Where it all ends

Content Warning: Suicide

With the heavy sun of Mozambique beating down upon my bare back, my hand cupped the wilting plant. Colorless leaves begging for water, a luxury we could not provide. Crumbling stem, slowly turning to ash. Moribund, expiring. My frail bones resemble the maize plant all too much. A tear trickles slowly across my thin-cut cheek. I gently move aside the leaves and spot the last maize of the season. There are only a few ears left, small and drooping. I pry them away from the plant and drop them into the woven basket Ma made.

Ma. I vividly remember the angry conversation she had with Baba nearly a fortnight ago, inside our one-roomed mud hut. Before Baba was gone.

I had plastered myself to one cool wall near the doorless entrance, and I often eavesdropped there.

“What will become of us, Baba! All our harvest money is gone! And now you are lazing around at home instead of selling at the market” Ma cried

“We are on our last reserve of maize,” Baba’s voice is clenched, held in, “ I do not have any more maize to sell at the market. Give a break to me, Ma. I am the only one in this house who does any real work.”

My father’s eyes are igniting, like the flames my mother cooks over.

Our food is prepared outdoors by reason of our thatch roof. Normally, we eat the scrawniest plants in our stock. Otherwise, on a day of particularly good sales, my mother will walk to the market and buy ingredients for fufu, a staple food in Africa, as well as cheap collard greens.

Sometimes, the undersides of our food would burn.

What will burn this time?

I had yet to find out.

“You do not have the money to send Debelah to school. You do not have any maize to sell. All you do is drink chibuku and spend our remaining earnings.” Ma spats.

Tears slide into place, blurring my vision of the thin maize stalk before me. Dizziness is overpowering, and my head sways. My throat burns. Dehydration.

A man-made trough lies at the end of this field. Water is collected from there and turns up there from rainfall. But recently, the rain has been sparse, if any at all, throughout our rainy season. I am praying that there is some of that precious liquid left.

The lipless mouths of the cracked earth are sucking me in, pulling at my heels. In desperate need of the refreshment of water. I heave myself forward when I see the through hoping to see the diamondlike liquid. But when I reach, there is simply a thinned out mud. I cup my hands and lift it out, bringing my lips to it and sip.

Hot sludge fills my mouth, and suddenly I am coughing up bile. Body wracking coughs are bringing me to my knees. And then It is not only the thirst, but I am begging myself to stop pulling back memories that want to stay where they are. In the past. Yet I still pull them forward, pressing my lips together, ignoring their jagged edges ripping at my soul. Secrets, pain. Something did truly happen to our harvest money. And it may as well have ruined our lives. And eradicated my father’s.

As I lie here on this hot earth, I will recount what happened that fateful day.

There are three sections to our vast market. While the barriers that separate them were never truly spoken, they are still there. There is the wealthy market, poor market, for people like us, and the swart market -the black market. It is filled with illegal, stolen, goods you can get for cheap. After this years tough times in terms of farming, men began to meet there, respect and dignity forgotten. Including my father.

Mind that we didn’t know much about it, of course. But sometimes he would slip in late at night, like a shadow, with the putrid scent of chibuku lingering around his body. I would never say anything, nor would my mother, even when our food rations would be cut considerably short. And during the day, a aura of defeat surrounded him. He would sling his thin body across our roughly carved wooden chair, and look out at our dying crops. His dark eyes turned blank, and I wondered what was going on with him.

My Baba was giving up.

The days pass. Sometimes he would just stay limp, ignoring everyone, hardly touching his dinner. But at other times, he would lash out like a snake, waiting to bite in the most painful spot possible. I recall clearly his hand swiping across my Ma’s face when she dropped a platter of fufu. Useless, uneducated woman! Can’t you do one job correctly! I remember the tears that dripped from her eyes as she clutched her red cheek.

And then, the secrets got to be too much. Three nights in a row, Baba was gone from the house. On the fourth day, I was working in the fields, a man’s task I still had to do. And that’s when I heard it.

It rippled and echoes across the field. A sound I had never heard before but caused fear’s clawed heart to wrap around my heart. A gunshot. I drop my basket in shock. And I begin to run, following the remains of the echo.

I already know what happened. I can already envision the body collapsing to the ground. Suicide. A word only whispered out of mouths. But Baba… not him, it couldn’t be him. My thoughts and emotions are whirling around.

I am trying to outrun fear itself. I hurtle through the stalks, ignoring how they cut into my arms. But as my feet pound the musty ground, I know one thing for sure. No matter what, I am heading to where it all ends.


