Going out to dinner on a Saturday night really was a terrible idea- it’s been an hour, and we still haven’t received any of our food. I’ve drunk all my lemonade to give me something to do while waiting for a waiter to finally visit our table. I suck hopefully on the straw one last time, hearing it whistle uselessly against half-melted ice cubes and drops of diluted lemonade. I set it aside, irritated.
I can tell that Ian is getting antsy from the long wait as well; he bounces agitatedly on the greasy leather seats of our booth and keeps glancing at the empty breadstick basket, as if more food might have materialized underneath the stained, cloth napkin.
I watch with envy as the table next to ours receives a plate of lasagna, the waiters taking their time to saunter away. I feel a flash of envy and irritation. Why couldn’t that have been us? I’m starving- I don’t know if I’m going to make it.
I’m starving- I don’t know if I’m going to make it. I can tell all five of my siblings are feeling the same way: I can see the hollow light shining in their eyes, and I cringe away from the sight of their bony frames, skin barely hanging on, just like the rags they wear. All seven of us, with Manman included, are packed into our mud hut, fighting hunger pangs and trying to remain cool under the hot sun. The palm fronds and grass that serve as our roof do nothing to block out the heat.
We are thirsty, too; we have had nothing to eat or drink for the past few days. Manman knows that we are getting desperate. The last meal her children had was a mysterious substance that Emile was able to fish out of the garbage that was mounting in drifts in the city miles away. Guerline ate the most: she was the youngest, after all, and her stomach the hardest to fill.
The next day, Guerline was pale, and her skin feverish. She lay down on the dirt floor and has not yet gotten back up.
Manman hands us each a handful of mud mixed with salt with pain and sorrow raw in her eyes. We eat it in silence. It will create the illusion of a full stomach.
With my hunger taken care of for now, my thoughts turn to water. I am getting thirsty.
I am getting thirsty; drinking all my lemonade at once was not a smart idea. I pop an ice cube into my mouth and suck on it to try to quench my thirst, allowing the cold to chill my mouth and make my teeth tingle. I grind it between my back teeth and my thirst is quenched for the time being.
I am about to stop a waitress passing our table and ask her for a refill, but she quickens her pace as soon as she nears our booth and disappears into the kitchen. I slump back, annoyed, and crunch on another ice cube. What do I have to do to get a drink around here?
I know what I have to do to get a drink around here. It’s not easy, though- water means a four-mile walk, eight miles round trip. Water means carrying a water jug through the blazing sun, tongue getting drier with each step you take.
But water also means life. My little siblings’ faces peer up at me with wide eyes set in sunken, hollow faces, and I can see the question shining in their dark depths: Will we make it? Will we survive another day?
And I know that without water, the answer will be no.
I look at my legs, bony and lacking in muscle, and my feet, bare and toughened, and will them to make the journey. I grab my water jug and start off into the blazing heat hoping that when I return, I will have water.
The waitress finally returns with a glass of water for Ian, and asks me if I would like one, too. I reply with ‘yes’, trying to keep the bite out of my tone and failing magnificently. She apologizes for the wait just before leaving, promises us another basket of breadsticks soon, and walks away with the empty glass rattling in her hand.
My mother and father glance at each other wearily, each one clearly thinking, “Really?” I can’t help but agree with them. At this rate, I will fall asleep in my food. I’m getting tired, and I don’t know if I’m going to make it through the evening.
I’m getting tired, and I don’t know if I’m going to make it through the evening. The sun has sunk beneath the horizon, and the stars are now beginning to peak out from the inky canvas of night sky. Stones are biting into the soles of my feet and, without the light of the sun to guide me, I’m beginning to falter.
My tongue feels like sand paper, and my head is stuffed with cotton. I feel sick, and despite the pain and weakness, one thought cuts through the static:
My brothers and sisters feel the same exact way. They will die without me.
I get up and push myself farther, and I see it; a pond filled with silty water. I dunk my jug in and take an enormous swallow, and I know that all isn’t lost.
I fill the jug to the brim and start the journey home. A walk of four miles in the dark now seems worth it.
Our food finally comes, and the wait of an hour finally seems worth it. I stuff myself silly, eating so much I thought my stomach would burst. When the waiter drops the bill off at our table, he asks if we want a box to save all the extra food we ordered.
“No,” my father replies.
We make our way home, and I am beginning to feel sick. My dad tells me not worry. I just ate too much, he says. I will feel better in the morning.
I think longingly of the medicine in the bathroom cupboard, so far away from our tiny car on the highway.
I think longingly of the clinic 30 miles away, so far away from our tiny little mud hut in the middle of nowhere. Guerline seems to have only gotten worse since I arrived home with the water, and her skin is like fire. She moans on the dirt floor, writhing in a fitful sleep.
I knew that water was potentially dangerous to drink, but the only way to make it safe would be to boil it, and charcoal is hard to come by. We had no other choice. I never dreamed that it would make Guerline’s sickness worse. My mind wanders once more to the thought of medical help, medicine, the clinic, and I feel like crying when I remember that it is so far away. Instead, I stroke her brow and whisper to her, “Just make it through the night,”. Let us see the sun rise again in the morning.
I wake to see the sun rising again in the morning, it’s curious beams peeking through my window in narrow shafts. I roll over, content to sleep for another hour. My blankets seem to embrace me, and I can feel my lids slipping shut again before my stomach growls. Realizing I am starving again, I make my way toward the scent of breakfast.
I wake up the next morning to sunlight spilling through the gaps in our thatched roof. I turn to see Guerline groan from her place on the dirt floor. I press a hand to her forehead and feel that her temperature has gone down by a few degrees. Realizing I am starving again, I mix some salt into a handful of mud, knowing it will create an illusion of a full belly.
I step outside and look at the full orange sun, cresting over the horizon. We made it to another day.