Souvenirs for My Daughters


Once, Pa-pa told me, elephants were used to build Angkor Wat. They bore the weight of what our ancestors could not haul to build our magic kingdom. And I asked Pa-pa, if they were so strong, then how come they remained shackled to those thin chains? Then, Pa-pa told me, they learned when they were young that they could not break free from those chains and that the chains were too strong for them. They learned to live with them; they grew huge but the chains remained the same.

Acceptance is easy when you do not know any other way.

I accept my burden, and I move on.
I tell myself that I am happy
because my good brother is here.
I am fed; and the beating ceased. I feel brave,
strong enough to take on the next day.

So when I find him packing, once again,
I am gripped with fear.
Whatever security I thought I had
built up while he was here had again disappeared.
I know that without my brother
I will be beaten to death.

I ask him why he is packing, and can I help
because he seems rushed. He says he can not talk right now
and looks over his shoulders at the windows often.
But he tells me that he has to leave quickly. Where? I ask.
Away from here, he answers.
I beg him, take me with. And, he tells me that he can not
because he has to travel fast.

“Please Bong, take me with you,” I beg some more.
“Don’t leave me here. He only beats me more.”
He does not seem surprised to hear this, but he still holds firm.
Where he steps, I trail; I can not lose him.
Then, he nods yes and tells me to go back and grab some clothes
while he hides in the shrubs. True to his words he does not ditch me.
When I know that he is the only good thing I have left,
reasons and consequences do not matter much.
When there’s nothing left to bind, except for, the hunger and the beating,
leaving is easy.

I am so out of breath that I can’t even ask
my brother why we are running and hiding
so often. We blend in with the shrubs
so much that I feel it is my job to look for them along the way.
Then, we arrive at a house, close to a paved road.

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