by Eva Roa White
(Kokomo, IN ,USA)
The blue bucket dangles from the little girl’s hand and scrapes the ground every time she relaxes her sore arm to stretch it. She has been carrying the bucket for a long time in the heat, and though it is empty and made of thin plastic, it feels heavy and bulky.
Mia knows her mission. Her mother’s orders were clear: “Take the blue bucket and fill it with as much water as you can carry and bring it back as soon as you can!” This made Mia feel like a soldier and a big girl. But now, looking at the water in the fountain, she is not sure she can do it.
All the bugs on the surface of the water make it strange and scary, nothing like the water at home. At home, water comes from the faucet and fills her glass when she is thirsty, the sink when mom does the dishes, and the bathtub so she can take a bath. It even fills the toilet when she flushes it.
But Mia is not at home and her mother is waiting for her back at the car. The glare of the sun beats the surface of the water and gets winky dancing spots of light in return. Should she try to remove the bugs, or should she bring back water with spiders, mosquitoes and all?
This is the type of question Mia often asks her mother in the city, on their walks to the park or when she looks at glassed-in mysteries of life at the museum. Now she is face-to face with a mystery she must solve on her own. Her mother needs her to be a big girl today and bring the bucket of water for Mia’s baby brother.
Mia feels a twinge in her arm and switches the blue bucket from her right hand to her left. Her feet are sore too. Her shoes are more of the kind to stroll to church on Sunday morning than to trek around the countryside in the middle of the day. Her pretty pink dress is too hot for this weather, and when she raises her hand to push hair away from her damp forehead, she notices that the sleeve is ripped at the seam.
Her dress is also dirty and wrinkled from when she lost her footing and fell onto the pine needles. She suppresses a sob at the sight of her ruined dress. Also, her left braid is coming undone. Mia worries about what her father will say for a few seconds before she remembers that her dad is back in the city.
She reminds herself that she is supposed to get the water and get back to the car as quickly as she can. Her mom needs her! Mia lifts the blue bucket with both hands, squeezes her eyes shut, and dips the bucket into the water.
She brings back only a little water. It takes her a while to figure out that for the bucket to break the surface, she needs to push it in just so. She is too short to get a good shot at the water, but she has an idea. She can push the bucket down right at the edge, if she scrapes the edge just so. Soon, the bucket sinks lower and lower with the weight of the incoming water. Mia holds on to it with both hands. Her arms feel like they are coming out of their sockets.
With a heroic effort, she succeeds in lifting the bucket out of the water in one great pull. The bucket breaks free with tremendous force and hits her on the chest and spills its contents all over her dress. She lets go of the handle but still lands on her back, soaked.
The metal handle clanks on the heavy stones that surround the fountain before the empty plastic container rolls away from her. She feels as helpless as when she tries to stop her parents’ fights, but gets up, rubs her throbbing arms, and brushes herself off.
Sniffling, Mia picks up the bucket. All it contains now is a leaf, a twig and a spider.
She frowns and pounds the bucket on the ground to evict its unwanted tenants. Then she stalks back to the fountain. Her mother is waiting for her. She needs water for the baby.
The surface of the water is still full of life. This time, she decides not to fill the bucket all the way. It is a question of timing and takes her a few tries to get right. The result is the bucket filled almost halfway. Even this is almost too heavy for her, but she has her water.
A feeling of lightness fills her but doesn’t last. The water is full of leaves and insects in different stages of drowning. With her hand, she tries to scoop them out of the water, but this takes too much time. Mia can still see her mother smiling through her pain as she sent her to get water at the fountain.
Mia decides to walk back with the water she has. She stops often to rest and wipe her brow with her wet sleeve. She carries the bucket two-handed in front of her. It hits her knees as she walks and she cannot feel her hands much anymore. The pain in her knees is matched by that in her arms, which has spread up to her shoulder blades and down to the small of her back.
Her dainty little shoes are wet from sloshing water. Mia stops to dry them off with grass and dirt, but that only leaves them scratched and stained.
It seems like forever passes before she crosses the grove of pines and sees the dark green car in the ditch. Mia smiles because she has finally made it, but she almost drops the bucket when she hears her mother scream.
Her first thought is that her dad has found them and is punishing her mom for running away again. She knows she must be brave. Mia drags the blue bucket the last few yards. She sets down the bucket and pulls the heavy car door open: her mother is alone, crouching on the now red back seat, reaching between her legs and pulling out of her a wriggly, yellow and red stained baby doll. His loud cry makes Mia start.
Mia is still propping the door open with her right hip when her mother lifts her bruised head and gives Mia a weak smile. Her cupped arms still bear the marks of old battles, but she holds them out to show Mia her brand-new brother.
Mia stares first at the baby and then at her mother. Then Mia smiles back and lifts her bucket as high as she can to show her mother the water at the bottom. Mia’s mother whispers: “my big girl!”
She cleans the baby with Mia’s water, then falls asleep nursing. Mia dozes off next to her mother, but the sound of a siren soon brings her back. On the horizon, a shiny, metallic shape begins to grow.