Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wicked Witches in Gingerbread Houses

About the third night in Borneo I took my daughters down to the local fish market at night to watch the boats sail in the harbor at sunset and the old women sit in the dust selling the day's catch.
Things are changing in my daughter's life. Xian wants to listen to rock music and draw the names of boy's on her hand.  Little Rebekah... not so little anymore, is so adventurous.  She wants to dive in the ocean without a life jacket and practice driving and... sometimes I just hold little Kinu so tight as if to stop her from growing up too.
I take them to these places before it is too late.  I crouch in the corner so we are all eye level.  I tell them about the shoeless children without school books and the boys who carry machete knives into the jungle.  About the drunken fathers who sleep on the cardboard and the mothers who trade their bodies for food.  It's a kind of absurdest fairy tale... like the stories I've read to them all their life tucked safely beneath covers and quilts.  The Three Billy Goats Gruff or the Princess at the Pea.
Except this time it's real.  They can see it and absorb real fear, real hurt, real monsters and story pages come alive.  As I lead them through the fish market I can tell they hurt too.  Frightening voices calling out prices in foreign tongues.  Pungent smells of bloody entrails and filth spilled over in puddles.  Brown ripened fruit and the beaten faces of the old.  Young street boys grabbing at their pant legs and begging for coins.  The eyes of the locals staring back at them like wicked witches on the porches of Gingerbread Houses, calling them to draw closer, come nearer, if only for a bite.
We stop and drink some papaya juice while the crowds surge around us, then watch a brown skinned man bore a shaved coconut with a drill and drop in a straw. 
Over by the docks then boys pass cigarettes back and forth and stare at the horizon.

The younger ones crouch at board tables ankle deep in blood cutting up crabs. This one has caught a baby shark.
I know, at the end of this trip, the stories I read to them will never be the same.

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