"Made in Egypt"
The musky scent of cheap patchouli
fills Shaban’s mud and brick home.
On dung-stained floor, by their goats,
and three children, squats his wife –
covered, head to toe, in a burka.
‘Hold still!’ she tells her firstborn;
daubing indigo streaks on his forehead
to protect him– or so dicated Islam faith,
but, not much chance of that. Wearily,
Abdul yawns; been in those cotton fields
‘We must keep you safe, precious one,’
she chides; indeed – her only son.
‘This dye will do the trick – ward off
that ‘Evil Eye,’...praying deep inside.
‘Please, Allah, send no droughts,
nor locusts, either.’
Abdul’s famished – his belly not nearly
full from a meagre bowl of rice, but
it had to suffice. Drenched in sweat...
covered in dust – holes in his shoes,
and T-shirt; his tear-stained face,
said it all.
How he loathes the ‘bollworm’ –
the cotton farmer’s nemesis, and yet
killing them, key to his, and the cotton’s
survival. Never mind about the pickers;
crops dripping in pesticides...
No self-respecting five-star hotel,
would be complete without Egyptian
cotton sheets...and god forbid
Tesco’s shelves be devoid of deep-pile
towels – spawned on the banks
of the Nile!
Meanwhile, Abdul reluctantly thinks
of that return to a ten-hour shift,
in 40C heat for three pence a day,
if his luck’s in; even him, at just ten,
the one they call ‘The Veteran
of the Field’.
Afternoons, the hardest and the hottest;
picking worms from every leaf – not
the best kind of job, most especially
when ants begin to bite. How he longs
to be in school, but it’s not for him;
it’s for rich kids.
Time for napping done, wiping sleep
from his eyes, licks remains of the rice
from calloused hands. A smile on his lips,
tells his mum of his dream; the one about
his foreman - made him happy, he said.
Happiness bought for the price
of a pair of gloves.