Page 146

2019

NORTH CAROLINA L I T E R A R Y RE V I E W

a warning, but Keang came beside her, placing his hand lightly on her arm. She felt the tremble in his fingers and tried to grasp his hand, grasp it tight, but he slid it away. Saying nothing to Youn Ban, he left her side and stepped from the hut. She watched them go, Keang so very thin, hair gray, yet walking erect, the way she remembered him in Phnom Penh, as he walked each morning from their house to the transit company where he worked. He did not look back. Chhem Sokha leaned from the doorway. At the end of the path, Keang and Youn Ban were met by two more men. One carried a pickax. Another rested a shovel on his shoulder. Sokha screamed and tried to go after them, but Norn grabbed her and pulled her to the hut floor, pinning her arms with his hands, smothering her mouth with his chest to squelch her cries. That night she used up her ration of tears. She sat on the floor of the hut, sobbing into the rags of Keang’s clothing bunched like a pillow in her hands to muffle the sobs so the Angka with flashlights would not hear. She tortured herself with images of Keang from their lost life, chhoeu sattek searing her heart and making her faint from dizziness. The festival of their wedding and the wedding night as he caressed her gently like a father with a child, patiently, when she refused to be a woman, lying face down on the rice mat sobbing and calling her mother’s name. Only later, after many months, did she accept as truth her mother’s Khmer wisdom, that although she did not choose her husband, she would come to love him. When morning came and Keang did not return, Sokha stopped crying. From that day, Buddha erased Keang’s image from her mind. Only once had he come to her and that was in a dream. When she woke from the dream, she could not recall his face nor how his hair fell on his forehead or the softness of his eyes. Chhem Sokha did not cry when Norn died of fever. Or when her mother gave her daily ration of rice to Sok, causing large ulcers to fester on her body. The day her mother died, Sokha cut a lock of her mother’s hair and sewed it into the hem of one of her black shirts. She sat beside the body for hours, her face to the wall. Sokha waited in front of the American store. What should she do? This was not Cambodia. Angka did not control this place. But she could not go forward. She started to turn away when two white men, also wearing the brown uniform shirts, came from the store with cartons of soda. They spoke to the others and the brown shirt men picked up the tools and walked to trucks parked down the block. This time Sokha said her prayer of thank you to Jesus. These were white men. Americans. They belonged to Jesus.

That night she used up her ration of tears.

Sokha waited until the men with the shovels and pick axes were out of sight before entering the store. She hurried to the back corner where Mr. Franks kept the Asian foods and found a ten-pound bag of rice. With her back turned to the others in the store, she reached under the waistband of her slacks to retrieve the dollar bills. She carried the rice to the counter and stood behind a white man buying beer. Mr. Franks rang the register without looking up. She paid for the rice and slid it into the market bag, putting her change in the pocket. Outside, she squinted in the sunlight. The men drinking beer were still there. She darted around them and into the street. At the end of the block, other black men were quarreling. She did not understand what they were saying, but understood their hands and faces. One man swung his arm at another. A third man leaped between them and PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER PAUL GEOFFRION

146

A Brief Mention of Sanctuary in America, 2017 (oil, linen, silk, fabric paint, colored pencil, antique 24k gold silk obi thread, black salt, smoke on arches oil paper, 72x51) by Lien Truong

Profile for East Carolina University

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

Advertisement