Stickman Readers' Submissions February 9th, 2006

Iewung’s Inheritance! Chapter Two – Om’s Story

It was almost two years to the day when Om came home. She was still beautiful. But somehow she’d changed. At sixteen she was without doubt a woman. She had become woman with carnal knowledge and experience. I could feel it to the very core of my
Christian soul. But Om, well she just glowed; her self confidence shone out in defiance of all that we cherished. Dad was beside himself with joy. Her leaving had broken his heart yet with Om’s return, he was a new man. It was only a month
before Om took off again that’s when I stopped going to church. A few weeks later we heard she’d married a boatman by the name of Chenda. Some say he’s Cambodian, others Lao. Certainly his name is Khmer. Fancy giving a name
that means ‘Thought and Intellect’ to a man like him. No one had anything good to say about him.

Om’s long absence changed mum a lot though not as much as Om’s marriage to Chenda did. To this day mum will not lift a finger to help Om, having virtually expunged her from memory. That’s why I rarely go to visit my beloved
sister. I’m still a catholic myself and have to admit that as much as I love my sister I find it really hard to cope with Om’s past behavior, her marriage to Chenda or her present situation. Om herself never did talk about her two
year absence. It’s not easy for me, because I know dad sneaks messages to Om; mum would kill him if she knew. But what can I say; I visit Om in secret too, though rarely, and I have other secrets too.

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Sitting here in Om’s house I feel quite strange. Vague memories keep popping into my head. The newborn is crying, Om scoops her up from the rough hewn crib, bares a breast and starts to feed her. Peace again. I wrack my brain. Why
am I here? I feel so uncomfortable. Chenda is on his feet, he is walking around and past me as though to avoid an obstruction;

’It’s her third brat, not the second’, he mutters as he avoids me.

Then he’s gone. Off to his evening scavenge I guess. His rancid body odor is hanging in the air about me, I move to escape the fug before I wretch. As I move I bump into Om, she smiles as she lays Iewung back in her crib;

‘Dear brother, you must be hungry’, she spoke softly as she glided over to the primus. She warmed up some rice and swamp cabbage with a little bit of ground pork. I feel so guilty eating it that I’m gagging. Om is still
sitting on the floor beside the primus. She is speaking; her words float through the air to me;

‘Yes dear brother, Parsuk was my second child, not my first. When I ran away I was pregnant, I threw myself into the Mekong hoping to drown. I didn’t, when I came to it was dark all around me, I looked across the river, saw
the lights on the other side and realized that I was in Laos’.

Om stopped speaking and just sat there on the earthen floor deep in thought. I too sit in silence. I’m wondering if I should ask questions, or just wait. I waited. I can’t wait any longer;

‘Where is your other baby’?

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A tear rolls down her cheek, she is trying to speak but the words are sticking in her throat. I’m leaning forward, as though I will be able to hear the unspoken words if my ear is close enough to her.

‘I sold her!………… I sold her to an American man; he had no wife and no children. He lives alone at his food processing plant in Cambodia; he said that his housekeeper will raise her’.

My mind is racing again. I wonder how much she got for her. No, No I can’t ask her that. It’s irrelevant. I can feel Om’s pain. Her guilt, her sorrow, it’s overwhelming. My head is spinning again. As I sit here
we’re becoming strangers, Om and me. I can’t help it. It’s all so alien to me. There’s no way back now. Om can never be a member of the family again, these simple heart rending truths would destroy our parents;

‘She’ll be nine now’,

Om was sobbing, torn with grief and guilt.

I blurt out; ‘Who is the father!’

Om is drying her eyes, finally she says; ‘That I can never tell you!’

We retired for the night, a restless endless night which I now end with my departure.


Six years have past, more than eventfully enough, in my little life. I’m back at Om’s place. Parsuk is twelve now, he’s playing outside with a little girl, I think it must be Iewung. My! She’s a pretty little thing for six
years old. They have seen me, their laughter and giggles are giving away to silence as they’re wondering who the strange man is. Om appears at the head of the shale heap that is threatening to slip and dam the stream that runs behind the

‘Hello Songchai, how are you?’

Startled by their mum’s familiarity, the children are looking at me inquisitively, as though at an old man;

‘Hell I’m only thirty’.

Watching Parsuk and Iewung I wonder why they are so happy together. Parsuk is twelve now, I can hardly believe that it’s that twelve years since my first visit to Om’s place, that’d had been the day Parsuk was born, six
years later I was back for Iewung’s birth and now here I am again, another six years on. Om’s worrying letter had summoned me. The letter arrived out of the blue, I’d not heard from my sister at all during the intervening
six years. I hadn’t fretted; I had my own problems and issues to deal with. Anyway it was just as well I felt more able to deal with my own stuff and keep that from mum, if I didn’t have to deal with Om’s stuff too.

‘I’m fine thank you; it has been a long time. How have you been keeping Om, and what’s so important that you didn’t put in your letter?’

Om is beckoning me inside having moved into the doorway already, her finger is pressed to her closed lips, I don’t speak as I follow her through the door. The children are continuing their game. I can hear them laughing and shouting,
occasionally I catch a glimpse of Iewung through the gaps the timbering, subconsciously I’m watching for her, that is for her to pass one of the larger gaps in the timber. As I watch I can see myself looking at Om, as we played, way back
then in our dreamland. Om calls out; ‘Please be a little quieter Parsuk’. Iewung giggles.

I don’t hear Om, I hear my mum, as she was when we were babies. Om turns to the primus, fills kettle in her hand; she pumps up the primus and strikes a match. As the primus lights a shower of sparks rise with the flame as it consumes
the particles of rust that are blown upward in the hiss of the burner.

Om smiles; ‘We always meant to buy a new primus, but somehow there was never quite enough money left over, never mind it still boils a kettle!’

The coffee is terrible; a brew of ground burnt soy beans no doubt, not coffee at all.
‘I tried to kill myself last month!’

Om’s blurting out with such suddenness that I’m as startled by the staccato of the words as I am by their message. Silence prevails, Om’s whilst she mentally remonstrates herself for her loss of control, mine whilst I
fight the melancholy welling up inside me.

I hear Om speak across the widening chasm between us;

‘I feel so ashamed over what I did with Anne. I want to see dad, but I can’t bear to break his heart again’.

I’m listening carefully, afraid of what might come next;

‘What has brought all this on?’ I find myself saying through my confusion.

At last Om gets control of her sobbing and is saying;

‘Secrets, the secrets, they are driving me mad. I have made such a mess of my life!’

The silence is deafening, my mind is racing over all of my transgressions, my shame and my desperation. Om is looking at me expectantly, waiting for words of wisdom, waiting for release from her torment. Fighting back my own tears I find
myself saying in carefully metered speech, and as softly as I can, in order to disguise my own depression;

‘Om it’s time for you to tell me everything. No good has ever come of secrets. Our family is awash with them, tell me everything and tell me now, release yourself from some of this pain’.

Stickman's thoughts:

Good stuff.

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