The field they took him to was parched. Crossing the cracked mud, he tried to remember the last time he’d felt rain: the coolness of the first drops soaking through his shirt onto his skin; the rising scent of damp earth; the sound of a downpour. The rat-tat-tat of fat raindrops on a metal roof. The swish of water that was a kind of silence in itself, because it stilled birds, blotted out other sound. How droplets spattered on soot-grimed glass, how they angled and pooled as they made their way to the ground.
As he reached the far wall and turned to face them, all six of them – rough, ragged men in split boots, one had a bandaged face – he stamped out his cigarette in dry, brown earth, noticing the sparks flicker like fireflies at his feet, watching them die.
“Anything you want?” The bandaged man shrugged, not unkindly. “For your eyes?”
He looked at them, at the cracked ground and the burning sky.
“Yes,” he said. “Water.”
One of the men had a bottle. He shook it as he approached, then handed it over, eyes lowered. As he returned to the others, the bandaged man extended a restraining hand.
“Let him drink it.”
But he didn’t drink. *He unscrewed the cap and tipped the contents profligately over his own head, feeling the water seep into his skin, seeing the sunlight flash in liquid beads that bounced off his shoulders. Seeing his Ma, vivid in her flowered dress, holding him under the outside tap to sluice the lice out of his hair, then hand-smoothing his face dry. How the grass grew brightest green just there.
As the last drops slid down his face and hit the earth the men raised their arms in unison. The bandaged man stepped aside to give the order.