God's Small Hands
If God were a man, he'd have small hands, Meng San whispers, and pinches my left buttock.
We are in the antique Ming chest the size of a Chinese coffin, smelling of balsam wood. Outside, amidst the throaty call of bullfrogs and the chirp of cicadas, guests are waiting for the funeral shaman.
The taste of mango scents my cousin's breath. Half a mango cupped in her palm, crisscrossed with a paring knife, its flesh rising like mounds of yellow earth. The lid of the Ming chest is propped up with a wooden clog-shoe, letting in a tiny sliver of light. My cousin's eyes are wide, dark and mischievous. She'd enticed me into the chest with a mango. Her other hand skims the thick braid down my back.
Grandmother lies in a wooden coffin with huge wooden panels on the side, spread like petals. Her nose is stuffed with cotton buds and her eyes sewn shut. Paper money lines the insides. The cloying smell of incense creates a hazy cloud outside, suppurating the thick drenched heat of the tropical night.
Mother is sleeping under a canopy of mosquito netting in a sedated stupor, jetlagged from our flight in from San Francisco. She's afraid of Meng San's father, a brutal tea plantation owner who beats his servants and laborers. In the study, his horsewhip hangs loose. Mother hadn't wanted to come but I convinced her. All year long, because of what I saw, I had longed for Meng San.
Last summer, I watched her behind a mango tree in the plantation yard, her hand burrowed under the skirt of the girl who picked tea-leaves for her father, the way the girl's eyes rolled white. Meng San had caught me spying, and she'd smiled. Then, later, I saw her in the study, palm extended on a teak table. Grandmother held a feather duster in her hand, rattan cane rapping down hard. Again and again, making me wince with imaginary pain. Meng San's palm trembled upon impact, but she didn't flinch once.
Meng San's hand grasps mine in the dark, her fingers try to intertwine with mine. She giggles, "If you lift the folds of robe the funeral shaman wears, you'll see all the dead souls gathered there, on their way to hell." And then, "Did you know that if a black cat jumps over the coffin, the dead comes back to life?"
What drew me was the sweetness of mango, the hardness of her spine, the multiplication of desire, the irreverent cusp of self-discovery.
"How many peckers do you think God has?" I ask.
Meng San laughs. She is swift. Her face nears. I can make out the mole underneath her moistened lips, like a third eye, the wetness and coolness of her tongue like the first touch of mango flesh on follicles. Her hand squeezes around my nape, securing her tether.
When we climb out, Abdul, one of Grandmother's houseboys whose saronged hips sway like flower stalks, is standing there, eyes sharp as marbles and lips puckered.
Meng San shoos at him. Abdul wags his finger and his tone is accusing. "I'll tell your father." Meng San's shrill laugh bounces off my spine and skitters up the beams of the ancestral hall towards the empty study.
"Shame, shame!" Abdul's words echo after his retreating flipflops. The tip of Meng San's tongue, pink and delicate, curls downwards to moisten her mole. My fingers yoke together, in a repentance prayer, for the fibs we both will tell.
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