The other day I saw a small Cambodian boy standing on the side of the road. By himself. Talking to himself. Head bopping. A slight smile on his lips. Happy.
All around him, cars were buzzing, dust was flying, foreigners were staring, the sky was falling. (Not literally, no, because the Cambodian sky is vast and deep, but his country is falling. Sinking. Or drifting -- let's say drifting. It is not for me to say if this wounded land sinks or swims, but I can recognize drift.)
But he is a boy. These are not his concerns.
He was thinking about something. Perhaps a day at school, half-remembered, the details already fading away but still strong enough to bring a smile to his lips. Or something his sister said. Yes, that must be it. Something his sister said that morning, over breakfast, as they drank their water and ate their rice. She said something silly and strange because that is what sisters do. Often he does not like his sister but at moments like that, breakfast moments, she can say something silly and strange and all is forgiven. (Until lunch.)
Even now, the boy is fading from my memory. I can't clearly remember his features. No matter. He was in his own headspace, the space that only kids inhabit. Anything can happen in there. Aliens can land, animals can fly, cars can speak.
When I was a child, in a similar space, I used to choose one rock to kick all the way home, and I would imagine that that particular stone was alive and sentient, that it was aware, in pain, and I was kicking it further and further away from home, and for a stone, a small stone, the distance was quite far, and its family, assuming it had one, would never see it again. And though I sometimes felt bad for that rock, I still would kick it, again and again, until I reached home, because I knew, after all, that it was just a rock.
(Oh, but still. There was one that one part. That one part of my brain. The part that allowed aliens to land and animals to fly and pigs to speak. The part that suspected that I had committed a malicious and contemptuous act, though I would not have used those exact words, not knowing what they meant. Did the rock have feelings? Had I taken it away from its family? Listening to the rain against my window, this is what I wondered.)
He was just a boy on the side of the road. But I'm quite certain that something strange and wonderful is going on inside of his head even as I type these words. Something divorced from politics, and finance, and development, and coercion. Something intricate and layered.