un to stay the night. It’s getting awful dark.”

“No, thanks. Won’t take me an hour to reach town.”

“Then stay for supper. We’ll let ye judge for yerself if this land still aint fit for something. Right, momma?”

The old woman appeared irresolute. She looked first to the ealdorman, then to the villagers whispering among themselves. She had seen that look on her mother’s face once in her life. It was the day her brother left. She remembered the rain the following day, and that look when pa and ma broke the news of his departure to this same crowd who at the moment seemed caught in a struggle to subdue an excitement hitherto all but forgotten in their slow march toward twilight. 


“How’s the fish, dearie?”

“It’s alright.”

“And the petai?”

“Not bad.”

She really meant that despite its natural reek. Gourami was always her favorite. Salted and lightly sundried then deep fried whole. Cooking oil had always been a luxury in that part of the world, but all else nature did its best to provide.

“You still catch them in the paddies?”

“Aye, some. We old folks are dying off so there aint no reason to go as far as the basin. We still got plenty of crabs but there aint pawpaw grown here to go with them anymore since Nuk’s youngest left.”

“You can’t blame people if they want to leave.”

“Of course not.”

She looked down into her clay bowl of rice.

“Do you wish to leave?”

The old woman in turn looked out onto the darkened fields. Along the unseen path between the paddies down to the marsh several lanterns could be seen, other circles or pairs at supping. And she counted out among these the lights that now shone for one or places in the dark where lamps hung from broken beams swaying, swaying in the nightwind whistling lament to no one at all.

“I’ve got more than enough room in my apartment and there’s work to be had. I don’t expect you would sit idly all day, but at least you will be far away from this dismal place. ” 

“You haven’t touched your rice.”

“I don’t eat it anymore.”

“How can you just not eat something anymore?”

“Are you worried about the others?”

“Are you?”

“They aren’t my business.”

Outside the chirps of the crickets ceased. The sudden hush silenced her in a way unfamiliar to dwellers in the city where nothing had a definite end, where pursuants were sustained more by the noise that drowned them than their own.

“Each home has got its own brand of suffering, dearie,” said the old woman. “It would hardly matter where we end up. But here I live among people who still share and understand that indignity.”

As she spoke the light nearest to the marsh blinked out, then another, then another. A reasty quietude slithered from the quagmire.

“You should leave,” her voice quavering. “It’s getting late.”

The old woman watched as she made her way in the dark for the car. In that murky whelm she recalled a time when the girl was no more than a girl and the boy scooping and slinging mud at her bounding between water buffaloes bathing in the sun, and herself and her husband bent earthward bedding out that new life.

When only her light shone within that vast dark the old man passed where the crone kneeled in prostration, his cold putridity congealing the warm aqueous night.

“Mercy,” she whispered.

The old man stopped for a second. His long foreclaws reached for the lamp and snuffed out the last light in the valley. Supernal and inscrutable, he went on toward his offering who by now had realized that her keys were gone. The mother whimpered pathetically in the mud for the last time in her life.


The ealdorman found the old woman sitting crossed-leg in the rain leaning against the car where it stood abandoned in a strange wilderness. He took the keyring from her hand lying inanimate in her lap.

“It’s all over now.”

Whether throughout her long and miserable years he had divined aught from her attitude of peace, the ealdorman’s consolation told her all there was to be known.

That year gourami teemed again in the valley. Those that went out beyond the marsh came back with news of a pawpaw grove that had not been there at the close of the monsoon. And though the sowing could begin again, there would be one fewer light when it came time for supper. A new place in the dark where a broken lamp hung from a broken beam swaying unheeded in the nightwind. 

Submitted: February 05, 2018

© Copyright 2021 Diogenes C.. All rights reserved.

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