On suffering

In the nail shop, Vân examines
each of my fingernails under a light
before he trims and buffs. Not two
minutes in, he asks me where
I’m from: Philippines? When I nod,
he confides that he spent six
months there, in a processing
center in Zambales, after he came
on a boat and while waiting
for his papers to clear for transfer
to a camp in Thailand. This was more
than 20 years ago, and he was only 21.
The food was bad in the camp, he says,
especially if you don’t have relatives
in the US to send money. Now he is in
his 40s, married, with I don’t know
how many children. He is having trouble
with the nail polish I’ve chosen, wine
red remaining in a bottle labeled “Sky-
fall.” Too thick, he says; but it’s what
you want. I say, many days I don’t
really know what I want. Next he asks
do I like balut, boiled duck embryo in
the shell, sold hot from baskets on almost
every street corner in Manila and
the countryside. He doesn’t wait for my
answer. He says I cannot eat that, I
am Buddhist. I cannot eat another creature
that’s gone through suffering in order
to become my food. Finally he surveys
his work and says I’m ready for the drying
lamp. As though I’d asked, he offers too—
Anywhere, here in America, we can pray;
no need for temple. And there is temple
also on the internet. Before I head out
the door, he reminds me: next time,
Choose new bottle! Choose another color!
Something that won’t stain your nails so much.


In response to VIa Negativa: Guerilleros.

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