That afternoon


It was scorchingly hot that afternoon, so hot that the asphalt was soft and smelt of hot metal. Samuel shaded his eyes with a hand aged beyond its years and looked at the dust-covered road that stretched in both directions, as far as the eye could see. It was surrounded by nothing. Over the last few months, the corn had dried and then withered to join the rest of the dust that collected in drifts along the verges.

He lowered his hand and felt the first draught of the afternoon South Dakota wind as it flirted with his face. Just as yesterday and every day before, it teased but brought no comfort.

More dust lifted into the air, and the horizon began to fade, as the last vestiges of sweat disappeared from his bare arms. The black hairs that had been imprisoned by the dampness sprang to attention.  Made all the more upright by the static electricity that threatened to discharge at any moment. The air was taut. He could taste it as he dragged his tongue across the surface of his dry lips, in an attempt to moisten them. The only problem was that he had run out of spit. It had run out a long time ago. Like the land, he was dry.  Samuel slapped the sides of his bib fronted blue jeans and watched the small clouds of dry dust fall languidly over his farmer’s dirt-covered boots. He did not care. At least he had boots.

His truck had given out with the first dust storm several months ago and lay buried in the desert that used to be his farm. It meant that in the absence of any income the bank had foreclosed, and the only way to reach the sanctuary of his brother’s homestead, was to walk. There was no point in packing a case as he had nothing left to put in it. In fact, he did not even have a case. Everything he owned belonged to the bank—everything except his wife and son who sat on the dry earth next to him. The bank was not interested in them. The look of despair in their eyes annoyed him and rather than acknowledge it, he looked away. He stared vacantly back along the road that had occupied the last six hours of their godforsaken lives and thought how unfair life was.

He had fought in the war, survived the Spanish Flu, and returned to his homeland triumphant and full of hope.  The government had given out parcels of land to all the young men with the promise of a better future for those who were prepared to work hard and, if nothing else, he was a grafter. If there was a god in this world, he should be reaping the rewards, but there wasn’t, and he wasn’t. In fact, he was now beginning to believe that against his strict upbringing, God did not exist. If he was going to survive, then it would be down to him and him alone. Clenching his fist’s, he muttered to himself. “I will not be beaten.”

With renewed determination, he swallowed hard, and without looking down at his wife or child, he turned and started to walk. He was not worried or concerned about his family. They would get up and follow him, just as they had always done.  It was going to be a long slog. At least another four hours before they could seek some shelter at his nearest neighbour. Provided the dust storm did not catch them first.

It was the sound of an approaching vehicle that made him turn around. Two things immediately caught his attention. The dust cloud that hung in the air like the devil’s cloak, waiting to collapse and bury everything; and the small flatbed truck that was hurtling towards them in its valiant attempt to escape the approaching darkness. He stopped and stood patiently to one side of the road.

In the true spirit of midwestern neighbourliness and in defiance of impending doom, the driver pulled up and opened the cab door. 

Samuel stepped respectfully forward and explained briefly why he and his family were walking on their own. The driver said a few words and Samuel laughed for the first time that day and then helped his wife and son into the back of the truck. Returning to the cab, he reached up and touched his forehead, giving thanks as the driver leant out and offered a half-full bottle of water. Clasping it like the treasure it was, he walked to the rear of the truck and watched the relief on his wife’s face as he passed it up to her. It was not so much the water that had pleased her as the smile that had returned to her husband’s face.

804 Words

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