The dirt path behind the house led straight to the creek. The tiny body of shallow water served as the main artery pumping life through the village. Every morning, the neighboring women would carry piles of dirty clothes in broken plastic buckets on top of their heads and congregate to wash on the smooth stones. They would talk about who stopped by for dinner last night, the severe need for rain in these parts, which crop their husband was working on in the field. The piles of clothes and the over sharing of their mundane details never seemed to end. Their chubby little babies would bathe next to the pile of wet clothes or follow each other, waddling in the shallow water. Picking at little algae and thwarting attempts to put it in their mouth. Quime knew to come after the women had washed their clothes. He didn’t like all their questions:
How’s your mother?
Why aren’t you at school right now?
When is your grandmother going to stop by for lunch?
So he took extra long to do his daily chores that morning before heading to the creek. The first thing he did every morning was feed the chickens and count them to ensure none had gone missing overnight. He found a lazy few still roosting on the tree branches, nestled among the leaves. He joined his younger sister Lena to the well and brought back four containers of fresh water to use for the day. That way the younger kids and their mother wouldn’t have to make an extra trip at noon, the hottest and most crowded part of the day. Lastly, he swept the front porch from all the dirt kicked up from last evening’s winds. The winter rains were delayed this time of year and every wind without precipitation felt like another empty promise from a disappointing lover. Even the earth began to crack open from the drought. Quime found a new tiny canyon to jump over every morning.
From the porch, he could hear the women’s retreating flip-flop steps back to their adobe houses. The babies cooed in the broken plastic bins full of clean clothes, both worn out from their time in the water. This was finally his moment. Quime put the broom back in the kitchen corner and grabbed his bucket. Excited by having the creek to himself, he jumped onto the dirt path broken in by so much foot traffic behind the house. He knew which part of the barbed wire between the wooden post would bend the easiest to pass through. The path had its own clearing from the surrounding trees and plants. They all knew to move to the left or to the right to let the humans through.
Quime held his bucket and patted the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. His dark hair was beginning to stick to his forehead from all the sweat. The immediate heat from the overhead sun told him of the approaching noon time. He didn’t have much time until the younger kids came home from school for lunchtime, as if the growling in his stomach was not enough of an alert. Quime quickly walked over to his lucky boulder. He wiped the dry leaves from the top and walked around to make sure nothing had changed from the day before. Satisfied with his inspection, he sat down and waited. The water was clear enough to see the bottom and the speed was quick enough to wash down all the soap bubbles from the previous visitors.
The water’s surface reflected the sun’s perpendicular position. The blinding sunlight made sure everyone who saw it would know who was on top. Squinting, Quime kept a close eye to the water. The tropical birds called out like old neighbors to each other. The wind moved through their feathers and whispered in Quime’s ears. The creek’s baby rapids hushed collectively past him. With his bucket in hand, Quime was ready. He saw the first wiggle a few meters away. He stood up to get a closer look at the source. Water splashed around the spot. Quime walked over, taking position to launch. A little chumpa was grazing the nearby rocks. Finally! Overly taken by the immediate prospect of lunch, Quime grabbed his bucket and dove in. Despite the small brain and puny eyes of the chumpa, it moved too quickly for Quime and sent him crashing knee first onto the smooth wet stones. Hot flashes of emotions and river water washed over the 10 year-old and his scraped knee. “How can this fish be so small and so fast? All this time I waited for nothing! I can’t go home with an empty bucket. What are the kids going to eat? Why didn’t I wait longer to jump? Wasn’t my lucky rock supposed to protect me for me from this? What kind of luck is this, anyway? It didn’t make any sense!” Grabbing his sore knee, the rhetorical questions throbbed all over him.
Quime finally got up and sat on the formerly lucky, now boring, boulder to soak in all his feels. He saw his prize so clearly in front of him and despite all best effort, the chumpa got away. Quime will remember this as his first time feeling a deep set failure. That no matter how hard he works, how meticulous his timing is, how high his hopes are, how small his goals are, they can all be spat upon for no reason. And life will continue to go on without caring how you feel, like a chumpa swimming along the stream.