I looked for everything the way it was twenty years ago.
Buffalo boys balancing on the horizon. Bungalows on stilts with woven reed rooftops. Dancing long-neck hill tribes with brass rings around their necks and bells on their hems. Morning mist that turned the air to gold. Red dusty roads. Rice paddies bright with gusts of green, golden oxen, singing toads.
Instead, I saw brick buildings built on the edge of dried ponds, concrete roads, and yellowed rice fields. In the choked air that carried no mist, trucks were loaded with sacks of cement and sheets of metal. Everywhere was the buzz of electric tools, hammering, the odor of wet paint. Motorcycles whizzed past in a constant stream. Inside the oxygen bar, influencers posed with tubes in their nose.
I remember you, I told the woman in the bookshop. You were young and in love with an American man. The German couple next door sat about all day smoking opium and petting their iguana.
Hm, she said and went back to counting the register.
The night market glowed with paper lanterns and plastic balls. Chicken satay, mangos and sticky rice, soups of fish balls and ginger and lemongrass. Instead of longneck hilltribes dancing with their tambourines, a boom box was set out. A Chinese man with cellophane dragon wings was foolishly stepping in place. Beneath a food cart, a sleeping baby lay concealed in a cardboard box. Whenever the cloth flapped, the baby was there. I smiled at her mother and bought a bowl, both of us pretending the flash beside us was not a rat.
Donna Obeid is an author and educator living in the Bay Area. She holds an MA and MFA from American University and a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Michigan. Her work has appeared in Carve, Flash Fiction Magazine, Hawai`i Pacific Review, South 85 Journal, Waterwheel Review, and elsewhere. Her story “Paraíso” placed first runner-up for the 2022 Julia Peterkin Literary Award and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Read more of her work at: www.donnaobeid.com