Heat never escaped his body and he still used his handkerchief, though rendered useless, to try to wipe off the salty liquid from his face. The person in front of him, a shirtless guy with big muscles and hairy tattoos crawling up the back of both arms, hollered to the deliverer,
“What the hell’s takin’ so damn long up there?”
Jeremy flinched at his coarse language and turned his head to look behind. The line had grown longer in just five measly minutes. The heat rose from the ground again, a billowing steam that almost made him feel nauseous. He clenched his teeth together to keep from feeling the crawling in his stomach. He dared to swallow his own spit only to find it actually made him feel better. But he needed water. He needed it now.
He used his shirt to wipe the edges and the depths of his white cup. The sun glimmered off it and he had to shadow it with his head so the light wouldn’t blind him. His cup was his savior. But now that savior had no power to quench his thirst.
Jeremy could, not like some others who only knew the Great Drought, remember those soothing days when rain fell and the trees were green beyond comparison to how they looked today. He could remember his mother and sister sitting at the porch talking girl talk while he, a bit of a mischief-maker in his youth, played in the nearby river with his friends.
He sighed as the memory of that day flooded back to him as it often did. Water droplets had hung from his lashes, from his bangs, from his arms and dripped off his fingertips. He had swum in the river, trying—though in vain—to catch any fish that came his way. The green trees that draped over the river and hung like umbrellas over the riverbed, made calming shadows where moss grew.
But now that river was gone and replaced by a slithering snake of dry mud, cracked and crumbly. Jeremy sighed with frustration as the line finally moved an inch. The man in front of him was growing more and more agitated. Military police came up to the man, trying to calm him down.
But, thought Jeremy, is anyone calm at a time like this? It hasn’t rained for four years in this city. Did they really have any more hope? His thoughts wandered to his family back home, shriveled beyond recognition. His mother, a living corpse but nonetheless in high spirits to keep life moving forward… somehow. His sister in ashes, sprinkled on the parched ground of the river. Her life had already begun to slip when the first of the drought hit. She had always been delicate.
“Lil’ sis…” Jeremy said into his cup as though saying her name would bring a swell of water. Suddenly he tipped back, colliding with the person in back who held him up but not out of kind gestures. Those sorts of thoughts were long gone. The man in front of him had leapt at one of the officers and tackled him with blows from his fist, strengthened by frustration and anger. A shot went out and the man went limp. As the body was hauled away, Jeremy took his position and stood in the slow line once again. This is how it has always been and how it will always be.