ashes fall from the joss stick: finger bones
My name is Devi, a foolish name really for it means Angel, and I certainly am not. The city of Phnom Penh had been our home. Father was a professor at The Royal University. I was their only child. I was just getting ready for school, Tuol Sleng High, when the Khmer’s arrived. They drummed on the door of our house and said “Get out, get out!” They had bomb guns pointed at us. One of the soldiers—not much older than I—a very dark skinned girl screamed at Father. “You have American friends? You speak English?” He nodded and said of course he did; he was a professor at the University. “You New People, you think you are so smart.” She shot him in the head. He tumbled like a string-less puppet onto the step. Mother screamed and cried. “You are not to cry,” they ordered, “Get out!”
the open door
let in a light rain:
the kettle whistles
They grabbed mother and I, and tossed us into the band of people milling in the street. They pushed us; prodding with rifle butts along the street lined with palm trees. I was glad it was warm. My black skirt and white blouse were all I wore. All I could think about was my feet. I had been barefoot when they came. What a foolish thing to think. Father was dead. Thinking of my feet. I wish I could go back and get my new shoes. I felt naked. Mother staggered behind me. I told her, “keep up Mae or they will kill you.” Mother bumped into the Grandmother in front of her. Yiey spit at the guard. He jammed the rifle butt into her face. She fell into the gutter. The line walked around her. The guard kicked her body. “Why waste a bullet?” He and the other half dozen guerrilla’s laughed. The girl guard ripped Yiey’s gold amulet from her neck. She wiped the blood off the necklace on Grandmother’s dress. “Be of use or die New Ones,” the male guard bellowed.
To my surprise, the Khmer guards took us to the High School. Mother was ripped away from me. All the women were taken outside. I could hear much laughter. There was screaming and cries to God. The dark skinned female guard smiled. “They are being of use,” she smirked. She sucked on her index finger and the male guard next to her howled. I never saw mother again.
So many, many: young children, young mothers, young boys, all marched days with little food or water. The temperature climbed over 100 degrees. Babies were torn from shawl slings and tossed away like garbage as they died. There were no more tears. We were to be ‘purified’ in a commune. The village was called Prek Sbauv. I struggled to live. I bent my back in the fields of the Old People.
What was life? I asked myself, so many times, but, to say no was to die. I did not want to rot in a rice paddy, not be reborn. Had no one burnt father’s corpse? Had no one placed the white crocodile flag in front of our home? I must live to see father and mothers’ bodies were burned. I must place their ashes in the stupa.
*The Cambodian genocide April 17, 1975