questionable gestures

Questionable Gestures publication was printed in spring of 2014 contains short stories and art from graphic designers and illustrators.

Cover art by Kelsey Tahara

Interior illustrations pictured above by Tevy Khou

Mango tree

By Tevy Khou

Illustration by Kelsey Tahara

Barefoot and shirtless with ripped overalls on, I ran into a big empty clay pot used to store water to hide from my cousins. I was eight-years-old, playing a game that was a mix of tag and hide-n-seek. I was really good at this game, being the smallest and most adept at keeping quiet. I waited until my cousin, Bong Kahom, found me. “Bong” was how you addressed someone older than you, and “kahom” meant “red”. We called her this, because of the red birthmark that painted half of her face. When we were done playing games, we spent most of the day at the beach. The water was so blue and clear; you could see schools of fish swimming in it. The sand was white, untouched by tourists. I got sunburns that turned red until my skin peeled. We picked fresh coconuts there, and drank Angkor brand beers like kings.

My oldest cousin, Bong Ti, was dark brown and had big ears. His hair was buzzed, and he had some razor cuts around his jaw. Ti wore an oversized military camouflage shirt, and dirty khaki shorts. He gathered us and some other kids from the village around a mango tree near the school. The school was vanilla and blue painted with dirt scaling the walls. It was some kind of abandoned project left behind by missionaries, unable to convert the village with free bags of rice for service.

The tree was too large to climb, so we used makeshift slingshots to get the sour green mangos down. All the farmer kids were much better shots than I was. The twin boys wore wearing matching cut off jean shorts and soil stained shirts. One had Power Rangers on it, and the other a Spice Girls tour poster. They were skinny with large hands and feet. There was also a girl in a donated faded orange floral dress whose collar was torn off, and exposed thread from around her neck. She had a bowl cut her I’ve seen her mom do before. The tallest girl had long raven black hair down to her knees but today she kept it in a topknot. She had cargo shorts and a man’s oxford short sleeve shirt that was blue and missing some buttons. My cousins gave me their share of mangoes, and we walked the dirt road back to my grandmother’s farm.

The adults sat around the wooden bed shaded by a straw roof, fanning, defending themselves against the heat and mosquitos. Some of the women were dressed in all black and bald headed. They were terrifying to a foreigner like me, chewing a sort of tobacco wrapped up in leaves that stained their teeth red, and gushed when they bit down like thick blood. Old and skeletal, their eyes were glazed over grey, and looked around at people as if they knew the secrets behind their faces. But they were holy women as my mother told me; something similar to Buddhist monks except that it was a role that elderly women are more common to take.

We were eating the sour mangos with red peppers granulated into salt when a local farmer kid, with coarse curly hair, and black skin came running telling us that there was a robbery in a nearby restaurant.

All of us, including the adults quickly made our way on bikes to the riverside diner. It was built over the water, sitting on large logs ready for rainy weather floods. There was over a hundred people surrounding the building, heads peaking over each other to see. Coming down the stairs two plain clothed officers had two of the thieves in custody. One was a young man in a dirty white t-shirt and blue slacks. He was baby faced and had an Elvis haircut. The other was a fat man, balding, and his white button up was open revealing a large potbelly. He was dark skinned and his eyes were bloodshot. He had a thin mustache and an angry face with deep frown lines. No one said anything above a whisper. Some villagers gossiped about how they tried to rob the restaurant with butcher knives and there were several others who got away in a car. The officers tied their hands up with rope and each had one on the back of two Honda mopeds that looked at least thirty-years-old, and ready to breakdown.

We went back to the farm to continue eating the mangos, and playing card games. The same curly haired boy came running by again, but this time with much more urgency in his breath. I didn’t catch what he said, because I don’t understand Khmer very well. I followed the wave of bodies and this time we traveled a little bit further out of town.

In the large rice field, there were a few houses made of wood with tin roofs on either side. I held my mom’s hand when she pulled me closer to her to avoid stepping in a large puddle of blood.

The same spectators from the river diner were there all looking down at something. As we got closer, I could see the young man with the Elvis haircut lying on the ground. He was shirtless this time. His eyes were closed; his head tilted to the left, his arms splayed out and his right leg was crossed over his left. To my surprise, there wasn’t very much blood on him, only a skinny stream of blood dripping down his baby face. Some of the farmers from that side of the village said that when he somehow escaped police, he took his shirt off, and ran into the field pretending to be a farmer. The two policemen beat him to death. I looked up at all of the people around and no one was really reacting. No one touched his body to see if he was still breathing. He was definitely dead. I could already see his lips turning purple, and the blood thickening, growing darker and deeper in red.

My mother gagged at the scene. I pretended to be sick too, thinking it would comfort her. The entire time I kept thinking, “Where did the fat man go? Who cleans all of this up?”

An hour later all the kids went back to the mango tree at the school site. I attempted to climb the lowest branch of the tree. With one leg up and over, I hoisted myself on the second branch closest. I heard something moving, so I jumped back thinking it was snake. I fell to the ground and landed on my back. Some mangoes fell and hit the ground. I looked up to avoid them and met eyes with the fat man.

He had a large scythe in his hands that I’ve seen before. It was my grandmother’s, probably stolen from the pigpen. He heaved towards us; his eyes still red, and his feral face wrapped in rage. Before he could fully raise the scythe in the air, Bong Ti came from behind him and hit him in the back of the head with the bottom of his slingshot. As he stumbled for balance, one kid kicked the scythe away and everyone surrounded him with sticks in hand. Bong Kahom kicked him in the groin and he growled as he bent over in pain. The twins jumped on him, driving him to the ground. The girls with the bowl cut and the tall one had sticks whipping in the air, and Bong Ti was trying to hold down his arms.

He didn’t cry or scream for help. He kept trying to get up sometimes pulling one of us down and under his belly. I punched him in the face. and held his neck down with my knee. Now, he tried to grab me, so I took a rock and hit him with that. Every time my fists came down, he reached out for anything, clawing for flesh. Bong Ti pulled me up off of him as we all stopped for air.

The fat man’s head was turned on side in the ground, and bright red haloed his face. His thin mustache guided the blood out and over his lips. An eyeball hung from its socket. One arm was bent backward and his legs were still curled up as close as he could get them to his chest. Large lashes left by the sticks gaped open, and his back was covered in dirty little footprints. The blood on my overalls was drying fast from the sun and getting heavier. Everything smelled like iron. It was getting dark and we left him there under the mango tree.

We came back the next day but someone cleaned up and his body, and the blood was gone. We played Hide-n-Seek under the tree’s shade for the rest of the summer.