February 10th, 2018 – 1 Year and 7 Months at Site
Reading: On the Road by Kerouac
Brought to you from/by The Village Void
Every night at home is identical. Sister sets the meal on the table, Mak lights incense to deter the bugs, Sis flicks on the blaring TV, and we all shuffle to the table. I’m usually grateful for the whiny din of the Khmer or Thai soap opera which eliminates the pressure of conversation. The TV was broken tonight, though, and I could understand their few exchanges. It was nice.
Sis sets the meal on the table.
“You’re still just looking at your phone. Rice!” Mak says, directed at Pa who reclines in his lounge-chair, swiping through the internet on his phone. I pull over some plastic chairs for Sis and me as Mak lights some incense for the bugs.
“I just drank my medicine, I’m full.” Pa.
“We can wait,” said Sis, abandoning the steaming food and picking up a broom.
“No no, it’s getting late, let’s eat.” Pa.
“Should we turn on a fan?” asked Sis, batting at mosquitoes.
“And freeze? No.” Mak. We shuffle into our seats. Sis ladles out the rice.
“I was cold all day. The cold stuck to me,” says Pa of the 72-degree weather. “What kind of soup is this?”
“Variety soup. So many ingredients… like, 22 ingredients,” Mak says facetiously. She fishs some fallen bugs from her rice.
“Some variety. I only see two types of green vegetables and some little shrimp.” Pa.
“Hey. I put in three leaves of this, two leaves of that. A tiny frog leg. Very small. You probably can’t see it. Eat.” Mak smiles to herself.
Sis takes a bite of the fried cured fish. “This turned out so fatty,” she says then grimaces as she ladles fish sauce onto the next bite.
Pa swipes at an offender by his ear, then pulls up the hood of his regatta jacket where it remains for the rest of the meal.
“They just found this Japanese man,” he starts, after a silence, “in deep forest. He had been living there for 28 years. There were two other who went in with him and he’s the only one left. They said he carved a hole out of the soft clay in the side of a hill and that’s where he would sleep, would cover it up with a large flat rock at night to protect from big wild cats and snakes. In the day he would eat fruit hunted frogs and snakes then eat them raw, he said, since he never knew how to make a fire. The other two people he went with were very old, he was the youngest and he lasted all these years.”
“How do you know about this.” Mak.
“From my phone, just before now.” Pa says from under his jacket hood.
Sis slaps a mosquito and Mak yelps that they are biting her butt. We all flail periodically and whack at ourselves. Sis leaves to bring over more soup.
We all listen to the neighbors on either side of us. The Hengs on the west side are all appealing to their youngest to eat with some type of sing-song performance. The Thearith’s on the east side are looking for the broom, their youngest daughter shouting down from upstairs while mother and father shout up from below.
Pa speaks again after some time. “Aunt Ieey’s kids are coming home for Chinese New Year. They’re all over the place now, in Prey Veng, Svay Rieng…”
Mak breaks in, “Chiev wants a mattress for school, did he call you?”
“He can come and get it himself, pa doesn’t need to deliver it to him.” Sis.
“Yeah, I KNOW, that was the plan.” Mak.
“I waited for him for like an hour at the cafe, he never showed. I just called him before you put out the rice. He said he and his friends rented a guesthouse for the night and were still having fun in the room before check-out.” Pa.
“What, how much did that cost?” Mak.
“Like five dollars per person, a bunch of them roomed together. He said there was an air-conditioner.” Pa, nonplussed.
“I hate those.” Mak.
“It was probably fun.” Sis.
It’s just the tinkling of silverware on dish-rims for a few moments. Then Mak whacks at a mosquito and whines as she sidles off the bench. Sis stares blankly and methodically works the flesh off a piece of fish. Pa turns to stare at the night sky visible beyond the awning and sip some tea. I make my last bite last longer than it should have, then finally push back my plastic chair and leave.