The Cotton Picker of Uzbekistan

I watched the light dance between my fingers.
My hand held out stretched like a palm leaf.
The finger lines of shadow giving some relief to my nose and eyes.
It is almost the end of my fifteenth summer and the weight of my age hangs on my back.
It is not good to be fifteen here.

The midday sun beats down on our shoulder blades.
The smell of sweat would be overpowering if we were not used to it.
My lips, like the mud beneath my feet, cracked, dry and broken.
I stop for a moment.
Walking through the plants towards the place I know a little relief may come. 

The water is still and stagnant.
The colour of mud.
I reach down, cup my hands into the luke-warm slush and try to fetch enough water to make a difference.
I close my eyes as I lap at the dirt in my hands.
The sound of croaks fills my ears.
I share this small relief with the frogs and snakes, they have become my friends in these last few weeks.
The only ones I can trust. 

I think of my mother.
She tried to prepare me.
But what can you say to a girl of fourteen who thinks the sun revolves around her whims.
I do not think that anymore.
There have been many slaves.
But there is little comfort in that. 

I open my eyes and the sun streams burning my pupils till all I see is bright white and I have to squint as I make my way back to my patch.
Luckily no one has taken it. 

I start again.
Picking at the small white clouds, barely big enough to fill my small hand.
Their softness fills my palm.
They are beautiful, even now, even after all this, they are still somehow beautiful.

I quickly begin my work.

The quota hangs over me like a mountain in the distance. 

I know I will never get there.

Join More articles