Spotlight

Pipe Dream

by Carol Sammy

My mother came rushing into the house, more worked up and flustered than usual. I looked up, waiting for any news.

‘The water truck coming,’ she announced breathlessly. ‘Hurry. If we don’t get to them, they might pass straight.’

My book fell to the floor. Harry Potter would have to wait. I ran ahead of her, in case she didn’t get there fast enough, like the last time. Our dingy little street, with all its potholes, joined the main road hundreds of yards away, but I sprinted like a gazelle. Making it in record time, I stood waiting exultantly for the truck to get to me.

It seemed as if the truck wasn’t going to stop. Waving my arms madly above my head, I stepped out into the road in front of it. The workers on the truck all looked annoyed, and one of the men said sharply, ‘What happen to you, boy? You trying to get killed?’

‘We don’t have no water!’ I answered shrilly. ‘Not one drop. My mother said you have to come into our street this time. Is our turn.’

Another one sucked his teeth loudly. ‘Tell your mother...’ he began, and then saw her arriving behind me.

‘Lady, what you been telling your son?’ he called out to her, and his tone was suddenly half joking. But my mother wasn’t amused; she was panting, her hand pressed to her side. She mustered her strength, and her voice came out strong as always. Other people bowed and scraped, but not her.

‘Three weeks,’ she told him accusingly, ‘three weeks this time. Not a drop of water in my pipe. My tank and them dry right down. We can’t cook, wash, bathe or anything. This poor boy have to go to school and sometimes I have to keep him home because of this. Last week this truck pass right here, and all-you only give water to those people you feel like giving. Like all-you don’t have one ounce of mercy. Fair is fair, not so? Fair is fair. I need to get some water in my tank today.’

The men had set their faces before she finished speaking, and I saw they were going to make her pay for her outspokenness. The driver put the truck into gear.

‘This street not on our list today,’ he stated coldly. His face, already bloated, became more puffed up. He glanced across at her in contempt, and his eyes caught mine. I stared at him, trying my best to look timid. My mother shouldn’t have to endure this again. Harassment would kill her, and soon.

‘We need some water so bad,’ I told him, looking straight into his eyes. ‘Please,’ I begged.

He had the grace to look away.

‘It have other people with more urgent cases,’ he replied, beginning to move forward. ‘If we have any left when we finish with them, we go pass back.’

They drove off without looking at us again. My mother and I started walking back home. We did not hurry, despite the heat and the blazing sun.

It was the dry season, with weeks on end of no rain. By habit, the water company had turned off the supply of water in the taps, and – as was also their custom - had done so without warning. We hadn’t had water coming out of our taps for days.

Instead, we had relied on our tanks. We had five of them around the house. My father had managed to install them over the course of recent years. It was an impressive accomplishment. Many other people in the village, with bigger houses, had less. It didn’t matter that our tanks were the smaller kind; father had done a good job. The tanks made me proud of him.

But despite every effort, the tanks eventually ran dry. And that’s when misery began. Water trucks were sent to the rescue, but the procedure they operated by only added injustice to our pain.

In the near distance was my house, a small square wooden thing barricaded by the black water tanks. Looking at them fondly, I thought of the man who put them there. My mother must have been doing something similar, because all at once she said:

‘I won’t have food to give that man this evening. He better be in a good mood, yes. I can’t cook without water, unless he want me to do magic.’

Sudden concern gripped me. I wondered how worried she was, sensing the need to be on my guard. We both understood that my father worked long, hard hours. He was gone from very early and came back late. Came back tired, dirty and hungry. Hungry and irritable. Very irritable.

My mother hated the bad temper he displayed when his need to bathe and eat was thwarted, and she disliked it even more when, in his frustration, he was tempted to accuse us of wasting the water. But she told me she understood how he felt. Any man would feel the same, she said. Life was tough for him; he just needed to realize it wasn’t easy for her, either.

‘Maybe that’s why he put in the water tanks,’ I reminded her gently, trying to be comforting.

My grandmother lived half a mile away, on the other side of the village. She had a nice house with a nice bathroom. Although she had her share of water problems, her situation was never as bad as ours. It was where I went, however reluctantly, to have a shower whenever it couldn’t be helped. Today, again, I had no choice but to go.

