Gettin’ ahead

Published 1:26 pm Tuesday, November 25, 2008

He felt that recurring knot in his stomach as he reflected on the loss of another 5 percent of his 401(k). Darrell’s plans for early retirement were evaporating before his eyes.

He and Evelyn had long planned for those days when the workplace ceased its daily call and the leisure lifestyle beckoned from golf courses and beaches and sleeping late and traveling. Slipping into the kitchen and grabbing some leftovers from the fridge, he parked himself in front of the TV and took a mental inventory of “needing to be replaced” items. His Honda Accord was 5 years and 120,000 miles old. Both the dishwasher and his knees had been making funny noises and Evelyn’s age and blood pressure were rising simultaneously. Furthermore, Darrell had purchased a beach cottage four summers ago that needed a new deck.

It seemed something was always rotting or rusting or breaking up or falling down. And it was nearly impossible to get ahead.

With cell phone bills and cable bills and car payments and house payments and credit cards, whatever came in one end of the checkbook went out the other. The precarious climb toward “financial freedom” was fraught with slippery slopes. The summit seemed unconquerable, always in the distance, insurmountable.

She felt that recurring knot in her stomach as she reflected on the loss of another meal. Her thoughts of any future were nonexistent. To live through the day: that was her goal. Her country, in constant upheaval since the last rebellion, offered its citizens no solace. She, along with 800 others, watched with passionate disbelief as the blue van with the white lettering failed to show. That vehicle had become their one hope, their consolation, their savior. The previous day it had delivered two cups of rice to Wanda and her child. Two delicious, nourishing, hunger-relieving cups that were relished and savored and devoured.

As the group trudged back to the village, piles of garbage shouldered the road providing playgrounds for the children. Wanda kept her little one close as the sun slipped behind the horizon, silhouetting the hundreds of one room mud houses.

She and her child slipped into the hut they called home and settled in for the evening as they were enveloped by dark. Off in the distance, like background music, was heard barking dogs, adult voices and the cries of children. And everywhere, like an invisible fog that seeps in unaware, was the pungent ubiquitous odor that always resides among thousands of humans living together without sewer.

Wanda, weak from her walk, nestled into her familiar place in the corner, the dirt scooped out to accommodate her contours, and pulled her child unto herself.

And she dreamed of rice.