The driver lifted and closed the back gate. Perhaps because the sunlight came from behind his head, I have no memory of his face. “We will cover this to keep the dust out!” he shouted, as if we were a long distance from him. And up came a board in his hands, which the betel-lipped man helped guide over the last light.
They pounded with their hammers. We waited for some adjustment, for a window to be slid open.
“It’s dark!” the auntie called to the men.
But we only heard both truck doors slam and then the motor igniting.
“Mother?” I could not see her across the darkness.
“Come next to me.” Her voice was strange and in the black between us rose up something we both feared.
I reached forward and touched cloth over a knee. I knew it was hers, because she put her hand on my hand. She guided me and I squeezed into the corner between her and the wall.
Her shoulder against mine eased my heart. The Water Father’s shoulders were smooth under my hands and in the stifling box of the truck, I felt for his cool wooden feet with the bare bottoms of my feet. I remembered that my mother had chosen this statue from the festival stand because he had the long toes of a fisherman. Toes like my father’s and mine. My heart sank then, because my father’s long toes had not saved him from the soldiers.
We felt ourselves slant back as the truck nosed upward. “We are climbing,” the auntie said. “We should only be traveling down.”
I put my eye to a crack of light and air that ran from top to bottom in the corner where I sat. I could see a sliver of changing greens and browns and whites.
After a while my mother muttered something; she sounded to me as she did sometimes when she talked in her sleep. The little girl began to whimper, and the auntie said, “Shhh shhh. We must appease the Road Guardian,” and she began to chant in the same low tones as my mother.