She Weeps Each Time You're Born

Free She Weeps Each Time You're Born by Quan Barry

Book: She Weeps Each Time You're Born by Quan Barry Read Free Book Online
Authors: Quan Barry
of the old woman’s shirt she brushed the spot with her lips where Bà’s scar gleamed next to her heart. A dog barked in the distance and then a flash and theneverything, Bà’s life spooling into her granddaughter in the span of a human kiss.
    Lady, your face is growing wet. A light mist slicks your cheeks, but it’s not rain, the sun peeking through the haze. Lightly you run a finger over your forehead and stick it in your mouth. Salt. Spindrift. You begin to recognize the soft sting in your nostrils, the world listing at five degrees. Then you realize it’s not music filling the air so much as the cries of seabirds.
    A sudden splash. A body hits the water, then another before a gun is fired into the air. In the sky the line of little white birds riding the winds parts for just the briefest of moments before re-forming. You watch as the man with the gun takes aim at two dark shapes in the water, the shapes paddling furiously. Another few shots and they stop moving and sink below the surface. For the rest of the short journey south nobody else jumps overboard even though the ship never leaves sight of land.
    The day began on a quay, an interminable line slugging forward. People standing in the hot sun waiting for their turn to make their mark on a piece of paper, lines organized by place of origin. Ha Nam. Nam Dinh. Ninh Binh. At the head of each line there is an agent and a doctor from the company who looks at both sides of the hands and pries the mouth open, searching for signs of fever because, aside from fever, everything else is acceptable.
    A recruiter walks among the lines saying it will be the easiest three years of your life. He is missing his left index finger all the way down to the knuckle. You notice this and everything there is to see. Your eyes are clear as gems. You try not to stare as he says something about free medicine, thirty pounds of rice a month, eight-hour work shifts, and the company will pay tobring you right back here, repatriate you in the land of your ancestors with money in your pocket.
    All over the quay large men stand around holding rattan canes as if the foot-long sticks were nothing more than fancy pointers used to direct traffic. Some of the men are foreign, ex-members of the French Foreign Legion, their faces etched by sun and swifter sharper things. Some of them stare openly at the women. One scratches the black stubble of his chin with his cane as if that’s all he ever does with it. Already you are learning that order is something the company must maintain at all times, and that it is the job of these men to do so at any cost.
    Two hours and then you’re up. How old, says the agent. Your mother looks at you as if he’s asked for your weight, something she needs to consider. She reaches over and brushes a strand of hair from your face. Thuan is fourteen, your mother says, her voice smoothing over the lie. The truth is you were born in 1930, and you will be ten in the fall, your eyes clear as water, but as you are learning, women are mercurial. Tell a man what he wants to hear and he will see whatever you tell him. The agent plunks down a contract. Sign here, he says. You take up the plume and dip it in the inkwell, draw the small square with the two lines that partition it like a rice paddy, the symbol of your clan. Your mother looks on. There isn’t even hope in her eyes, just resignation. A mother and a daughter, their hunger like a bond between them.
    What your mother doesn’t know. The agent doesn’t care how old you are. He gets paid three
xu
for every signature he collects.
    It’s a good place for a family, the agent says. The company will look after you. Your mother wonders why, now that he has your signatures, the agent keeps spinning his lies. Everyone else from Nam Dinh headed south years ago, and none of them have come back, though everyone in Nam Dinh knows what happens down on the plantations. They went for the same

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