Nikki stands half as tall and twice as thin as her mother. But the nine year old carries her strength in her head, so she is mightier than her small frame implies. This little girl knows that survival is a luxury not often given to the weak. Experience has taught her that.
In the middle of a hot summer day Nikki and her mother wrestled for a place to squat at the edge of a murky pool. The woman and child bustled to fill their cans while mosquitoes squealed in high-pitched excitement. Against a crowd of dozens, mother and daughter moved in synchronized fashion as if in dance, scooping the sediment filled liquid into little bowls then pouring the catch into their cans.
“We are done,” said Mama.
Nikki stopped scooping and her eyes widened, “Our cans are only half full.”
“The pool is dying. Mostly mud today. We look for another water pool tomorrow.”
Nikki said nothing more. There was no sense arguing with Mama.
They sat beneath a scrawny tree to have some lunch. Mama pulled out a loaf of dry bread and ripped off a piece for Nikki. She then tried to nurse her infant son Obi who was strapped to her body with cloth. Obi was too sleepy to eat so Mama dripped some of the brownish water onto his lips.
Nikki’s little brother was born moments before the dry season began. Nikki remembered when Papa lifted the tiny screaming body and said, “We’ll call him Obiefune because he will remind us not to lose hope.”
‘Obi doesn’t scream much anymore,’ thought Nikki. ‘Mostly he sleeps.’
Mama woke Nikki from her thoughts, “The others are leaving. Time to go.”
Nikki and her mother knew a large group would increase their safety, so they always walked with the others. The villagers journeyed home, each woman and child bent at an angle from the weight of water pressing upon their backs. For the next three hours a cloud of dust remained at their barefooted and flip-flopped path.
‘Lord,’ thought Nikki. She had learned about the Lord from a foreign lady who came to the village many seasons ago during the short time when Nikki was allowed to go to school. There was not enough time for school anymore. The lady taught Nikki how to pray, but Mama does not like hearing about the Lord, so whenever Nikki prays she does it in her head and not from her breath.
‘Lord,’ prayed Nikki. ‘We walk for miles every day and still we cannot find enough water. Already I have lost two siblings and little Obi does not look well. I know you have a plan for us. The lady told me so and I believe her even if Mama does not. The lady said I could pray for water and I have. I pray every day that water will come, but it has been dry for a long time. My skin is rough like the bark of a tree. My lips crack and bleed. I know you hear me Lord. I know in my heart that you do. Please help us find some water. In Jesus’ name, amen.’
The dust coated girl looked up to see if Mama noticed her prayer or if there was any sign of rain. Mama did not notice. There was no sign of rain.
The sun rolled across the sky scorching the travelers from front to back. Sweltering hours passed in breath-filled silence.
As the travelers neared the village there was an eruption of noise. The sound was unusual, but not unrecognizable.
“Trucks Mama,” said Nikki. “A bunch of them, look.” But Mama only grunted.
Nikki gasped at the site of the line of trucks. Her eyes grew in wonder at the flatbeds loaded with piles of wood and metal. The foreigners waved and sang out greetings, but none of the pedestrians could understand the meaning of the English words.
Neither could they understand the writing on the sides of the trucks which read, “WATER FOR ALL INTERNATIONAL.”
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