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Sunday, April 17, 2011


Java, 1976
Mud on Your Sandals
Anna walked along the hard dirt road. Her sandals kept flipping little clots of mud up the back of her legs and dress. Anna stopped and wiped her legs with her hand, then dusted off her dress smearing the mud on her dress doing so.
“Gah, one wrong step and I’m a mess.”
She looked down the road. It was impossible to tell that it rained only a couple of hours ago. The road was virtually dry, almost dusty. But there were small patches, where the road dipped, the mud remained for hours or days, till the next monsoon hit. It was into one of these patches that Anna stepped a few minutes ago.
She looked up and saw the small dark man staring at her snickering. The baskets of fruit he was selling hung from his strong shoulders.
“Hati-hati, Noni Subur.”
She held back her desire to yell at him. But she played with the words she’d like to use in her head. “I’m plenty careful enough, you lout! And I’m certainly not a little rich miss.” Instead she tossed back her blonde hair and walked on though he would never know she understood his language.
Anna stopped and looked back at the man. He walked down the path, his wares flung over the back of his neck, the contents of two baskets bending the rod upon which they were hung; bending the man himself.
She sighed. “He’s punished enough” she thought, then turned and soon forgot the incident and the little man.
The fruit hawker dropped his basket of wares back onto the hard dirt path and stooped down on his hunches. He pulled out his clutch of coins. Oh how he wanted to buy a good spicy dish full of meat. He snarled at the thought of his wife’s look if he went home and hadn’t made enough money to buy a cut of meat from the market. She liked her meat too, and it had been a long while since they were able to buy any. Sometimes he felt she liked his humiliation when he came home without, almost as much as she liked getting the meat.
He looked up and saw a woman motioning to him from a stone house. He looked around and saw he was the only hawker nearby. He’d wandered down this road full of wealthier village houses. Shouldering his load, he scurried over to the lady, grateful for one last buy of the day. He knew that women would soon be starting dinner preparations and have no time for hawkers or their wares for the rest of the evening. This was one final chance of a sell. Just one last possibility to get enough coins to buy meat for his family this evening. He could almost taste it, fried just right with spices and hot peppers. How prosperous he would feel. How pleased his children would be. Tonight he would be the master of his home.
The lady picked up the old papaya and handled it. The tell-tale signs of ageing where clear. She put it back and started to turn away. The hawker quickly dug under the pile of fruit and showed her a perfect little one. She took it; he hesitated, assessing her. She wanted that piece of fruit. He bowed low and asked a high price. Then he watched her eyes. He held his breath. Her face changed.
“Ah, go on with you.” She said sourly.
He hated her. He hated her worse than he did that little white girl. Here was a woman, a dark skinned woman just like him, but rich enough to look down on him. He wanted to spit.
Instead he whined, “Oh Nona (Mrs.), It’s the end of the day. Maybe I can make you a deal on this. Too good a deal, it will hurt me. But you’re so good. You have a family to feed tonight, true?” He then quoted a reasonable price for the fruit. The woman looked at him, hard, and offered him only half the amount.
“Dutch dog”, the hawker thought, bowing and smiling at the woman, he handed her the papaya and took her coins.
The hawker walked on from the house. He hated the rich. He wished he were rich, and then he would show them. He wanted his meat. He hated his wife, hated the look he would see on her face when he went home. The coins bumped against his leg. There was just enough for a small purchase of meat. It would not go far, each person in his family would have just a little, with spicy coconut gravy and rice.
He stopped again and put down his heavy load. He stooped and looked at his coins. His nose hurt him. He cleared it with his long finger then wiped the finger in the grass beside him.
The food hawkers were beginning to set up stalls on the street. Tantalising smells. He walked over to a stall and made his order. When the food seller placed a bowl before him, he dropped a few of his coins into the palm held out to him. He might face her disgusted expression when he went home, but it was much easier to do so with the warm glow of spicy meat in his belly.

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