The Soul is a Ravaged Place
Aleathia Drehmer
Hayward Fault Line Winner

Sovann stepped off the ferry.  The Mekong River had ceased to be his intimate friend of childhood and now was more of a gentle mystery that laced itself over his skin.  His return to Phnom Penh stabbed at the insides of his stomach.  He was on the edge of puberty when he was taken from this place with its French influence.  He had not missed the infestation of foreigners in the colonization.  They tore away at the heartbeat of his country.  They had tried to make beautiful these river banks with their fancy homes.  They tried to shine it up like the opalescent coating of a pearl, but Sovann knew the lands secrets.
He had returned to the wet plains of his youth to research the story his great-grandmother had spoken of when he still could understand the language.  It had been many years since Boupha had been alive and the story faded in his head.  The land was said to be named for Lady Penh who found five Buddhas in the old Koki trunk floating down the river.  She had built a temple for these Buddhas and now Sovann was here to find the meaning of it; to unlock the mystery of this city's creation.  His Boupha never made any illusion as to where he would look inside himself for divine inspiration.  He was unsure that he would even be able to find his inner wayward boy in the tropical overgrowth.  He had come at the time of monsoons.  He would have to make short work of his temperament.  He was not used to such weather anymore.  He was not used to searching so deeply for something without a name.
The car left Sovann at the mighty stairs leading up to Wat Phnom.  He felt overwhelmed standing there in the rain, clothes sticking to him in the heat and the wet of his homeland which he was struggling to call home again.  He felt the notebook in his pocket dampen.  He thought right then he should have brought the one with the plastic cover.  He wished maybe his research wouldn't be so personal.  He wished he hadn't agreed to come back here and stir up the world inside him which he was happy denying, but his boss had thought this assignment suited him more than any other writer on the team. 
Sovann stood there mouth agape at the power he felt swimming down the stairs from the temple.  He was afraid.  He did not want to open the door to his soul.  He did not want to hear Boupha calling him with the tendrils of the trees, with the rain drops, with the sweat of his body.

First published: May, 2011
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