by Vivien Cao
When your father tells you he secured a flight for you and your husband and children, you don’t ask questions. You race home and fill up a suitcase with photos and heirlooms. You tell your three-year-old to grab a spoon and thank god that the baby is still fed by your breast. Your husband tells you to slow down so he can remember where he put the passports and you regret ever loving him. You wish you had more time to hug your mother and father. You wish your children would stop crying. Fraught but calm, you try to memorize the shadows on the wall cast by the afternoon sun, bougainvillea tapping lightly at the windows, a tender scent woven into the furniture and the textiles and all that you will leave behind.
You push your family into the taxi and tell the driver where to go, to hurry. He nods and sweats and stomps on the accelerator. The car crunches down a rocky driveway, stirring up a cloud of red earth. You can’t see them but you know the neighbors are watching, always. And soon the commandos will come. They will knock knowing no one will answer. They will enter knowing no one will return. They will take knowing no one will stop them. No one will be there to resist them—yet their sandals will still leave skid marks.
Your husband instructs the driver to go faster, but the square is glutted with mopeds and bicycles. “Fuck this country,” your husband sputters. You hate how quickly he blames others. You stare out the window and paint a memory of this place. Mothers yank on bony child arms. Food vendors stir and grill. A lunch crowd spills into the streets, bodies lithely crouched and clustered and doing what they must to survive uncertainty. Mutts are shooed away. A legless man pulls his torso along, trailing empty trousers. Your three-year-old is hungry and asks to stop for chè. You shush him with dried mango strips as your baby roots for your breast by kissing the air.
Your family arrives to chaos. The plane is full. But how can that be. No one will listen to you. But your father made arrangements. But nothing. But wait. Your children cling to you, frightened by your forceful insistence. Your husband drops the suitcase to clutch your arm. Do something, his grip begs. Why did you choose this man to marry? An official in a crisp white shirt scurries by and you thrust your passport in his face. You announce your name, your father’s name, his job and title. You promise your father’s good word. You promise glory and status. You hold out your jewels and promise to keep your promises. You demand to speak to someone with more authority. You plead. You pray. You fall apart. The plane departs without you.
You spot the driver’s scaly elbow slung out the window, a cigarette smoldering towards his thumb. Your family files inside the idling taxi, but where can you go when there is no one to trust. “Fuck this country,” your husband whimpers while you weep. The driver nods and steers, knowing of another way. He takes you beyond the hustle of the city. Past the pastures and the paddies. Heavy with fatigue, your children sink into your flesh. They smell like sea mist, so potent that it fills your lungs and lulls you under, and under, until dusk turns the earth to rust.
Your family arrives as moonlight sweeps the water. You walk to where the shore is shallow. Your three-year-old dips his spoon into the mud and makes a little hole that can’t be seen. The dock is neither here nor there. The boat is neither big nor small. On it is a figure crouched and waiting. The driver says the captain is a kindly man who can take your family to a place, and there it should be easy to keep going—but the boat cannot accommodate your suitcase. You stare at the driver whose eyes are gleaming in the dark. You glance at your husband, whose eyes are also gleaming. Your heart racing, your eyes must be gleaming, too.
Vivien Cao is originally from Los Angeles. She previously worked in film and television, and has taught writing at several CUNY campuses. Her writing has also been published in SmokeLong Quarterly.