The pre-med girls walked down the street every morning.

But they weren’t pre-med, at least not yet. They liked thinking that they were, though; they liked talking about saving lives–they liked it when their parents introduced them to other Asian parents with: “Oh, this is my daughter. She’s pre-med.” And then the other parents would smile, grin, say, “Oh, your daughter is so accomplished. She’s going to do great things.” Pre-med was a great term, a brilliant term that all the Asians wore like a Science Olympiad gold medal.

When I was younger, my grandfather ran a clinic in Taiwan, where we lived upstairs each summer. In the mornings we’d come down, watch as my grandfather looked at one person’s foot, the back of a neck: intimate parts, fleshed-out parts. I’d watch from the worn-out leather stool in the corner. The little plastic fan attached to the sink never worked, and my shorts were always sticking to my thighs.

“Why do you do this?” I’d asked my grandfather once. He’d grown up in the basement of a fabric shop, where rats were always found dead under the piano and poverty was a given. It wasn’t until he decided to open his own medicine clinic that the fabric shop became an apartment. The apartment became a four-story building. I’d always assumed that the reason he chose to go into medicine was for the success.

My grandfather had looked at me as if he couldn’t believe that was even a question. “To save lives,” he’d replied.

In that instant I was reminded of the countless other pre-med girls who had said these exact same words, that I want to save lives, as if those words meant something.

What hurt was that I could have been one of those pre-med girls. I wasn’t really good at math, but I’d done science fair. I hadn’t won anything, but that was okay. What mattered was doing it and talking to those around me: girls who had been doing science for as long as they could remember, girls who designed apps that solved third-world problems, girls who purified water with the formulas inside their heads, girls whose inventions were so, so much realer than themselves.


The first time I ever participated in science fair, I began to split apart.

I’d dressed up specifically for the occasion. As I walked to the convention center, I hitched my board to my waist, feeling professional and powerful.

We had all received badges when we entered the auditorium for the science fair; each one listed how many years we’d been participating. I only had one blue dot, but there was an Indian girl next to me who had nine. Her board looked professional, like she had spent hundreds of dollars designing it. She’d connected all these wires to it. The front of the board said her name, big and bold and blue. Her pantsuit made her look like she was running for office, rather than attending a science fair. She wore all the medals she’d received from previous years around her neck, as if to say: I’m experienced. I know how to win. I’m pre-med.

I would have loved to be her at that moment: poised, calm, confident. But then I saw how unhappy she looked. Her project was on trying to find a cure for the developmental stages of cancer, a continuation. Her dad had come with her, carrying a piece of equipment. They came to the table across from my measly-looking board on learning languages, and set everything down with such an alarming speed that it was clear this was just another day to them.

For the remainder of the fair, I watched as the girl spoke to wide-eyed competitors, people who had come with goggles and electrical equipment and things that screamed power, success, and changing the world, one invention at a time. “Yeah, curing cancer,” she’d say, “I’m coming really close to it. Should be a few more months.”

I stood by my project, feeling awkward and ordinary, but most of all not pre-med. Because I’d probably never be pre-med. I’d probably never find the cure for cancer. I’d never be someone who invented things that were realer than myself.

An old white lady passed by–a judge, presumably. The girl stood up, straightened her suit, prepared for a discussion. The lady looked at her and frowned. I watched as she grilled the girl on her project, asked if she really thought she was going to cure cancer, asked why she felt like it was her place to conduct such an experiment.

And the girl just kept on stating the same fact, the same I want to save lives. I just want to save lives. She said it so methodically that I began wondering if she really wanted to save lives at all, or if it was more of the feeling of being pre-med, the feeling of power, of success–feeling like you were someone to be proud of. Not just a collection of cells, but a complete, full, whole human being: someone who could save the world, but not someone who was real.

I checked the winners list a few weeks later. She had gotten first place.


In biology, mitosis is defined as the type of cell division that results in two identical daughter cells. These cells are identical copies of one another. The last stage, cytokinesis, overlaps with the final stages of mitosis. That’s when the daughter cells split apart, reform again. No matter the mitosis, though, the cells are the same: always dividing and developing, regenerating and replacing. There will always be parents who introduce their daughters to others, saying: “Oh, this is my daughter.” And there will always be unspoken questions. Why do you do what you do? Why is it your place to conduct such an experiment? Is there something else going on that we don’t know about? What’s your major?

What will you be?