The Drought: A Poem

The Drought: A Poem        

by Denis Kabi

The ground was cracking

into slabs of hexagonal dried clay,

their edges curling skywards

like hands lifted in prayer,

praying for rain.

A water reservoir once existed here

and many people flocked to fetch water from it

for their own use;

and their herds too depended on it

to quench their thirst.

But then came the drought,

and the reservoir was no more.

No rain had fallen for a long while now,

and no one could even recall what year

the last rains had fallen.

Children under five probably didn’t know what rain was,

for they’d never seen droplets of water

falling continuously from the clouds,

and creating rivulets on the ground

which streamed  into the reservoir,

filling it to its brim.

Whenever the reservoir was full,

there was joy amongst the people.

Singing could be heard

as the community prepared the fields

for planting season.

Singing could be heard

as the community weeded the fields.

Singing could be heard

as the community eventually harvested the crop.

Everyone would have enough to eat,

and every other night the youth would be outdoors

merrymaking, celebrating this or that occasion.

Even minor occasions like birthdays

wouldn’t be allowed to pass without a feast.

In times of plenty, every day is a celebration.

A goat or two would be slaughtered on such an occasion,

and there would be plenty of meat

to be roasted or boiled or fried;

and plenty of other foods and drinks

to accompany the meat.

Drumbeats would rend the air

and dancing fêtes  would drag well into the night.

Large herds allowed for dowry

to be paid promptly and generously;

and many marriage ceremonies took place

during such times of plenty.

On every face there would be a ready smile,

and all eyes gleamed with something good

– happiness, hope, contentment, certainty.

Adversity would be the last thought in anybody’s mind.

But it’s always there,

lurking in the shadows,

looming in the horizon,

zooming in on the carefree merrymakers.

It creeps in so slowly that no one realizes

that it is there,

until the ground starts to crack

into a million slabs of dried clay.

The slabs of dried clay cracked and disintegrated into bits

when the bare feet of an emaciated drained man

walked over them.

The sun was high and blazing

and he was extremely thirsty.

He needed to find water to drink fast,

and if he didn’t find any,

he’d collapse and give up the ghost.

He felt so weak that his will to live

was the only thing that sustained him.

His tongue clang to the roof of his mouth

and his eyes were so dry

that blinking couldn’t wet them.

Perhaps only a hose could.

As he walked,

he scanned the cracked ground for any signs of mud,

for he reasoned that there could be water

underneath any muddy patch of arid ground.

He was lucky,

because he soon spotted such a muddy patch

amongst the slabs of cracked earth,

and knelt beside it.

With his bare hands he began to dig

and he scooped large mounds of wet earth,

and dumped them on the edges

of the one-foot deep,  one-foot wide hole

that he’d excavated.

At two feet deep, he groaned with frustration

and stopped digging.

There was no water in there.

Just mud.

Damned wretched mud.

If the muddy hole was six-feet deep

and six-by-three feet in length and width,

it would have made a cool place to rest for a long time,

he thought while gazing at it resentfully.

What if he scooped a mound of mud

and wrung it like a drenched cloth, he thought.

Perhaps water would come out of it.

He swiftly scooped a large mound of earth

with both his hands,

raised it over his open mouth,

and wrung it like a drenched cloth,

expecting cool water to trickle into his mouth.

No water came out of the mud;

not even a single drop.

He flung the mound away and cursed it bitterly

and then stood up.

He was panting and seething with anger and frustration

as his eyes scanned the deserted arid vicinity

for any signs of the presence of water.

Just beyond the curve of the sandy horizon

he spotted a white object

which had a tall upright plank

and a slightly shorter horizontal plank

fitted across it.

It looked like a cross,

similar to the ones found at Christian houses of worship.

The white cross glowed in the sun like a star

and he was so intrigued by it

that he started to walk slowly towards it,

his bare feet dragging over the cracked ground.

After an hour of walking,

he still hadn’t gotten to it

and he started to think that the white object was a mirage,

similar to the illusory pool of water

usually seen glittering in the distance

on a sunny day.

But the cross’s potent glowing light drew him to it.