I left my mother talking to our closest neighbour. This was a younger woman with a small child, frequently left on her own by the child’s father. My mother habitually showed her kindness. She was explaining to my mother that the baby wasn’t well.

My feet moved swiftly, but not because I particularly wanted to see my grandmother. In fact, dread filled me at the thought of all that she was going to say, what she would force me to listen to. It would be the price I had to pay for feeling clean that day.

A London Building by Leika Boundy
I couldn’t help reflecting that Harry Potter, who had a range of difficulties to contend with, never had to face this kind. His courage was used on different matters. Maybe a magic wand could zap some water into our tank, I thought with an involuntary grin.

The Harry Potter books were expensive in Trinidad, but I loved them. My mother and I had gone shopping, and she had bought a cheaper pair of shoes for herself so that she could get me the one I was now reading. She had insisted although I tried to stop her.

Nearer to my destination, the scenery changed perceptibly. This was the better part of our village, and it looked as if there was more happiness here, too. I came upon a house with a pipe stand in front of it, where three boys around my age were bathing. They all wore shorts, and were covered in soap. They were playing around, slapping one another and exchanging insults. In the middle stood the pipe, its tap open. Water flowed out joyfully, and I watched it, mesmerized. How the liquid gleamed in the bright sunshine!

What the boys were saying to each other gave me a smile as I walked on.

‘Scrub hard, boy. Wash some of that muck off you.’

‘By tomorrow you go be stinking again.’

‘Shut your trap!’

‘Use an extra dose of your mammy perfume.’

‘Even with perfume he does still smell bad.’

My grandmother must have been feeling lonely, because she seemed pleased to see me. She offered me something to eat and drink. I wisely refused. She kept up the pleasantries for some time, and then hit me with a change of subject. It was swift and ruthless.

‘Your father went to work this week? He give your mother any money? I suppose he behaving like a beast, as usual. Your mother don’t tell me a single thing. How she feeling these days? She worried about anything?’

‘Only about water. She does get stressed out about it.’

‘Well, what she expect. When you end up with somebody like your father, is only downhill you will go. By this time he should have her in a nice house in some good area. Instead, look at where she is.’

‘Nanny, I could borrow a towel? Ma tell me to hurry up.’

I might as well not have spoken.

‘When I think what your mother could have been! But, so it is, when children willful and harden. She learning her lesson now.’

Nanny’s living room was well-appointed. She had good stuff, including cable TV, air conditioning and internet service. Other villagers were just as fortunate, and they excited the envy of others. But one circumstance threw us all into the same stranded boat and acted as an equalizer. When we were deprived of our water supply, we all suffered.

Later than intended, I turned into my street. And the water truck was standing near my house! The men had really come back. The thought of at least one full tank filled me with happiness. I pulled up beside by mother, and stared without comprehension at the three buckets around her feet.

‘This is all that was left,’ the man told us without regret. ‘You lucky to get even that.’

My mother and I looked at each other, and lines were etched in her face.

‘At least I’ll get to cook something for your father,’ she said weakly.

But it wasn’t to be. The baby’s mother from next door came hurrying out. She looked aghast.

‘They gone already? Oh my God, why these people so wicked? That child burning up with fever. I need water to mix up his milk and sponge him down and thing. What going to happen now?’

My mother gave her two of the buckets. I took the other one inside and we waited for my father to come home. It was difficult to say if she was nervous, but I began to feel the adrenalin flowing through my veins, a tension stiffening the muscles of my body. At fourteen you were old enough to stand up to your father to protect your mother, and while I prayed nothing would happen, my mind was made up.

He came in and she told him what happened. He was quiet for a good while.

‘So, is bread again,’ he uttered irascibly. My mother put her head in her hand.

I waited, my breath choking me. Was he going to throw blame around? He started to. He sighed and his nostrils flared.

‘I don’t know how many times I tell you and this boy to save on the water. Is not as if you don’t know.’

Very slowly my mother straightened up.

‘Really?’ she asked, and I looked up at her tone. Every nuance of her voice was familiar to me, and something was about to happen. She went and picked up one of her iron pots, came back and slammed it down in front of him.

‘Go and get your own blasted water, and cook your own blasted food,’ she told him, and sat back down again.

