The easy way out

A reading by the author:

We were in bed watching TV when we heard the loud knock on the front door. I slept in the same room with grandma and grandpa because, even at that age, I was still afraid of the monsters lurking behind the curtains at night. Grandma stood up from the bed, her white nightgown sweeping the floor, to see who it was. People in the village did not disturb their neighbors after dark unless it was an emergency. Darkness and bad news came together as if the bad news waited for the night to come in order to enter our houses. Nighttime was when fevers went up or hearts failed or stomachs burned.

There was a woman at the door. I overheard her voice, just slightly above that of the politicians complaining and arguing on TV. Then, grandma came back into the room, her hair disheveled, her head looking smaller without the flowered headscarf she usually wore throughout the day, her face unreadable in the light of the TV. She said my brother tried to commit suicide by jumping into the well of the dispensary. The woman told her that she had gone out to the well to bring in some water and there he was, climbing through the ornate wooden frame, on the verge of depriving us of his life. The woman pulled him back and he cussed at her as if she had interrupted some sort of arduous activity that required his undivided attention.

He ran away and some of the people in the village had gone after him. Grandma got dressed but grandpa did not move. He’s stupid, grandpa said, stupid to even think of doing that. I got up and dressed as well and we got out into the summer air of such sickly blue I expected to see steam coming out of my mouth. We met my brother and the woman who had stopped him where the sidewalk narrowed to make way for a patch of asymmetrical grass, by the house of the man who drowned illegitimate puppies with institutional heedlessness. And my brother seemed so small in a t-shirt whose color resembled the steam that refused to come out of my mouth.

Grandma’s robust thighs moved swiftly towards him to cover the last few feet that separated us. In her flight she cooed over my brother as if to let him know that he could have missed all this, all this love she had for him. I said something as well, something akin to the things I told him when he wasn’t doing the chores he had been assigned by mother. We brought him back home, grandma pulling him to her bosom, and put him to sleep. I did not see him look at us because I did not dare look at him, as if the suicidal gesture itself, covered in tiny black feathers, had acquired a life of its own and rolled its eyes under grandma’s heavy arm.

Rumor had it he had done it for a girl. She was a city girl and he had been dating her for a while when he saw her get into the car of another man who was much older than the both of them. You don’t do that for a woman, grandpa said, that’s stupid. When grandpa said it I thought of how grandma had to cross a river in order to marry him and how in the eyes of the villagers she had been as foreign and as subversive as a woman coming from another country. Women did that for you, they were the ones transgressing. Men had to wait and wave from the opposite shore of the river.

Brother broke up with the city girl.

But then the voices in those rumors changed and the rumors changed as well. And then it was my fault. Because the younger child always gets the spotlight while the older child had to step back and gradually recede into the darkness of the stage. I wasn’t asked to do the heavy work in the field. I was the studious one who merited the pats on the back and the congratulatory tones from the adults sitting around their coffee mugs in the afternoon when the sun was pleasant enough to permit such indulgence. My hands were soft and free of any signs of hard work. I was the one who always colored within the lines, who stayed home, who did not engage in self-destructive activities such as going to the village discotheque and getting beaten up by a bunch of drunks.

I was the one who chose the easy way out.

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