Be merciful to those that struggle; have compassion upon the sufferers; pity the creatures who are hopelessly entangled in the snares of sorrow.
~ The Teachings of the Buddha (Carus' translation)
In the darkness, I waited. I crouched, perfectly still, every one of my muscles tensed up, coiled to spring. I imagined myself as a tiger, waiting for its prey. Hungry.
The only thing that would satisfy me, the only water to quench my longing now, was vengeance. I had to kill him, the man responsible for my sister’s death. The man who thought he owned me. The man who believed he had bought my loyalty, who thought he had bought my soul.
It was my destiny.
He might possess my body, but he would never own me.
He could never possess my heart.
That honor belonged to another man. A man I left behind when I was ripped from the life I’d carefully constructed, the life I had built, brick by brick, from nothing. A man who would not recognize me now, who would not know the monster I had become.
A man I’d never see again.
A man I could never forget.
I knew immediately that everything was wrong.
In my gut, I knew it. I tried to convince myself otherwise, sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting for her, the tap-tap-tap of my foot on the tile floor the only noise in the room.
The room was immaculate, as it always was, which was to be expected from the type of hotel this was. This was not the kind of hotel where bad things happened, even if it was Vegas. At least, this wasn’t the floor where bad things happened, the suites where high-rollers stayed. Not that I was a high-roller. I wasn’t here to gamble. Gambling wasn’t my vice.
I had so many other fucking vices, I didn’t need to gamble.
The room was eerily still. Nothing was out of place...no furniture overturned, no ripped open sofa cushions or gutted mattress. Nothing to indicate anyone had been here in the room.
Except the locket.
The one with the picture of a girl. When I’d asked her who it was inside, she had averted her eyes, looked away, sat there silently.
I could have easily missed the locket, on the floor behind the toilet. If I had overlooked it, if I had just walked away instead of listening to my gut, I wouldn’t have known. I would have assumed that she walked away from me, that she had come to her senses.
That she had decided that whatever this was, it wasn’t real. It couldn’t be.
It’s the same thing I kept telling myself, trying to rationalize away what I felt. Reminding myself of April. It had only been three years. A man should mourn his dead wife for longer than three years, I told myself. A man should grieve.
How much more could I grieve?
Everyone I loved died. It was like a goddamned curse.
Not this time. This time would be different. It couldn’t happen that way again. If it did, it would destroy me. I wouldn’t let it happen.
TEN YEARS AGO
“I don’t understand,” Lily whispered. “What’s happening?”
My heart beat wildly in my chest, and I gripped her hand, shaking my head silently, warning her not to speak. Something was not right. I was only thirteen, but I knew something was terribly wrong.
The room was hot, stifling hot, and stank of sweat and urine and feces, the odors that were a part of traveling the way we had traveled. Sweat rolled down my forehead, stinging my eyes, my hair damp. My shirt clung to my body. My body ached from being packed together like sardines with the others in the back of the truck that transported us across the border from Kaw Thoo Lei, Karin state, in Burma, where our family was from.
Lily and I were promised to be taken across the border to refugee camps in Thailand, that we would eventually be given work doing cleaning services. Our parents barely scratched out an existence growing hill rice in Karin and besides, it was more and more dangerous. When the military raids happened last year, we had barely escaped. Our village was burned to the ground. It took months for my mother to arrange for our transportation, saving what little we had as an initial payment for services. We were to work off the remainder of our pay as maids.
Lily had screamed when we left, didn’t understand why we were leaving our mother. I was the brave one. I had to be brave.
“You must take care of your sister,” she said. “Whatever happens, you must take care of her. She is your responsibility now.”
She is my responsibility.
I steeled myself for whatever was about to happen next. The men who stood in front of us, dressed in camouflage pants and boots, dark tank tops, reminded me of the military, the ones who destroyed our villages. I did not like this at all.
Whatever this was, it did not involve cleaning.
They shouted commands to each other in another language. It had to be Thai, but I didn’t understand it. Lily looked up at me, fearful, and whispered, “Are you scared?”
I shook my head, mute, and squeezed her hand. But I was scared.
I watched them call out orders, walking down the group of mostly women and children. The handful of men who were there had been taken away first. Then the young boys were selected out, moved to another group right away, hauled off somewhere else. I wondered where they were going. All that were left were women and girls.
That fact made me even more unsettled. Maybe we were all going to clean houses. But I doubted it. I had heard stories of what the military did in our villages, what they did to the women, to the children, when they came through. How they hurt them, used them and then left them for dead.