Souvenirs for My Daughters


A clear look

Our group of five walk by a gathering setting up for a meal.
Mingd* whispers to me that they’re my family.
I look over and she is right. I am really happy to see them
and I call out EE (for my aunts). Heads turn. Surprised faces
fling over from where they are under shade. My family:
five aunts, four of my mother’s blood and one through marriage;
two uncles, husbands to two of the four; and, seven cousins.

My feelings are a little hurt. I think maybe they have chosen my younger sister
before me. I sweep the children’s faces. I do not see my sister’s.
One aunt, a swollen belly
filling out with a baby not much longer to birth,
waddles over to greet me.
To confirm I ask, “Aah-Beau mowl jeermyou EE?”*
She shakes her head no. Then, she tosses me that empty invite,
for me to come and travel with them.
I glance at my other three EE’s, one face down
and two faces up. One is glaring,
shutting me up before I can agree. She shouts,
“Don’t bring her with us.
She’s all trouble.” And, the other with a
smaller pregnant belly snickers
that there’s not enough food to feed me.

What’s there to lose when you have nothing,
but your face? To save face, I rouse up courage
to preserve the little pride
I have left after being rejected. I stand firm.
I do not want to be a loser, so I lie,
telling my EE that I would rather go with Mingd
because I would get to the camp faster. I walk pass her.
My eyes tear up. Mingd lets me know she knows
by placing her hand on my back. She comforts me
by telling me that sometimes relations are better off not had.

My mother’s words about oranges echo in my head.

Oranges of one tree,
Never taste the same, as they should be:
Some are bitter;
Some are shining in peels, but flesh is sour;
Then, some are sweet and soothing. An orange
Is an orange - just as it’s seemed.

*Mingd – aunt/auntie. Usually refers to a woman younger than one’s mother. She was my mother’s friend. She took me all the way from Battambang to the refugee camp on the border with Thailand.
*Aah-Beau mowl jeermyou, EE? – Did Aah-Beau (my younger sister’s name) come with you, Aunties?

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