Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Fields page 2


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‘Another useless bony one,’ said the burly man as he stared Kima down. She stood in front of him, her thin arms bending at her pointy elbows, her hands clasped together in front of her. Her head was tilted down but she was looking up at the overseer, her eyes wide open and direct. After a moment the man made a dismissive gesture with his hand and as she went past, he said ‘in a couple of years she’ll be more useful.’

Once in the field, Shebeh gave her hurried instructions. She gave her a machete that was as long as her arm, and she told her how to hold the cane stems with one hand while sawing with the other. The men could cut them branding the machete like an axe, but Kima was too small for that, and the skin of the canes too thick. She had to work through each one, sawing it at an angle. She had to stoop to cut the cane at ground level because the most sugary section was the lower one and it couldn’t be left behind.

Once she had accumulated a pile of them she was to take them back to the mules so Konu could tie them into a bundle and then fix them to their backs. Shebeh warned her to be careful with the machete, because cuts from it where very common. Kima held it and it was heavy, difficult to balance. At first she had to hold it with both hands to keep it steady, but after a while her body learnt the weight of the tool, and she could hold it with one hand. It still took a lot of effort to cut the thick, fibrous sugar cane.

The sun soon came out. The earth started getting hot straight away, and the slaves worked in rows, busy and silent. After many sawed stems, Kima’s right hand had blisters and her left hand, which she used to hold the canes in place, had many small cuts. She carried on, quietly, trying to do her share. She was very tired, and the more tired she felt the less she cared about anything. Her body felt numb, the ache reaching her as if it was hiding under rags of cotton. She tried to do her work and be good like the others. Shebeh and Konu had said that if she broke the rules, they would all get a whipping as well, not only her.

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