‘I done,’ she stated, ‘I can’t take anymore.’

My father’s mouth fell open, but he closed it again. Still I waited, poised for action. How was he going to react?

He stood up, and put his hand on her shoulder.

‘This water problem is enough to kill anybody,’ he said.

That evening was the first time in over a year the taste of KFC reached my wistful palate, and it was better than ever. My father also brought back lots of drinks and bottled water, and I relished the sight of them all.

Late into the night he worked. He had gone to the villager with the pipe I had watched that day, and got permission to use it. He fetched the water with two large cans, sometimes balancing one on his head. Making about twenty trips non-stop, it took him approximately three hours to complete the job. I knew because I stayed awake, listening for each time he returned.

He had told me to go to bed and get a good night’s sleep. I thought one out of two was good enough.
The next morning we had a full tank of water.


-

About the author

Carol Sammy was born and raised in Trinidad. She attended college in England and resided there for many years. She has worked with special needs children in both countries, and is the co-founder of the St John Bosco Academy, a small special needs school in Trinidad. Carol has been writing as a hobby since childhood, penning her first novel at sixteen. Upon her return to Trinidad, she was inspired to write Dilemmas of Deokie, which was published in the Heinemann Caribbean Writers Series. She returned to the UK in 2009, and has been involved in promoting her book, while working on other ventures. She lives with her husband and daughter near Wembley, London.

About the illustrator

Leika Boundy is eight years old and lives in London with her sister who is six years old and her mum and dad. Her mother is from Japan and her dad from England. At school, she is in Year 4 and loves art, craft and design, and running. She speaks fluent Japanese too! Her aspiration is to be an Olympic athlete.


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About Anansesem

Anansesem is an online magazine of Caribbean children's and young adult literature by adults and children. We strive to bring you the best in news, reviews and creative content from the world of Caribbean children's publishing.
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9 comments:

  1. Somehow this story touched me...I guess because I can totally relate to it. We have the same issue with lack of water in some parts of Jamaica, especially the rural areas. In the area where my family lives, there has been no water for over 3 years. Water trucks hardly passed through so they had to built some reservoir that would collect the water when it rains and buy water from the town. Lol @ 'Maybe a magic wand could zap some water into our tank'. The ending was really nice. Good job, Carol Sammy! Leika Boundy's 'A London Building' is really cute:)

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  2. AnonymousJune 01, 2013

    Great job as usual my friend!! This story is right on point, full of the emotions, pride, determination and decisions still faced by many today.... keep the writing strong and true.... loved the artwork too, congrats to the young artist.
    Saroja.

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  3. Wonderful glimpse into the culture of Trinidad, and I guess, other Caribbean islands. Filled with realism and passion! A soothing read, my friend. Keep on writing ...and as always .... looking forward to more!

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  4. AnonymousJune 02, 2013

    A breakdown of serious matters, cleverly written by the author with a finish that touches your soul!! I really enjoyed the insightfulness of the young Boy in this story. There were many gripping moments of tension and I couldnt stop till I got to the end! I love the way it ends, it gives you hope and faith that even the impossbile person can change under practical circumstances to display a good side to them. It is interesting, quick paced and a wonderful read. I see that the title is appropriate and befitting. Hope you have more?

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  5. AnonymousJune 02, 2013

    I'm so happy to discover Carol Sammy's work in these pages.
    Anonymous (above) nearly said it all, and I totally agree. It has a very strong pull.
    I liked the boy's point of view, being both participant and observer. It interested me that being waterless didn't stress him directly. It was the way other people flipped out that affected him. That's so kid-like, and yet his observations are keen.
    I'll just add that the ways in which different characters responded to each event forms a beautifully nuanced kaleidoscope of emotions and actions.
    Love the illustration too.

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  6. AnonymousJune 06, 2013

    A great job! It's a pleasure to read your work. Talent by the bucket load!

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  7. We also have a water tank in Aus so I can relate to that. We also grew up in a home with stress and the anger over lights apparently left on was hard enough... Imagine over a water shortage! Thx for your story!

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  8. AnonymousJuly 06, 2013

    I love this story!!

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  9. A wonderful story that exudes the heat and colour of the Caribbean. A story that begs to reveal more in the form of a book. Over to you, Carol:)

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