Thursday, January 27, 2005

DREAMS OF SNOW (A short short story...)

A 4.5 kg meteorite landed in a Banteay Mancheay province rice field on Monday morning, astonishing farmers who were harvesting the field...

-- The Cambodia Daily,
January 27, 2005

Chhaya is a farmer. He has a simple life. His wife takes care of their four children, two girls and two boys, while he minds the fields. The day is hot and the day is long, but after lunch there is always a nap, a sweet chance to rest, possibly dream, if only for an hour.

Sometimes he dreams about snow. He has never seen snow, but he has heard of it, from the foreigners that came many years ago to help de-mine the fields he called home. He has heard that it is soft and cool, and in his dreams he is sometimes buried in the snow, up to his neck. He cannot move his neck to the left or to the right, but that's fine; that's logical. He can tilt his head, though, enough to see the falling snow land on his brow, gentle and silent. He has never heard the expression 'no two snowflakes are alike', but if he ever does, he will will think about it for a moment, nod, agree. Before the snow covers his eyes and his sight, he notices that the flakes are falling on him and him alone; just up ahead, in the middle of his emerald green fields, the sun shines bright. His wife and children are watching him, laughing, which makes him laugh, too.

At this point in his dream, he always wakes up, slick with sweat, a smile on his face.

He tells no one of his dream; it is for him and him alone.


The air was hot and thick as he worked the fields, but that was fine, because he knew that rainy season was coming. Soon enough there would be wetness and coolness, each and every afternoon. He could wait. He liked to wait, to revel in the heat, to imagine how refreshing that first, initial drop would be. He would savor it.

Later, he told anyone who would listen -- his wife, children, even the commune chief, Samnang, who he usually didn't get along with --that he had been the first one in the whole village to see the object in the sky. He couldn't prove that, no, but he had sensed it before anyone else. Don't ask me how, he'd say. I am the one who dreams of snow, not you.

Others claimed to hear it, a steady, whirring shwoosh, but they were fools. Anyone can hear such a thing. To sense it, though, was special.

Chhaya paused. He stood up from the rice fields, his knees cracking. His heart started to beat. At first he thought one of his children was in trouble, hurt, or even dead; he often had physical sensations, even tremors, when his boys or girls were in pain.

But no, this was different. This feeling, this drumbeat inside of his chest, had not started from within; its origin was elsewhere, up.

It is going to snow, Chhaya thought, knowing such a feeling was ludicrous, and knowing that it was true, nevertheless.

He remembered his dream. He remembered the snow piling on top of him, and how difficult it was to move.

This was not a dream, and he felt free, perhaps for the first time ever. He felt fluid.

It was then his eyes saw it.

A speeding round orb racing through the sky, trailing orange and grey fire, ramming to the ground and exploding, its great and mighty boom larger than any mine Chhya had ever heard. The first thing he did was clutch the stump of his right arm, the bottom portion of which had been torn apart by a mine seven years ago, in this very same field. He rubbed it and held it and rubbed it some more.

In the days and weeks and months and years to come, stories would be told. Offerings would be made. It was a gift from the gods, many would say. Others would say no, no, it is a curse, it is a threat, it is an omen of bad things to come. There would be battles over who got to keep it, this strange and useless rock, this harbinger of unknown ills. It would be taken away, locked away, in a room somewhere in Phnom Penh. The sound of its landing, the ferocity of its fires, would be a memory, a picture in people's minds, a tale to be passed down throughout the village for thirty, forty years. (And so nice it was, to be able to recall an event that did not involve death, and blood, and children whacked against trees! So unbelievably liberating, this enigma that did not involve wailing children and unseeing, lifeless eyes, and the cold, black grip of a gun.)

All of that came later.

Chhaya came first, and he would remember that moment, so clearly and effortlessly, that slow and steady walk of his, towards this fallen gift from the gods. Already he could hear the cries and shrieks and confused conversation of farms two, three fields over. They would be here soon.

A deep, ragged pit lay just up ahead. Long tendrils of smoke weaved their way out from beneath the flames, reaching higher and higher before vanishing into the indifferent blue sky.

He watched it all, not noticing the tears that slowly made their down his sunken cheeks. He was not hungry, not thirsty, not tired. He had never believed what so many others did, that dreams were visions, that they told the future, that they could bring you fortune and happiness, if you followed them carefully. He had always thought this was nonsense.

He walked slowly, like a child, towards the crater. There were no longer any mines in this field, hadn't been any for years, but he still walked gingerly; old habits lingered. Soon, only moments from now, he knew he would have to look inside its depth. View its true shape and form. Confront the miracle, before it became common.

Still, he paused. He stopped. He closed his eyes, liking the feel of his moist tears; he had not cried for a long, long time. The day was hot, and the sun was full, and there was much more to do today, much more rice to harvest. But he wanted to listen a little longer to the sound of the flames. He wanted to smell the smoke. He wanted only to believe in this moment, the reality of it, the possibility that snow had come, finally, for him.

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