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Alba Iulia
Friday, October 2, 2020

The long wait for the rain

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On humid afternoons in the month of May we would sit around the porch waving fans made of dry coconut leaves. The movement not only stirred the air to cool us, but also drove away the flies.

I would always look at the ferns in the terra cotta pots, waiting for the slightest hint of wind. But the plants always seemed to join us in our wait. The summer months have been long and hard. We were ready for the monsoon rains.

Then my grandmother would suddenly sit upright, and suck in the air, producing a whistle so soft yet so sharp it seemed to slice through the stillness of the afternoon.

‘Come rain, come,’ she would chant in our native dialect. Then she would settle back in her rocking chair and close her eyes, her dark hair damp on her forehead, her house dress clinging to her bony thighs. To me she seemed a fairy, who had summoned the winds and who would unleash them to bring rain and respite to our village.

A light breeze would always follow, sometimes soon after, other times a day later. The ferns in the terra cotta pots would seem to come alive, swaying to the wind. With the first drops of rain, you could almost hear a chorus of sighs from plants, animals and humans.

A light drizzle would bring us relief, but torrential rains brought mixed reactions—shanty dwellers would fear for the safety of their homes, while the middle class in their bungalows would get busy with indoor activities.

Sometimes it would rain for days, bringing in the floods. My father would gather all the children from our street and bring us to the deep end of the floodwater. We would race our rubber slippers or the bougainvillea flowers we secretly picked from the neighbourhood elderly’s garden.

Our May-time frolic always increased our mother’s nagging at home. Even her househelper would complain incessantly over the amount of washing we brought into the house. But my father would only wink at us, teasing the women until the nagging turned to laughter. Nowadays it’s hard to find men like my father who are passionate about the rain.

In 1991 raging waters claimed lives in a small farming village in the countryside. The mountains, stripped of trees from illegal logging, have failed to absorb the rainwater. The deluge wiped out the entire village, including a school full of children.

And so just as we waited long for the coming of the rain we would soon tire of it. When the rain stopped long enough for the street to try, we would head out with our chalk and draw a big smiling sun on the ground to make the rain go away.

I have since left that land where old women could call out for the rain. My new country is dry. From my kitchen window I could see the dust that settles on the ground. The soil in my garden is cracked, the plants yellow and wilted.

Yesterday I opened the kitchen door and suck in the air, soft and sharp, producing a whistle that sliced through the stillness of the afternoon.

‘Come rain, come,’ I say in my second language.

I wait and wait, but the rain wouldn’t come.

Editor’s note:  The piece won 1st place in the adult category in the City West Water National Water Week Writing Competition in 2007.

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