Dry among Spraying Fountains

An Indo-Fijian Short Story

First of Three Parts

Prashil Kumar – 

An hour ago, Pal had lain in the middle of his sugarcane farm.

The stems of the sugarcane plants are a rough light brown.

Some rise straight up around three meters tall. Some shoot up to four.

The stems lose their height for a month or two when chopped but remain standing tall most year around.

A handful of light green, narrow, almost spear like leaves, pop out at various parts on the stem. Their lengthiness of around one and a half metres makes them eventually droop toward the earth.

A single stem and its leaves create the image of a playing water fountain where the stems represent the ornamental structure, while the leaves boast to be jets of cool water which sprays endlessly into the air.

The spray of green leaves inevitably clash and tangle with other leaves from nearby stems. It becomes almost impossible to determine which leaf belongs to which stem due to the plants being in proximity.

Such a scenario of sugar cane plants stretching for nearly three acres and numbering in thousands creates the image of an everlasting sea of fountains belonging to Pal.

*

An hour ago, Pal had lain in the middle of his sugarcane farm.

His head placed on a four metre square wooden platform, raised five metres by agile dried bamboo sticks and a little higher than the surrounding sea of fountains.

A rope ladder dangled slowly from one of the corners.

Pal’s arms were stretched wide open to either side of his shoulders while the back of his palm and fingers lightly touch the rough wooden planks.

The tropical Fijian sunshine had blared right into Pal’s eyes causing him to squint continuously. The dark contour lining under the lashes and above the cheekbones blend in quite fairly with the skin complexion of Pal. He had shut his eyes tightly and a couple of tears had rolled down his cheeks with much ease.

*

An hour ago, Pal had lain in the middle of his sugarcane farm on the wooden planks.

Pal had lain on the wooden planks for the first time when his father had succumbed to chronic rise of blood sugar. Ultimately his mother was left in sole charge of her five children and a sea of everlasting fountains to tend to for a living.

Pal being the eldest of his siblings at 14 years of age had no choice.

His school uniform and his stationery were carefully divided on to his other brothers and sisters. Pal with a torn heart wore his father’s oversized khaki and immersed himself completely into the sea of fountains.

As Pal would usually be required to bow down to gather the chopped stems up, his sweat would usually drip to the ground. From time to time his tears would fall with his sweat. Either way, the roots of the fountain would absorb them all in no time.

An expletive would occasionally slip from Pal’s cracked lips whilst working his cane knife separating the drooping leaves from the slender stems under the ruthless heat. The standing fountains did not mind Pal’s words. They were enabling Pal and his family to see the sun rise day after day despite the dusk which had set in Pal’s life preventing him to live his youth like the teenagers around him. The sea of fountains stood tall and proud.

*

An hour ago Pal had lain in the middle of his sugarcane farm on the wooden planks.  Pal had lain on the wooden planks the entire night after he had performed the final rites of his wife. It appeared as though the sea of fountains had surrounded Pal into its cosy lap like a mother offers her lap and hands to console a distressed weeping toddler. Pal’s legs were coiled as he lay sideways with his face on his right arm. Beneath the star lit sky, Pal sobbed.

Pal’s wife had spent entire nights tapping her head against the wall by her bed hoping to find some relief so she could rest for a moment or two.

But the pain was blatantly dark especially during the hours of dawn.

The public hospital had offered painkillers free of charge. But they failed to make a difference. Eventually, Pal and his wife decided that the painkillers were literally too tiny for such an enormous long-lasting pain.

Therefore, the unified decision was to consume pill after pill every half an hour until the pain departed. In the end, the high dose of painkillers did take the pain away. But they also took her breath away.

Pal’s sobbing mouth only uttered the to the sea of fountains from time to time.

But the fountains did not mind at all. They unconditionally stood by him all night listening to his vulgar. It did not matter to them if Pal was financially crippled to seek the recommended medical procedure for a proper diagnosis only because he had spent his life tending them in the scorching heat. The sea of fountains knew well that Pal was able to have two of his children by his side because they existed.  Therefore, they stood tall and proud.

If we notice, the line- “lain in the middle”- is written in every paragraph before that paragraph describes the one other similar time Pal had lain at the same spot, in pain and sorrow.  That particular line ‘an hour ago’ (present time), is connected with the ‘Pal had lain’ (past times). Instead of merely stating the occasions Pal had lain on the planks in the middle of his farm, the story reminds the reader that an hour ago, Pal had been where he used to be at painful times of his life such as the day when his father passed away and the day his daughter returned home.

*

Photo:

Prashil Kumar

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