“This is probably what hell feels like,” I thought.

My feet were heavy as concrete blocks. The sun, hotter now, made the sweat bead on my face itchy like a bug. Sometimes enough water escaped my pores forming a little stream carving a path down my face. To let such a precious resource just drip onto the ground. Unretrievable.

This has been my weekly torture for nine months. Me, my wheelbarrow and three containers. My hands have smoothed the handles as the handles have rubbed callouses on my hands. As for my arms, they become numb as if compartmentalizing the pain.

I don’t want to tell you how much further we have to go.

Sometimes I stop by the shade to unknot my muscle cramps. Change is as good as a break. If only that change was forever!

They didn’t have a plan for the ravaging drought, the people who blared liberation jingles and waxed lyrical about patriotism. Party fanatics only served talk, hardly acts to back it up. And now I walk on this path carved by innumerable footprints. Breathing heavily the waves of heat.

They didn’t have a plan for any of it. If they had I wouldn’t be here.

I can stop now. But that would be signing my death wish. I tread on thistles and thorns, eating the sweat of my brow. This is the price of my existence. For everything that I will take, I must first give something.

I see fellow nomads scattered across the hot mirage of brown flatness. Some are crouching in the shade of the trees or lying on their mats. But I turn back to my wheelbarrow meditating on cool thoughts; dewy grass and the damp wall of a dark cave.

Now the sun high up and there are no clouds. I’m dissociating more- sinking into visions of a breezy, moonlit night. Everytime I drop the wheelbarrow I feel the fear. Fear that I won’t survive. Fear that I may go back to that life. And if I push harder, walk faster, I might make it. Even in this barren land. Its deadness like an empty crib yawning open…

Once, I stood point-blank in the Devil’s Eye. The air was choked with nimbus clouds of toxic smog and the crumbling cityscape of Amtale fringed the horizon. Below the heavens pillars of electronic junk towered. Musty heat rose from the ground laden with heavy metals. Within the junk rats scratched, rustled and chattered in a chorus of madness. I was a laborer at a dumpsite, a sight fitting for any post-apocalyptic nightmare. 

The graveyard of man’s techno imperium. Tons upon tons of dead gadgets are heaped into colossals across acres of the landscape. It was foul with debris; but one man’s waste is another’s meal. I  waded through the trash, pausing only to stretch and dry my forehead . Even as the poisonous smoke from burning cables seared my lungs, my blackened hands rustled for any valuable metal; aluminum, copper, and when I was lucky, gold.

I would drift off now and then. Fantasizing about finally ripping off my hole riddled shirt and throwing on a crispy-clean one with that incredible new smell. The cherry on the cake- drowning in the aroma of a hot beef stew bowl. Laborers were strewn all over the landfill, some bent over and others holding rods with smoldering electronic devices at the ends.

Suddenly I gripped my stomach. It spun wildly at a slight wiff of the toxic air. The Devil’s Eye wasn’t far off. That’s where the pitch-black soot caked the sand with lead. Most laborers who worked at the dumpsite didn’t make it past their twenties. Young men still tempted the Angel of Death, perhaps they could make it out with a lot more cash. Scavenging in the rubbish piles was hardly exciting especially for a few cents. For that soothing beef bowl I would do it. I would dare to walk into the Devil’s Eye.

In the stare of Death I scrambled  to stuff as much metal in my sack. I can only hold my breath for so long. My eyes were blinded, my chest was stinging. I let go and the fumes grabbed me in a chokehold. I wheezed and sputtered. I had to grab a bit more, as much as I could carry. The violent heatwaves made the Devil’s Eye a literal furnace. Hazy figures of laborers peaking through the dark smoke resembled fiends. I scurried to the edge of Devil’s Eye, half alive I think. The nausea turned my insides upside down. I collapsed spreadeagled. Huffing and puffing for air. The clutches of Death loosened my chest. That sweet airflow was unmatched. I was fixated on one thing; that beef bowl sauce carving my mouth with razors of flavors.

I’m still trudging along with my wheelbarrow. Dreaming about what was. And also, Paradise. Where no one lacks or fight for scraps. Where arable land is everyone’s portion. Where everything is enough…