The water line forms just after dawn with the saying of morning prayers. It stretches for two blocks along the crumbling street where families cling to one another as they huddle close to the wall. The long line of men and women, small children, and babies inches towards the corner of the main street and turns cautiously, stopping across the street opposite the water faucet.
Jimal stands back from the curb waiting his turn, waiting for the signal to run across the street and draw his water. He remains in the shadow partially protected by a niche to the right of the cellar door. Since dawn, the morning quiet had only been broken by Annah repeating her prayers. Silence. Prayers. Silence. Silence. The line of men and women stretch behind Jimal. They huddle in shadow, blending together. The stream of water glitters in sunlight.
Jimal fights his desire to gaze at Annah. He must watch for the signal to run a fast zig zag across the street. Annah ends her prayers. Her laughter hurts Jimal. Rumors about Annah grow daily. Some gossip that she hears the voices of her dead mother and father and she cries out to them.
Behind Jimal, Annah prays. He feasts on the rhythmic, golden tones, hidden within Annah. Songs for Papa, for Mama. Over and over. Across the street, a hand motions Jimal, come.
Once there, he bends from the waist placing the jug so the spout caught the clear water. The water sputtered, filling the jug slowly--Hide in the doorway, Annah. Out of sight. Safety lies in the doorway. Another moment and another day, you'll be safe--Jimal breaks plaster from the wall and crumbles it into dust. Flecks drift upward into the sunlight. The water chugs to the top. Jimal points two fingers, motioning to Annah, a dull shadow, a ghost, once his treasure. "Come quickly. Do not hesitate," he calls.
Annah poses uncertain at the curb. A print skirt droops loosely at her hips; two wool sweaters half buttoned, tight, crisscross her breast; hair, dark under a bandanna, whispers over her forehead; shoes, worn and grey, flop without laces. Annah waves back to him.
Jimal signals again. A man pushes Annah forward into the street. She staggers toward the faucet carrying her jug with both arms. Jimal pulls his jug free as she arrives and places hers under the faucet. A few drops splash on the street. And Jimal, burning with shame and without a backward glance, clutches his water jug close to his body and scurries out of sight. Behind him, Annah, sways in the sun.
First published: July 1996