WITHOUT RAIN • by Omenka Helen Uchendu

The sun hides behind big clouds. The air is thick and loamy and we think it’s going to rain. The ground sinks and sand pours into our holey shoes and my younger sisters and me, we cry.

“Hush up NOW,” Ma says. She has taken us to a special place, the place where Ma told Aunty Zahra over the phone that she was going to “escape de madness” at home, the place where she’d said yes to Pa and left her dancing dreams for reality so long ago.

“Fawn! Take yo sista’s han’!” Roshawna falls towards me under the momentum of Ma’s shove and I grab her hand. She pulls along Odessa, who sucks her thumb. And little Gelisa lies asleep in Ma’s arms like a rotten sack of potatoes.

The road is beautiful, but it is long. Tall green fronds wave from thin brown heights, but there is almost no breeze, so I wonder how they can do that. I imagine us through the eyes of people in their air-conditioned cars: a tall brown woman (skin so smooth despite her fat husband and the troubled years and her headaches) and her thin, beautiful children, all walking straight with Taino pride.

“Come ON!” yells Ma, who rakes her wild hair and struts faster and faster. She is almost running, and the three of us have to pump our linked arms and kick our knobby knees to keep up with her. She is a livid sandstorm in front of us, a fury in torn stockings and a faded jean skirt. When finally we stop, we are exhausted.

“Here,” she quips, putting Gelisa down, ignoring the desperate pants of our eight, six, five, and two-year-old lungs. “Stay here.” A hot wind brushes our wooly black heads and runs searing fingers through our threadbare cotton casuals. She looks us over from me, the oldest, to Roshawna and Odessa and Gelisa. Ma’s eyebrow is terrible; it is raised and it trembles and below, her chapped lips are pursed. Ma winces — I think she bit her tongue — and she sucks her cheeks. Somewhere, a frog croaks loudly.

And she leaves us.

“Here” is a babbling fountain of muddy water rushing down weathered concrete slabs surrounded by red leaves and thin leaves and tall trees and green foliage that tickle us as we splash about in the water impatiently. Our yellowed white socks brown quickly and the deserted air fills with the rare laughter of the Redwood children.

An hour passes. We crane our necks in the direction that Ma walked away and continue to wait. But Gelisa is young and delicate and she cries. I understand; we were hungry before we left our small, dirty room, but Ma had shushed us so we’d ignored the familiar emptiness. I’m the big sister, so I bend to comfort her. Soon Roshawn and Odessa start bawling, and I can’t help joining them. We cry, unleashing salty torrents of emotion. And still Ma is nowhere to be seen.

Then, it begins to happen.

At first I don’t notice the magic because all of us are shrinking and we are so tired and dirty that the widening horizon and dwindle of our footprints on the soil don’t matter. But soon, my neck is thick. I turn and the motion requires my cheeks, which have ballooned sideways past redemption, and my flat shoulders, which now poke forwards where my nipples used to be. Mutinous black pebbles scale my slimy tan hide and I tingle with billions of itches, which, unfortunately, my webbed digits lack the fingernails to scratch. My back peels at the malevolent heat and I motion to my sisters to hide in the shade.

One day, when Pa had a job, he told us a story at dinnertime about little brown frogs that croaked too much. “Poor tings — dey’s pickin who bin left by dey madda.” And we’d giggled and thrown trusting grins at Ma who smiled thinly.

Now, the sky is wider than we’ve ever seen it, and the sky is so blue as to swallow us whole. The sun is white and ruthless and we wish that it would rain. The ground has dried and dust billows into our tiny nostrils and all of us, four girls, our only response is to croak. Because despite our new bodies, we still think of ourselves as such: four girls; Jamaicans. We are hungry. The croaking bloats apart the pasty emptiness in our stomachs and now all we have is each other. I’m still the big sister. And I wonder, as do we all, where she went to.

Omenka Helen Uchendu is a freshman at Emory University pursuing a Creative Writing and Biology double-major. She plans to attend medical school and become an obstetrician. Writing, however, has always been her first passion and she wants to share her literary creations with as many people as possible! God Bless!

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