Age: 15, Grade: 10
School Name: Horace Mann School, Bronx, NY
Educator: REBECCA BAHR
Morning Duties, Bathing Water and Monsoon
She ripped open a milk packet
And a frothing white stream ruptured into the steel bowl
Into a glassy curved current:
Printed in red uppercased letters onto the plastic.
What would it be to lap up that unbottled milk
Like the kittens that lazily hung over the green gate?
I pondered this as I lapped at my own chocolate malt milk
Dark capped legs swinging over the front steps
Watching my own grandmother feed the stray kittens
That mewed at the gate so early in the morning.
I was on the lookout for the vegetable lady
To unlatch the gate as she balanced her basket on her swaying thick hips.
The fumbling of the latch was my cue to run to grandmother
My slippers squelching through the courtyard over the dark static puddles where mosquitoes lay their eggs
Tugging at her cotton saree to look at the eggplants and tomatoes
But instead, I eyed the schoolgirls with red ribboned braids
Through the sliver of the green gate
Line up to catch starry white jasmine in their navy skirts.
Every morning, the music teacher would open her gate to let them pick at her crawling jasmine vine
So that their mothers could offer them at God’s altar
As they clasped their hands and silently mouthed their prayers.
The girls would chant together:
“Who taught this branch to
Blossom rows of flowers,
Leaf onto leaf,
Before the sun rises
To be offered before God?”
Their long, coconut oiled braids swished like pendulums keeping the time to their tune
As they flocked around the plant like restless hummingbirds.
By now, I had drained my steel glass of chocolate milk
Dwelling on its lingering sour-breathed taste.
The drone of grandmother’s prayers from within the dark-bellied recess of her bedroom
Resumed by the religious tread of her footsteps into the kitchen to clean the gas stove.
Coagulated shards of light just managed to scrape against the tips of roofs
But had not yet bled down their whitewashed sides
To gild grandmother’s roses in lemon light.
Quietly the mothers drew the water from their wells and heated the buffalo’s milk
Their daughters braided jasmine into their hair
And the worshippers trekked up to the mosque muttering their salutations to God
As the morning call to prayer warbled through the alleyways
Stirring the goats to bleat in response.
It was a Sunday, which meant only one thing:
It was hair washing day.
The plash and gurgle of the water buckets being drawn at the well should have signaled Me to further dig myself into the blankets for protection.
But it was useless
For my grandmother dug through the sheets,
Taking her giant arms and scooped me up like a ball of dough
And filling the pink plastic washing bin with water from the copper pot.
The bubbles gargled gently at the corners
Foaming into a soapy barricade.
Grandmother tied her sari back revealing a cross-section of her soft belly
And promptly plopped me into the icy water
Suffocating me with soap and hushed my squeals with splashes of water.
I parted the clotted foam to find the glassy surface of the water it rested on
And my toes which were the color of floating caramels.
She hummed a haunting tune:
“One day I’ll die.
So when I do
Pretend that I have become the ripples in your bathwater.”
I sat like an edifice in the middle of the tub
Each vertebral disk protruding out of my skin
Into a stacked column
Grandmother poured water into streams on my head like the gold statues she worshipped
She loved me more than the deities she sang to
And offered milk and honey to.
The damp scent of the air told my grandmother that rain was coming
So we quickly run to the roof to gather the laundry in bundles.
We sit in silence waiting for the first drops to breakthrough.
I lean against the skin of my grandmother.
Eternally soft and cold like the six copper glasses of water she drinks per day.
First, the wind came
Whistling a lost tune through the palms
Who bent their arms towards the red and purple clouds
Beckoning the water to come.
Now the silent rain merely splotches the swelling scarlet dust
Spraying the barren fields with weak mist.
The hushed patter of the rain cleanses the scorching, infertile earth
My grandmother pats my back following the lazy rhythm of droplets.
Now trailing behind the rain, a veil
Of sweeping thick fog
Hovers soundlessly over the suffocated land
Liberated from its murky cage.
The wail of rain resonates across the ink bruised sky
Heavy droplets, thudding against the dust.
Making way for the thunder to ferociously bleat with vigor.
Applauding the rain’s mastery, churning the earth into a fine red paste.
The blacked sky parts
Welcoming a silken skirt of sunlight
To penetrate through the soft swells of white clouds
My grandmother whispers a silent prayer for the water.