Shoe Box Baby

Momma took us to buy new shoes for the first time. We wandered the building all day looking for the right store when Momma stopped.

I recognized the box. We all recognized it – Momma, Big Sister, and me. The cardboard body, glossy skin, red and white makeup. It smelled like rubber bands. We used to put special things inside, like flowers, feathers, amber.

I remember the last time we saw the box – back home in the desert far away, far from our new home in America. We were pushing dirt over the box, covering it like a bad secret. The falling dirt and rocks made tapping sounds on the lid. Sometimes I think it was him – trying to come back out. But I know it was too late.

I knew when Momma tried to feed him. I knew when he was too quiet. I knew when Momma cried.

After we kissed him goodbye, Momma took one of her dresses and wrapped him inside. He looked like a big red yam. Then she took the special box down from the top shelf. She left everything inside alone and put him inside. He fit perfect.

Big Sister took me outside and we used sticks and our fingernails to open the earth. The ground was dry because the sky stopped sweating – even though it was very hot. We had to scratch hard to tear the hole big enough.

When Momma came outside of our hut, she held the box like she held him. We watched her kneel and listened to her breathe. I know she was singing even though I do not remember the song. Then she put the box into the ground. The sun shined off the lid like it was a puddle. It was wet.

Big Sister and I helped bury the box. We watched the red rectangle disappear under the ground, like a sunset. We stopped when Momma stopped.

Momma went to the shelf of red boxes – so many of them, all new, all the same. She picked one and stared at it. I saw her hand tremble when she touched it. She took it from the others and kneeled down. Big Sister and I stood still. We watched her open the box, then another, then another.

“Ma’am? Ma’am!” a woman said, “Can I help you find something? What’s your size?”

Momma did not stop. She searched more boxes and left more new shoes everywhere. I was embarrassed when the woman became angry and told Momma to stop. Everyone in the store watched us.

Then Momma told Big Sister and me to help her, “Help me find your brother. Help me find him.”

© 2013 Evan Pham


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