As she walks down the paved market street, she is rushed by a strong whiff of fish. She had been looking for rice noodles, and yet somehow she had unknowingly wandered into the seafood section. The smell begins to take her over. She wants to cover her nose badly because she doesn’t want to remember what had happened, but she can’t stop it; she can’t stop the smell of the dead ocean from consuming her. As she continues to walk deeper into the alley, she can’t fight the memories any longer. She was walking again under the burning, piercing sun. And, even though her feet burned from the sand-colored dirt, she didn’t try to escape to it. She was again walking lifelessly past all the settlements houses. Trucks rolled past her, and although she did not look, she could feel men inside of them staring at her as if they wanted something from her. The whole scenery became more real. She was really there. She eventually found her way to her own settlement house, remembering where it was as if she had never left. It was barren and dark inside. It contained nothing but a mattress, some old photos, dishes, and her two young sons. She showed her kids the rice rations she had received. She didn’t try to spark a conversation with them because she just didn’t have the energy.
When she began to cook the rice, they flooded her with the usual questions, “Where’s Dad? Is he coming yet?” And just as it was routine, she would reply with the same “He’s fishing.” Somehow they knew they weren’t going to get more out of her, and so they left it at that. She knew, however, that it had been too long. She looked down at her once fair and delicate hands and saw how the burn marks sporadically painted their backsides. She saw how dirt rested underneath her fragmented fingernails. She looked at her kids play with a ball, but she heard nothing. She watched them and she saw smiles, but the smiles were weak; they had no energy in them. But it wasn’t the debility of the smiles that concerned her, rather the silence that was so strong. Her children, she thought, used to laugh and fight. She remembered there was a time when she thought they bickered too much, but now, she missed it. And then suddenly, she realized that this was only the beginning, so she planned to leave. She knew leaving could change her current moment, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to outrun the truth. She waited three more years until she left. They traveled far on land. She didn’t want to go too far just yet, crossing the water was still dangerous for her, and she knew it.
She and her two sons, who were about seven now, found new refuge and lived in a new settlement house. She worked passionately with the hope of being able to leave one day. Her sons were still young, so she didn’t want them to know the camp. The only time they interacted with others was when they would take English classes.
A couple of years had passed since her stay in this new camp when he saw her. He saw her broken sun-burned body. He saw her long, silky, black hair. He saw her walk that seemed somewhat motionless. And then, he saw her face. Her face was different from the rest. He couldn’t explain it. It was beyond her beauty. There was something hidden behind her wrinkled, sad eyes and her thirsty mouth, something pure. He kept an eye on her for a few days and then one day, he talked to her.
She responded to him listlessly. He finally asked her why her husband wasn’t helping her work. She angrily yelled at him asking him if his wife knew he was flirting with other girls in the camp. She sped up her walk, half regretting what she had said; the camp life was dangerous, she didn’t need to give anyone an excuse to be angry with her. However, to her surprise, he simply said, “I left her in ______, she had an affair.” Even more shocked by his openness, she said her goodbye. The following days, he would try and talk to her more and more. Two months time had passed before she willingly gave him information about her life like where she was from or how many kids she had. She resistantly became more comfortable with him. She felt it was too soon, but he was her only outlet to feeling real again. Her daily conversations with him made her forget it all: the scorching sun, the hot dirt, and the empty faces her children began to wear.
She worked during the mornings and he worked during the evenings. The kids grew to love him and so did she. Life entered all their lives again. She smiled for the first time in years; at first it was such an unnatural facial position for her. Her face felt awkward when the corners of her mouth rose, but as time passed, she forgot how to frown. She and he worked twice as much. Together, they opened up opportunities for each other beyond the camp. Aside from their hunger, their thirst, and their rooted sadness, life was going right. They filed to be relocated to the US. They wanted their next settlement house to be a home, to be theirs together. They packed what little they had. They knew they were going to leave, even though they hadn’t heard any news yet.
The day they did receive the news, she was set on celebrating. She went to the market looking for rice noodles. She finds she has unknowingly wandered to the seafood section. And as her mind replays her journey to this very moment, she can’t help but think if he had ever returned. She knows he’s dead, but her hopeful nature makes her think that there’s a chance her first husband could be alive. As she passes the dead sea-life in the marketplace, she pictures him fishing for her and their two sons, she pictures a violent storm, and she pictures him gone forever. Tears slowly fall as she picks up the pack of rice noodles she has unknowingly found. Her heart is tickled with sadness. She returns and finds her two sons playing with the man she has grown to love. She looks at the rice noodles and smiles. She smiles at the packed place she has been refusing to call home. She knows home will become somewhere else in the near future, and there she will bring forth new family additions, ones that will never have to live her reality. Her condition will become a haunting memory that they won’t fully understand. She smiles at the thought. Her war ignorant, comfortable living, never hungry, maybe sometimes ungrateful children will have a history distant from hers. Their history is no longer hers. This is their history: