Part of a Series of Travel Stories: Five Truths and Two Lies
There was a place in the village that all the women went to get the water. It was the women, of course: that was their work. They went all times — and always in the mornings because who could trust the water that had been sitting outside last night? Had the cows urinated in it? Had a berry from the pinyon acacia tree fallen in it and lay at the bottom — beneath a leaf, an innocent leaf, to taint, to poison the entire bucket?
The water the women collected was usually in buckets — they had that in common, at least. Sheena had a green plastic bucket, the kind that pickles would come in when delivered from a restaurant supply house in the United States, but Sheena knew nothing of that — being in Armenia. She never saw the white plastic lid that had once sat on the bucket, tight and difficult to remove — difficult that is, except for humans with a perfectly functioning set of fingers and an opposing thumb or for very intelligent animals with a strong set of teeth and a dexterous movement in their necks. In this case, it had been the animal — a horse in fact — that had removed the lid, eaten the contents of the bucket — wheat, that a farmer had purchased at the market, then kicked the bucket into the stream.
That was where Sheena had found it — one cloudy fall morning when she was washing her clothes against a rock with two girlfriends. She had looked up and seen it floating by — about 10 feet from shore — and while the others watched she had gathered up her skirts, held the ragged cotton in a bundle somewhere between her navel and her crotch and walked out into the river to get the stray bucket. It wasn’t easy to do — she walked straight towards the bucket like it was noontime and she was the hour hand and the bucket was the 12, but soon the bucket became the minute hand, moving slowly to the right so her path wasn’t getting her there anymore.
She took one step closer — she thought it was one step closer — and the bucket floated away just as her feet lost contact with the mushy, muddy bottom of the river. She let her skirts go. They billowed around her like a wilting parachute and she lunged toward the bucket in an awkward doggie paddle that was the only stroke she knew. Kick, paddle — kick, paddle — she wasn’t tiring — she walked far every day so her aerobic conditioning was top notch and she could drag her water laden dress far if she needed, as long as the current didn’t pick up.
She thought of unbuttoning the two buttons at her neck and ducking underwater and pulling off each sleeve and doggie paddling in her underwear, but the whole situation — and she knew her girlfriends were watching intently from shore because this far surpassed the drama of seeing a few dirt clumps drip out of the laundry they were pounding into gray dingy cleanliness — the whole situation was ridiculous enough already.
She knew the story would be around most of the town about ten minutes after her friend Kurtie got back. What if she lost her dress when she slipped it off? What if, when she was out of it, she lunged for the bucket with one hand, lunged for the dress in another and couldn’t get them both? What if that happened? She wanted that bucket. She had none — but she had two other dresses at home. One was older and retired because of its thinness and its holes, the other was dressy — her wedding dress and the dress she wore at other weddings. It was not appropriate for everyday wear — but she wanted that bucket, she needed it.
She was humiliating herself and literally taking herself to new depths to get it. She lunged forward and with one grab, she felt the cold of the wire handle in her clenching fist. Her feet bicycled until they felt the mushy bottom and she dragged the valuable bucket behind her in towards the shore, thinking about how she’d celebrate this day, this day when such a gift had simply floated into her life.