The South China Sea
By Z.M. Quỳnh
They are in the fragmentation of raindrops during monsoon season and the quivering of evaporating dew in the dawn of sea salt mornings. I am intimately familiar with them for I have always been surrounded by spirits. Our village was built around a cemetery abandoned during the war. That was where we migrated to when our hamlet was massacred and over a thousand lives lost. Ghosts were seen as regularly as any villager, wandering through the tombstones in our gardens, passing the evening dinner table, and swirling in the incense in our temples. I often caught a glimpse of them in the air as if in shards of broken glass. With them always lingered a scent.
It was this same scent that permeated the air when we drifted into the crests of the South China Sea. It was intermingled with the smell of misery and remorse and the taste of sweetened rust, as if you plunged an abandoned nail into sugar cane and then sucked on it for days on end. I knew then that we had ventured into that ghostly stretch of sea in which the souls of people still lingered aimlessly, struggling against the powerful waves, gagging at the descent of salt water into their lungs, playing out their deaths over and over again as their hope for life somehow continued long after their demise.
As soon as her swells began to coil around the boat, I felt the mood on board shift. Elders grouped together above us on the deck to set up a small altar. Damp joss sticks were lit and inserted into nicks in the wood and muffled invocations whispered.
“Let us pass in peace dear sister, dear brother, dear mother, father.”
From the darkness of the cabin below, I felt them pass through me, the victims of the sea, friends and family and strangers. (Continue Reading…)