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Saturday Storytime: If the Mountain Comes

An Owomoyela is a relatively new but prolific writer of short stories. This is the latest of those.

The riverbed had been parched for as long as I could remember, its dirt cracked and peeling like thick and brittle plates. You could throw them toward the bank, and watch them burst into plumes of dust. Our family drilled deep and sucked water from the earth, and it was enough to keep us wealthy, by our own, dusty standards of wealth.

Papa sent Enah away. Then he went out to the pumpyard, and I ran out after our visitor. “Wait!”

Enah turned and looked at me. “We weren’t introduced,” he said.

“I’m Lena,” I said. “Lena Wolfe. You say you can bring the river back?”

He looked up and down the riverbed. The town was clustered on the bank, and my grandfather’s home and his father’s home connected the town and our farm like the dots of an ellipsis. My family had always followed the water.

“Let me ask you something,” Enah said. “Why is it you think these people don’t seek their fortunes elsewhere?”

I shrugged. “This is home,” I said.

He nodded. “It’s their home, and it’s still possible to live here. If it is possible to live, many will stay where they’ve buried their parents, and where they’ve dug the wells with their hands, and laid the cobblestones. And besides, the sun is hot everywhere. Water is precious everywhere.” He tapped the ground with one foot. “What is the name of this river?”

The name dried up when the water did. I think Papa knew it. I think it was written on the old maps, but we didn’t use the old maps. “It doesn’t have one.”

Enah turned to look at me, and his eyes were as sharp as a carrion bird’s. “That’s sad, isn’t it?” he said. “I’ve brought waters to desert arroyos, Lena. I can make this river flow again. And when the waters flow again, your town will name it.”

He reached out to touch my cheek, and I stepped back. Ordinarily, no one would touch me — I’d have a dog, like Papa’s dogs, to dissuade anyone from coming too close. Not then, though. Papa had killed my dog that morning.

“There will be enough water to grow hyacinths here,” Enah said.

“What are hyacinths?” I asked.

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