A balmy breeze brought the heat of the day as Samira took the boy’s hand and pulled him across the dirt road toward the villa. Her new dress, a simple sheath, already looked wilted. The boy reached his arms out to Riza, an older woman who waited under the eucalyptus tree at the edge of the rice fields.
“Behave,” whispered Samira, handing the boy a candy. He popped it into his mouth.
At Samira’s knock, the villa’s door opened. Lilly, in cutoffs and a red bikini top, greeted her with a kiss to the cheek.
“Your son’s getting big,” said Lilly, putting her hand on the boy’s head. He glanced out the door. In her worn shirt and skirt, Riza looked anxious pacing in the shade.
“No more handouts,” shouted Tom from his lounge chair.
“Thank you for the money you gave me last time,” said Samira. “I used it to repair my roof.”
Lilly’s smile faded as she crossed her arms. “I thought you were going to use it for school so you could get a better job.”
“I need money for medicine to fight my cancer. When I get better I can get a second job and save up for school.” Samira looked down at the ground.
“She looks damn good for a sick woman. Tell her no,” said Tom.
Lilly gave him a withering look as she went to her purse on the table and counted out some money. She placed the bills in Samira’s hand. “Take it, and don’t come back.”
“But . . .” Samira slowly went to the door. The boy followed. Once outside, the child ran to Riza. “Mommy,” he called.
Lilly watched, trying not to cry, trying not to feel so foolish and gullible. She just wanted to go home to Boston and forget about helping the world one person at a time.
Samira went to the eucalyptus tree, took some of the money Lilly had given her, and pressed it into Riza’s hands.
As Lilly turned to go back inside, Riza ran across the road. “Madame,” she called. Riza wore no sandals. Her arms were strong and brown like a man’s. She reached into the pocket of her skirt, pulled out a photograph, and handed it to Lilly.
“Terima kasih, bu,” said Riza, tears overflowing her eyes.
Lilly gazed at the photo of the boy smiling in a classroom. She remembered that here, children must pay for school, and many families couldn’t afford it. Astounded, she murmured, “You’re welcome,” but Riza had already crossed the road and was stepping into the rice field.
Lilly slumped into the chair next to Tom.
“Samira’s just a hustler. You’re not going to change her life no matter how much you give. You may as well burn the money for the good it’s doing,” said Tom.
“Maybe not.” Lilly smiled as she examined the photograph, thinking she needed to find out where the school was.
A retired engineer, Ursula Wong writes about strong women. Her award-winning debut novel, Purple Trees, and her second novel, Amber Wolf, portray strong women struggling against impossible odds to claim a better life.
Signup for her popular Reaching Readers blog on her website: http://ursulawong.wordpress.com.