The Falling Cinders of Anlong Pi

by Jennifer Todhunter

Every day, the rubbish comes. It is the only thing I can count on.

There is a woman here, her name is Champei. She lives next door to me. Lies in a steel-blue hammock stretched between the coiled trunks of two silk-cotton trees. I keep her safe. We tap our calloused feet to the beat of the music the sunrise workers bring with them from the city. It floats above the smoke that hangs like mist over the landfill. Otherwise, it is the sound of hope being picked through, the echo of children crying, and the talk of dreams and destiny.

My destiny is to marry Champei.

She has three children. They share two pairs of rubber boots, and one scarf. On days when cinders fall like snow, they twist the soiled piece of silk into a balaclava to protect their rattling lungs. I want to provide for them.

Sometimes, the smoke resembles thick, black rain clouds, and I think about dancing with Champei, basking in her radiant smile as the showers wash us clean. But it is just smoke.

Her children do well for her. They are light and agile, and they can move further into the landfill than a middle-aged man like me. It is where untouched treasure is found—not only cans and bottles, but plastic and copper, too. They are like diamonds, here.

People arrive on air-conditioned buses with cameras, strangers taking pictures. They give us drinks in bottles that are worth more than the liquid inside them, and food brought from hotels in Siem Reap that would pay us less than we make here in a day. Yet, there is pity in their eyes. They do not realize this is where we want to be.

I spend my time sorting through the burning potential of steaming matter with a pickaxe, searching for the one treasure in my country's refuse that will convince Champei that I love her. New possibilities are dumped each hour, an alluring rainbow of decaying colour spread over the heat in the layers below. Each hour I hold out hope.

Champei says she will never leave. That this is her home. I tell her it is my home, too. At night, when exhaustion does not let us comb through chance any longer, we sit side-by-side, staring at the faint glow of headlamps that belong to those whose dream is stronger than ours. Her children play bay kohm with fruit pits they have found and holes they have dug into the dirt, while I rub her feet with my tired hands.

On a rare night like tonight, when the sky opens up and the smoke blows away from our hammocks, I search for a shooting star. And I wish for it to crash into the landfill and turn our world to gold.

It is within this kingdom that we will live.

BIO: Jennifer is a number nerd by day, word fiddler at night. She enjoys dark, salty chocolate and running top speed in the other direction. Find her at www.foxbane.ca or @JenTod_.