The Poisoned Future

Translated by: 
Letyar Tun

translated from Rakhine to Burmese by Dr San Hla Kyaw and from Burmese to English by Letyar Tun


The horizon grows dark in all directions. Thick rain clouds, drifting in southerly winds, cover the sky as evening falls and the farmers head home. To the north of town is a small hill, green with giant banyans, tamarinds and parrot trees that boast clusters of red-beaked flowers in April. Under the trees hide dirt graves and whitewashed tombs overgrown with weeds. Through the surrounding bush a young man shoulders something rolled in a frayed palm-leaf mat. Ahead of him walk three other men carrying a mattock, a hoe and bottles of water and homebrew. Together the four men scout for a bare patch of ground amidst the dirty rags, charred bamboo and plastic rubbish.

‘In the end, all of mankind must rest here. Us too, one day. You’re not afraid, are you?’ Soe Paing asks the others.

He takes the mattock and begins to dig into the hard ground. Soe Paing is the oldest of the four. He’d dropped out of high school after his father died to support the family by working at his uncle’s bicycle and trishaw repair shop, while his friends attended university in the state capital, Sittwe. As the eldest of the young villagers, he’s also in charge of all joyous and sombre occasions, from weddings to funerals.

‘The only difference between the town and here is life and death,’ Soe Paing continues, wielding the hoe to widen the hole. ‘Here it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor.’

‘No, you’re wrong,’ counters Maung Maung. ‘Look over there: the rich rest in tombs, while the poor sleep under mounds of earth.’

It starts to rain and the digging gets messy as the water begins to rise.

‘Myo Lin, go fetch that scoop over by that tomb there and bail out the water, will you?’

‘OK, Ko Soe Paing, just let me drink up,’ says Myo Lin, draining his cup.

While Myo Lin and Soe Paing work, Bo Aung sits beside the mat nursing the bottle of liquor. ‘As the saying goes, “Where walks an ill-fated woman, rain follows”. This baby was unlucky. Even her human birth didn’t guarantee her a father or a long life. The rain isn’t stopping. She really does make trouble for others.’ Bo Aung takes another swig from the bottle while talking to himself.

Myo Lin throws down the scoop and shouts at Bo Aung. ‘If you’re going to drink, at least mind the corpse. I can hear the dogs howling in the woods. Besides, the girl wasn’t so ill-fated. In the Lord Buddha’s teachings, I’ve read, it says “Manusatta bavo dullabo” – “Being born a human is precious”. It is easier for a needle from the heavens to strike a needle on earth than to be born into the human realm. If you’re born human, it means you’ve already achieved a higher life than before. Long life or short, that’s different, though. That’s the result of your own doings in life.’

Ill-fated or not, a woman had borne her for nine months in the womb. And despite their poverty, sympathetic souls had taken care of her for three months thereafter. Surely many babies had the good fortune to be born human like her yet did not survive; just as many unborn babies were cruelly aborted by unmotherly mothers.

Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds is published by the British Council (2017).

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