Forever Sifting

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A poem in prose

by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra

Strange men came to the starving village where the crops had once more failed.

“Come,” they told Etwaria’s grandmother. “Come with us. We will take you on a big ship across the water to a new future. A good future. You will sift sugar and earn money. Plenty money! After 5 years you can board the ship again. You will return here, a rich woman. Rich-rich! You only have to sift some sugar.”

She went with them.

There was nothing to keep her there, in that hot and dusty place. She was just  another mouth to feed. They would be better off without her. With her, she took her mother’s big chalni. To sift that sugar. Plenty sugar so they would pay her plenty money. She would buy a brand new chalni for her mother when she came back.

The voyage seemed endless.

But one scorching afternoon the blue sea started to turn brown. They saw land. Full of excitement and expectation she arrived with her chalni at the plantation where she was bound. The people there laughed at her because they knew. The men had been to their starving villages too. “Sister, put away that chalni! You will not need it here. They will give you a cutlass and send you to the canefields with the rest of us.”

She sighed; she stayed; she worked.

They all did. She married a man who was kind on most days and unkind on the days he drank. Together, they raised a family. She told her grandchildren tales of worse struggles in a far-off land. A land that still tugged at her heart although her life now lay in the colony. The colony whose rich soil held her children’s and grandchildren’s navel strings.

Etwaria’s own grandchildren would come in time.

And they would go. They too would go across the water to a new future. A different water, a different future. Some would go eagerly, other reluctantly. They would learn to sift. They would sift good from bad, positive from negative, warmth from cold, hope from despair. All would feel the pull of the far-off land on the muddy shores of the Atlantic. A different land, a different pull. The call of the kiskadee would never leave them.

Text and ceramic sculpture © Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra