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There, beyond the rice fields, in a clearing shaded by the wood that is the end of the village and the start of everything else, the special place, we play. I see Veata and Sann, my sister and brother, laughing, and I laugh too. Children from the village run and dance, shoeless, clothesless, free. The older children stand in line, taking turns to dive and splash into the gray green pond, some trying to catch fish, some becoming fish. Ponleak, the ox, looks on, weary from his day’s work, wishing he could join in. Veata is a cat, no, a tiger, and runs at us, all claws and teeth. We scamper and scream, while secretly longing to be caught. Father and Mother are there too. Oa is handsome in his red kroma and white linen shirt. Mai, so beautiful, as if dressed for a wedding in her bright blue sampot and white av, pink butterflies in her hair. They watch us play, and I notice their hands, rested by their side, imperceptibly touch. They are happy, and so are we. Droplets of sunlight tingle our skin, and the silky grass tickles our feet. We hear music from the pagoda, the chinkle of bells ferrying the prayers of the monks, first to us, then on to The Buddha. A cool breeze whispers promises of nightfall, and the scent of rumduol flowers drips heavily through the thick evening air. Mai calls to us, her soft words swallowed up by the shouts and screams of play, but we know it is to tell us that our evening meal is soon, as if to confirm what the smell of distant burning fires already forewarned. But there is still time. There will always be time. Veata catches me. I am a tiger’s dinner. But Sann will rescue me, as he always does. For there is my home. And there, in this special place, amongst the redolent trees, and on the edge of forever, I am safe.

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