--THERE’S NOTHING SADDER THAN A STREET LIGHT SHINING ON AN EMPTY STRETCH OF SIDEWALK
God of Rose and Thorn
As our bus pulls away, they swarm, pounding on the rusted, mud-caked metal. One girl catches me with her jade eyes like jars. She makes a rolling-down-the-window motion.
She calls to me and, even though I can’t hear her, I know what she’s shouting, same as the others during our tour. “Please! Mistah, please!”
She is bones, drumsticks and skull with black hair lusterless. The bus belches and poisons her with its black cloud. Pulling away, she flails her arms at me, jumpy, her face wearing worry and want.
At the stop sign, she’s caught up, gasping. “Mistah! Mistah!”
Our tour guide said we shouldn’t feel guilty. “It lifestyle for them. Nothing personal!”
The window is stuck. Or locked. I try to show her. I hold up my palms as if I’m being robbed. Tears trickle over her cheekbones large as clam shells.
“They no artists. So don’t you be scammed!” the guide warned.
The swarm of mopeds impedes our push to get through the intersection. The remnants of the rainy season smells like cowhide and feces, the odor bathing us, baked into the heat the way the smell of smoke seams into one’s skin.
“They only look skinny, but most have plenty to eat!”
Back home, my own daughter will marry in three weeks. I remember her fondness for birthday cake, especially the gloppy frosting rose which was her favorite because that was her name. All high school and college, Rose battled weight issues, and only after meeting Adam has she become convinced there’s a man who loves her as she is.
“Keep your wallet in front pocket,” the guide said, patting his groin. “These kid are real pros!”
Moped exhaust wafts across the girl’s face now, like a black wraith. The honking is calamitous. I can’t hear her, but I can read her lips: “Mistah. Mistah, please!”
I bought a copper figurine at a temple in Angkor Wat. Lord Vishnu, with his effeminate eyes and extra set of arms, peaceful and content looking, a god in need of nothing.
The girl outside the glass, she looks like the scores of black and white photographs we saw at Tuol Sleng, all those captive children about to be tortured or turned against one another by the Khmer Rouge. When she saw the blades, the handcuffs coming out of the floor, the woman on the tour bus who had been flirting with me vomited into her handbag and hasn’t looked my way since. Back home my wife is about to launch her new studio, filling it with obscure canvases coated in with waves of excess paint.
“Mistah, Mistah,” the girl calls.
If I look close I can see down the girl’s throat into the vortex of her soul where blackness swirls unknown, doing damage like a party of parasites.
My wallet is damp from sweat, a thick ball of leather. In my other hand I aim Vishnu at the window. He’s heavy in my hand as I swing.