Another hour passed as he walked

towards the intriguing white object in the distance,

and as he walked, he grew thirstier.

The sun was blazing with fury

and there was not a tree in sight

or a house in which he could take shelter under.

He considered turning around

and going back the way he’d come,

but when he peeked over his shoulder

he saw a long trail of his footprints

stretching out over the dry expansive bare ground.

There was nothing back there

to go back to, he thought.

Nothing but sure death.

So he looked ahead and kept his eyes fixed on the cross,

and even though he grew thirstier with each step,

he kept walking towards it.

The heat was so intense

that he imagined that if he looked up to the sky,

he would see a thousand suns shining up there like stars.

He came across a withered thorn bush

which had recently fallen to the ground

and scattered its dead branches.

When he took his eyes from the cross to look at it,

he felt a sharp pain sting his heel,

and he had to stop to crouch and examine his heel.

A long thick nasty-looking white thorn was embedded

deep into the flesh of his heel.

He grimaced and writhed at it.

Muttering something under his breath,

he held the stem of the thorn between his fingers

and yanked it out.

A globule of ruddy blood rose to the surface

of the perforated area of the heel

and he released a sibilant hiss through his front teeth

as a sharp pain shot up his leg.

He flung the thorn away

and pressed the tip of his thumb

on the perforated area of his heel

until he felt sure the blood had clotted.

There was a blotch of red on his heel

when he pulled his thumb away,

and as soon as he put his foot down to walk,

the sharp pain again shot up his leg.

He grunted and seethed in ire.

But when he looked up to the horizon

and saw the gleaming white cross,

he temporarily forgot his pain

and instantly resumed his long walk towards it.

With each step he took towards the cross,

the wound on his heel inflicted by the thorn,

kept nagging him with sharp pain.

The wound on his heel kept reminding him

of the adversity he’d left behind.

The pain reminded him of the prolonged drought

that had refused to cease.

The blood he’d seen on his heel reminded him

of the folks and flocks that had perished

due to lack of water.

In spite of all these sad memories,

he pressed on towards the cross,

his eyes fixed on its potent light.

There were rotting odorous carcasses

and sun-bleached pale bones

of beasts that had perished,

scattered over the landscape

and sometimes blocking his path.

He didn’t look at them,

but simply walked around them.

He tried to ignore the stench.

On his periphery vision he could see

vultures clustered around a fresh carcass,

tearing chunks of meat from it

with their hooked beaks,

before greedily swallowing the chunks.

He felt sure that the vultures were appraising him,

asking themselves if his meat was any good

since he was so thin.

From the devilish gleam in the vultures’ eyes,

and their deathly cackles,

they were praying for his fall,

for he must’ve seemed moribund

in their jaundiced eyes.

Vultures relish taunting a troubled soul.

Despite sensing with his five senses

the close presence of death,

he pressed on towards the cross,

his eyes fixed on its potent light.

He could feel their eyes,

the wicked eyes of the vultures,

piercing his bare back

as he strode across the vast cracked dry ground.

The cracked ground was gradually replaced

by acres and acres of sun-bleached pale sand.

With each step he grimaced and grunted

because the sand was superheated

and it seared the soles of his bare feet.

Then the sand became less dense

and his legs began to sink into it

up to his knees.

Each step he took now

required great amounts of strength

for him to keep pulling each leg out of the loose sand.

His thirst was now as intense as the heat

of the sweltering sun above him.

When he was ready to give up and collapse,

he saw a well

and a man in white shining clothes

sitting beside the well.

The man was glowing with the same light

that the cross had glowed with.

‘Sir, I’ve come a long way and I’m thirsty,’

said the thirsty man.

‘Please, Sir, allow me to fetch some water from your well

and I’ll drink it and not die from thirst.’

The man in glowing white clothes said:

‘Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again,

but whoever drinks the water that I will give him

will never be thirsty again.

The water that I will give him will become in him a spring

which will provide him with life-giving water

and give him eternal life.’

‘Sir,’ the thirsty man said, ‘give me that water!

Then I will never be thirsty again,

nor will I have to come here to draw water.’

© Denis Kabi, 2011


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