Wednesday, February 10, 2010
It is the second, maybe third time I have met the family. Actually, I should say my family because they are my mother’s cousins and aunts and uncles. I sit on the wooden lounging table that is about the size of two large beds put together. These tables are common in Cambodian households, as are stiff matching wooden chairs. While some may opt for comfort over style, the opposite seems to hold here. Or, maybe Cambodians prefer harder surfaces to softer ones. Now that I think about it, the bed I sleep on feels a little better than a plush yoga mat, so it must be the latter.
The man who sits to the left of me has a soft worn face. He resembles Popeye a bit with his chubby cheeks and wrinkled forehead. He is in his mid-thirties, but has aged ungracefully as teenage acne still plagues him, and his hair has receded so much that he has only a small wisp left to comb over. He holds his thick fingers in his lap and looks almost admiringly at them as he talks.
His wife is also in her thirties and is beautiful with dark brown wavy hair and an oblong face and gentle eyes. She is simple, wearing capris and a loose button up. No jewelry or makeup. I begin to wonder how such an unfortunate looking man ended up with this woman. My first guess is that it is because he’s got money. I want to slap myself once or twice for not thinking it is because he has a good heart. This woman smiles looking at me for a long time, and I don’t know what it is she is looking at exactly. I shift uncomfortably on this wooden contraption, and come off my hind feet and sit bowlegged—the man’s way. My mother turns to me and shakes her head disapprovingly. I shrug.
My mother continues to have small talk with this man as I move around restlessly, still unable to find a comfortable position to relax. The woman’s eyes remain stuck on me, and I am beginning to get tired of curling my lips into this sheepish grin. My mother indulges the man as he explains the various woods of the house. The entertainment center being composed of the most expensive kind. The intricately carved pots are from some Excellency. The small wooden statuette in the middle of the room is “no good” he says, waving his hands in front of him showing disgust. He will rid of it immediately.
I yawn and begin to daydream about the wavy-haired Frenchman who I had a one-minute romance via moto to moto earlier in the day. He pulled up next to my friend who was driving me, and we had a short exchange of words before my friend turned off onto the street we were headed. “Menghoun!” I said jokingly angry, “I just fell in love!”
The room became silent for I’m not sure how long, but it was definitely too long. Each person fidgeted in their own awkward way—my mother admiring her ostentatious ring as she waved her hand back and forth in the sunlight, the man with a tight la-dee-da look on his face as he looked at his beloved wooden belongings, the wife still smiling at me with the same if not greater intensity than before, and me raising my eyebrows and glancing nervously around the room.
“So,” – the man says, breaking the silence and clasping his hands together, “I have something to ask you.” He looks seriously and nervously at my mother.
“Yes?” she says. My mother is not very keen on giving favors. This man’s request better be a small one.
“I’ve heard that many people can go to the US if they marry someone there. Do you remember seeing my younger brother yesterday?”
My mother hesitated for a moment. “Uh huh,” she said, nodding her head assuredly. I knew she was lying because whenever she nods like this she actually has no clue what is going on.
I recall seeing a boy yesterday who looked similar to this man, by no means dashing and younger. He also had one of those Captain Hook mustaches. But still, he was very Popeye-ish, potbelly and all. Yes, it must’ve been him.
“Well, he really wants to go to the US,” the man says. “I know people who have gone over there by marrying an American. Some are real marriages, some fake. But, rich people here” – he says, referring to the likes of himself – “will give good money to anyone who will marry.”
“Uh huh, I know people who’ve done that –” my mother begins.
“Do you know of anyone?”
“Who would help my brother.”
“Oh, no I don’t think – ”
“How much will it cost?”
“Oh, I don’t know maybe $20,000.”
“Done,” he says smiling. “How long – ”
“I don’t know anyone,” my mother repeats with a tinge of annoyance in her voice.
“See, one time, we found someone, and they took our money, $10,000, and disappeared. We need someone we can trust. Like family.”
I interrupt in my broken Khmer, “It’s not that easy these days. People are getting caught and authorities are catching onto these fake marriages. People are deported to their home countries and citizens face major charges.” I don’t know if I am out of place to speak out, but no one is scowling at me, so I take that as a good sign.
“Why doesn’t he visit and find someone he really likes in America that he could possibly marry rather than paying a stranger?” my mom asks.
He shakes his head at the idea and waves his hands in the air disapprovingly.
The wife nudges me playfully, “How about you? You’re perfect, just the right age. And you’re beautiful,” she says batting her eyelashes, almost wooing me for her brother-in-law.
I tried my best to maintain my composure, but I think I went bug-eyed with my eyebrows stretched up on my forehead. “Um, no, no, no,” I stutter. “It’s just not something I would do. Ever.”
Sensing my fear, she says, “Oh, I’m just kidding around.” She sways her body into me, and I shy away. “When he saw you yesterday, he did say that you were pretty. You also look like his ex-girlfriend who he is madly in love with.”
Well, that’s sure convincing me. I think of all the terrible things that could happen. Also, I want to marry someone I actually care for, am in love with, all those marriage requirements. And, someone who I am not related to in any way. And, I don’t want a fake anything, especially a fake husband!
“But, why not?” she prods.
“Don’t be silly,” my mom smartly interrupts, knowing that my next utterance will most likely be improper and rude.
The wife manages to maintain a weak smile.
The husband says, “Think about it.”
Like hell I will. I retire to the bedroom and continue my daydream about the Frenchman. Wavy hair. Not related to me. Tall. No bribery. Marriage material? Not quite, but much more so than my second-uncle’s younger brother.