A Grain of Rice – short story

A Grain of Rice

Ron Hagg

Many years ago on TV I saw a young boy in an area of famine—on the ground picking up individual grains of rice. Every time I make rice I think about that boy. I wrote this story.

Hot—dusty—nostrils filled as this small family, mother, son, and daughter jostling—chaos in anticipation—hoping desperately to get some food, but the strong push their way to the front. What chances do they have, a mother and her two children. There it is, the truck—dust flies off its wheels—stopping, two men jump out—machine guns—the protectors of this rice. Come, we have to get the rice. Daughter is scared—so many people—so much desperation—she can smell it. Hand in her mother’s—cannot get lost—Ma I love you is in her heart.

Boy: I hate this—hate it—I just want to kill these assholes—kill them. No, not these folks, not even the men guarding the rice—the damn government—we are nothing—less than nothing. Yes, I’m here, Ma. I’ll help. Elbow crashes into my face—damn—the man just pushed himself past us—who are we? Nothing I guess. Wish I was a man—I wouldn’t let this happen to Ma … or my little sister. “I’m here Ma.”

Pushed around, finally the men in the truck are throwing sacks of rice out. Reaching—just past me hands—if I was a man! We’ll never get any. Ma?” She jumps reaches and grabs the sack and pulls it to her breast. “Yes”. More, I want more, but just after Ma’s catch there are no more sacks. Not everyone got one. His mother puts the small sack under her blouse.

“Let’s go. We got what we got.”

“No ma, I’ll catch up.

“But, son…”

“No, Ma – I’ve got something to do. No worries.”

She turns, holding the hand of her young daughter, and they make their way down the road.

“We need more food—how can this be? How can we live like this? Papa—where are you? I’m going back to where the truck was. I’ll steal the damn food—I’ve got to be strong for Ma and my little sister. The truck—where is it. It’s gone. Oh, God—please help us. I love you Ma.” Tears, he cannot stop—he sits, gets up, wanders over to where they waited for the rice. More tears. He sits and the earth—dirt—not even rocks—only dirt—beaten down by all the soles looking to live. More tears. Wiping his eyes—he sees a grain of rice on the ground. There are more. Reaching for each grain he picks them up with his right hand and places the grains in his left hand—on his knees picking up each barely seen grains of life. Some escape from his left hand—he finds them. Stands, checks his pockets for holes, and puts the grains in his one hole less pocket. Down again. Back and forth—back and forth on the compressed dirt field he collects. Standing up, he looks across the area that he’s collected the rice. His left hand—cupped, holds a fair amount of rice. He puts these grains into his pocket with the other grains.

Back in their tent, his mother is squatting over their pot on the small wood fire cooking some rice. His sister looks to be napping. It’s only a tent, but his mother has somehow managed to get two large rugs. His sister lies on the red patterned carpet—her purple dress—torn—yet she is beautiful. Even the boy recognizes this.

His mother loves them—this he knows in the deepest part of him. She wants to provide—does the best she can.

He turns his back and carefully removes every kernel of rice and puts them in his red bandana.

“Ma?”

“Yes?” she looks up from her rice.

He takes the bandana from behind his back and opens it.

“Ma, look what I got.”