by Joanna C. Scott

    (Philippine Refugee Processing Center, Bataan, 1985,
    since destroyed in the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo)

    . . . for Roel, my driver

    He would squat in the shade
    All day beside a hulk
    Hoisted off some beach
    Where boat people had run
    Aground. Brushing away
    Children from the local
    Village come to beg, he
    Would gossip with a Khmer,
    Or Lao, or Vietnamese.
    While I did my research
    With tapes and interviews,
    He did his own less formal
    Kind. Sly inquisitor,
    He led his subject on
    With simple English
    Sentences, a smiling
    Dumb-show for the rest,
    Talking of unimportant
    Things at first, thus drawing
    Out more serious concerns.

    Later, he would tell me
    Of this one or that who had
    Come to pass the time
    With him, telling a tale
    Of dark beach rendezvous,
    Gold passing hand to hand,
    Fear, hunger, pirates, storms,
    Relief of gaining land.
    One man told of giant
    Fish with giant fins who
    Rode beside their boat like
    Guardian ancestors.
    Another said a gull
    Soared in the wind before
    Their boat thirteen full
    Days, guiding them to shore.
    Now he came each morning
    With bags of rice and crumbs
    To feed the gulls here in
    The main square of the camp.

    Meeting me one evening
    With the car, Roel seemed down.
    "What's up" ? He sighed.
    "Ma'am, these are lucky ones.
    America to them
    says, Come. To us, so poor,
    it shakes its head.
    Even, Ma'am, the children
    From Morong, my mother's
    Village, come here every
    Day to beg for rice and
    Pesos from these refugees.
    Oh, Ma'am, if only I . . .'
    I winced, held out my hand.
    "Roel, please don't. Don't cry."
    But now here came the beggar
    Children shouting down
    The track. He slid apologetic
    Eyes away and turned
    A stiff, disowning back.

Copyright 2021 by Red River Review. First Rights Reserved. All other rights revert to the authors.
No work may be reproduced or republished without the express written consent of the author.