Nando woke to a squealing and squawling outside the thin bamboo walls.
Something is attacking our pigs!
He jumped up from his bed, pulling his shirt around his thin chest. He stopped short as he came face to face with his father tying their feet to a long pole. His father cursed as one wriggled its foot from the twine, and he bound it tighter.
“Tata, where are you taking the pigs?”
“I must sell them. The sun is already high and you are sleeping. You are a lazy, no good boy. Now, go work in the field. Act like a man, not a boy.”
Nando scuffed along the dry, dusty path past dozens of thatched huts. His stomach hurt. It hadn’t growled for days. It was past growling. It just ached, like the time he fell belly-first from the mango tree.
The tall canes rustled and whispered in the mountain breezes. Nando lifted his machete and slashed at the nearest stalk. He looked at the blunt end and frowned. Peeling back the tough skin, he sliced off a bite-size piece and popped it into his mouth. He waited for the sweet juice to trickle down his dry throat. Maybe his stomach would think he was eating a whole papaya.
BLECK! He spit the dry, stringy pulp to the ground. Even the sugar cane was dry and tasteless. How would he ever be able to squeeze sweet water from dry canes, to boil and make sugar? Without the sweet juices, there was no money. Without money, there was no food. It was bad enough that he was always hungry, but when he heard his little brother Pablo crying at night, it twisted his heart.
Carrying a bundle of stalks back to their hut, he noticed there was only one chicken pecking around the dirt yard. Where were the others?
“Mim, where are the chickens?”
“Tata sold them.”
Nando sighed. “Mim, I am big now, almost fourteen. Maybe I could work in the city, so you could buy corn and beans and bananas and milk for Pablo.”
“No, you must go to school, to learn to read and get to be a smart boy.”
“But, Mim, how can I go to school, with new shoes and clothes, when I know you and Teofila and Pablo are hungry?”
“We will be fine. You go to school.”
That night, as the wind ruffled the palm branches and the moon peeked through the cracks of the bamboo walls, Nando lay staring up into the darkness, trying not to move and wake Teofila and little Pablo. He swatted at a mosquito that buzzed about his ear. He could hear Tata and Mim in their bed, arguing over something.
“We would have enough money until it rains again. We must sell the donkey.”
“That is Nando’s donkey. He loves it. He took care of it since it was born. It helps him to carry the sugar cane. It carries the water from the well. You cannot sell the donkey.”
“We must. There is nothing else to sell.”
My donkey? No! He can’t sell my donkey! Nando remembered when Tata brought it home as a young colt. He had fed it the sweetest leaves of the chirimoya tree and taught it to pull a cart. Tata can’t sell my donkey!
Nando wiped away the tears angrily. He was a big boy, almost a man. There must be something they could sell. If only he didn’t have to go to school.
School… Mim was so proud that he was going to high school, the first one of the family.
But… he wasn’t sure he wanted to leave his village and his family. He would have to wear white shirts and blue pants and shoes. He hated shoes. His feet felt so trapped, like a pig with its head stuck in pail.
Shoes! Maybe Tata could sell my shoes! They were new and shiny.
“Why are you not sleeping, Nando?”
“I heard you talking. Don’t sell the donkey, please? You can sell my shoes! You will get a lot of money for them.”
Mim whimpered. “But they are for school, Nando.”
“I will find a job and go to school. I will buy more. Tata, don’t sell my donkey, please?”
“I will think about it. You sleep, boy. We will talk in the morning. Maybe you are a man, not a boy anymore.”
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