Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Sad (07/26/07)
TITLE: This Old House
By Lynda Schultz
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The lock seemed superfluous. The room contained two water-stained mattresses, a couple of tattered hammocks twisting drunkenly from hooks hammered into the block walls. A hot plate sat on a concrete pad beside a makeshift sink. Battered pots were piled on a wooden shelf. The remnants of a meal huddled morosely in the corner of an oil-blackened frying pan, accompanied by a lazy fly turning in a holding pattern as if undecided as to whether it was worthwhile to land or not.
Clothes, trying in vain to dry, hung on a cord strung across the room. It was rainy season. Everything felt damp, even without the encouragement of the drips and drops discovering passage down through pinholes in the roof.
There really wasn’t anything here worth stealing, unless the thief were even poorer than the seven souls who called this disaster-in-waiting, their home.
Once outside, it was obvious what the problem was. This house, along with several companions, perched on the edge of the side of a mountain, its backside on seemingly solid ground, its chest supported by a network of poles and broken cement block. The blocks did double duty as steps rising from a narrow path below. Close by, a meager streambed snaked down the mountain. It too did double duty, actually, triple duty. When dry, it was the only way up, or down the mountain for the inhabitants of this community. When it rained higher up and trickled gently down, the water was drunk, bathed in and cooked with. Unfortunately, other, less healthy necessities happened with it as well. Diarrhea, skin diseases, and parasites teamed up to plague everyone, and to carry off the weak and old.
It was during rainy season that the streambed changed character. No longer benevolent, but malevolent, the waters grew, overwhelming the banks, softening the ground underneath the houses, carrying away the supports both natural and man-made.
Any observer would reasonably ask why anyone stayed here. Who would sit and wait with folded hands for disaster to happen?
The truth was; there was no place else to go. The poorest of the poor did the best they could with what they could earn, scrounge, or steal. They built wherever there was a modicum of space, away from prying eyes and officials looking for deeds of ownership.
A fresh breeze invaded this, and other, cracks in the mountain. It whistled through city slums. Whispering promises of new houses in secure places, it held abandoned souls in limbo. The wind called itself government.
When months turned into years, and one rainy season washed into another without the promises being fulfilled, even those who once preferred not to be noticed by officialdom, accepted the risks and exposed themselves. They poured from the clefts of their mountain hideaways, from the slums rotting away in the cities. The poor filled out forms, listened again to the promises, and returned, empty-handed to their hovels.
They believed. It wasn’t the president’s fault. He made the promises, and they were convinced. They would follow him to the ends of the earth. The problem, they thought, lay in the hands of his underlings. Therefore, they waited, trusting that their leader would come to their aid. He would give them what they had earned with the votes that held him in office. A promise was a promise. He said so.
The wind came, and went. It never stayed to sleep in the stained beds. It needed no steps so never tottered and stumbled on blocks shaken loose by the mountain as it moved beneath human feet. There were much loftier projects to occupy the equally lofty thoughts of the currents of political change.
The body of government only heard its head. The head only heard the blustering of its own voice. It never heard, not once, the cries of lost souls as the rushing water wiped the face of mountain clean of those old houses, and those poor people who believed that the head had a heart.
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