The sky was nothing but scorched earth swirling with gusts of acrid smoke. An angry flame pierced through the haze and then disappeared.
That hateful woman's kitchen was engulfed in flames. I had turned the gas off, right?
I saw a crowd of wailing women moving together, carrying something back into the main house. They were carrying her. I killed her. I left the gas on. I blew up her kitchen. She was dead and all the money she had been greedily extorting from me in exchange for a wooden bed and ketchup-drenched noodles was turning to ashes inside the coffee tin on top of the fridge.
I ran into the house. They were fanning her. I hadn't picked up on all the cultural differences, but it is a universal truth that dead women don't need a breeze. She leaned dramatically on the coffee tin. Good, she would live to see her sons hang me for burning down their house and she could use the money I gave her to pay the police to look the other way. The wailing had subsided far too early for my tastes. I started to cry a horrible, clumsy, American cry. I cried the cry she had been expecting when she asked what was wrong with me that my parents didn't care if I left home. I cried the cry I swallowed when she told me I couldn't go to the bathroom at night without her because the dog that guards the chicken coop would attack me. I cried at what a dreadful person I was, to hate a woman so deeply for making my life difficult, when she had washed the same disposable diaper four times.
She held my head against her chest. I didn't know how to tell her what I had done.
Her son came in, caked in soot. My advanced body language skills told me he was asking why the fat, awkward American was sobbing.
"Chicken," he told me emphatically. I dismissed the idiomatic conclusion that he was calling me a coward. The fire killed all the chickens. I was a depraved, poultry murderer/arsonist. Another round of sobbing was accompanied by my feeble attempt to communicate my understanding that all the chickens were dead. The "Chicken Dance" achieved a new level of emotional depth that night.
He pointed angrily to the light switch, "No. CHICKEN! Do you speak Russian, or not?"
I do speak Russian. The Turkmen word for "chicken" sounds a lot like the Russian word for "electrical current." The daughter-in-law had plugged in a hot plate and the wiring in the wall caught fire. I had turned the gas off. The three times I obsessively checked the stove had not led me astray. The crumbling, hideous house simply self-destructed.
"Maybe," she said in Russian, "maybe we don't tell Peace Corps what happened?"
I looked at the coffee can. Maybe this changes everything.