Under the Eucalyptus Tree

Nandita Menon

A young mother walking to the clinic
sits on a bench to rest in the shade
on this hot and dusty day. She has taken
off the sling in which she carries her young child
laid it on the bench beside her
while quietly humming some song
her mother once sang to her.

Her child dozes fitfully, hot with the fever
her mother’s special tea could not break,
and she wipes the sweat from his face
with a damp cloth.

When she began this journey
Mother had frowned and said,
“I do not trust the people in that place,
with their pills and their machines.
The old ways are best.”

Mother and her husband had not wanted to hear
about the nurse who had come to their village
to speak of the clinic, had not wanted to hear
about the calm gaze and quiet, reassuring voice,had simply stood a long moment in the doorway,
faces carved in stone, then turned to disappear into the little house.

Now, finally, the young mother sees the clinic,
just a little way up the road.
She gathers her resolve, takes a deep breath
and rises from the bench, whispering a short prayer of thanks
to the eucalyptus tree that granted her this moment of rest and shade,
and perfumed the breeze with hints of mint and honey.

Charles Coe