The dull roar in my lower back forces me to rise; my hands instinctively reach around and press on sore muscles. The sun beats like a golden hammer making it difficult to draw breath. My head boils under the wide-brimmed hat, but I dare not take it off. Sweat trickles along my forehead and into my eyes. I do my best to blink it away as my fingers dig deep, massaging the ache. I tip my head back, arching to relieve the pain, and the earth tilts as the broad expanse of blue disorients me.
Eyes closed, I wait, hoping for the slightest breeze, but there is none. The scorching heat envelops me, flowing down from the heavens and up from the soil beneath my feet. There is no escape. I will my skin to breathe in the heavy clothing I wear, long pants and long-sleeved shirt. They are my shield against this semblance of desert heat.
But, I am in no desert. I am in a fertile field surrounded by others. Others who are bent to their task, unyieldingly. I know I can’t stand too long. I will be noticed. The sun is directly overhead and soon they will call the break. I can rest then, but not now, not yet.
I glance around for the foreman, not truly caring if he sees me idling. He is nowhere to be seen, probably sleeping in the comfort of the cab of his big, red cargo truck. The truck that ferries us all every dawn, standing upright in its large, enclosed bed; the truck whose undercarriage provides the precious shade during the midday break. It is parked off to the side, shimmering in the glare.
My gaze settles on the one man whose opinion does matter to me. He is unrecognizable, but I know it is him. Covered from head to toe as I am; his green khakis blend with the neat, straight rows of low foliage he is methodically moving through. Rows that seem to go on forever, the distance between them narrowing as they disappear into the horizon.
Bent forward at the waist as I should be, his hands move quickly, first to one side and then the other, and then back again. Each time his hands reach out, they immediately pull back and into the beige canvas sack at his side. Though he has pulled far ahead of me, I can clearly see the strap of the sack digging deep into his shoulder as he leans first one way and then the other. I stare in wonder as he unceasingly works two rows at once. I know his back is screaming louder than mine, but I also know he will not complain. He will not give in to it as my teenage self does.
When the whistle blows, he’ll turn in his bagful of green treasure, and then crawl beneath the truck to eat a meager lunch and catch a nap before the whistle blows again. My mother will tend to him as she takes her own break. Later in our one-room cabin, he will solemnly eat his dinner before taking early to his bed to get what rest he can, while my younger siblings play a few feet from where he sleeps.
My eyes fill once more. Only this time, I don’t blink away the moisture as I bend and reach for another cucumber.