the plantation worker's daughter
fiction by Hadiyyah Kuma
the plantation worker’s daughter
The sky is shrouded in clouds.
We are lying by the trench next to a cane field and my shoulders are tense. I have bruises on my back and knees, and it makes it hard to lie down, but I don’t tell you.
I want you to think I can never lose my balance and fall from fruit trees. Instead I say I’m hungry and that is why I am in pain, knowing neither of us have money to buy anything.
I turn my head and press it against the soft ground. My smile makes your chest rise, moves the lace on the front of your rose-coloured frock.
Your father is an alcoholic and that’s the first thing I liked about you. I know this because our fathers are coworkers. Once, your father sliced his hand on a cutlass and you bandaged it.
You might have tightened it more than you should; that is another thing I like about you. You are studying to be nurse.
It is starting to rain but neither of us motion to escape. The rain will get heavier. It will swell under our clothes and fill up our eyes and ears. It might flood the trench; it might make it move faster and louder.
We cannot speak.
You open your mouth; your body is a catch basin.
You, born out of a knot in a tree, spilled out into a damp world with no windows. Your parents are some kind of birds, but you are a human without wings, and that is why they cannot keep you. You go sleep under their wings and wake up somewhere else, with beings who look like you. Only black sky surrounds you, and there is nothing you can do about it.
You, eight years old on a school bus. Tells me with broken fingers that pain is the only way to feel success. Believes in karma, pulls a strand of my hair out and chews and swallows it. Looks out the window at the rolling hills. Arrives at a camp I don’t know the name of. Eats dinner and scrapes our dead skin down the drains. I see you naked. You bend to me. I take your fingers and run them under hot water.
You, eight years old depending on me. Winces and presses your face into my camp-branded purple and orange t-shirt. There is a graphic of a lake and that is where your mouth goes.
I am tying a knot onto a silver pole. I am the fastest and most skilled. I will win. My forehead breaks out in sweat and others are cheering my name. Just a sailor’s knot and I will be done.
A sailor’s knot. You would like to be a sailor, but you don’t know how. You think the water is your home, and that puzzles me because I don’t like liquids surrounding my body. You tease me for it because liquids are always going to be inside of you.
You are failing. Everyone is looking at you. The ropes you are supposed to tie are hanging limp inside of your palms.
Pain is the only way to feel success I whisper to you. Not knowing what it will do. And you start to cry because you can’t do anything else.
I take a walk with you in the grass and you stomp on the dandelions, kicking their fluff into the air, your cheeks streaked like dirty windows and eyes narrowed like a hunting bird. Whenever I feel scared of you, I wrestle you to the ground and lie of on top of you until you stop struggling.
You stop struggling but you won’t get up. I try to pull you to your feet but no. no. no. I can’t get you to say anything else. I turn my back for a moment. Only for a moment.
A moment is how long it takes for a hawk to fly in and grab you from the grass. Your spine cracks when it shakes you. A sound like crunching cereal, or at least that’s what I thought of. It flies away with you in its beak. For a moment your face is turned down to me, and I catch your laugh. A crisp sound, with barely any echo.
Me, at age nine. I turn that age alone. With hands in casts because I don’t want to hold anything. I don’t want to win. The weight is too much.
Me, at every other age after. I do not tie anything. Wearing shoes with no laces, no more braids. Hair just loose, flying and messy. No pain.
Me, older every day. You are sitting in the lake when my daughter spots you. Mummy, a swan!
I look down at my hands and remember your fingers. I let you fly away again. You’re looking much better these days.